Simunovic sure Celtic will thrive in high-stakes run

Croat adamant his team can han­dle Hearts, Aberdeen and Molde in quick suc­ces­sion

The Herald - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - STEW­ART FISHER CHIEF SPORTS­WRITER

JOZO Simunovic, Celtic’s Croa­t­ian cen­tral de­fender, feels the Park­head side can take the strain of play­ing the three matches in eight days which will de­fine their sea­son.

Af­ter an away League Cup tie at Tynecas­tle to­mor­row night, the Premier­ship cham­pi­ons face a sum­mit meet­ing with ti­tle ri­vals Aberdeen at Celtic Park on Satur­day be­fore a Europa League re-match with Molde the fol­low­ing Thurs­day. Three wins would ease the pres­sure sig­nif­i­cantly on man­ager Ronny Deila, and Simunovic – who made his do­mes­tic de­but dur­ing the com­fort­able 5-0 win against Dundee United on Sun­day – is pre­pared to play his part. He has no short­age of pres­sure on his own shoul­ders, with Celtic hav­ing com­mit­ted to a £5.5m pack­age to se­cure his ser­vices from Di­namo Za­greb, an­other team well used to hav­ing to deal with ex­pec­ta­tion from their fans.

“I think this sit­u­a­tion is nor­mal and the play­ers that come here know that,” said Simunovic. “Ev­ery team faces scru­tiny and you have to learn how to han­dle this pres­sure. It was the same pres­sure as we had at Di­namo – where you are two times bet­ter than the play­ers at other teams in the league, but when you come to some­thing bet­ter like Cham­pi­ons League or Europa League, then you can some­times have a prob­lem. The fans were crit­i­cis­ing the club at Di­namo and re­ally un­happy with the man­age­ment of the team, that was the prob­lem.

“I came here to play and I am go­ing to con­trib­ute as much as I can to th­ese next three games, es­pe­cially,” he added. “I don’t know about other play­ers, I can only speak for me. But we have good talks be­fore the games and I don’t feel ex­tra pres­sure, you can’t live like that.

“Put the money aside. For me, that is not an is­sue. What I want to see is how I can help my team-mates.”

Hav­ing been part of the Di­namo side which knocked Molde out in Cham­pi­ons League quali­fy­ing on away goals fol­low­ing a 4-4 ag­gre­gate score­line, Simunovic is par­tic­u­larly look­ing for­ward to re­new­ing ac­quain­tances with the Nor­we­gians. Af­ter a month out with an an­kle in­jury, he trav­elled to Molde in mid­week, but wasn’t risked on the ar­ti­fi­cial sur­face. He in­sists he felt Celtic were the bet­ter team.

“Of course it is hard to watch a game which the team is los­ing, but we can fix the sit­u­a­tion,” said Simunovic. “We played Molde two times in the quali­fy­ing for the Cham­pi­ons League with Di­namo Za­greb and we drew 1-1 and 3-3 – they got three penal­ties, but only scored one! Of course we can beat them next week. I ac­tu­ally think we were bet­ter than them over there in Nor­way, but some­times the best team does not al­ways win. We played okay but they were scor­ing and that is just some­thing that can hap­pen some­times.”

PRES­SURE COOKER: Jozo Simunovic and his Celtic team-mates are braced for a three-game run which could have a big say in how their sea­son pans out

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