Strachan praise for players as Celtic close in on title

April 4, 2006

GLASGOW, April 4 (Reuters) - Celtic manager Gordon Strachan, on the verge of winning the Scottish title in his first season in charge, has paid tribute to the players who 'stood up to be counted' after their early Champions League exit.

The Glasgow side will be crowned champions on Wednesday if they win at home to second-placed Hearts, who they lead by 17 points.

Strachan endured a humiliating start to the season when Celtic were humbled in Europe by Slovakia's Artmedia Bratislava and stuttered to a 4-4 draw in their opening league game with Motherwell.

Asked how he would have responded then if told he would stand on the verge of the title in April, Strachan quipped on Tuesday: 'If someone asked me I'd have been very surprised because no one was talking to me!

'They were basically just abusing, they were not speaking... so no one put that question to me at the beginning of the season.

'I may think about it now and I am happy in the knowledge that our squad have, as the season has gone on, got better and better and better.

'And... because of these players we are in a position where we are 17 points ahead of a very good side. The achievement is down to the players.'

Strachan, who took charge in June last year after Martin O'Neill stepped down for family reasons, has presided over an unbeaten league run since Nov. 26 and won his first trophy when Celtic lifted the League Cup last month.

'You are only as good as the people round about you and I have good people around me,' he told reporters.

'And then my job becomes easier, that's for sure. They have stood up to be counted, the footballers at this club and the backroom staff.

'I was absolutely delighted to win the League Cup, I enjoyed that because it was my first experience.

'When I first came here I said the rewards are not monetary, the rewards are making a lot of people very, very happy and I have seen that at first hand.

'I would like to experience that again... very quickly.'