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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 12 December, 2018

Rodgers hopes break will revive his 'weary' Celtic side

The Scottish Premiership leaders drew 0-0 with Rangers in yesterday’s Old Firm.

Image: Ian Rutherford

CELTIC MANAGER BRENDAN Rodgers admitted his side are looking forward to a break after being held to a goalless draw by Rangers in the Old Firm derby on Saturday.

The champions dominated the first half at Celtic Park but looked off the pace in the second period as Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos spurned two gilt-edged chances to give his side their first Old Firm league victory since 2012.

Celtic sit eight points clear of Aberdeen, who played out a goalless draw with Hearts, at the top of the Scottish Premiership as the league shuts down for a three-week winter break.

Rodgers acknowledged his side will be glad of the rest after suffering two defeats and two draws in nine matches in December.

“I think the players need that recovery and rest. Up here we virtually play back-to-back seasons so there’s no real rest,” said the Northern Irishman, whose side failed to score at home for the first time since March 2016.

Their season began in the Champions League second qualifying round on July 14.

“We were playing our 38th competitive game and our ninth game in the month. It was a real taxing period for the players, both mentally and physically.

“But I can only give credit to my players. We showed a different side today. We weren’t quite as bright but it’s only natural.”

Rangers manager Graeme Murty revealed some angry words in the dressing room at half-time inspired his side to a superb second-half showing as they claimed only their second point against Celtic since their return to the top flight in 2016.

“There were some frank exchanges of views amongst the players to try and improve and that energy took them out into the second half,” said Murty.

“I made sure as they walked out on the football pitch no negativity was to be tolerated — in body language or to one another.

“We had to be positive and I thought in the second half we were.

“I thought that from the whistle we showed good intensity, concentration, focus and ability.

“So, they were walking off the pitch elated because of the manner of their performance, but we know we could have won it.”

Despite their positive performance, Rangers remain in third spot — 11 points behind Celtic and three adrift of Aberdeen.

However, Rangers could have been a lot closer to the champions had it not been for disappointing defeats to Hamilton Academical, Dundee, St Johnstone and Kilmarnock in recent weeks.

Murty, who also claimed a point at Celtic Park on his last visit in March during his first spell as caretaker boss, said his players must make this level of performance the benchmark moving forward.

“We can’t take a backward step from here,” the former Scotland international said.

“Our task collectively is to make sure that is our minimum standard. If we do that then we are on a really good path to improving our lot and making sure that we do close the gap.

“I said to them that when I walked out of this place last time it was with a sense of ‘job well done’. I sit here now with a real sense of a journey we’re just starting out on and we have to use that to move forward.

“If we do that then this game will have served a really good purpose beyond just gaining a point.”

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