Brendan Rodgers admits he feared for safety of Celtic players at Windsor Park
Uefa Champions League second qualifying round, first leg: Linfield 0 Celtic 2
CELTIC boss Brendan Rodgers admitted he feared for the safety of his players at Windsor Park last night as missiles were thrown from a section of Linfield fans during the second half.
Leigh Griffiths was the target, with coins and a bottle of Buckfast among the foreign objects launched in his direction as he prepared to take a corner in front of the south stand.
After twice stopping to clear debris from the pitch, the Celtic striker was surprisingly shown a yellow card by Spanish referee Alejandro Hernandez, before being withdrawn for Moussa Dembele three minutes later.
Admitting he wasn’t aware exactly what was thrown at Griffiths, Rodgers said: “I didn’t quite see what it actually was but if that is the case then of course there is always a worry.
“But I didn’t see or haven’t heard anything as of yet as to what was thrown on, I could only see it from the dug-out. It was maybe a bottle of some sort, but anything, whether it’s a coin or a bottle or whatever, shouldn’t happen.
“Players go on to the field and it should be a safe environment for them. You want the passion from the stands to stay in there. But if you take that away from it, it was a good evening.”
Asked if he took Griffiths off for his own safety, the Bhoys boss added: “I took him off because he was booked and sometimes you never know how these games go.
“We hopefully will have five more games in the qualifying competition so we didn’t want to risk anything if he was getting frustrated. It was also the idea to give one or two some game-time.”
Riot police came into the stadium after the game when Linfield fans reacted angrily to Griffiths tying a Celtic scarf to a goalpost in the Bhoys’ post-match celebrations.
There were the kind of unsavoury scenes Rodgers was confident could be avoided pre-match, and the Carnlough man was keen to play down the incidents afterwards.
He said: “You sometimes get these scenes throughout the country, not just here but other places as well. Obviously it’s not what you wanted to see.
“The game was played in good spirit, in the main. So it’s not ideally what you would like to see. I thought it was strange him getting booked for it.
“But like I say the talk is more really on the football for us. The scoreline was okay, it could have been better but it gives us the advantage for the second leg.”
This time last year Rodgers’s Celtic career began with an embarrassing 1-0 defeat away to Gibraltan part-timers Lincoln Red Imps and, although many observers expected Celtic to win more convincingly, the Bhoys boss was happy.
“It’s a bit better than the first game last year,” he said.
“It was going to be a difficult occasion and I thought the players dealt with it reasonably well. I thought Roy Carroll was outstanding, he made some brilliant saves.’’
Celtic captain Scott Brown described Griffiths’s booking as “weird”, but joked that it hadn’t worked out too badly for him on a personal level.
“I didn’t get hit but I found a pound coin – so I came away making a profit!’’
DOWN by two goals, Linfield boss David Healy admitted he was “fearful” what the final score could be when the teams went off at half-time.
But the Blues – inspired by veteran goalkeeper Roy Carroll – managed to shut Celtic out after the break, the former Manchester United stopper pulling off a superb double save from Moussa Dembele and Erik Sviatchenko in the dying moments.
Many had predicted a much heavier defeat for his side, and Healy took solace from the performance of his players.
He said: “I thought we were excellent, given the quality of opposition we were playing against.
“I was fearful at half-time. We got in and regrouped. Celtic were always going to create with the players they have but we have a goalkeeper in Roy Carroll, he is always going to pull off saves. He is outstanding.
“He’s 40 years old, he trains like a demon and travels an hour-and-a-half to get to training, he never wants a break. He’s lighter than last year somehow. He’s an exceptional person and keeper.”
On the trouble between a section of the Linfield supporters and Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths late on, Healy added: “I didn’t see the incidents. I was watching the game.
“I don’t think it was ‘always going to happen’ but some of the media making a big deal of it, when it does happen people aren’t going to be surprised.
“Linfield have made massive strides. You always get a red hot atmosphere.”