Celtic had a lot of things to be pleased about following their top vs. bottom clash with Ross County; after the international break there was a fluency and intensity to their game, the injury list was reduced further as key players returned to the squad and Scott Brown left the field with testes intact, despite the best efforts of Andrew Davies.
At the post-game press conference, the Celtic manager was experiencing an enjoyable sense of déjà vu:
“I thought today we were back to where we were last year. With lots of threats on goal, lots of speed and lots of penetration. And most importantly for us we got our hunger to get the ball back”
Around about this time last year Scott Sinclair and Stuart Armstrong were stepping up their game as Celtic closed in on the title and prepared for a historic Treble. Déjà vu, indeed.
Rodgers was obviously delighted to have the Man of the Match Armstrong back in the side. Time and time again he linked up with Sinclair and Callum McGregor, standing in for an injured Tierney, down the left wing.
Armstrong’s energy is much talked about, but Celtic have really missed his runs in behind the opposition’s midfield. The space he creates and his understanding with Sinclair allowed the latter to force the defender to sweep the leg (Cobra Kai style) and win Celtic the penalty. This time it was Dembélé showing no mercy.
After the game, having expressed his pleasure with the performance and the pitch (whose underlying stats had been quite soggy recently), Rodgers clearly wanted to focus on the treatment of his captain, bristling as he talked about Andrew Davies’ stamp on Scott Brown.
“The challenge was disgraceful. That’s one of the worst I’ve seen since I’ve been up here. There’s no intent to play the ball.”
To be fair to Davies, he clearly intended to play both the balls. But it was great to see the manager standing up for his captain just as much as his teammates did on the pitch immediately after the stamp.
Stuart Armstrong shouting ‘Mon then, big chap, square go!’ in an Invernessian accent, his hair swaying in the wind with REO Speedwagon or Jefferson Starship playing in the background, might not be as intimidating as he thinks but no doubt Brown would have appreciated the effort.
Rodgers was only just getting started:
“Jozo Šimunović gets two games for a slight elbow, I don’t know what that will be.”
It’s been noticeable that in his second season in Scotland the gloves have come off and Rodgers is more willing to pick a few fights. Clearly Jozo’s red card at Ibrox at the insistence of part-time MP and full-time Tory linesman, Douglas Ross, still irks the Celtic manager.
Will this subtle bit of pressure make sure the SFA give Davies a suitably lengthy ban? Will linesman Ross lose his lucrative part-time job at the next election? Hopefully.
When asked if Brown required some protection from referees after seemingly being the target of a few ‘incidents’ in recent games, Rodgers nicely avoided giving the press an easy headline.
“He is aggressive but he’s fair and he’s honest. He plays with a real authority and aggression, but it is always controlled. There’s one or two that want to make a name for themselves by trying to put those sort of tackles in.”
It was a much calmer and determined Rodgers that ended the press conference thinking about the ‘important part of the season’.
For the first time the manager has almost a fully fit squad to choose from. Seven points (or less) will clinch 7 in a Row. A semi-final at Hampden stands between Celtic and the chance to secure a Double Treble. However, Brendan has been here before. He knows the best way to make history is by keeping things simple and sticking some common sense before the old cliches:
“It’s now all about your mental fitness. We have the talent but now we approach it one game at a time.”
Remember, déjà vu is a glitch in the SPFL Matrix and nobody will take the blue pill this season either.