BRENDAN RODGERS surveyed the first half of a turbulent campaign and admitted his Celtic jigsaw is still in the process of coming together.
The champions have had some unexpected and careless stumbles during the Irishman’s second coming, notably the back-to-back defeats from Kilmarnock and Hearts which severely dented their points advantage over their nearest challengers.
Questions were asked, fingers were pointed and a section of the support were vehement in their thoughts about the inconsistent performances from a team that set out on August 5 with a 4-2 win over Ross County in their quest for a twelfth title in 13 years.
THE CELTIC CUDDLE…Brendan Rodgers hugs skipper Callum McGregor.
Four successive triumphs have left the Hoops at the Premiership pinnacle with an eight-point lead over Ibrox opposition who have two games in hand.
Rodgers is quick to point out “there’s still a way to go” as he ponders over his moves in this month’s intriguing transfer window which will see players arriving while others head for the exit.
He accepts it’s part of his job and he acknowledges he has to be ruthless, but the main focus is putting a team on the pitch that will win games for Celtic in the relentless pursuit of silverware and progress in all areas.
The 50-year-old gaffer, who won seven successive domestic honours in his first stint in the east end of Glasgow, said: “From what I see in the team and what I want to bring in, there’s still a way for us to go, but it’s starting to look more like how I want it to look.
”The squad was at a different point when I first came in – and, naturally, there can be a little dip with players – but I think a big part of it for us were the injuries to a lot of players, those dynamic players who make the football look different.
THE CELTIC CUDDLE…Brendan Rodgers embraces Reo Hatate.
“But, either way, we needed to be better. It’s just a case of keeping patience and I think that is where your experience comes in. I love working with this group because they are such an honest group of players. There is not an idiot amongst them.
“They know that they weren’t quite at the level – especially against Hearts – but I looked back at that game and it was more to do with fatigue on the back end of a Champions League game and because a lot of players were having to play continuously.
“But you have to perform and that is what it takes to be a Celtic player. You need that mentality to win – and to win in a way that will make the supporters happy.
“So, they have done that. Against Livingston, suffocated the game really well. Dundee, our best performance against a back five. Rangers, a big game, and a big game mentality.
“Then on Tuesday night, everyone would probably have looked at St Mirren as a tricky game, but, actually, the quality of our football and the hunger in the team was there. So, it’s heading more towards where I want it to be.”
Emphasising the need to keep the players hungry, Rodgers, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “I think in any league, in any team, you have to have that. Because if you drop off anything then there’s obviously someone ready to overtake that.
THE CELTIC CUDDLE…Brendan Rodgers welcomes back Liel Abada.
“But I think the players are understanding that now. The longer we work together, the longer they’re adjusting and adapting and feeling comfort in how we want them to work.
“So, yeah, the St Mirren game was another example of that.”
Aware of the possibility of a backfire in Paisley after doing the hard work in the derby at the weekend, Rodgers observed: “There is the aspect that you’re always having to drill home, because it would have counted for nothing if we hadn’t got the performance and result against St Mirren.
“You’ve then got to do it. I said to the players that they beat Livingston then three days later had a great performance against Dundee, you’ve now beaten Rangers and three days later we need the same mentality – the same hunger – and we did.
“When you have young players who are learning and growing, you’re going to get that.”
Looking at bringing in fresh faces to strengthen his squad, Rodgers added: “The club will do absolutely everything we can to support what we need and what the team needs.
“There is a lot of work going on in the background and I’m pretty sure that in this early period of the month, we can have some joy and get one or two in.”
Watch this space!