BRENDAN RODGERS fired back at his critics as Celtic prepared a third successive Premiership title party at Parkhead on Saturday.

The champions swept to within one point of making absolutely certain of their twelfth championship in 13 years after dismissing Philippe Clement’s Ibrox side 2-1 in the east end of Glasgow yesterday.

Matt O’Riley rifled in an eye-catching opener before John Lundstram diverted a left-wing cross from Daizen Maeda into his own net a mere 35 SECONDS later for what turned out to be the winner.

Cyriell Dessers pulled one back after the Hoops defence worryingly switched off when Borna Barisic was totally unhindered as he raced down the left onto a pass from Fabio Silva had eliminated Alistair Johnston.

Lundstram then saw red after a reckless and dangerous challenge on the Canadian World Cup right-back.

A BIG HAND…Brendan Rodgers applauds the celebrating Celtic fans.

The drama continued shortly after the turnaround when O’Riley squandered the opportunity to add a third goal from the penalty spot, but his feeble effort was pushed away by Jack Butland.

There were some nervy moments before referee Willie Collum blew to bring proceedings to a halt following seven minutes of stoppage-time.

When the smoke of battle cleared, the hosts had moved a practically unassailable six points clear with a superior goal difference of seven with only two games to play – the first against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Wednesday and St Mirren in Paradise at the weekend.

It was a satisfying afternoon for all of a Celtic persuasion with the crown just about wrapped up and the Hoops boss took the opportunity to answer those who had doubted him.

Rodgers said: “I suppose it is part of the game. From a professional perspective, of course, there will be doubt.

PARADISE…Brendan Rodgers has his say in the aftermath of a crucial victory.

“From a personal perspective, I was surprised in a way that I heard somebody say about: ‘Brendan Rodgers going through the motions’ earlier on in the season.

“I get to work between half-seven and eight o’clock every day of my life. I leave the training ground between half-six and seven o’clock at night. And when I get home, I have my dinner and probably flip on the computer and look at more football.

“If that is going through the motions, I want to know what every other manager is doing. Because what is every other manager doing if I am ‘going through the motions’?”

Rodgers, speaking to the Daily Mail, continued: “From a personal level, I have been treated like a novice since I came back here, like it’s my first job.

“However, my principal objective is to make sure Celtic win. Part of that is the criticism and I understand that, but it’s the mentality of the team that is the most important thing.

“And you can see that mentality from where we were with injuries, how we have progressed, how we have stayed unified and how we then get to this point where we are nearly crossing the finishing line.

“And we don’t just want to cross it, we want to sprint over it. We have two games to go plus a Scottish Cup Final and that is our mentality.”

THREE CHEERS…Brendan Rodgers and Celtic are heading for a third successive title.

Reflecting on a topsy-turvy campaign after returning to Parkhead in June last year, the Irishman added: “A lot of the players, I hadn’t worked with before, so they didn’t know me and I didn’t know them.

“Then we lost really important players who make the football shine in this place.

“So, that, added to the injuries we’ve had, made it a real challenge from a management perspective. But I’ve never ever doubted, since I’ve been a young coach, the process.

“And I felt: ‘Just keeping chipping away, the guys will come back at some point’. We just had to keep believing and working hard.

“Slowly, we found a rhythm and now we sit here with eight wins out of the last nine. And the one we didn’t win was a really good performance against Rangers at Ibrox.”


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