STEPHEN Welsh tonight confessed he was surprised that Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers picked him to start in the final Champions League group game against Feyenoord – but then vowed to build on his display in the 2-1 triumph.

Welsh, who has not featured for the Scottish champions since undergoing an ankle operation back in August, was superb at the back against the Dutch giants at Parkhead alongside Man of the Match winner Liam Scales.

The 23-year-old admitted that he was taken aback when Rodgers took him aside before training at Lennoxtown on Tuesday and told him he would be playing in the Group E encounter with Arne Slot’s side.

The defender, who has only taken part in 45 minutes of competitive football in the 2023/24 campaign, revealed that he had only featured in one friendly game since returning to full fitness after his injury.

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But the Scottish defender, who was given the nod ahead of Liverpool loanee Nat Phillips and Gustaf Lagerbielke, believes he can continue to feature under the Northern Irishman in the coming weeks and months.   

“It’s always a good night when you’re playing in the Champions League at Celtic Park,” he said. “It’s a special night even though in terms of qualification the game didn’t mean anything.

“Personally and for the team it meant a whole lot to go out there and put on a good performance in front of the fans. They pay a lot of money to come and watch us play in the Champions League and it’s about giving something back to them with our performances. Thankfully we have won our game here for the first time in 10 years. To give them a special night is all we can do.

The Herald: Celtic substitute Gustaf Lagerbielke celebrates his injury-time winner against Feyenoord tonight“Obviously I’ve been out for a few months now and it’s been a tough few months. Back in August I had a bad injury and I had to get a big operation so it probably was a bit surprising. But when you see your name in the starting line-up you know you need to put in a good performance.

“The gaffer has put his trust in me to play in a Champions League game and it’s a big game to come back into especially against a top side like Feyenoord. They were really good tonight, but I enjoyed it. I was feeling it a wee bit in my legs, but I felt I did myself no harm. Hopefully we kick on at the weekend.”

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Welsh added: “It was yesterday just before training the manager told me I was in the team. And that was it. The gaffer puts trust in his players. I’m part of the squad and when called upon I’ll always give my best for the club.

“When I found out the manager was coming back in the summer I was really excited because I trained with him when I was younger. I was too young to play at the time, but I was really excited he was coming back. It was almost like a fresh start for me this season.

“When I got the injury it was really unfortunate because I was looking to play. But I’m back now and fully fit and ready to go for the rest of the season.

“I had a friendly with the younger lads a month or two ago. That’s my first game back. I felt good for maybe the first hour, but that’s normal, especially with the pace of the game. For a dead rubber game the pace was good. Feyenoord turned up and played good football but we did really well.”

Welsh was replaced by Lagerbielke with 15 minutes remaining and he was delight to see the substitute head home a Matt O’Riley cross in injury-time to seal a narrow victory.

“Gus has come on and been excellent,” he said. “Me and him and big Mike (Maik Nawrocki) have all been training most days and they train like animals every day. Gus has got his reward and so have I coming into the team to play in the Champions League. 

“He’s a great guy and a good footballer and he works hard every day.  He’s a very good defender, very good on the ball and I’m delighted for him. It’s tough to come into a new environment when you are maybe not getting the game time you want.

"But it is what it is. At a club like Celtic there’s competition and when you get that jersey you have to try and keep it.”