There will be nor rest for Celtic’s weary players until after their double header against Rangers in the final Old Firm league derby of the season and the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final at the end of April. The Scottish Premier Football League have revealed that the Scottish Premiership collision between the pair at Ibrox will kick off at noon on Saturday, April 29, six days after the pair meet at Hampden in the cup.
Last Sunday Celtic provided half of the Scotland team who kept the Tartan Army’s hopes of World Cup qualification alive with a dramatic 1-0 win over Slovenia, a victory which the Hoops manager, Brendan Rodgers, partly attributed to the rest period afforded by the winter shutdown.
“It is an absolute bonus and so important that you have the mid-season break,” Rodgers said. “If there is ever need for a cause for having it that is the proof of it. Imagine we never had that.
“A break won’t be in the next month. We won’t have any rest over that period, but after that we may be able to have a look at it.”
The Parkhead contingent in Gordon Strachan’s squad would all be automatic selections for the vital qualifier against England at Hampden on June 10. Rodgers confirmed that he would discuss their availability with Strachan over the next few weeks.
“There will be some dialogue I am sure,” he said. “I am proud that so many players were in the Scotland team. That is where you want them to be.
They are footballers for a very short period.
“I am not one who is going to stop any player playing for his country. Thankfully, all the Scottish boys here love playing for their country and want to go.
“My responsibility is for Celtic. This is the club that is paying their wages and paying them good wages. I need to make sure that that availability is right for us, but I respect that these guys are international players.
“That is where they should want to go in their careers – to represent their country. If I can help them and assist that on and off the field, I will happily do that. It has been nice for them to get the win, to play with a really good aggression and a really good tempo and energy.”
Of Scott Brown, who retired from international football at the start of the season but returned to play for his country during the qualifiers – and has yet to reveal his intentions in respect of the clash with England - Rodgers said: “We had a good chat, which will be private, and on one or two other things within that, but it’s a big game, this, and it could be a real defining game.
“If he’s played against England away and he’s played against Slovenia it’s difficult not to play in the other ones. It’s about helping him, giving him the confidence that is OK to play in it, but this is how it’s going to look before and after.”
Any temptation to let his players have some immediate time off has been stymied by the relentless timetable of the fixture list.
“We have got Hearts on Sunday and Partick Thistle during the week,” said Rodgers. “Say they played against Partick and then you maybe gave them a rest for Kilmarnock and Ross County, thinking you are doing them a favour. You have then got the Rangers games after that. The timeline is too great.”
More immediately, wear and tear has deprived Rodgers of his two strikers for the game against Hearts at Tynecastle. Moussa Dembélé was injured against Dundee two weeks ago and Leigh Griffiths suffered a back injury while leading the Scottish line against Slovenia.
“Leigh did well in the Scotland game so getting the wee knock was obviously frustrating for him, but hopefully within the next week he will be back.
“Moussa won’t play at Tynecastle but he should be okay for next week. Towards the end of the Dundee game he struggled. He didn’t think it was anything afterwards but when we got the scan it showed a little tweak of his hamstring.
“He has responded well. He has been fine. He has been out on the pitch, but I am not going to risk it for the weekend.”
In the absence of the two regulars, Scott Sinclair could feature as the Celtic spearhead at Tynecastle. “It is a possibility,” said Rodgers. “When he first came in to me at Chelsea he was a striker. When we took him from Bristol Rovers he was a centre-forward.
“When he came in to me first of all when he was in the youth team and we played a diamond he played as one of two front players.”