JOE HART admits he was massively impressed by the Celtic fans during the 3-0 Europa League qualifying win over Jablonec at Parkhead on Thursday night.
Now the 34-year-old former England keeper, who signed in a £1million three-year deal from Spurs only 12 days ago, was wowed by the near-capacity crowd.
Now the experienced netminder, who made 75 appearances for his country, hopes the team and the supporters “can go on this journey together” as the Hoops aim to stage a dramatic revival under new boss Ange Postecoglou following a dire campaign that hardly got off the ground.
Hart made two excellent stops in the second-half with the team already winning 2-0 with a double salvo from David Turnbull and the keeper’s quickfire reflexes were enthusiastically applauded by the followers who witnessed a series of mishaps from Vasiis Barkas following his £4.5million arrival from AEK Athens last summer.
SAFE HANDS…Joe Hart takes control.
The former Manchester City No.1 said: “I was told about what to expect and it was an experience, it really was. I really, really enjoyed it. The support was unbelievable. You could tell that people have really missed being here. Obviously, I wasn’t here last year, but personally as a footballer I really missed having fans in the stadium.
“Our job is not to play on emotion, our job is to be focused. But on Thursday we saw what it meant to them. We got the win and people were happy. I think we need to keep it as simple as that for now.
“We are going to grow as a team and we are going to look to entertain, but we ultimately we are going to make peoples’ weeks a whole lot better after a difficult year or so if we win games. I would like to think that we can go on this journey together.”
Reflecting on the 7-2 aggregate triumph over the Czechs to set up the play-off final against Dutch side AZ Alkmaar, Hart continued: “We performed in parts of the game and entertained, but there are loads we can work on.
“We are trying to start something here. We are going to try and play some expansive football and that is going to require me to make the odd save. We are going to have to bail each other out of a few situations.
I’M IN CHARGE…Joe Hart gives his defence instructions.
“But I think the overall thing that was great to see was the pressure that we applied. We played some really good football throughout the game, created some really good chances and I did my job which is to keep the ball out of the net as best I can.
“It’s an ask that we all have to buy into, the entire squad needs to be on board. The manager wants us to play with no fear, he backs us. He puts that responsibility on himself to make us feel like we can play. It is something that we are trying our best to do.
“We are going to grow as a team. He came in quite late as I understand, so it is going to take time. But the baseline is hard work and dedication and understanding and all being on the same side.”
Hart enjoyed huge European nights at the Etihad and he is determined to replicate those evenings in the east end of Glasgow.
The shotstopper, speaking to the Glasgow Times, added: “What a great tournament it is. There are some huge teams in it. Nights like Thursday are amazing. We were playing in a qualifier and it was absolutely going off. God knows what will happen if we make it to the group stages and beyond.
“I have always loved playing in Europe. European football is what this club wants and what this club needs. It is up to us to get us in it.
ON GUARD…Joe Hart maintains his concentration levels.
“It is going to be a step up against Alkmaar, of course. I’m not going to claim that I know everything about them, but I am certainly going to know a lot more about them when it comes to Wednesday.
“But we have a big game today. I have felt it from the moment I have walked through the door – the next game is the most important game, simple as that. Alkmaar will take care of itself, at the moment we are focusing on Hearts.
”It’s such an easy thing to say, but I have been in football a long time, I know football, I have been in teams that are expected to win. It is just not that simple. It is all about application, it is all about working with the guys off the field.
“We are going to be at home again. That is huge. We need to get the fans onside from the first minute and try and win. You can’t win the final unless you win these kind of games. Like I say, you worry about the future when it comes. Right now it is all about beating Hearts.”
* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report on Celtic v Hearts this afternoon – only in your champion CQN.