SPL

Riled Rodgers and Hearts on high – things we learned from cinch Premiership

By Sports Desk December 03, 2023

Celtic, Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian all enjoyed victories, while Motherwell and Dundee shared the points in a Fir Park thriller.

Here the PA news agency looks back on the highlights from the cinch Premiership action over the weekend.

Brendan Rodgers loses his rag

The Celtic boss claimed he had never been angrier as a manager after watching his side’s “soft” first-half display against St Johnstone. The champions conceded another goal from a corner to trail at half-time before strikes from Callum McGregor, Matt O’Riley and James Forrest earned a 3-1 win. But Rodgers said: “I’m still angry, if I’m honest. The first half was nowhere near what you expect from a Celtic player and team. We got bullied for the goal and we were soft in everything, with and without the ball. Half-time was the angriest I’ve ever been as a manager. I said to the players afterwards, don’t make me be like that again.”

Abdallah Sima back on the scoresheet

Sima scored a double in Philippe Clement’s first game as Rangers boss, a 4-0 home win over Hibernian in October. The 22-year-old attacker, on loan from Brighton, then went the next eight matches without finding the net and Clement put some tiredness down to becoming a father recently for the first time. Sima got back on track against St Mirren at Ibrox on Sunday with a fine strike before the break and a clinching second after 70 minutes to take his tally to the season to 11 in the 2-0 win, with the promise of more to come.

Motherwell strike early but still need a late show

Mika Biereth smashed Motherwell’s first league goal in front of the away fans at Fir Park this season and only their third first-half strike in all. It was the first time the Steelmen had taken the lead for three months but it failed to be the catalyst they were looking for and they twice came from behind to force a 3-3 draw against Dundee. Conor Wilkinson’s equaliser was Motherwell’s sixth 90th-minute goal of the Premiership campaign.

Hearts find consistency

The Jambos last week secured a hat-trick of Premiership wins for the first time since December 2021 and Saturday’s 1-0 success over Kilmarnock made it four league victories on the trot for the first time since they won their first five games of the 2018-19 campaign. Manager Steven Naismith, who scored five goals in those five matches, said: “If I’m honest, for a club like Hearts and a few other clubs will say the same – it should be normal that you go on a run like that, it shouldn’t take five years.”

David Marshall rolls back the years

Hibernian made it three league wins in a row for the first time this season with a 2-0 victory over Aberdeen, but their manager Nick Montgomery admitted afterwards they were indebted to veteran goalkeeper David Marshall. The 38-year-old produced a string of stunning saves to deny the Dons as they chased an equaliser at 1-0 down and the former Scotland international continued to frustrate Barry Robson’s team with further blocks in the closing stages, including from a Bojan Miovski penalty. Many more displays like Sunday’s and there will be a clamour for Marshall to bring himself out of international retirement and make himself available to Steve Clarke for the Euros next summer.

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  • Brendan Rodgers seeks positivity from stands ahead of Celtic’s clash with Dundee Brendan Rodgers seeks positivity from stands ahead of Celtic’s clash with Dundee

    Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers stressed the advantages of positivity from the stands ahead of Wednesday’s visit of Dundee after finding dissent over a substitution “strange”.

    Boos rang out from the away support at Motherwell on Sunday when Rodgers brought on Paulo Bernardo for Tomoki Iwata with the scores tied at 1-1 with 13 minutes left.

    The criticism likely stemmed from supporters’ desire to see someone else coming off other than Iwata, who had not played since December 13 because of injury, but Rodgers felt it did not help the player coming on.

    Celtic went on to win 3-1 with substitutes Adam Idah and Luis Palma getting all three goals between them and Rodgers brought up the jeers when asked about the importance of utilising his bench.

    “It’s very important, especially when you get booed for taking off a defender and putting on an attacker,” he said. “That seemed strange.

    “You are talking 95 to 100-minute games now, so your bench is very, very important. Having the depth to bring players on make an impact is very important.”

    When asked how he felt about the criticism, Rodgers said: “It doesn’t really matter to me, it’s more for the player coming on and the team.

    “It’s a negative reaction which I don’t quite understand. You are 1-1 in the game and take off a defensive midfield player and bring on an attacking player who has scored goals this season and you get booed. It just seemed a little strange.

    “But thankfully the players’ mentality on the pitch was superb, they kept going, they kept fighting and all the great work they did – especially in the second half in terms of tiring the opponent out – led to a couple of goals at the end.”

    When asked about the effect of criticism from the stands, Rodgers said: “It’s not only for Celtic, it’s in general in any club, if that feeling rolls down from the stands onto the pitch and it’s negative, then what do you expect?

    “You will get players who will have a nervousness, so the game will look different.

    “Whereas if they have that positive reaction and that support, it’s like life, if you get that support and that feeling that people are behind you, everyone, then you will have a greater chance to succeed.”

    Sunday’s encounter continued a recent trend where Celtic put together two very different halves of football, as Motherwell deservedly led at half-time. On other occasions, they have struggled to build on a comfortable first half.

    “To be fair, it’s been like that for bits of the season,” Rodgers said.

    “I see people saying ‘they don’t know their best team, they don’t know the best structure’. We know clearly what the structure is. And it’s not about the best team, it’s the team that finishes the game.

    “You play so many games, you are looking for an energy in the game that you can’t possibly keep for 90 minutes unless you make those changes.

    “Each game tactically is different. It’s not about finding your best 11 because they won’t finish the game. You have to adapt within the game.

    “But there’s no doubt you need to have that ruthless mentality and we would want that for longer periods, of course.

    “And we will continue to analyse that to see where we can improve. But by the end of the game, if we have won the game, then that’s what is most important, as well as performing well.”

  • Kaoru Mitoma set to miss rest of season with back injury Kaoru Mitoma set to miss rest of season with back injury

    Brighton have suffered a blow with the news that Kaoru Mitoma is expected to miss the rest of the season.

    The Japan winger, who has lit up the Amex Stadium for much of the last two campaigns, has suffered a back injury which could leave him on the sidelines for three months.

    He has already missed a chunk of the season due to an ankle injury and his participation in the Asia Cup.

    Mitoma’s prolonged absence will be a big blow in the Seagulls’ quest for a top-six finish in the Premier League, their Europa League campaign – where they play Roma in the last 16 – and their FA Cup challenge, which continues at Wolves on Wednesday.

    Boss Roberto De Zerbi said at a press conference to preview the trip to Molineux: “It’s a bad, bad situation. It’s the back injury which kept him out against Everton (at the weekend). It’s an important problem. I think two or three months, (so) finished (for) the season.”

    The Seagulls will also be without Evan Ferguson (ankle) and Joel Veltman, while Danny Welbeck is a doubt and Billy Gilmour is suspended.

    “Ferguson tomorrow, he can’t play,” De Zerbi added. “Welbeck has a problem and we have to make a check.

    “Veltman as well can’t play and the other players injured can’t play.”

  • Jurgen Klopp says Liverpool ‘need miracles’ to get a few injured players back Jurgen Klopp says Liverpool ‘need miracles’ to get a few injured players back

    Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp feels he needs “miracles” to get a number of his injured players back sooner rather than later.

    Midfielder Ryan Gravenberch was the latest to be ruled out – for at least two matches – after he was carried off on a stretcher in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final victory over Chelsea.

    But Wataru Endo is also a doubt for Wednesday’s FA Cup visit of Championship high-flyers Southampton after he left Wembley on crutches and wearing a protective boot, which would take the number of first-teamers unavailable to 13.

    And Klopp admitted veteran midfielder Thiago Alcantara – who has made one five-minute substitute appearance since April – may not play again for the club as his contract expires in the summer.

    Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szoboszlai are closest to returning, but they may not be risked in the cup.

    “We need miracles with a few players,” Klopp said. “I don’t want to rule them out for too long.

    “But it is touch and go with a lot of players who were not available for the final: Darwin, Mo, Dom – we have to see what they can do (on Tuesday).

    “In an ideal world you’d think about these kind of things but we obviously don’t live in an ideal world so we will see when the players arrive and they get checked.

    “When the players arrive and I can look in their eyes and see who might be ready then I will make the line-up.”

    Klopp is likely to have to rely on a number of the younger players who made such an impression at Wembley, with 19-year-olds Bobby Clark, son of former Newcastle midfielder Lee, and James McConnell likely to start against Saints.

    Although the pair have made just one start apiece in cup competitions this season, Klopp has total faith in their ability to step up in the team’s hour of need – although he urged fans to make allowances for them.

    “First and foremost, they don’t have to show anything. Our boys played in youth teams and under-21s and only came up recently and trained with us: absolutely nil experience but a lot of talent and they showed that,” he added.

    “If you play more of them (against Southampton) from the start and we have a look and think, ‘Hmm, they are not as good as I thought on Sunday’, that would be horrendous so there is absolutely no pressure.

    “All what these boys have to do is to really enjoy what they are doing. They have to defend like men, otherwise they cannot play.

    “I saw them doing that (on Sunday) and it obviously helped and it gave confidence and there are so many things you cannot buy. Usually you need years for getting these kind of experiences that they got in a flash.

    “It’s possible and a few of them have to start, that is clear, and if they do they will do the job and we all have to help them with celebrating the right things and not moaning about the wrong things.”

    Following the capture of a record-extending 10th League Cup on Sunday, Liverpool have made tentative moves regarding an end-of-season parade.

    It is not something they would not usually do for a victory in that competition but they want to mark the end of Klopp’s nine-year reign this summer.

    “That is the one part which is not so cool that it could be seen as that (a farewell to him)” he said. “I don’t think that makes sense.

    “But besides that, I am a big supporter of trophy parades and if there is a parade I will be on the bus, no doubt about that.”

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