Ange Postecoglou insists Celtic faith in Daizen Maeda is justified as hard graft gets praised ‘within the four walls’

Celtic’s Ange Postecoglou loves an underdog story.

Let’s face it, when he was unveiled as Hoops boss, to a universal raising of eyebrows, no one expected him to be sitting top of the league in March.

But he’s there, against the odds and a backdrop of major upheaval at Parkhead.

His opposite number today, Livingston gaffer David Martindale, also likes to upset the apple cart.

He has owned his colorful past and proved himself to be a top gaffer this term. That’s why the Lions started this weekend in the Premiership’s top four.

Postecoglou didn’t know anything about Martindale before he arrived – but he does now. In two games against Livi so far, Celtic have dropped four points and failed to score a goal. The Australian is full of praise for Martindale and insists he isn’t getting the credit he deserves.

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He admires him and Ross County boss Malky Mackay – who has also had to defy criticism – because he knows just how difficult the job can be in any circumstances.

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Postecoglou said: “I admire every manager because I know how hard the gig is, wherever you are working.

“But certainly David has done a fantastic job with Livingston this year.

“I look at the way he works with his team and I like the fact that when someone’s written off, they come back.

“It’s the same with Malky at Ross County. Both clubs have rolled up their sleeves and got on with things.

“They’ve caused problems for every team in the league and I’ve got great admiration for what David has done. I know how tough this manager role is.

“But he’s done a brilliant job with his group of players.

“We know we’re in for a tough game at Livingston.

“But that’s good for us because we’ll need to be at our best to beat them. People are selling Livi a bit short this year.

Livingston’s Andrew Shinnie celebrates making it 1-0 against Celtic in September

“I’ve watched them closely and, during the season, they’ve become more than just a defensive team. They’re a real threat going forward.

“They’ve been one of the most consistent teams in the league. People just dismiss them as being one-dimensional but I don’t see it that way now.

“Yes, they’re hard to break down and a difficult team to open up defensively.

“But they’ve also got threats going the other way and we must be ready for that.”

Despite sitting top of the pile, Postecoglou has had to field questions about his side not being at their best of late.

There’s no doubt that since the breathtaking 3-0 Old Firm victory over Rangers, they’ve lacked the same zip and intensity in their play.

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Postecoglou isn’t daft and has never said they could produce that type of performance for the full campaign.

But given the state the club was in when he got here, he’s delighted that – irrespective of how they’ve played – they’re in charge of the title race.

He said: “You have to remember that we’re still building a team here.

“When you’re going through that phase, you’re not going to be at your optimum best in every game.

“You also take into account the teams trying to stop you. We have to find ways and solutions to get over that.

“Through it all, I’ve had a great respect for the players because they haven’t wanted me to make excuses for them.

“When we haven’t been good, I’ve said it. When people have said we’re not flying, we’ve accepted that.

“None of the boys have had their noses put out of joint or felt sorry for themselves. They’ve got on with it and it’s a credit to the group that they’ve overcome every challenge put down before them.

“That’s all I can ask for while I’m still building a team.

“We have guys who only joined the club a few months ago so we’re nowhere near where we want to be.

“But in every game we try to win and hopefully show we want to get the job done.”

While others have grabbed headlines, Postecoglou hailed two of his unsung heroes ahead of their trip to West Lothian today.

Japanese forward Daizen Maeda – on loan from Yokohama F. Marinos – has only scored four goals in 13 games so far for Celtic.

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But his manager is adamant the 24-year-old is here to stay and insists the job he’s doing for the team is invaluable.

And in masked skipper Callum McGregor, Postecoglou believes he’s got a player who has gone above and beyond to lead his team.

He said: “Daizen is our player. He was outstanding against St Mirren on Wednesday – his defensive work from him was terrific.

“People look for different things but I know what I get from Daizen and why I brought him to this club.

“A lot of people don’t see the work he does.

“The reason why St Mirren got nowhere near our box was because Daizen was constantly pressing their keeper who is great with his feet.

“Every player has a role within the team.

“Sometimes you don’t get all the headlines but within the four walls at Celtic Park, he gets his due recognition.

“I’m not sure when Cal’s mask is due off but people shouldn’t dismiss it because there’s a reason he’s wearing it.

“It takes courage to wear something like that – and not just because of the way it looks.

“He’s protecting something that maybe others wouldn’t play with. He it’s a reminder for people.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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