Brendan Rodgers hails '˜mental courage' of his players

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps the same can be said of the nastier side of life. Because, while Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha was getting hot under the collar about a perceived on-field misdemeanor, his Celtic counterpart was extolling the merits of a bit of on-field dig.
Brendan Rodgers screams instructions to his team from the sidelines at Ibrox. Photograph: Craig Williamson/SNSBrendan Rodgers screams instructions to his team from the sidelines at Ibrox. Photograph: Craig Williamson/SNS
Brendan Rodgers screams instructions to his team from the sidelines at Ibrox. Photograph: Craig Williamson/SNS

“I didn’t see that,” he said of an alleged Scott Brown flying elbow. “I thought it was a very good game. I thought it was competitive. It was aggressive and you want it aggressive.

“But we need to give a mention to the referee as well, because I thought he was excellent. He and his staff controlled it very, very well. But no I didn’t see anything untoward.”

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Rodgers has had a charmed Old Firm existence since taking the reins at Celtic, with yesterday’s result giving him six wins from seven, with only one draw in there to slightly blot his copybook.

The last time he squared up to Caixinha at Ibrox, in April, things turned ugly for Rangers as they caved in, losing 5-1. But while the latest scoreline was more flattering to the home side, Rodgers would not be drawn on whether he thought they were actually closing the gap on his team.

“That’s something for you to decide and write about. We can’t win every game by five and six! But I think we showed a great level of management today. We knew it was going to be tough.

“There’s always tension around these games. You can’t become complacent in these games, anything can happen. Especially when you come into today’s atmosphere.

“But what you see in my team is that development of how to cope. There’s a real courage physically to work and run, but that mental courage to play.

“In a lot of games where you might not score in the first ten minutes you need to work the ball, be patient, try and tire the opponent out and eventually make the breakthrough. And that’s what we did.

“Pedro has changed it and brought in a lot of players, a lot of experienced players. Obviously, they will believe they can go on and challenge. But we had to come here today for the first one of these games of the season and I thought we were outstanding. We scored two, could have had more but very importantly we were very strong defensively as well.”

While Celtic will now turn their attentions to a Champions League trip to Anderlecht, Rangers will have to conjure up a response of their own against Hamilton as they struggle to hang on to the coattails of the defending champions.

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“We never said we’d make a title challenge,” stated Caixinha, whose team are well adrift of the league leaders, with just seven games played. “We just said we’d take it game by game. That’s the reality, we’re eight points behind the leaders. So we need to focus on the next match. And that’s very important because now we’re going to see what we’re made of. Now we’ll see if we react the way we need to or just look around and don’t take decisions. I’m really looking forward to that.”

It was a defiant call from a man who was all fire and fury during the match. But with seven Old Firm debutants, his men did not show the quality or the mental fortitude he claims is within them and it was certainly not enough to match up to Celtic, whose game management and patience delighted their gaffer.

“In the second half I thought our conditioning and quality of our players came through. Once we got the first goal we weren’t disappointed not to score more but we did make more chances,” added Rodgers.

“It was a very, very good performance. There was a great atmosphere today and our boys coped with it very, very well.”

It is something he must be growing used to seeing. But he surely won’t ever tire of seeing it against their city foes, while also having the luxury of being able to rest guys like Olivier Ntcham and others with a bigger game looming midweek.