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SEND IN THE NIGHT SHIFT; CELTIC v ST JOHNSTONE Celtic Park, Today, 3pm @SUNDAYMAILSPORT; Late sub session as Celts switch side for Saints.

Byline: Scott McDermott

The lights hadn't even gone out at Parkhead after a great Euro win - but boss Brendan Rodgers was already preparing his team for St Johnstone.

At 11pm, after Celtic's 1-0 victory over Zenit St Petersburg on Thursday, a full-scale training session was taking place on the pitch.

The likes of Scott Sinclair, Charly Musonda, Tom Rogic, Odsonne Edouard - and even Patrick Roberts - were being put through their paces by coach Kolo Toure.

And with a vital second leg in Russia to come this Thursday, it was a clear sign that Rodgers will shuffle his pack for the visit of the Perth side to Glasgow this afternoon.

Tommy Wright's men have proved tricky opponents for the Scottish champions in the past and the Celtic gaffer expects another tough test.

But with a last-16 spot up for grabs in the Europa League, he's hinted that some of his fringe players will get a run-out this afternoon.

Rodgers said: "St Johnstone can be an awkward opponent and that was my message to the players after the Zenit game.

"It was a brilliant performance from us, one of the best since I've been here. But we need three points in the Premiership on Sunday.

"You saw that late at night on Thursday we did a training session to make sure we're ready for it.

"There have been stuffy games against St Johnstone here. Tommy's team is always well organised and they make it difficult for us.

"When we've gone to Perth we've scored a lot but here they're compact and make it tight. However, we'll have to find a way again."

Rodgers surprised a few people by leaving Sinclair out of his starting line-up against the Russians.

But it worked and the winger will now have to battle his way back into the Celtic side - starting today against Saints.

His gaffer admits it was a tough call to put the Englishman on the bench but was delighted with the outcome because his team needed a big win in Europe.

Rodgers said: "Scotty has been brilliant for me, as have most of the guys here.

"But we go into every game with a plan and we felt the shape of the team on Thursday night had to be a three-diamond-three.

"We had a winger one side in James Forrest and Kieran Tierney pushing up on the other.

"We have three very good midfielders but I wanted four in there to dominate the ball.

"We had to do that with 4 v 3 in the middle and we could have played Scotty at the tip of the diamond.

"But he might have ended up going right up front and we'd have lost that superiority in midfield.

"The team needed that result in Europe. You have to respect what we're measured against, playing against PSG and Bayern Munich.

"That's huge but on Thursday you saw the confidence of the players.

"We've been doubted at numerous times as a squad and criticised.

"But that helps our growth and development - and you saw that on a big European night against Zenit."

Rodgers' men still have work to do to reach the last 16, despite a priceless clean sheet at home. He expects a different Zenit side to show up in St Petersburg and has urged his players to show the same level of focus as they did on Thursday.

If they do that, and defend as stoutly, he knows they've a chance of progressing.

Rodgers said: "We will definitely need to concentrate and it'll be a big test for us over there.

"But we showed our ability to play football the other night, as well as to create and score goals. They're a renowned, top European team and you look at their group phase.

"Zenit have spent a lot of money on their squad and will still be looking to go far in the Europa League.

But in my time we've done well in two-legged ties.

"The clean sheet was vital as we've experienced before in qualifiers.

"We wanted to win against Rosenborg but got a 0-0 draw which was important.

"The longer the game went in Norway, you could feel the anxiety setting in for their players.

"Against Astana we kept a clean sheet and won 5-0, which was important also.

"Defensively we were brilliant on Thursday night.

"We showed great maturity and it's going to take another performance like that to go through."

CAPTION(S):

SAINTS TEST Sinclair and Musonda should play today

ZEN MASTER Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers embraces goal hero Callum McGregor after their thrilling win over the Russians

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 18, 2018
Words:767
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