Ange Postecoglou insists Celtic loss to Rangers doesn’t change anything as he prepares for ‘white-handed’ title


It was just a question asked by Barry Ferguson.

But Ange Postecoglou insists Celtic have already provided the answer to the Rangers legend this season.

Ferguson threw down the gauntlet on these pages yesterday. Do Celtic have the bottle to cross the Premiership finish line?

In fairness to the Save sport columnist, he admitted he had little doubt that this Hoops team had the stones.

But suspending the query there just ratcheted up the heat and an extra notch as it is already starting to get stifling in the Premiership title race.

Postecoglou is not a man to get caught up in some of the off-court fun and games that surround the intense struggle to be crowned champions.

And somehow suggesting the stomach on his side for the battle prompted the kind of raised eyebrow we haven’t seen since Roger Moore got into a fight with Bloefeld.

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Celtic have not lost in the league since last September. They also drew just three games in 33, to sit six points clear at the top – and with a colossal goal difference – with five games remaining.

But defeat to Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-finals last weekend gave a glimmer of hope that there could be a Premiership stumble on the horizon.

Maybe even against Ross County at Dingwall on Sunday.

When Postecoglou was told that the Celts haven’t lost consecutive domestic games this season, he was quick to check the facts.

“We haven’t lost in 33 games, mate,” said the Aussie. “I think it’s a testament to the resilience of the group along the way and their strength, their mentality of making sure they perform at a consistent level.

“You don’t get the kind of form that we’ve had for the last six months unless you’re really strong mentally.

“Last week didn’t really change that. It was a narrow loss. It could have gone either way. We are disappointed that he did not follow our path.

“But that doesn’t really change the fact that we’ve been in a strong position for a long time and played well for a long time.”

Postecoglou believes that the pressure is for the tires. This part of the season needs to be embraced – though fans might want to buckle up.

He said: “I don’t think it’s unhealthy for people to feel anxious or nervous. That’s why we love it.

“If you could guarantee everyone that we will win the next five games, I’m sure some would be happy.

“But they would also get a bit bored and probably lose interest after a while.

“The excitement of sport, football and supporting a team is a bit unheard of, we’re on the edge.

“That’s why you appreciate it all the more when you get the success you deserve.

“Because you know you must have been white-handed all along.

“The last thing I want is for our fans to be flattened out, cheering and going home without thinking about it.

“I’m sure it’s been a difficult week for our supporters and we take responsibility for that.

“We want them to feel better over the coming week and hopefully when you leave the ride at the end it will be worth it.”

The heat is there but Postecoglou will not sweat under his trademark sweater. He lives for this stuff – and he demands his team feel the same way.

The 56-year-old has won championships in his homeland and Japan – with Yokohama F Marinos – and they’ve generally gone straight to the wire, with the grand final in Oz and a final showdown in the J-League when the top two teams met on the last weekend of the season.

Postecoglou said: “It came down to the very last game of that year in Japan. It doesn’t always work that way.

“But I tried everywhere I went to create programs and environments where you play your best football at the end of the year.

“That doesn’t mean you start slow, but whatever your starting point, you should finish strong.

“It’s because of my experience in Australian rules football where the winner is decided by a grand final at the end of the year – after a final series.

“So it was pointless to finish first (in the regular season) and then stumble in the final because you wouldn’t become champion.

“I think all my teams played their best football at the end of the season and I think that’s why I was successful.

“That’s how we hope it’s designed here and I hope that’s what happens.”

“It’s obviously not guaranteed, but again when I talk about mindset and resilience, we build that throughout the year.

“We are constantly creating these kinds of pressure situations for the players on a daily basis.

“So when we come to that last part, it’s nothing new to them because they’ve embraced it from the start.”

He will need clear minds and fresh legs. That’s why some Celtic fans were worried to hear Reo Hatate talking about having jet lag-induced double vision and feeling physically and mentally zapped.

The Hoops looked uncharacteristically jaded in Hampden on Sunday, but Postecoglou has no fitness concerns.

As for Hatate, he said, “He is fine. With him, Daizen Maeda, Yosuke Ideguchi and Matty O’Riley, they’ve only been here for three or four months. Whenever you enter a new environment, it’s always a challenge, especially when you come to a new country, but Reo is fine. He trains well.

“He’s all good.

“You are kind of guided by them, how they play and how they train. I didn’t feel the need to brake any of them.

“Since their arrival in January, they have been exceptional.”

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