BOLI BOLINGOLI is backing Celtic to make an impact in the Europa League as they prepare for the visit of Champions League conquerors Cluj in a Group E encounter on Thursday night.
The £3million Belgian left-back was an unused substittute when the Hoops lost 4-3 to the Romanians at Parkhead to topple out of Europe’s elite competition.
Bolingoli and £7million Christopher Jullien were both overlooked for the club’s only defeat this season.
Both have come back strongly, though, and they played well in France last week in the 1-1 draw with Rennes in the opening game in the section.
Jonny Hayes took over the No.3 slot in the holders’ 5-0 win over Partick Thistle in the Betfred League Cup quarter-final last night to set up a last-four crunch with Hibs at Hampden in November.
However, Boingoli, speaking to the BBC, said: “At Rapid Vienna, I also had good a good team, but at Celtic we have a lot of quality players.
“You can’t really say which one is better. It depends on the team and how well they can do it in the Europa League campaign. If we continue to work like this and perform even better defensively then I’m positive we can do something in the Europa League.”
Bolingoli was the target for snipers in his early games, but he added: “It wasn’t that easy at the beginning.
“But I just kept working hard and adapting was important for me. Now you can see on the pitch as a team that we’re doing very well.
“I don’t worry about the criticism. I only focus on my football. I know my qualities, so I know in myself that I needed a little bit of time, but I’m happy now that I can help the team.
“Hopefully, I can just become a better and better player.
“When you arrive at a new club, you always need to try and find your place. As you see, I’m enjoying every game and it’s always amazing to play in Paradise. So, I definitely feel more comfortable.”
Greg Taylor, the deadline day £2.25million arrival from Kilmarnock, was Cup-tied and couldn’t make his Hoops debut against the Jags, but the Scotland left-back could be in contention for a place against Hibs at Easter Road at the weekend.
Bolingoli welcomes the competition which can only be good for the champions in the long run.
DEREK McINNES refused to put the blame on his penalty-kick sinners as Aberdeen toppled out of the Betfred League Cup following a dramatic encounter against Hearts at Tynecastle last night.
The quarter-final tie was deadlocked at 2-2 after extra-time when the Dons, who had twice been in the lead, saw Sam Cosgrove , Niall McGinn and Bruce Anderson miss in the spot-kick shoot-out.
Dons boss McInnes, speaking to the Evening Express, said: “There is no more blame on those boys who missed penalties.
“We are all responsible. We all had the chance to win the game.
“Into the penalty shoot-out, I thought I have the best keeper in the league and I have good penalty-takers.
“Unfortunately, it did not play out that way. Hearts took their penalties well and that is why they are through.
“It was a sore one for my players and the club.”
Cosgrove had already netted twice from the spot during normal time and McInnes added: “It is unusual to take three penalties in a game.
“However, Sam did what he normally does with the first one and for the second he went the other way.
“Maybe he was a bit undecided because I have never seen Sam be so loose with a penalty.”
CRAIG LEVEIN believes the way Hearts started the Betfred tie against Aberdeen stirred the fans and had an impact on the atmosphere within Tynecastle.
The team have struggled in recent weeks, but the mood of their supporters rose considerably after the 2-1 win over Hibs at Easter Road at the weekend. Against the Dons, Uche Ikpeazu hit the underside of the bar within a minute to set the tone.
The Jambos boss, speaking to Edinburgh Live, said: “The supporters were brilliant, more relaxed. The two things go hand in hand.
“The way we started the game was how they want to see us play. Sometimes playing football with a cloudy head isn’t easy.
“We saw some good football and were unlucky not to be in front early in the game. Glen Whelan’s performance on Sunday was wonderful. I didn’t think it could get much better. But last night for me, he was Man of the Match.
“Getting to both semis and a Final last year was great. We got a taste for it.
“It was good to see everybody with smiles on their faces at the end.
“I don’t just want to go to Hampden and have a day out. I want to get to the Final and then have a day out.”
Levein’s side will face Steven Gerrard’s Rangers, who toiled to overcome Livingston 1-0, in the semi-final at the start of November.
PAUL HECKINGBOTTOM praised his Hibs players as they stood up to be counted in their penalty-kick success over Kilmarnock following their goalless Betfred draw at Rugby Park.
The Easter Road men were criticised heavily after their 2-1 loss to Hearts at the weekend which was just one of a series of disappointing results.
Heckingbottom had Ryan Porteous sent off in extra time before the Edinburgh outfit won 5-4 on spot-kicks.
The former Barnsley and Leeds United manager, speaking to STV, said: “We showed a lot of character and to go all the way to the end with 10 men and then penalties.
“You get through it in a way that means a lot because if it goes the other way when you’ve put all that in then you’re going to feel totally sick.
“Right to the end and even going behind in the shoot-out, I keep saying it and it’s not a soundbite, that’s what football is like, those moments.
“People are going to question you all the time and the only way to deal with it is to stand up. We have to stand and fight and show that in every game.”
Hibs now face Celtic and Aberdeen in the Premiership and Heckingbottom acknowledged the challenge ahead, but said he was eagerly anticipating the Hampden semi-final against the Parkhead holders.
He added: “We’ve got two games against teams that finished above us last season, so we know what we’re fighting against.
“When the Cup does come around it’s a totally different experience.
“It’s a Cup semi-final, it’s a one-off, you give everything, you leave every single bit of you on the pitch to try and get through.”
ANGELO ALESSIO, the defeated Killie boss, was naturally disappointed at his team’s exit, but also felt that one of Hibs’ penalties – Tom James’ kick to make it 4-3 – should not have stood.
The Italian thought the Edinburgh player should have been forced to retake his penalty by match official Willie Collum.
Alessio, speaking to the Evening Times, said: “I think that their player touched the ball twice as he took the penalty. Yes, I saw this. But the referee said it was okay.
“I did not speak to the referee about it because he had already decided and I was too far away. But my players definitely said that he had taken two touches on the ball.
“It was very important to go to the semi-final for everyone at this club – the players, the staff, the supporters.
“We are disappointed, but this is football. A penalty shoot-out is the worst way to lose a game.”
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