Brendan Rodgers happy to get through ‘my longest 90 minutes as a coach’

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Brendan Rodgers suffered “probably the longest 90
minutes” of his managerial career
as Celtic
survived a scare against Hapoel Be’er Sheva to
reach the Champions League group stage for the
first time in three years with a 5-4 aggregate.
The Hoops were heavy favourites to see out the
play-off second leg after their 5-2 victory at
Parkhead last week but were on the ropes from the
early stages at the Turner Stadium.
Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon saved a penalty
in the 15th minute from Maharan Radi, but the
relief was only temporary as substitute Ben Sahar
soon headed the Israeli champions ahead.

The visitors conceded a second goal in the 48th
minute when a mix-up between Saidy Janko and
Gordon allowed Romania international Ovidiu
Hoban the easiest of chances to make it 2-0, but
the Scottish champions held on.
Celtic boss Rodgers, who declared himself
“immensely proud”, said: “It was probably the
longest 90 minutes I have faced as a coach, and I
think with past experiences that players have had,
sometimes they know how it can map out.
“I thought Hapoel Be’er Sheva were outstanding.
They had to force the game, of course. They had
nothing to lose, but they played very well.
“But I have to congratulate my players, because all
the work we have been doing has been based
around that mentality and quality of game.
“We know we can’t always play well. A lot of
games we have played well.
“But (this match) was purely about resilience and
persistence and it was an amazing effort by the
players on the back of everything they have been
through before.
“So huge applause to them and I delighted they
get their rewards after a long pre-season.”

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Rodgers believes his players took “a huge step
and got their rewards” and will be all the better for
coming through such a nervy and fraught
experience.
He said: “Tonight they added an extra percent to
their mentality.
“I think deep down that maybe they didn’t think
they could achieve because of the short period of
time we have been working with them.
“But we have built into them a belief that if you
work hard and with an intensity that will give you
confidence and you give yourself a better chance
of winning and when you are stuck you can dig it
out.
“Maybe the focus of the criticism when I came in
was we couldn’t tough it out but we showed after
two games and under a huge amount of pressure
that this team could tough it out.
“You can never say you are calm. You could
probably see the bench working tirelessly to plug
gaps, the players were on auto-pilot towards the
end but I thought that towards the end they had
just about run out of ideas.
“I think they coped really well but you could never
switch off until the final whistle goes.
“It is incredible moment for the supporters, they
are going to be back in amongst the Europe’s elite
and it is where Celtic belong.”
Rodgers insist there was no surprise that his side
rode their luck at times.
The former Liverpool boss said: “We felt that was
going to be the case.
“We had to work so hard to shift momentum and
block spaces.
“It was a problem for us because we couldn’t keep
the ball.
“Eventually we went to a back five in order to try to
block out the sides of the field, keep a diamond
with one up front with Moussa Dembele coming
on.
“That seemed to settle us in the last 15 to 20
minutes and we got some control then.”

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