The Sunday Post (Newcastle)
‘On our day, we’re the best team in Scotland’ – Kennedy defiant ahead of Old Firm Cup tie
John Kennedy has struck a defiant note ahead of the Scottish Cup clash with Rangers next weekend – insisting Celtic are the best team in Scotland.
The Hoops will go into the tie, knowing they will have to end their rivals’ perfect domestic record at Ibrox this season if they are to progress to the quarter-finals.
That is no easy task, with the Light Blues’ home form having been central to their success in capturing the Premiership title.
However, Kennedy, Celtic’s interim manager, argues the statistics do not tell the full story, and says a win for his team would lay down a marker for next season.
“I have full belief in the squad we have here, and that on our day we are still the best team in the country,” he said.
“I think in the last game (last month’s 1-1 draw at Celtic Park), and the 60 minutes we had at Ibrox (prior to Nir Bitton’s sending off in the 1-0 defeat in January), we showed that.
“From my point of view, in terms of our level of performance, and how we can play and create, there were a lot of positives.
“We just have to be much more clinical at the top end, and not be switching off at set-play moments.
“That’s been the outcome of the games recently.
“We will be fully focused on that, and we will try to build on our performances.”
The heart of Kennedy’s message to his players is that with the title away, this is the time to lay foundations for the months ahead.
“That’s the reaction you have to have,” he said.
“There was always going to come a point where we had a setback. This season was a big one for us – but the best always bounce back.
“It’s easy to give up and say: ‘Oh, we’ve had our time’.
“But I have said it to the players, and it is very much about how we respond to that.
“Our level of performance against Rangers was good.
“I thought it sent a message that the gap is not as big as everybody thinks it is.
“But ultimately it does come down to results, so we want to take that one step further.
“Then that sets us up in terms of changing the narrative, rather than just looking at the league table alone.
“On our day, we know that with more consistency and improvements, we will still very much be up there and challenging, and winning trophies.
“It has been a difficult season for everyone with the way it has gone, especially for the fans who can’t attend games.
“This is an opportunity to hopefully bring back a bit of pride to the club and the team.
“It will be a tough game next weekend as we know, but we are more than capable of going and winning that game, and progressing in the Cup.”
With Celtic having won the held-back 2020 Scottish Cup Final in December, success would give the Hoops players a shot at the extraordinary feat of picking up two medals in the same competition in the space of six months.
Said midfielder David Turnbull: “I really didn’t expect the Cup from last season to get held back to this campaign.
“But it meant I was lucky enough to be involved in our win.
“That was my first trophy as a professional footballer, and it would be great to be involved in another.
“Maybe not in extra time! It was exciting for people watching, but it was nervy for those playing in it.
“Once we got it over the line, it was a great feeling and I was just happy to have been involved in it.
“At a club like Celtic, there is a built-in drive to be winning trophies year in, year out.”
Turnbull has a personal reason for wanting to shine in the derby.
He still harbours hopes of forcing his way into Scotland manager Steve Clarke’s squad for the Euros.
“The Scotland manager has said if I continue my club form, my chance is not far away,” said Turnbull.
“So I just have to keep working hard to show him if given the chance, I will be ready.”