CELTIC boss Brendan Rodgers has hit back as his Hearts counterpart Craig Levein - by questioning if he was right to play Harry Cochrane at Parkhead on Tuesday night.

Cochrane, who is just 16, suffered a bruised collarbone following a challenge by Celtic skipper Scott Brown in the first half of the Ladbrokes Premiership game.

Levein, whose side lost the game 3-1, yesterday called for “all players” to be given greater protection from Brown by referees.

However, Rodgers has defended his skipper and asked whether Levein should have played the diminutive youngster in such a demanding away fixture.

“Browny is a top player,” he said. “In my experience working with some of the very best players, they play on the limit in every game. That’s why he’s such a brilliant player for Celtic and Scotland.

“No matter who he plays against, whether they are 16 or 36, he is there to win. He was outstanding the other night.

“I don’t think there’s any question about Scott. Hearts committed more fouls than us the other night - 21-9 - so I don’t go along with that."

Rodgers added: “You could argue or ask the question ‘does a 16-year-old need to be in a game against a Champions League team at home?’ I think he can play in it, but it’s a question that may be asked. Can he handle it? I am sure Craig will look at that as well.

“Does the duty of care lie with the manager? Yeah, absolutely. From a talent perspective I could probably put Karamoko Dembele in to the first team right now. But he’s coming up to 15.

“I have to think about where he is at in terms of his maturation level. Not just his talent level.

“If you put a 16-year-old in against the champions at home, who play with an aggression like we do, then you know as a manager what’s coming.

“He is slight, but he plays football at speed, one or two touches. It’s just the demand mentality you need to gauge. I am sure that’s something Craig thinks about, but it makes it harder when they cope each time they get put in.

“You are tempted to keep putting him in again. He’s a good talent who’s still got a lot to learn, of course. But he will have certainly have learnt from playing against Celtic in these last two games, and Scott Brown in particular.

“I’m not sure what tone Craig was using or whether there was a smile. I suspect it was probably tongue in cheek - because it’s definitely not the case with Scott.

“It was unfortunate the boy suffered an injury the other night. The pair of them jumped for a challenge in the air and the boy falls awkwardly and unfortunately damaged his shoulder.”

Meanwhile, Rodgers has expressed his happiness that Moussa Dembele, who had been linked with moves to the Barclays Premier League during the transfer window, will remain at Celtic until at least the end of the 2017/18 season.

He said: “I thought he was back to somewhere near his best the other night. There’s no doubt it’s been a distraction, which is natural, but we sat down on Sunday and Monday and went through what his strengths are.

“When he plays to those strengths then he’s very hard to cope with and I think you saw that the other night. He was outstanding, he scored a goal, created opportunities for others and was very, very good.

“So between now and the end of the season it’s important that focus is there and I’m sure it will be.”