BULLISH Brendan Rodgers fired back at his and Celtic’s critics after the holders’ hard-fought 2-0 win over St Mirren in Paisley.

The triumph set up a Scottish Cup quarter-final against Livingston at Parkhead next month and reinforced the emphatic words of the Hoops manager before yesterday’s tie which was  laced with danger that he had returned to the club to win more honours, as CQN reported.

Rodgers and his players have been forced to walk the gauntlet of criticism and ill-observed comments in recent weeks, but the victory over a resourceful and determined Saints side was the champions’ EIGHTH win in an impressive nine-game unbeaten sequence.

HERE WE GO…Brendan Rodgers and St Mirren boss Stephen Robinson before kick-off.

Joe Hart, outstanding throughout in Paisley, has had six shut-outs in that run and a goal in each half from Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda got the job done on a tricky and treacherous surface.

Doubts were cast from many quarters – including some from observers who should know a lot better – about Celtic’s ability to cope with on-form opponents as they eyed a return to Hampden on the iconic date of May 25 for the silverware showpiece.

As the dust settled on the latest success, Rodgers, speaking to the media, admitted grimly: “I don’t expect anything less, to be honest. We just focus on ourselves.

“We are a winning club. When you’ve won consistently over a number of years, people will look to jump on you and bring you down – and bring ME down.

“I am here to win. For sure we will have our day – and have many days going forward.

A BIG HAND…Brendan Rodgers applauds his players and the supporters after the Paisley triumph.

“We’ll get our influential players back and the squad will be very strong to the end of the season.

“We’ll continue to fight. We just have to prove a point to ourselves and our supporters.

“I think that’s always the best attitude.”

Rodgers continued: “We are compared to the squad of last seaso,  but one, it’s not the same squad as last season and two, a lot of these players who were starting last season have not been playing all of this season.

“We’ve missed some important players for long periods and we made some changes in the summer.

“This is a young group of players here who are giving everything, who are looking to develop and improve.

“I said to the players afterwards that I had great pride in them.

“It’s a very young team when you take out Joe Hart and Callum McGregor, a very inexperienced group.

“But how they are reacting and sticking together is very important.”

PAT ON THE BACK…Brendan Rodgers salutes Joe Hart after the keeper’s latest shut-out in the Cup win.

The Irishman added: “There’s a lot of noise around, but we continue to win football matches.

“I don’t think it’s a crisis.”
The champions go back into Premiership action at Parkhead on Saturday against Kilmarnock, who fought back to beat them 2-1 at Rugby Park in December.
That was the loss that triggered a landslide of criticism. Liverpool loanee Nat Phillips, who lunged to put through his own goal for Killie’s equaliser, never played again for the Hoops.
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