Celtic: Brendan Rodgers encouraged by young players breaking into first-team

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers and defender Anthony Ralston
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was pleased with the performance against Kilmarnock of youngsters like Anthony Ralston

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers praised the impact of the club's younger players after five academy graduates started the 2-0 win over Kilmarknock.

The visitors' defence at Rugby Park consisted of three teenagers and Kieran Tierney, who turned 20 in June.

Rodgers made six changes, but his side played with familiar control and attacking strength and won with goals from James Forrest and Callum McGregor.

"Technically the players played at a really high level," Rodgers said.

"We had good control of the tempo. I was so pleased with the contribution of some of the younger players."

Tony Ralston, 18, and Calvin Miller, 19, were the full-backs, with Tierney playing alongside 19-year-old Kristoffer Ajer in the centre of defence. Summer signing Kundai Benyu, 19, played as an attacking midfielder, alongside the two goalscorers Forrest and McGregor, both academy products.

"Tony Ralston and Calvin Miller have been training with us since last season, they were exceptional today, showing nerve, calmness.

"It's a great sign for the future for the club that they can come in and play with quality, but they need good senior players around them as well."

Celtic defender Calvin Miller and manager Brendan Rodgers
Celtic full-back Calvin Miller impressed manager Brendan Rodgers at Rugby Park

Midfielder Tom Rogic was involved in both, creating them with a combination of deft skill and shrewd vision.

First, he ghosted into the Kilmarnock penalty area, skipping past tackles, before slipping the ball back for Forrest to side-foot into the net.

Then he released McGregor with a deft shuffle and pass and the midfielder calmly finished beyond goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald.

"He's a special player who can make the difference," Rodgers said of Rogic.

"He's got that languid style. He's a big lad, 6ft 2in, and his feet size must be 13 - but the ability he has with the ball is incredible.

"He's got great awareness, he lets the ball come to him. The only player I worked with [like] that before is Adam Lallana, who knows where space is and can turn possession into a penetrating moment.

"He can take the ball under pressure, can create goals and score goals. He's a joy to work with."

Kilmarnock have now lost all three of their opening league games for the first time since 1995, but Rodgers spoke warmly of the work being carried out at Rugby Park by manager Lee McCulloch.

"I've been very impressed with him during my time up here," said Northern Irishman Rodgers.

"The scorelines haven't been what he would want, but he's a very forward-thinking coach and the longer he's here and the more opportunity he has to work with the players, Kilmarnock will become a very strong side."

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers and Kilmarnock manager Lee McCulloch
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers praised the work of 'forward-thinking' Kilmarnock manager Lee McCulloch

Rodgers added that there is no update to the situation regarding winger Patrick Roberts, who is expected to return to Celtic next week on a season-long loan deal from Manchester City.

The Celtic manager did, though, insist that his side will approach the second leg of their Champions League play off against Astana as though the scoreline was level at 0-0, despite winning the first leg 5-0.

"It's a tough game for us no matter what the lead is," Rodgers said.

"What we've shown as we've developed is that the way we play is aggressive. We're going to have to defend well, but we know we have the game to attack and be aggressive, so we know we can score. The job is to complete it, it's over two legs, then sit back and enjoy the draw."

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