Ange Postecoglou delighted with "huge leap forward" for Celtic
Ange Postecoglou has hailed his Celtic players for making a “huge leap forward” into the Europa League.
The Bhoys secured Europa League group stage football for the fourth consecutive year. While it doesn’t hold quite the same glamour as the Champions League, UEFA’s second competition is a perfectly exciting and useful yardstick for how Celtic are progressing.
Postecoglou was delighted with the defensive reaction to some first-half mistakes. Joe Hart and Carl Starfelt endured a difficult first 45 minutes, but recovered well in the second to keep AZ from equalising on aggregate.
The Celtic manager told the BBC:
“[The result is] a huge leap forward. It means that we’re going to play in one of the elite competitions against good quality opponents, and ensuring there’s more special European nights in this year, this season.
“Hugely important that we got through. Different type of performance tonight, but reward, I guess over the two legs, for getting the job done.
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“We made two pretty terrible errors, but that’s what happens when you deal with human beings. They’re going to make mistakes. [What was] more important for me was what we did after and how we reacted.
“We lost our way a little bit in the first half, trying to recover from that. They obviously got some momentum. Because we started the game well, I thought we started playing really brightly. Obviously giving them two goals set us back.
“Second half I thought we dug in when we had to. Joe [Hart] was obviously disappointed with the first-half mistake, made a couple of outstanding saves. Carl [Starfelt] defended really strongly in the second half.
“Mistakes are part of the nature of football. It’s the reaction to them that’s important.”
Celtic are making progress under Postecoglou, and the signs are promising
As my colleague John McGinley has written, it’s worth remembering that Postecoglou first took training just two months ago. Fine, tonight wasn’t the vintage showing of Ange-ball that we’ve got used to over recent weeks.
But it was enough. Yes, the aesthetics weren’t there, and we had to win the tie in uglier fashion than we would’ve liked. But this is a good, good AZ side, who will make an example of teams in the UEFA Conference League.
As another of my colleagues, Hamish Carton pointed out on YouTube, there are worse Champions League teams competing this season.
This is an achievement and a half. Now, with Rangers on the horizon, the hard work doesn’t stop.
But you hope, even if it’s just for a wee moment, that Postecoglou can take some satisfaction in what he’s done with this bare-bones Celtic squad.