FOR a supposed £30m risk, Nir Bitton fairly strolled though Tuesday night’s Champions League first leg qualifying tie with Astana. The Israeli midfielder, strong-armed into a central defensive role after injuries to Dedryk Boyata and Erik Sviatchenko, admitted afterwards to a few big match nerves, but kept any self doubt resolutely beneath the surface as the Celtic backline kept the Kazakhs’ vaunted front line of Junior Kabananga and Patrick Twumasi at bay with a measure of comfort.

Bitton may look a man in need of some persuasion that central defence is the best arena to showcase his abilities, but he said he would continue to do his best in the position, even if it meant attempting to shackle the best strikers the Champions League group stage has to offer. It need hardly be said, of course, that his use of the ball back there is a huge asset to the team.

“Maybe I didn’t show any nerves to the fans, but there was a little bit there,” admitted Bitton. “These kind of matches are always nervy games. They are pressure games and you need to be at your best. It’s not about me, but I think we played an amazing game and hopefully it will be enough for us.”

Bitton paid tribute to his defensive colleagues Jozo Simunovic, Mikael Lustig and Kieran Tierney for talking him through the match. He also got the benefit of some video analysis on the game style of the prolific Kabananga, who was named top scorer in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations.

“I am trying to do my best,” said Bitton. “Wherever I play I will try and help the team to win. You try to adapt yourself. Of course, Jozo, Mikael and KT are trying to talk with me all the time because it is quite a new role for me. I watched some clips of their striker in recent days and tried to understand his movement, where he wanted the ball. That helped. But you just have to try to do your best. Hopefully what I did was enough. When the gaffer [Brendan Rodgers] believes in you and gives you the confidence then you want to show him you deserve it. I got that confidence from him in the last few weeks and I am happy that we could keep a clean sheet and take a good result away from home and into next Tuesday.”

Bitton raved about the ferocity of the forward players’ pressing game and the attacking quality the likes of Leigh Griffiths, Scott Sinclair and James Forrest showed. Coming just 12 months after many of these players laboured to a 3-2 aggregate win against the same opponents, the whole episode spoke volumes of the improvements under the Brendan Rodgers era. With progress already all but a given, how far they can go in the Champions League is the next imponderable, but a kind draw would certain help.

“I’ve said before that we are much better team now,” he said. “I won’t say much better individuals, but we are a much better team. We understand more what the gaffer wants from us, his philosophy and everything he is trying to do.

“It is too early [to say how we can do],” he added. “First, we need to get to the Champions League. Secondly we need to see the draw. But as soon as we get there, we want to go as far as we can.”