Northern Ireland door open for Celtic goal hero McCourt
Inverness CT 0 Celtic 1: Nigel Worthington insists the “door is still open” for Paddy McCourt to return to the Northern Ireland fold.
The talented Celtic midfielder has been left out of Worthington's recent squads while a host of new faces have been drafted in, including youngsters Johnny Gorman of Wolves and Manchester United duo Corry Evans and Oliver Norwood, none of whom have played a competitive first-team game for their respective clubs.
McCourt, 26, has been in and out the Hoops' side since moving from Derry City in 2008 but new Parkhead boss Neil Lennon handed him a boost this summer in the shape of a new three-year contract.
And his winning goal for Celtic at Inverness in their Clydesdale Bank Premier League opener on Saturday indicated the Irishman is fit and ready to fill the boots of Aiden McGeady, who completed his £9.5million move to Spartak Moscow last week.
Worthington told the Belfast Telegraph McCourt simply has to keep fit and keep playing and he will be in contention for the upcoming Euro 2012 qualifier away to Slovenia next month.
“The door is still open for Paddy,” he said.
“He was injured a lot over the last year with different bumps and things and that got in the way.
“We all know the quality he possesses but I've told Paddy that he has to work hard when he plays, as do all the players in the team, and he knows that.
“But if he gets a regular spot at Celtic then he will be in my plans.
“I brought the youngsters in to give them some experience, to give them a chance but the door is still open for everyone.
“At the moment it's too early to talk about my squad for the Slovenia game but I will be looking at the situation over the coming weeks.”
Meanwhile, Celtic midfielder Joe Ledley revealed words of encouragement from manager Lennon had fired them to an impressive second-half display at Inverness after they recovered from a slow start.
Lennon cut a figure of frustration for much of the first half as Inverness took control of the early stages.
Shaun Maloney did hit the post with the best chance of the first 45 minutes of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League season, but Lukasz Zaluska made a point-blank save from Adam Rooney in one of several scares for the visitors.
However, Lennon and his players retained belief in themselves despite an unconvincing build-up to the season, which saw them crash out of the Champions League against Sporting Braga.
McCourt saved them with his fabulous goal before going off with whiplash sustained when Shaun Maloney ran in to celebrate.
His replacement, James Forrest, hit the bar with one of two excellent long-range efforts and also missed a sitter, while Ryan Esson produced impressive saves from Maloney, Ledley and Georgios Samaras.
Ledley said: “He (Lennon) didn't criticise us at half-time. We knew we had talent here and we believe in ourselves.
“You just need a bit of luck as well and I think in the second half we totally dominated and it could have been more than five.
“It was a great feeling and hopefully we can get more next time.
“Credit to Inverness, they did well in the first half. It took us a while to get going but the result could have been so much more.”
Ledley feels Celtic are now in good shape ahead of the first leg of their Europa League play-off against Dutch side Utrecht at Parkhead.
“We're confident and looking forward to Thursday,” the summer signing from Cardiff said.
“There were a lot of positives out of the game and I think the fans were happy as well.”
Lennon revealed after the game that he was closing in on the signing of two defenders.
A deal for Sweden centre-back Daniel Majstorovic, who played against Scotland in the 3-0 friendly victory in midweek, is expected to be confirmed soon.
The commanding 33-year-old is available for free after negotiating his release from AEK Athens.
Honduras left-back Emilio Izaguirre is also in talks over a move from Motagua, the same team that Rangers trialist Georgie Welcome plays for.
But Lennon was delighted with his much-maligned back four of Cha Du-ri,
Glenn Loovens, Jos Hooiveld and Charlie Mulgrew after Celtic kept their first clean sheet since the summer break.
Left-back Mulgrew had a difficult opening when Jonny Hayes got past him several times and delivered some dangerous crosses, but Celtic never looked like conceding in the second period.
Lennon said: “I thought Charlie had a very good game. He has taken a bit of stick but he knows the culture and the game here and I thought he was excellent against probably their most dangerous player.
“The two centre-halves were very good and Cha, in the second half defensively he was fine and going forward he was very powerful.”
Inverness manager Terry Butcher was as disappointed with his side's second-half performance as he was happy with their first, and also suffered the blow of losing Gil Blumenshtein for up to six weeks with a torn calf muscle.
But Butcher, who is also without Richie Foran (knee), saw plenty of signs of encouragement after their first game back in the SPL.
“In the first half we had some wonderful chances,” Butcher said.
“We can look at it and say there were a lot of really good things to come out of the first half. We're missing Richie and the lad who came in, Nick Ross, is only 18. Jonny Hayes only played 60 minutes in pre-season and that was on Tuesday, so he ran out of juice and that was understandable.”