Celtic have one foot on the next round of the Champions League qualifiers after beating Linfield 2-0 in the first leg of their second round qualifying match.
The match was marred by disorder after Linfield fans threw hard objects on the field, including a glass bottle toward Celtic forward Leigh Griffiths, who was attempting a corner kick around the 66th minute.
“Obviously it’s not what you wanted to see,” said Celtics boss Brendan Rodgers. “The game was played in good spirit, in the main. So it’s not ideally what you would like to see.”
Rodgers was visibly upset while telling the media that “it was strange” for the officials to book Griffith for pointing out the throwing incidents, but said he would rather concentrate on building on last season’s historical achievements.
“I thought it was strange [Griffiths] getting booked for it,” said Rodgers. “But like I say the talk is more really on the football for us. The scoreline was okay, it could have been better but it gives us the advantage for the second leg.”
BIGGER FISH TO FRY
It’s been more than 100 years since a Scottish football team finished the season without a loss in domestic games, but Celtic finally broke the long-standing record last season, and they did it in amazing fashion.
They won a record 34 of 38 matches, and secured the title with a record eight games remaining to play. They scored 106 goals and earned 106 points.
Rodgers was right not to care much about Linfield and their reckless fans, since the Hoops have bigger things in mind.
The former Liverpool boss was tasked to set straight Celtic’s floundering performance in their domestic campaigns, and with their magnificent run last term it is safe to say he has done an admirable job.
So the next big challenge is to translate their domination at home to some success in the continental level, especially in the most premier club competition in the world: the Champions League.
Last year, Celtic made baby steps to reach that goal as they qualified for the Champions League group stages for the first time since 2013. They earned three points from three draws in six matches, fighting toe-to-toe with Manchester City in both games that ended in stalemates.
They are also currently making the moves to prepare for the coming season, with three big signings during this summer window.
Celtic signed midfielder Kundai Benyu from Ipswich Town, midfielder Jonny Hayes from Aberdeen and another midfielder Olivier Ntcham from Manchester City.
A fourth major signing might be experienced defender Steven Caulker, the 25-year-old former Queens Park Rangers who can shore up the hole left by defenders Kolo Toure, Efe Ambrose and Eoghan O’Connell.
Caulker has made more than 100 Premier League appearances for Tottenham, Liverpool and Southampton. He and Rodgers spent time together when the pair were still in Merseyside.
There are many factors that contribute to a team scaling the heights that only a few clubs have ever set foot on, but Rodgers is right. The players should just concentrate on the pitch, and let him handle all the rest.