The Irishman’s requirement to field makeshift centre-back pairing Liam Scales and Gustaf Lagerbielke was expected to cause the returning manager’s problems to mount following sketchy form that had left them without a win, or a goal, in the previous two encounters as a scoreless home draw to St Johnstone followed their Viaplay Cup exit at Kilmarnock.
Instead, a variety of personnel problems were belied as Celtic recorded their first clean sheet at the home of their bitter rivals in four years - since the 2-0 win in September 2019 presided over by Rodgers in his first spell. It allowed Rodgers to express amusement at the gloom being attached to the early weeks of second stint in recent times.
“I understand I have been placed on death watch by the media,” he said, with a section of the club’s support more voiciferous in pushing such a predicament. “But whatever the result today I’m an experienced manager now and I’m staying calm. But that’s where you are powerless as a coach. For me I understand what we have, I understand what we are missing.
“So for me, until we get the level of player back that will make a difference in some of our games we have to keep working and developing and improving and I have absolutely no doubt that we will do that as the season grows. But listen, it’s three wins and a draw [in the Premiership] and some of the games have been good, but we are still piecing together a team which will look a lot more like it by the end of the season."
One Celtic performer at his commanding best as a superb Kyogo Furuhashi strike in added time of the first period settled the confrontation was captain Callum McGregor. And this was not lost on Rodgers following a dip of recent games.
“I said to him at half-time, that’s the guy I used to come here with when we won,” said Rodgers, who has now five wins from six visits to Ibrox, with only one defeat in 14 derbies. “That’s Callum McGregor, a big personality who takes the ball and passes the ball and makes tackles and intercepts and blocks and gets the rythym in our game. He was absolutely brilliant today. I am delighted for him.’
Rodgers agreed the victory was as satisfying as any produced against Rangers in his first spell, but reiterated the fixture was now diminished with no away fans in attendance. All Rodgers previous wins at the ground relished by a 7,500 Celtic contingent.
“It’s not the same game. Its not the same game and it’s such a shame,” he said. “Look, it’s brilliant for us. Our resilience and everything we had to show as Celtic players was there today. As a group we had to withstand a lot, but it’s not the same game. When there is not a single supporter there for you then you know you have to be a man. And for this group of players to come do that and get the victory was absolutely brilliant. There is no doubt they will grow from it but I want to see the game back to what it was when I was first here.
“I hope, between the two clubs, we can do that at some point. It’s obviously going to be a challenge this year, so it’s another year. But it’s not the same game. If you asked Rangers supporters I’m pretty sure some of their best wins they have seen from their team were away at the other ground. Hopefully we will get back to that. Whether it’s 7,000 or 8000 or whatever it’s an iconic game, an amazing game. And a big part of it is the supporters. So I hope, in time, we can get that back. And I hope wherever they are Celtic supporters across the world will come here proud of their team.”