Celtic ease to record but face an­other type of test

Lis­bon Lions’ run is beaten now Rodgers has to fight to keep hold of Craig Gor­don

The Herald - Herald Sport - - LADBROKES PREMIERSHIP -

AN UN­FOR­TU­NATE but in­evitable by-prod­uct of achiev­ing suc­cess in Scot­tish foot­ball is that the play­ers re­spon­si­ble at­tract the in­ter­est of wealth­ier clubs from fur­ther afield.

Bren­dan Rodgers should re­ally have spent last night wal­low­ing in the record­break­ing start to the do­mes­tic sea­son which his Celtic side have made.

They ex­tended their un­beaten run to 27 games with a com­pre­hen­sive 4-0 tri­umph over Hearts at Park­head yes­ter­day thanks to goals from Cal­lum McGre­gor and Pa­trick Roberts and a Scott Sin­clair dou­ble. In do­ing so, they eclipsed the pre­vi­ous best post-war run recorded by Jock Stein’s leg­endary team 50 years ago in the 1966/67 cam­paign.

Yet, no sooner had Rodgers lauded his charges for their his­toric ac­com­plish­ment and pledged to en­sure they con­tinue their hot streak of form, than he was field­ing ques­tions about Craig Gor­don.

Gor­don was the sub­ject of a failed bid of un­der £3 mil­lion from Chelsea last week, but the Stam­ford Bridge club ap­pear set to in­crease their of­fer be­fore the win­dow closes to­mor­row evening. Hav­ing ini­tially dis­missed the Bar­clays Pre­mier League lead­ers’ prospects of land­ing his first-choice keeper, the North­ern Ir­ish­man seemed to ac­cept that he could con­ceiv­ably move on.

“Chelsea have an in­ter­est in him, but for any in­ter­est to be ac­ti­vated there has to be a val­u­a­tion of the player that has to be met,” he told BBC Ra­dio Scot­land.

“There’s noth­ing we have got from Chelsea that would make us think in any way we would want to lose a goal­keeper. He is a goal­keeper I re­ally want to keep here.

“We don’t want to sell him, of course, but if there’s any way that would make Celtic think then there has to be an of­fer that would al­low us to do that as a club. And what came in was nowhere near that level.”

It is, de­spite the fact Celtic have qual­i­fied for the group stages of the Cham­pi­ons League this sea­son and are on course for a rare Tre­ble, a harsh re­al­ity of the former Swansea City and Liver­pool man’s cur­rent po­si­tion.

Rodgers has, with­out ques­tion, been re­spon­si­ble for Gor­don de­vel­op­ing as a player this term, and he was once again im­por­tant for his team yes­ter­day.

It will be ironic, then, if the 34-yearold, who kept his 17th clean sheet of the 2016/17 sea­son in the vic­tory over Hearts, de­parts this week as a re­sult of the progress he has made.

His man­ager, though, is op­ti­mistic an in­di­vid­ual who has played for Sun­der­land in the top flight in Eng­land in the past, and who spent two years out of the game through in­jury be­fore join­ing Celtic, will re­sist the temp­ta­tion to leave for a club where he will be sit­ting on the bench.

“He is a player that, with all due re­spect, when my­self and my staff came in here he was a far cry away from what he is now as a goal­keeper,” said Rodgers.

“He has gone away and worked on how we want him to play and has got him­self into the team and has been ab­so­lutely bril­liant, first class. I have en­joyed see­ing his progress and de­vel­op­ment.

“If you look at him now, his game, be­cause of our style has el­e­vated him to one of the best clubs in Europe want­ing to take him down there as a No 2. I have had a few con­ver­sa­tions with him and he is clear where we are at.

“I un­der­stand the lure of [the Chelsea bid] and I also un­der­stand what it would mean for Craig to go there as a No 2 for the next two years and waste away his ca­reer in not play­ing games.”

Oc­ca­sions like the one yes­ter­day, when the home sup­port­ers in the 58,247-strong crowd stayed be­hind af­ter ref­eree Bobby Mad­den had blown the fi­nal whis­tle to ap­plaud their he­roes, will make it dif­fi­cult for Gor­don to move on.

That Celtic recorded such a re­sound­ing win was re­mark­able given that Stuart Arm­strong was ruled out be­fore kick-off with a ham­string strain and both Moussa Dem­bele and Leigh Grif­fiths were side­lined.

Grif­fiths was un­avail­able af­ter suf­fer­ing an in­jury dur­ing his brief run-out in the 1-0 tri­umph over St John­stone in mid­week, and Rodgers ap­peared con­cerned at the con­di­tion of the for­ward who has only played for 15 min­utes this month.

“Leigh has strug­gled for a while

SAFE HANDS: Celtic goal­keeper Craig Gor­don (cen­tre) leaves the pitch af­ter an­other clean sheet.

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