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Brendan Rodgers tells Celtic ‘it is about mentality’ after slip-up in title race

SoccerNews in Scottish Premier League 17 Feb 2024

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Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers called on his players to improve their mentality after Kilmarnock’s late equaliser handed Rangers the initiative in the Premiership title race.

Rodgers thought they had got away with a poor performance as Celtic led through Kyogo Furuhashi’s 32nd-minute header when the clock struck 90 minutes.

But Killie had created several chances and caused problems for Celtic with their pressing and David Watson headed home in stoppage-time after substitute Alexandro Bernabei misjudged Fraser Murray’s cross.

Matt O’Riley was denied several times as Celtic looked for a second goal either side of the break but they struggled to create chances in the final half hour.

Rodgers said: “We lacked authority on the ball, we lacked composure, all the things you need to do to control the game. We looked nervous on the ball and, especially second half, we created nowhere near what we would want to.

“It’s happened too many times over the course of the season. We have played well in spells but then when we haven’t taken our chances and a wee bit of anxiety creeps in, you have to be able to deal with that pressure.

“I have been here often enough and had enough games here as a manager to understand the pressures of taking the ball and dealing with it and we didn’t do that well enough. It’s bitterly disappointing.”

Rodgers, whose side had already lost twice to Killie this season, added: “It is not about ability or technique now, it is about mentality. It is about not letting that man go past you and having that drive and composure to play.

“We saw it the second half, even though we were not under great pressure we kept making it hard for ourselves.”

Rangers were seven points behind when Philippe Clement took over eight games into the cinch Premiership season but the Light Blues will go two ahead if they beat St Johnstone in Perth on Sunday.

Rodgers dismissed suggestions the pressure of the title race was a factor.

“Irrespective of how Rangers play or work, it’s nothing to do with us,” he said.

“It was us giving the ball away and being nervous. That has nothing to do with anyone other than ourselves.

“It doesn’t matter what anyone else does. It can’t be allowed to continue because we’ll get to the pressure point of the season eventually.

“It’s now about the mind game. Physically and technically you’re in a good place so it’s all about the mind now.”

Killie manager Derek McInnes felt his side were well worth a point.

“It didn’t feel like a smash and grab, coming here and defending for 90-odd minutes and then nicking an equaliser,” he said. “It wasn’t that at all.

“We had to suffer first half at times with possession. We allowed the Celtic players that we wanted to have more touches of the ball than some of the other ones. I thought we dealt with their four wide players well.

“We picked and chose our moments to get after them and got our reward.”

McInnes played down first-half penalty claims when Marley Watkins argued he had been taken down from behind by Stephen Welsh.

“Marley’s adamant it was a penalty,” McInnes said. “I’ve seen it a couple of times, it looks the like the defender’s first touch has taken the ball.”

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