Celtic defender Stephen Welsh took confidence from facing Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Stephen Welsh has emerged as a Celtic regular in recent weeks but he already knows the levels required to reach the top.
There was some surprise when boss Neil Lennon brought the 21-year-old defender in for the Old Firm game against Rangers at Parkhead in October, which the visitors won 2-0.
Welsh, who had made his only previous appearance for Celtic against Hamilton last February, was kept in the side for the Europa League game against Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s AC Milan a few days later, where he lasted until half-time of the 3-1 defeat.
Welsh also featured against French side Lille in European ties home and away but only since the turn of the year has he became more of a fixture in Lennon’s thoughts.
Ahead of the trip to Ross County on Sunday, where Celtic will look to make it six wins in a row, the former Hoops youth player recalled those early games as an education, in particular facing Ibrahimovic.
He said: “The experience was huge. Two massive games in the season (Rangers and AC Milan) although we didn’t come out on top in them.
“Especially in the European games, the quality you come up against is world class.
“You look at Ibrahimovic, he is a brilliant player, he doesn’t move a lot but the quality shines through in the end.
“So yes, playing in those games gives you a reality check. That’s how good these players at European level are.
“But for the manager to put the trust in me to go and play in those games of that calibre was a big confidence boost for me.
“When you get brought into the team and you start winning, it is a big confidence boost, especially when we are keeping clean sheets.
“That’s a good few we have got now and we are just trying to build on that in the coming games.”
Welsh was back in the team for the win over the 1-0 win over Aberdeen on Wednesday after missing last week’s win over St Johnstone with an injury.
The centre-back was taken off on a stretcher in the previous game against St Mirren with an ankle injury, which proved to be less damaging than he first thought.
He said: “I probably thought I was going to miss more than just one game. I came out of it with not a lot of harm done.
“I was just happy to be back in within a few days.
“We are short of numbers anyway in my position, so to make myself available the other night was good and to be put back in gives me a lot of confidence as well.”
After a 1-0 victory over Aberdeen on Wednesday night to keep the winning run going, Lennon wants to continue the good work in Dingwall.
He said: “We came off it against Aberdeen in terms of our quality and intensity to play but over the last month or so things have been looking a little bit better.
“It is important we go up to Ross County and keep or confidence going and keep the level of performance very high and take it one game at a time, that is all we are thinking about at the minute.”