Pundit View: Hartson heaps praise on Celtic’s Ajer

Celtic are expected to make quite a few changes to the squad this summer, but there’s one man who will be going absolutely nowhere.

While things have certainly become more secure since the turn of the year, Celtic’s defensive woes looked sure to be the weakness that may eventually allow Rangers to creep back into the title race earlier on in the season.

Dedryck Boyata can be wonderful one week and invisible the next (quite literally in Athens), Jozo Simunovic clearly has ability but is yet to put it all together on the pitch, while Jack Hendry may just be a lost cause.

Kristoffer Ajer however, has gotten better and better as the season has gone on, and John Hartson is delighted by his progress.

What did he say?

Writing in his column for The Evening Times, Hartson said: “I was always a fan of Kristoffer Ajer who had his best game for Celtic on Sunday.

“He took a really sore one in the face in the first-half and, take it from a man who knows, getting a boot right there is not nice.

“Ajer got up, shrugged off the pain and went on to play a massive role in the win.

“I like the way he plays out from the back. He reads the game a lot better and has improved in the air.

“It was good to see him taking on more responsibility when Celtic went down to ten after Dedryck Boyata went off.”

Ready for more responsibility?

Hartson has got it spot on. Ajer has always showed glimpses of his tremendous ability and composure on the ball, but it is the physical and mental side of the game he often struggled with.

On Sunday, in arguably football’s most intense derby, the young Norwegian looked like he had been there and done it all before a thousand times over, constantly mopping up with relative ease.

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As Hartson notes, the pressure on him was even greater once Boyata went off injured, and the 20 year-old took it all in stride.

If Ajer can add the type of physically imposing presence and commanding leadership that he showed on Sunday to the already-impressive ball skills he possesses, then the Bhoys are going to have one hell of a player on their hands.

In fact, fans have often worried about the lack of leadership in defence if Boyata goes, but Ajer may even be ready to step into that leadership role immediately on Sunday’s evidence, especially if he keeps getting votes of confidence like the one from Hartson.