Wednesday 19 September 2018

Dembele: I never wanted to leave

Celtic striker insists January trip to London was only about fitness

Celtic striker Moussa Dembele scores the first of his three goals against St Johnstone last Sunday from the penalty spot. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Celtic striker Moussa Dembele scores the first of his three goals against St Johnstone last Sunday from the penalty spot. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Moussa Dembele insists his focus was on fitness and not transfer speculation after returning to score a hat-trick in the 5-2 win at St Johnstone on Sunday afternoon.

The 20-year-old French striker was linked with a move to Chelsea in January but his well-publicised trip to London was simply to get a scan on a knee injury.

After missing two games Dembele came off the bench just before the hour mark with the visitors losing 2-1 and with his first touch he levelled with a controversial penalty.

The former Fulham player scored another two with Scott Sinclair also notching as Brendan Rodgers' side extended their unbeaten domestic run to 29 games to go 27 points clear of Aberdeen at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership.

Asked about the Chelsea rumours, Dembele said: "It's easy not to get distracted.

"I'm a very calm kind of guy and I don't really let this type of thing get in my head.

"I focus only on enjoying my football at Celtic and I'm very happy to be here.

"I don't really listen to what has been said about me, I just try to get fit as quickly as possible and back on the pitch."

Rodgers, meanwhile, marvelled at their fifth goal against St Johnstone on Sunday as his team underlined their confidence.

All 11 players touched the ball in the build-up to Dembele's goal, including goalkeeper Craig Gordon, as Celtic rounded off a 5-2 victory at McDiarmid Park in style.

A total of 24 passes had St Johnstone chasing shadows and the final two were delivered with extra panache. Mikael Lustig executed a "rabona" pass in the box and Callum McGregor's deft backheel set up Dembele to finish first time in a contender for the Ladbrokes Premiership goal of the season.

"It was real good play," Rodgers said. "By that time we were high in confidence, little combinations, great bit of skill by Mika in the box and Callum had a lovely touch as well to set Moussa up and he wrongfoots the keeper.

"All round it was an outstanding team performance. It's a very difficult place to score goals so to get five and look the threat we did was very impressive."

Half-time substitute Dembele netted a hat-trick on his return from a knee injury, although he also got a large slice of luck from referee Craig Thomson, who awarded a very harsh penalty for Celtic for handball against Keith Watson.

Rodgers said: "We always feel we can create and score goals and in the second half, our offensive play was outstanding.

"We have obviously played without a number nine in these last few games but to have (Dembele) in the team, you see the difference when you have that striker. Great finishes and great composure."

It was Dembele's penalty which dominated the post-match press conference.

The home side had gone into the break leading 2-1 after a Keith Watson header and an own goal by Dedryck Boyata had overturned an early opener from Liam Henderson.

Referee Craig Thomson gave Celtic the chance to equalise when he pointed to the spot after a Kieran Tierney cross struck Watson, albeit the ball seemed to hit the defender on the hip.

An angry St Johnstone boss Tommy Wright said: "There was three teams out there. I thought Celtic were excellent. I thought we were excellent. I thought the other team was poor and they let my players down."

Rodgers sympathised with Wright and then claimed he had seen some "funny" decisions since he arrived in Scottish football in the summer.

He said: "It is a difficult job for them and I have seen it in a lot of the games.

"They are not full-time, it is not their professional job.

"They come into big games, particularly Celtic games, pressure games."

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