herald

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Rodgers needs the Bhoys at their best

Celtic can't afford to make mistakes against Zenit

CONTACT: Celtic’s Moussa Dembele looks about to take a boot from Partick Thistle keeper Tomas Cerny Photo: PA
CONTACT: Celtic’s Moussa Dembele looks about to take a boot from Partick Thistle keeper Tomas Cerny Photo: PA

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers hopes the Europa League clash with Zenit St Petersburg on Thursday night brings out the best in the Scottish champions.

The Northern Irishman noted some defensive flaws in the 3-2 Scottish Cup win over Partick Thistle at Parkhead on Saturday, with winger James Forrest scoring his first hat-trick for the Hoops to take his tally for the season to 16.

At 2-0 up after 10 minutes, Celtic defender Jozo Simunovic's slack back pass allowed Jags striker Kris Doolan to nip in and reduce the deficit.

And with six minutes remaining, Simunovic allowed Thistle substitute Conor Sammon to fire in a second to set up a nervy finale, where Celtic left-back Kieran Tierney prevented Ryan Edwards grabbing an injury-time leveller with a timely challenge yards from goal.

Leg

Zenit visit Parkhead in the first leg with the return game in Russia the following week.

Rodgers said: "We will clearly need to play better than we did on Saturday but hopefully the occasion brings that performance up.

"We have a lot of players missing with injuries, but it's two really exciting games for us and the first leg here on Thursday should be a fantastic game.

"We'll get ready for that over the next few days and look forward to it."

The former Swansea and Liverpool boss is excited to still be in Europe after Christmas, even if it is in the second-tier competition following their exit from the Champions League.

He said: "That was the aim right from the start of this season, the next step for this group.

"We've qualified for this phase and now we want to maximise where we can go in this competition.

"We recognise that there are some crack teams in there that are probably disappointed that they are not competing at the latter end of the Champions League but the experience will be great and we'll see what we can do over the two legs."

Rodgers hailed Forrest after the winger grabbed his first Hoops hat-trick. The Celtic boss said of Scotland international Forrest: "He was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

"His game has come on this year again, into being a really effective player because he has got that ability. He is technically very good, one of the best receivers of the ball I have every worked with, in how he takes the ball on the side of the field or in the middle.

"He has a wonderful touch and how he can move it with his second touch and now he is adding goals to his game.

"He has that hunger to score goals and all three of them were outstanding today.

"He was the class player on the pitch and thoroughly deserves the match ball."

After scoring his first hat-trick for the club, Forrest said: "I am absolutely delighted.

"I have been on two goals before and had a couple of chances but not managed to get a hat-trick so I was delighted to get it."

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