Saturday 29 April 2017

Rodgers stays calm as Celtic make it super six

Michael Walker

When the fifth Celtic goal went in they celebrated with the pre-match huddle that has become a club trademark.

They did so on the Hearts penalty-spot, opposition turf, from where Scott Sinclair had belted in his third goal to put the gloss on a sixth consecutive Scottish title.

It was an old Celtic routine within a routine Celtic victory.

Brendan Rodgers has his first title as Celtic manager, won on the second day of April.

It is Rodgers' second trophy after the League Cup and there may yet be a third in the Scottish Cup.

Celtic remain unbeaten in Scotland this season. A first Treble since 2001 under Martin O'Neill beckons.

That looks probable as much as possible and, as the 50th anniversary of the Lisbon Lions approaches, a season undefeated would mark Rodgers and his team in Celtic history. Not even Jock Stein managed that.

Rodgers' immediate reaction on the touchline at Tynecastle was restrained - hands in pockets even as the final whistle blew.

Procession

It had been a formality of a contest from the 24th minute when Sinclair lashed in the first and the lack of competitiveness reflected the Scottish season: a green procession long before the end.

Afterwards Rodgers (below) said his celebration would be "a cup of tea" and a review of the game on video.

But the Irishman, who signed a 12-month rolling contract last May, then made his strongest public commitment yet to staying at Celtic.

"I'm absolutely delighted for the players and everyone connected with the club," he said. "I'm really proud of the professionalism, the integrity, the pride and the style with which the team have played. This is what we wanted to create.

"It's only the beginning of the cycle. It's exciting to see the growth, the development.

"I'm very content. I've only started management really and I've had five jobs. I need to just stay calm. I've already worked in the Premier League. I don't think there's a better place for me to be at this stage of my life than Glasgow Celtic, I'm very comfortable here.

"Sometimes with ambition you have to be careful, appreciate what you have. I'm older and a bit more mature and I'm really happy here.

"There's not a place now in this world where I'd be happier in my football life and personal life."

The next aim for Rodgers at Celtic will be to buy players capable of making the club challengers in the Champions League or in the Europa League.

Unfortunately, Scottish football is not the testing ground for those ambitions. Celtic are now 28 points ahead of second-place Aberdeen and 45 ahead of their hosts here.

A gauge of Celtic's quality is difficult because Hearts were so poor.

At times basic challenges were left unmade, every Celtic player was quicker and more determined.

It is a serious point as well as a bad pun: Hearts lacked heart.

It has not been an easy introduction to management for 30-year-old Ian Cathro and while he claimed the scoreline did not reflect the game, that was not a majority verdict.

Hearts scrambled forward for the first 15 minutes or so but once Sinclair exchanged passes with Patrick Roberts for the first and then ran onto a Roberts pass for the second three minutes later, the outcome was in no doubt.

A disallowed Hearts own goal just after the interval would have demoralised the home players even further, but they could take no advantage and on 55 minutes Stuart Armstrong guided in a third.

Seven minutes later, Roberts, the 20-year-old on loan from Manchester City, bent in a sweet fourth.

There was some respite for Hearts until Krystian Nowak tripped Sinclair late on. Sinclair's penalty was comfortable and he clutched the matchball gleefully after.

Sinclair was relegated with Aston Villa last season in England. Like Rodgers he has thrived since his move north of the border.

The word of the day turned out to be comfortable: Sinclair looks it, Rodgers is it, as he said, and so too are Celtic. In Scotland that could be their biggest challenge. © Independent News Service.

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