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Rodgers blasts 'fit' Boyata and Celtic defence after early Champions League exit


Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers
Party time: AEK Athens scorer Rodrigo Galo (centre) celebrates with team-mates
Pain of defeat: Celtic's Jozo Simunovic (left) and Scott Brown

By Ronnie Esplin

Brendan Rodgers once again highlighted the lack of new signings at Celtic as well as his side's "basic" defending after the 2-1 defeat by AEK Athens last night.

Rodgers also claimed that Dedryck Boyata had been fit to play despite missing the clash which sees the Hoops crash out of the Champions League 3-2 on aggregate.

The Ulsterman will now lead Celtic into a Europa League play-off round meeting with Latvia's Spartaks Jurmala or Suduva Marijampole of Lithuania. Suduva hold a 1-0 lead and an away-goal advantage going into tomorrow's third qualifying round deciding leg.

Rodgers stated: "I've always said that we needed to strengthen no matter how good we have been, That's something that hopefully we can do but it's no good for us now."

Belgium defender Boyata, subject of a failed £9m bid by Fulham before the English transfer window closed, had posted a video of himself receiving treatment before the game in Greece.

After the defeat in the Olympic Stadium, where a late Scott Sinclair goal reduced the deficit after strikes from Rodrigo Galo and Marko Livaja had put the home side 2-0 up, the Parkhead boss confirmed Boyata had been fit.

The Ulsterman said: "Yes, Dedryck would have been fit to play", before adding: "We are not getting opened up and fantastic goals scored against us, it is concentration and basic defending. So it is hard to get your head around it."

Boyata’s agent Jacques Lichtenstein was quoted earlier in the week as saying that as his client is in the final year of his contract, he could not risk playing when not 100 per cent fit.

Rodgers, who was also without suspended defender Kristoffer Ajer, said: “Yes, we were obviously missing our two best centre halves this evening unfortunately. My concentration really until I get back is only with the players that are here.”

Asked if he felt frustrated on a night where defensive inadequacies proved costly, he added: “Yes, of course. He has been with us on the journey now for a couple of years and helped us get to this position and of course, someone of his quality, a World Cup semi-finalist in our team, would certainly have helped.

“But he wasn’t here and we look at the performance without him and I can’t think any more than that.”

Rodgers admitted it was “very difficult” to get his head around his side’s defending.

He said: “We conceded a soft goal against Livingston and Alashkert and against Hearts we gave away a goal. But we will go away and work with the players we have, try to improve and make them better.

“I always say you shouldn’t have to lose to learn but when you do lose you have to learn so that is our message and we get back to the training field and try to improve,” the Ulsterman said.

Rodgers and his side will expect some fierce criticism to come their way following last night’s loss.

Former Celtic goalkeeper Pat Bonner stated: “I was always wary of this Achilles heel Celtic have with defending. There’s an imbalance without a left-sided centre-back. Other parts of the game were good, they controlled the ball for long spells.”

Hoops old boy Chris Sutton added: “The blame game has to stop and it’s time for cool heads at Celtic... the manager and board could have handled things better!

“Celtic’s poor recruitment is the reason they are out! Time to sort this mess out starting with Boyata.”

Former Scotland midfielder Michael Stewart said: “Celtic have no one to blame but themselves. The deficiencies of the team have been laid bare over the two legs. Poor defending has cost them.”

Belfast Telegraph


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