Brendan Rodgers reckons there are numerous naysayers determined to chip away at his Celtic side. But Stephen Welsh insists there is no way this Hoops squad will crack.
Celts marched into the last eight of the Scottish Cup at the weekend with their gutsy win at St Mirren. And it quietly took their recent run to eight wins and a draw in their last nine games.
Chuck in six clean sheets and Rodgers and his players are wondering what some of the fuss has been about of late. The Hoops boss has adopted a siege mentality, speaking about external forces “ganging up” to drag him and his side down. Rodgers pointed to his long injury list and the fact his patchwork team is still getting the job done. Critics have poked holes in recent displays but a lot of the pressure has come from fans frustrated at the lack of progress in the transfer market as an eight-point lead in the league has all but gone up in smoke.
“You enjoy it, you enjoy the pressure because you need to go and win. A draw or a defeat is a nightmare so we know the pressure and we stand up to it all the time.
“We’re used to this. Every season the pressure for every Celtic player is huge. We deal with it really well, especially the last couple of seasons, we have been very successful and it’s about us maintaining the standards to be successful again and win the trophies that are available to us.”
Welsh came out fighting but plenty of sides now fancy their chances against Celtic. Hearts, St Johnstone and Motherwell all pinched points at Parkhead. Aberdeen had a go at Pittodrie with the Hoops fortunate to secure a point. Hibs had them on the ropes until Adam Idah’s last-gasp penalty at Easter Road.
St Mirren pressed high and caused tons of problems in the first half. The usual fear factor isn’t quite there at the moment but Welsh said: “I wouldn’t say vulnerable, no. We are so determined. It’s like tunnel vision, we don’t focus on anything else, we focus on ourselves, how we will play, break teams down and defend.
“We take every game 100 per cent, every training session leads up to the next game so for us, it is normal for us to be under that pressure and we always deal with it very well.
“We are always strong together. We know that every team wants to beat Celtic and our job is to stop that. Our job is to win games, perform well and win trophies for the club.”
Welsh insists there was plenty of evidence of the above in Paisley on Sunday. By the end Celtic could have been three or four clear and coasting but it took some shift to get to that stage.
A bit like the Eric Cantona line about seagulls following trawlers because they know it’s dinner time, there were plenty circling the SMISA tipping a cup exit and ready to get their teeth into the Hoops. But Welsh said: “We spoke about it before the game, it is a tough place to go.
“The last three venues we have been to have been tough but we had to dig in in the first and second half and came out deserved winners. They are a physical team and they like to put balls in the box. It’s very effective for them. We had to deal with it and I thought we dealt with it well as a back four and Joe Hart included.”