Brendan Rodgers expected to give youth a chance against Partick Thistle
CELTIC fans should expect to see some potential stars of the future involved against Partick Thistle on Tuesday night, according to boss Brendan Rodgers.
The champions are in the middle of a punishing nine-game December schedule, but their 2-1 home win over Dundee last Saturday took them back 11 points clear of Rangers at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership, and they have two games in hand over the Ibrox men.
With such a commanding lead on the back of a 20-game unbeaten domestic run, the Carnlough man is ready to draft in some of his U20 squad for the visit of basement boys Jags. Rodgers revealed a number of the academy players have been training with the first team and "doing very well", although he refused to give names.
Forward Jack Aitchison become Celtic's youngest ever player and the Parkhead club's youngest ever scorer when he came off the bench at the age of 16 to notch in the 7-0 home win over Motherwell at the end of last season, under former boss Ronny Deila. Defender Anthony Ralston also made his debut under the Norwegian and the 18-year-old came off the bench against Motherwell in the Betfred Cup in August.
Rodgers, who will have skipper Scott Brown back from suspension, said: "I can have a look at my squad and see if there are any younger players who can come in.
"My job, fundamentally, coming here was to win trophies, to play attacking football the Celtic way and to bring young players through. So we will look to see if there are any young players we can maybe look at over the next few games.
"This is what building a club is about, creating the hope for the youth players otherwise if they don't think they can play, then why should you have an academy? We have to develop young players here. That is how I have always worked but they have to be ready. Not totally ready of course, but they need to show the ingredients, that they can come in and play in the first team. That is very important to a big club."
Defender Erik Sviatchenko welcomed the introduction of fresh blood into the squad. The 25-year-old Denmark defender said: "Celtic are really keen on having young players coming through the ranks and if it is opportunities like now then I welcome them warmly."
However, the Parkhead stopper is keen to keep the unbeaten run going, regardless of who is wearing the hoops: "It is a nice feeling to be on a run where we haven't lost for 20 games now," he said.
"It is important for the confidence to grow, that every game we go into we know that we are difficult to beat. It is positive, especially for a defender, to be unbeaten, that is something I cherish and defenders should cherish. We aren't unbeatable but the feeling of it grows in our mind and that's where it starts first. The belief and the belief gives us opportunities to go into games and win games."
After hosting Thistle, Celtic play Hamilton at the SuperSeal stadium on Christmas Eve, which is when Christmas is celebrated in Denmark. For Sviatchenko, who signed from FC Midtjylland in January, it will be something different.
He said: "Sometimes, you want to keep working hard and play games but physically it is tough especially for me as a player who has never played in these sort of periods because, in Denmark, they are in a winter break and travelling to Dubai or wherever it is warm.
"But I am working hard and playing games which is a new thing and I am loving it so far and to be playing on the 24th - Christmas Day in Denmark - is a new thing but it is nice.
"It won't be a big thing but, obviously in Denmark, you enjoy your Christmas break. I have always dreamt about playing in December with a lot of games, so now I am, so it is good."