WITH a raft of injuries and the league title sewn up, it wasn’t a complete surprise that Ange Postecoglou gave a few of the fringe players the opportunity to sample a Glasgow derby last Saturday.

Those who have found their time on the pitch limited this campaign could show the manager why he might need to think twice when figuring out his strongest XI for the start of next season.

Tony Ralston, Alexandro Bernabei, Yuki Kobayashi and Hyeongyu Oh were thrown in at Ibrox, however, but much to the disappointment of the fans and the gaffer, they were all well below par on the day.

Rangers ran out comfortable 3-0 winners, a result they needed from a psychological perspective going into the summer.

Prior to kick-off, it wasn’t difficult to predict what would happen. There were no away fans and the home side, with a point to prove, would aim to press Celtic relentlessly right from the off, which they did.

Kobayashi, making his debut in this fixture, looked like a deer in headlights and struggled with the physicality, while Bernabei seemed completely incapable of passing the ball to a player in green and white.

Ralston, who had such an impressive season last year, looked noticeably rusty, and Oh managed just seven touches in the hour he was on the field. Even Liel Abada, often a thorn in the Rangers side, was ineffective and spurned a golden opportunity in the first half.

As we’ve touched on over the last few weeks, some of the fluidity has gone out of Celtic’s play and they have been winning games without blowing the opposition away. However, it is important not to be overly critical.

This group of players are the champions, have won the League Cup, and are on the cusp of sealing a treble. Their consistency has been remarkable, with only two losses in their last 67 league games.

One defeat in a derby match that held little significance can be forgiven.
Although it stings and provides the media with an opportunity to hype up Rangers’ “rebuild” in the coming months, what truly matters is winning silverware, and Celtic will have plenty of that by the end of May.

Nevertheless, it is crucial to learn from this, as it serves as a reminder that backup players may not be up to scratch, particularly with another opportunity in the Champions League on the horizon.

A dejected Ange said after the game: “It’s fair to say we’re disappointed.

“We didn’t perform at the levels we needed to. There were a couple of critical moments where we should’ve got ourselves back into it, but we didn’t.

“In the second half, we were desperate in our play rather than playing our football. The number of changes I made probably didn’t help in terms of some of the guys lacking a little bit of sharpness. At the end of the day, we weren’t good enough.”

Despite the insipid performance, I would like to see the same fringe players in the starting line-up for Saturday’s home match against St Mirren (kick-off 3pm).

It’d be very easy to write them off, but such a mentality would shatter their confidence and send out a message that one rough afternoon has the capacity to ruin your Hoops future.

Kobayashi wasn’t plucked out of Japan because Postecoglou thinks he’s a dud.
The boss’ hit rate from that market has been phenomenal, while Oh is only 22 and still getting to grips with Scottish football.

I’ll confess that I do have concerns over Ralston and Bernabei and their ability to sufficiently step in when Alistair Johnston and Greg Taylor are unavailable.
The defence is one area that will need beefing up for Europe next season, and the rumour mill has already got up and running.

Sky Sports have reported that the Bhoys are scouting 21-year-old centre-back Xavier Mbuyamba, who plays for Volendam in the Eredivisie.

He has already earned comparisons to former Hoops defender Virgil van Dijk and was previously on the books at Chelsea.

Transfer guru Fabrizio Romano states that the likes of Ajax and AZ Alkmaar are also interested in the player.

However, Ange poured cold water on recruitment speculation last week when questioned on the possibility of signing Ryotaro Ito from the J-League.

The gaffer said any transfer reports linking the Bhoys to specific players are “well, well, well off the mark” and that he wouldn’t be dragged into commenting on individual names.

We know that he’s been coy in the past and rumoured transfers have transpired, but, for now, the focus must be on ending the Premiership strongly and lifting the Scottish Cup on June 3.

Before wrapping up, let’s take a moment to pay tribute to the remarkable Celtic women’s side, who are on the cusp of a momentous weekend as the title race reaches its climax.

Fran Alonso’s charges face Hearts on Sunday and sit third in the table, tied on 78 points with Rangers, while Glasgow City remain top on 80 points. The Ghirls last week saw off the leaders 3-1 at Paradise in front of a crowd of 9,553 - a new record attendance for the women’s game in Scotland.

Also broadcast live on Sky Sports, the atmosphere was electric, underscoring why every Celtic fan should be getting behind the women’s side as they fight to make history this weekend.

And you needn’t miss a thing after the SWPL announced the BBC will be showing Celtic’s game on BBC Sport Scotland, with the tie between Glasgow City on BBC Alba. Both matches will kick off at 4.10pm.

A victory over the Jambos and a draw in the other clash is a lot to ask for, but not beyond the realms of possibility.

The men have clinched the league, the B team lifted the Glasgow Cup after a penalty shootout thriller against Rangers last Wednesday, and now, it’s on to the girls to maintain the momentum. I’ll be glued to my screen.