Celtic v Rangers inquest: Ange Postecoglou has say on claim his team looked like they played 120 midweek minutes

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou appears gloomy during his team’s Scottish Cup semi-final defeat but maintains the “road to success is not downhill, mate” in challenging his players to overcome the disappointment and drive towards the finish line in a title race they hold a six -point advantage in. Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group)

How was it, this perplexed constituency asked themselves, that Celtic rather than Rangers looked as if they had pushed themselves through 120 minutes of football only the Thursday night prior to the last-four tie? For a second successive meeting between the pair, the Ibrox men saw more of the ball than their bitter foes. A rare occurrence in the fixture across recent times and a particular oddity in the current environment with Postecoglou priding himself on being a possession-based coach.

In the main, both teams struggled to break the press of the other across much of a stuffy contest. Yet, Rangers set the tone across the first period as they betrayed none of the legginess expected to inhibit them following their punishing exertions in the Europa League quarter-final success over Braga. It was Celtic’s sluggishness instead that then allowed Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men to exhibit greater control and bite in the middle of the park, and allowed them to pin back a Celtic that appeared anything but the fresher of the Hampden adversaries despite having a full nine days to prepare for the contest. Even if ultimately Celtic may have been undone by failing to go two-up when Cameron Carter-Vickers smacked the bar with only 21 minutes of normal time remaining. Yet, the Celtic manager took issue with contention that it appeared as if his team had come off a draining midweek as opposed to Rangers. “I didn’t see it that way,” he said. “They did press us, but I still thought we had our moments to play through, and we did. In these kind of games you know you’ve got to stay strong, get through the sort of sticky patches and wait for your moments to take advantage. I don’t think either side dominated, it was pretty even, and it was decided by one moment.”

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Now five games will decide whether Celtic claim the prize that was their key objective from the campaign. They remain in an envious position at the top of the cinch Premiership going into the post-split fixtures in holding a six-point lead over a Rangers they will meet at home on May 1, with Ross County at Dingwall lying in wait this weekend. The semi-final loss marked Celtic’s first domestic defeat in seven months and 34 games. It was suggested to Postecoglou that such form suggests he can depend on his team getting straight back in the saddle.

“The road to success is not downhill, mate. It requires effort every single step of the way,” the Australian said. “Sometimes you’ll stumble and we’ve stumbled a few times this year as a group, and we’ve managed to bounce back quickly. That’s what we’ve got to do again, but just because it’s happened in the past doesn’t mean it’s going to happen in the future. What you do know is that we’re capable of it, and we’ve used it the right way in the past, and we use this disappointment in the right way for next week.”

Postecoglou refuses to draw any comfort over Sunday from the fact most Celtic followers would have gratefully accepted the club’s current position if offered it last summer. “I think that is selling ourselves short and our supporters short,” he said. “Our supporters came to Hampden hoping to see us get to another ending. I don’t think you can take these opportunities for granted, you don’t just assume they’re going to come around every year. I don’t think it’s a matter of tailoring your language to make sure the players feel good about it. That doesn’t change anything about next week, whether we won the semi or not, the goal would still be the same.”

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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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