Friday 9 December 2016

Rodgers praises O'Connell as Griffiths saves day

Fc Astana 1 Celtic 1

Ronnie Esplin in Astana

Published 28/07/2016 | 02:30

Just when it looked like Celtic would be content enough with a narrow defeat Griffiths (pictured) struck to score the vital away goal,
Just when it looked like Celtic would be content enough with a narrow defeat Griffiths (pictured) struck to score the vital away goal,

Brendan Rodgers praised the resilience of his Celtic players after they came from behind to grab a crucial draw against Astana in Kazakhstan.

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Defender Yuri Logvinenko headed the home side ahead from a corner in the 19th minute of the Champions League third qualifying round and the Hoops had to withstand some heavy pressure as the home team - roared on by their noisy supporters - surged forward in search of a a second.

However, with 20-year-old Irish centre-back Eoghan O'Connell playing a key role, Celtic's defence stood firm and their resilience was rewarded with 12 minutes remaining when Leigh Griffiths drilled home a shot from the edge of the box to stun the Kazakhstan champions.

Rodgers was especially delighted with the the performane of O'Connell's performance on a "difficult, unnatural" artificial surface.

With five central defenders either out injured or trying to catch up on fitness, the former Liverpool boss gambled by giving a European debut to O'Connell and the Corkman didn't let him down.

Rodgers said: "I thought he was outstanding. For a young player, who has been on the fringes for a few years, coming into that environment, under pressure, he had very few mistakes in the game."

However, O'Connell was as culpable as any of the Hoops players when Astana scored their goal from a corner and that is an issue the manager is planning to address.

"I think there has been an issue there with set-pieces, long before I came in," he said. "We have lost the man too easy so you put yourself under pressure.

"Over the course of the pre-season, we defended them well in the main but it is an element that we have to be better at and it is something we will reiterate to the players.

"We had to cope with a long ball. They were quite direct at times and a high percentage of times we dealt quite well with it but we need to ensure that our concentration is 100 per cent."

"However, it was an outstanding result for us. Collectively the mentality was the most pleasing thing.

"I think we were all written off before the game, everyone pretty clear in their opinion of the game, that we would do well to come back with anything other than a loss.

"The players deserve an immense amount of credit for the spirit and passion they showed throughout the game.

"We showed a wonderful mentality to keep fighting and in the second half we restricted them to not so many clear chances and ended up scoring a fantastic goal."

Just when it looked like Celtic would be content enough with a narrow defeat Griffiths struck to score the vital away goal, leaving the Kazakhstan champions to rue their failure to press home their advantage.

In a frantic finale, Craig Gordon saved from Kabananga with his foot but in the five added minutes Celtic were equally threatening and could have snatched a winner.

Astana coach Stanimir Stoilov accepts his side will have to improve if they are to survive the tie.

The Bulgarian said: "We will try our best when we go to Glasgow and hopefully we will have a very good spirit over there. We will have to double our efforts to get what we want."

Irish Independent

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