BRENDAN Rodgers expressed sadness that Celtic supporters have to miss the first leg of their Champions League second qualifier against Linfield tonight due to safety issues.

The original dates set aside by Uefa would have seen the Parkhead club travel to Belfast to play the Northern Irish champions at the height of the Orange Order marching season on July 11/12.

That sparked fears of trouble among the Glasgow club’s supporters, many of whom are Catholic, and Linfield’s loyalist fans.

Following talks with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the encounter was moved back to July 14, with a 5pm kick-off and Celtic refused their ticket allocation.

Speaking at Celtic’s hotel in Belfast, Hoops’ Northern Irish manager Rodgers said: “The disappointment is that the supporters aren’t there because wherever Celtic travel worldwide they are renowned for having great support.

“Celtic is a club that lots of teams want to have as their testimonial game.

“Why? Because supporters travel in great numbers and how they behave when they go to those grounds.

“The only sadness for me, wherever I have been an travelled in this last year, the game have been great but the supporters have been brilliant.

“It is unfortunate they are not going to be there which is a shame for Linfield and Northern Ireland. Football is loved in this country and to have the two sets of supporters there would have been fantastic.

“The football club haven’t been able to have assurances for their safety which is sad for me, coming back to Northern Ireland and a new Northern Ireland and not be able for some way ensure that the supporters’ safety is guarded then that is a problem for me.

“Celtic as a football club protects its supporters and it was deemed for whatever reason that it would maybe be unsafe to travel or be there then of course there has been steps put in place.

“For us it’s about the football, focus on that and go back to Glasgow next week where it will be packed with 60,000.”

Rodgers, who revealed that skipper Scott Brown has recovered from an Achilles problem, wants midfielder Stuart Armstrong’s representative to make clear the demands for a new contract.

The 25-year-old Scotland international has moved into the last season of his current deal and and the former Swansea and Liverpool boss wants him to sign an extension.

“He is in the final year of his contract and we hope that he will sign a new one,” said Rodgers.

“I speak regularly with him, he wants to be here.

“If his agent can speak to the club and organise a deal then that would be great.”

“He obviously wants his future to be at Celtic but it is up to his agent to come forward with the proposals with what they wish.

“If we have that the club can look at it, we can take it from there.”

Rodgers, meanwhile, has extended a helping hand to troubled England defender Steven Caulker, but believes any talk of signing the player is premature given the player’s public mental health problems.

The 25-year-old was mentored by Rodgers when the Celtic manager was in charge at Swansea and took the under his wing following a loan move from Tottenham. Caulker, currently under contract at QPR for another year, has recently gone public with his battle against depression, gambling and alcohol addictions and revealed that, in his darkest episodes, he had contemplated suicide.