SPL

Brendan Rodgers ‘still angry’ at Celtic’s ‘soft’ first-half show at St Johnstone

By Sports Desk December 03, 2023

Brendan Rodgers claimed he had never been angrier as a manager after watching Celtic’s “soft” first-half performance in a 3-1 cinch Premiership comeback win over St Johnstone.

Celtic trailed at half-time after conceding from an inswinging corner for the second weekend running. Diallang Jaiyesimi got the final touch as the champions struggled to deal with Graham Carey’s delivery and the aftermath.

David Turnbull had Celtic’s sole shot on target in the first half as Saints threatened to take more points off the league leaders following a goalless Parkhead draw in August.

With Mikey Johnston off the bench for Yang Hyun-jun, the visitors were much improved after the break. Callum McGregor and Matt O’Riley netted with powerful strikes before substitute James Forrest scored on the counter-attack in stoppage-time after Jay Turner-Cooke had come close at the other end.

But Rodgers said: “I’m still angry, if I’m honest. The first half was nowhere near what you expect from a Celtic player and team. Just the level of intensity and ambition in the game, the speed, we were absolutely nowhere near it.

“We got bullied for the goal and we were soft in everything, with and without the ball. Half-time was the angriest I’ve ever been as a manager.

“People who have been around me will know I’m normally very calm. It was nothing tactical – this was about desire and what it takes to play for this club.

“Thankfully in the second half the players were brilliant. Callum McGregor was outstanding and I got more of the energy and ambition that I want.

“It was what I expected in the first half. We’d gone a game-and-a-half and not scored, with the greatest of respect, against St Johnstone.

“Craig (Levein) had organised his team well and they got their goal from the set-piece that we were soft at. I expect much more from us.

“Second half, it was a real testament to the players, because they could have folded and been nervy, but they got to the level I demand from them.

“They were fantastic goals and we could have had more. It’s a reminder that if you go soft, if you go timid against any team, they can hurt you.”

Craig Levein was disappointed by the turnaround but encouraged by his side’s overall display.

“We did a lot of good things and defended really well,” the Saints manager said.

“We’ve lost to two wonderful pieces of skill. Those two goals were like a kick in the whatsits. The last goal I’m not bothered up – we were gung-ho by then.”

Levein added: “One of the things I’m confident we can improve is our fitness.

“We tired a bit in the second half, which is understandable. There’s a lot of concentration needed to cut off passing lines, close spaces and defend the box in the right areas. That’s tiring.

“But I know we can get fitter – and that will help us in our quest to climb the table.”

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