Normal service resumed at Celtic Park this weekend as the champions returned to winning ways in comfortable fashion against Kilmarnock.
The Bhoys suffered a brief scare midway through second half when the visitors equalised against the run of play with one of their three shots in the entire 90 minutes- this one even needed a deflection to take it over the line.
The Hoops faithful probably got flashbacks to midweek when Partick Thistle levelled the match at around the same time and the team subsequently lost control of the game which in the end could have swung either way. But the reaction this time was much more impressive as the Killie goal only kicked the Celts into action again and they regained the lead within six minutes through Scott Sinclair.
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If there was a criticism of the draw on Wednesday it was the number of rotations made by Brendan Rodgers and a change in tactics that saw a shift from the usual 4-2-3-1 to a 3-4-3 which disrupted the flow of the team. With the Scottish Cup semi-final showdown with Rangers coming up in a fortnight it was expected that Rodgers would maintain the side’s momentum and rhythm by fielding a stronger team. Instead, he decided to rest a number of key individuals and brought a few players in from the cold although it didn’t have the desired effect. After the clash with Thistle, Rodgers said the regulars would return to the XI to bring the team stability that would help them go into the Hampden encounter with the Gers in peak condition and full of confidence.
The former Swansea and Liverpool manager did exactly that as Kieran Tierney, Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, James Forrest and Dedryck Boyata returned to the line-up plus Moussa Dembele and Tom Rogic were each given 20 minutes from the bench as they make their comebacks from injury. And it showed as Celtic were dominant from start to finish. Even when they were pegged back they didn’t let it affect them and continued to apply pressure, making surge after surge on the away side’s goal until they regained the advantage. Armstrong and Forrest joined Sinclair on the scoresheet in another rampant performance that was appreciated by the Parkhead crowd.
It was definitely pleasing for the supporters to see the team learn from their mistakes in midweek and treat Kilmarnock’s goal as a momentary blip rather than a game defining moment. Whereas against the Jags the match became rather chaotic, on Saturday the Hoops didn’t let nerves of losing their unbeaten record creep in and they continued to suffocate the opposition ensuring there was only one way traffic. Within ten minutes of conceding, they had established a 3-1 lead and the game was well and truly over.
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Rodgers was delighted with the display saying: “I thought it was an outstanding team performance. We played our shape very very well, the quality of the movement, the speed. Our only mistake was for the goal which was the counter attack but every other element we showed a lovely charisma in the game today. We got three goals and with a bit more luck we could have had another one or two.”
He was happy with the crowd too, praising them for showing patience and not getting frustrated. “They’re now seeing what we’re trying to do,” Rodgers said. That’s true and it’s why the feeling of appreciation is mutual. It’s also why the Northern Irishman signed a new and improved four year contract. It was news that capped off a marvellous week for all associated with the club and gives everyone a greater sense of purpose for the coming years that truly underlines Celtic’s superiority in Scotland.
Rodgers feels at home and he’s exceeding expectations even for a coach of his experience and calibre. The stats and records are truly phenomenal, two out of three domestic titles have already been delivered and the club was back in the Champions League. Significantly, though, he’s done it by improving the performance of the team tenfold compared to the last few seasons and he has a genuine desire to keep building on that.
“I couldn’t be happier. I’m in the best place I could possibly be. It’s the beginning of the journey, but there’s a lot more to achieve,” he said.
There was a moment after the final whistle on Saturday where Rodgers made a 10 finger gesture to the Green Brigade probably referring to the 10 in a row his side could achieve by the end of his tenure. “I was just stretching my fingers” was his reply when asked about it.
The manager and fans understand each other and it’s only likely to yield more success in the coming years.