CALLUM McGREGOR wasn’t substituted at Pittodrie on Friday evening when Brendan Rodgers decided he’d seen enough of the second half in which Aberdeen continually pressed his side and Celtic seemed to have lost the midfield battle.
Rodgers is usually very good in these situations and is able to influence the remainder of the game by the decision he takes from the sidelines. This of course is somewhat in stark contrast to Ronny Deila who would insist on playing on with the same shape regardless of what was happening on the park.
Aberdeen, usually a good passing team, had decided to try their luck with route one football and while the Celtic defenders were clearing with their heads the second ball inevitably fell to the midfielders in red.
So when the substitution came and Rodgers brought Nir Bitton on to steady the ship in the middle of the park, it was not the number 42 that was displayed by the fourth official. Instead Tom Rogic was replaced and Celtic saw out the remainder of the game, which they won comfortably enough in the end after that amazing whirlwind start that had produced 3 stunning goals.
And when Celtic were on top the number 42 was at the centre of the action.
However when things have been tough in matches, McGregor is usually the one to come off. Not on Friday. It would seem that the tag of him being something of a luxury in the team is a thing of the past. McGregor really has arrived as a first choice pick, an important player for Brendan Rodgers.
Callum McGregor is certainly enjoying life at Celtic at the moment. Speaking after the win at Pittodrie he was able to reflect on another decent shift for the Champions who won again despite going away to their nearest challengers in the league without their captain and midfield general Scott Brown.
“The last few weeks have been great for me,” Mcgregor said. “The goals against Rangers then another goal last Saturday there, I seem to be growing in confidence every week and getting better.
“When that happens, you obviously want to be in the team every week, you’re desperate to show the manager.
“And if he asks you to play a different role, a more defensive one with Broony being out, you do it and do the best you can.
“I thought I did okay. I got the assist for Stuart Armstrong’s goal and put a good ball through for Patrick Roberts for the first goal, we got the corner and then it goes in. I thought I played my part.
You’ve just got to watch as play develops, see you are in the right position in case it breaks out. Try and go into the second ball the way Broony does so well, he always reads that one that’s coming out the box.
“It’s another wee learning curve for me. A nice challenge. I’m always trying to learn.
“I don’t think Broony will be looking over his shoulder though!
“But I do think it’s good for the manager to put me in there, it shows a bit of trust that I can go and do that job if and when he’s missing.’
“It was a great start, we knew we had to come out on the front foot. We didn’t expect to go and score three goals but it gave us a real platform to go on.
“And when we got three the game changes a little bit for us.
“We don’t need to go chasing it as much, we try and control it. They get a goal back and have a bit of a rally.
‘Then you expect, in the second half, they came out and go long and try and get the big boys on and win headers and win second balls,” McGregor said.
‘We knew we had to go and soak up that pressure. If you’re going to win up here, you’re going to have to do that – stand up and fight.
“But I think the Cup Final will be a different game again. It’s always a hard one up here, they use the crowd well as well.
‘It was important for us to come here and win. It was massive for us, obviously with the unbeaten thing.
“And to do it as a team without Broony again, who is such a big influence, is excellent. So we’ve just got to take more and more confidence going into these two last league games.
“But it won’t have a big effect on the Cup Final, it will be a different game on the day and obviously we’ll need to prepare well for that.”
McGregor’s form must surely have come to the attention of Gordon Strachan as the former Aberdeen player and Celtic manager contemplates his options before naming his squad to take on England in the vital World Cup qualifier against England on 10 June.