ANGE POSTECOGLOU might not pop champagne corks for clean sheets, but given the way Celtic’s defence started the campaign, the two shutouts in the last two matches may have been justifiable cause for celebration.

Consecutive 2-0 wins over Motherwell and Ferencvaros have rather taken the fizz out of the consistent criticism that has come the way of the Celtic backline so far this term, though there undoubtedly still remains scepticism among supporters and cynics alike over the new partnership at the heart of Postecoglou’s defence.

Carl Starfelt’s performances in particular have come under scrutiny since the Swedish international arrived at the club from Rubin Kazan, with his early performances for the club falling a little flat with supporters.

According to Postecoglou though, such judgments on his suitability as a Celtic player would not only be wildly premature, but also hugely unfair given the circumstances he was thrown into.

The Celtic manager extends that thought process to Starfelt’s partnership with fellow new arrival Cameron Carter-Vickers, and he has praised the pair for their openness to his methods, as well as their willingness to dedicate themselves to improvement within the framework of his team.

Given that dedication, he believes that the upward trend they are starting to show in their performance levels will continue in that positive trajectory.

“I felt for Carl because we threw Carl in and I think he had three or four different centre-halves as partners and he was new himself,” Postecoglou said.

“People were judging him on what they saw. I knew there was more in him and I still think there is.

“Cam we just threw in. We signed him on deadline day and virtually threw him into the first team.

“The good thing about Cam is that he’s a real calm character. He’s mature beyond his years. Even though he’s fairly young he has settled in really well.

“The key for both of them is that they want to learn. They want to develop, they want to improve every week. They’re coming in, sitting down with coaches doing the analysis and I think they’re getting confidence from that.”

Postecoglou acknowledges that his football philosophy is also pushing his defenders out of their comfort zones, and therefore contributing to them looking ill at ease on occasion.

“The way we play is not easy for any centre-backs,” he said. “We ask a lot of our centre-backs.

“We ask them to play out from the back and then we’re asking them to squeeze up and be aggressive with our defending.

“It’s a lot easier to play centre-back in other teams I can guarantee you, but they have tackled it and we know there is more to come.

“Part of that is that we’ve shown faith in them and I’ve said to them all along, ‘whatever happens out there, if it doesn’t work, I’m accountable for it, not them’.

“I’m not going to judge them on what happens in the first part of their Celtic career. What’s important for me is that they are continually looking to learn and understand how we want to play our football.

“If I saw that, then I would keep encouraging them, and that’s been happening.”

Part of the improvement in the Celtic defence since those early, chaotic days of the season is surely also down to consistency of selection.

Postecoglou has settled on Starfelt and Cameron-Vickers as his default pairing, and while that call may have been harsh on young Stephen Welsh, it seems to be an approach that is bearing fruit.

The Celtic manager is keen to stress though that he has been hugely impressed by Welsh, and sees the 21-year-old as having a bright future at the club. The bigger immediate selection headache may arise when Christopher Jullien finally returns to fitness after the long-term injury that has consigned him to the sidelines since January.

Jullien is back in training and will be pushing for a return to the side within weeks, so does Postecoglou risk upsetting the apple-cart by giving the £7m man an opportunity, or does he stick with the men currently in possession of the jerseys?

For him, while Starfelt and Carter-Vickers are benefitting from their recent run together, the rigours of the season will mean that all four centre-backs – and perhaps five if counting young Dane Murray – will have a significant role to play as the campaign unfolds.

“Stevie Welsh was good when he played earlier [in the season],” Postecoglou said.

“He’s ready to come in at any time. We rate him highly.

“We’ve got young Dane Murray who did well [earlier in the season too]. We’ve got Chris Jullien. It’s not about locking down a couple. What we want to do is create a strong squad and be competitive all over the park.

“But there’s no doubt that, with centre-back partnerships, the more settled you are, the more understanding they have. It helps. It’s good that those two have had a run of games together.”