Rodgers praises Celtic’s ‘maturity’

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Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers praised the “maturity” of his side as they overcame Rosenborg to progress to the Champions League play-off round.

James Forrest’s stunning second-half strike in Trondheim sealed the 1-0 victory on aggregate.

Rodgers says 12 months on from hoping his side would make it through the qualifying rounds, he now “expects” them to reach the group stage,

“I was going into these games last year hoping we get through,” Rodgers said.

“It’s a different mentality now. That comes from the belief from how they’ve worked and how they play.

“It was a big performance. Everybody was talking about the pressure of the game, to play that way was sensational. I’m delighted the way the players kept their nerve.”

Forrest scored the only goal of the game in Trondheim in the 69th minute

The game was still tied 0-0 at half-time, with Celtic spurning chances through Forrest and Erik Sviatchenko. The visitors had to weather a Rosenborg storm after the interval, but remained composed and were rewarded by Forrest lashing the ball high into the roof of the net from a tight angle.

The winger started the game at centre-forward, with the fit-again Leigh Griffiths on the bench, but had moved back out wide before he struck the vital away goal.

Late on, though, Forrest failed to convert a second goal with only the Rosenborg goalkeeper Andre Hansen to beat.

‘This was a game to manage’

“He should have scored another one. I said that to him,” Rodgers said.

“He played the [centre-forward] role really well. He’s plays it differently to a standard number nine, but you wouldn’t have looked at the game and said you weren’t playing with a striker.

“This was a game to manage. If it goes into extra-time, we’re conscious that we want to introduce Griff but knowing that he’s got maximum an hour in his legs. The players knew that and I said it was important who finishes the game as much as who starts it.

“It was comfortable throughout the game. We haven’t conceded a goal in this [qualifying] phase. People look at our creativity, but there’s steel there, not just style.”

Celtic defender Sviatchenko ended the night on crutches after injuring his knee

Celtic did suffer a setback in the first half, though, when Sviatchenko hobbled off with an injured knee after a collision with Anders Konradsen. He was replaced by midfielder Nir Bitton, who slotted in at centre-back.

“I’ve got a trust in them that they understand how we play,” Rodgers said.

“We have a way of working, we’ve identified a style of football and we have a philosophy in how we defend and attack. You never want to lose players with injuries, but when you do others step in.

“Look at Nir Bitton, came in as a midfield player but played at the back as though he’d been there all his life.

“I won’t know [Sviatchenko’s condition] until the next couple of days. Unfortunately, he straightened his leg and the guy landed on him.”

Celtic will be seeded in Friday’s play-off round draw, so will need to overcome Astana, Qarabag, Rijeka, Hapoel Beer Sheva or Slavia Prague to reach the group stage.

“When the draw comes it’s going to be one of those anxious moments again at some point over the two legs,” Rodgers added.

“Whoever we get, it will be a tough game but my focus is now on Hearts [in the Premiership on Saturday].”

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