ANGE POSTECOGLOU insists his Celtic players deserve the greatest of respect for the way they have met the challenges that have come their way in a season of change.
And the Hoops boss has welcomed the first midweek break since the turn of the year that has seen the side cram in 14 games in under two months.
An early debut strike from new Bhoy Daizen Maeda, one of three J-League stars who arrived on Hogmanay, got the ball rolling in 2022 when he turned in a low cross for the opener in the 2-0 win over Hibs at Parkhead on January 17.
Coincidentally, the Japan international attacker got the breakthrough goal against Livingston in West Lothian on Sunday when he pounced to nod in from close range after keeper Max Stryjek could only push a Carl Starfelt header from Flipe Jota’s right-wing corner-kick into the air.
UP IN ARMS…Ange Postecoglou enjoys another win as Hoops chase the championship.
The Hoops went on to win 3-1 to maintain their pole position at the Premiership pinnacle with a three-point advantage over their nearest challengers with eight games to go.
The focus will switch to the Scottish Cup on Monday night when Celtic travel to Tayside to take on Dundee United in their quarter-final encounter.
It’s been a daunting journey for the Hoops to reach this stage and the Greek-Australian gaffer is determined they will carry on working until the final shrill of the referee’s whistle on the last day of the campaign.
Postecoglou said: “I have total admiration for the way the players have kept going physically during a really tough run of games.
“This team deserves great credit. We will see how the season unfolds in the end, but all of our players have embraced the challenges we have faced from the start of the season.
“We had guys coming in without a pre-season with us. Others didn’t have a pre-season at all. It was a case of arriving and getting on the pitch.
WELCOME TO PARADISE 2022…Daizen Maeda celebrates his first goal for Celtic in the 2-0 win over Hibs on January 17. Prolific winger Liel Abada is about to join in the celebrations.
“Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi came in with just a couple of weeks off after playing the season in Japan.
“They went straight in and played a lot of football. Matt O’Riley went from League One in England, straight into Premiership football up here and adapted.
“Callum McGregor is another one who has really put himself out there for the team.
“You talk about the challenges, the pressure and the intensity at Celtic, but it’s a credit to these guys that they have faced everything this year.
“I’m sure they will face more, but the way they have dealt with pressure and adversity, without making excuses, is great.
“When things haven’t gone well, they haven’t made excuses and haven’t wanted me to make excuses. They’ve accepted responsibility for everything and it’s a credit to a new group of players who were literally thrown together in the last eight months.
“I have great admiration for the way they’ve dealt with things.”
MATT FINISH…new Bhoy Matt O’Riley stepped up to the Premiership without a hitch.
Looking at the break between confrontations, Postecoglou, speaking to the Daily Record, added: “It’s not about days off, it’s just about freshening them a bit. The players will still be in at Lennoxtown, but they will come in with a different mindset.
“When you know there is a game coming up in midweek, you tend to just work on recovery. It’ll be great for the players to just train as normal as this is the first free midweek we’ve had all year.
“It allows them to freshen up mentally instead of preparing for a game in the midweek.
“I will freshen up a few and I’ll also get the chance to put some real good physical work into others who need it, the ones who haven’t had a lot of game time recently.
“It’ll be enormously beneficial for us to have two midweeks coming up. It’s eight days between Livingston and the Cup game on Monday and then we don’t play again until the weekend.
“That’s two good weeks of training before the international break and that is valuable time for us as coaches as we can actually do some work with the players.”