The blame game

The match has ended and the fans have spoken. Celtic’s defeat on Tuesday against Juventus is still very fresh in the mind.

The debate has already taken on a few angles. It would seem everyone had a hand in Tuesday’s defeat at the hands of Juventus.

First up is Neil Lennon. Many fans criticised his decision to play Ambrose after just returning from the African Cup of Nations.

There was the matter of a long flight and having played 48 hours prior to kick off. Ultimately, it comes down to the manage who plays and who doesn’t so Neil put him in.

I might have done the same. At the end of the day, the manager can only go by what the players says.

There was no pressure to play Efe. If anything, you would want to take that essence of victory that was fresh in the mind of the African Cup of Nations winner and thrust it into the heart of your defence.

With that in mind, I do not blame Lennon for his choice. Though there are many who feel Efe’s mistakes that night say it all.

On the team performance, there is very little to flaw. Celtic dominated the match and pressed Juventus but what they didn’t do was put the ball in the net.

When you consider how much of the ball Celtic had it is hard to believe that goals did not follow. The truth is that most of those shots on target were straight down the throat of veteran keeper, Buffon.

The Italian keeper was of course aided by the visually impaired referee. Mallenco’s decisions during the match i.e. the Hooper v Lichtsteiner wrestling, was disgraceful.

If UEFA were observing this referees performance, I hope they weren’t as blind as he was. Mallenco was incompetent on Tuesday and there was an overwhelming amount of support in the media an beyond for Celtic.

Juventus are the benefactors of his decisions. They didn’t waste of of their chances when they came along either.

It wouldn’t be insane to suggest that Juventus were capable of winning the Champions Cup. They may not be Barcelona or Real Madrid, but they are the kind of side who find alternative paths to glory.

They can frustrate, intimidate, cheat and devour opponents and that is without even touching the ball. Once again Celtic have been left reeling in the wake of a Juventus defeat.

Turin is three weeks away and three goals behind. The European adventure is over for this season, but there is always next time.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Progress, progress, progress…

Celtic haven’t reached the last sixteen of the Champions League on many occasions. Only two of Celtic’s three managers that have led the club into the group stage, have made it beyond this point in the competition.

Martin O’Neill was denied on each occasion. Ironically, he exit from the group stage in November 2001 when Celtic took on Juventus at Celtic Park.

Despite the eventual outcome, was a memorable match for the Celtic community. Not only because it was a deserved victory, but that it was revenge for being cheated in Turin.

Sadly, Rosenberg’s failure to win in Portugal meant UEFA Cup football for Celtic. This was just the beginning for the former Celtic manager though.

What O’Neill started back in 2001 was built upon by his successor. Gordon Strachan would take the club further and with what some might say less talented players.

There is no doubt that his team was cheaper. Strachan lost around fourteen of O’Neill’s players during the transition period and more were to follow.

The one key player he did retain was Neil Lennon. Not only was he key player for Strachan, but even after he left to play for Nottingham Forest, he returned to Celtic as a coach.

Now, after a forgettable period by Tony Mowbray, Lennon sits at the helm and is steering a team of his own making. The progress of O’Neill and Strachan has been unquestionably influential on Neil.

Having played for both managers in the Champions League, he knows what it is like to win and lose in these matches. Neil has taken that experience and applied it to his own crop of players.

What has been achieved this season so far is beyond the expectations of many. When Neil said “this is just the beginning” I don’t think any fan expected him to leap forward this quickly.

It’s easy to assume that this sort of progress is achievable for any manager but Lennon is still relatively new on the scene. His managerial career is only a few weeks short of three years and at that stage he began as an interim coach.

Lennon and his opponent this evening, Antonio Conte, have both lived and breathed their respective clubs. They were both dedicated captains on the park and this evening they will be ensuring there touchline role is every bit influential as their playing days.

I don’t believe Juventus will take anything for granted against Celtic tonight but they will be confident nonetheless. With Celtic playing at home though and coming through some tough matches enroute to the last sixteen, their own confidence should ensure that we are in for great match tonight.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

The old English international argument

You know the story: Celtic sign an English player; players exceeds expectations; countless support for an international call up etc, etc.

Gary Hooper is the latest to don the “hard done by” status of an English footaballer playing in Scotland. Chris Sutton and Alan Thompson have also had their international careers questioned by the Celtic community.

For Hooper, there is without shadow of a doubt that his step backwards to the lower leagues has been a step forwards. His reverse into lower league football has turned out to be a career boosting experience.

Since his arrival at Celtic his game has gone from strength to strength. Both domestic and Eureopean frontiers have been conquered by Hooper.

He has of course been called up for the under 21 England side but pulled out due to injury. Since then there have been a number of occasions where his inclusion at senior level have been overlooked.

There is no doubt in my mind that Hooper could do the damage for England. There are a fair few options for Hodgson but he isn’t considering Hooper.

But, who are we to tell England who to pick? They picked Alan Thompson (once) and he had a poor 45 minutes (through no fault of his own). Do you think they hold a grudge?

Chris Sutton ceratinly held a grudge against Glenn Hoddle when he was England manager. This of course was long before he became a Celtic player but he never played for England ever again after his only senior cap.

At the time he was a Blackburn player, a very successful time in his career. And much like his Celtic career, he was overlooked most of the time.

Conclusion? Well call me cyncial, but Hooper’s/Celtic’s decision not to agree to a transfer south of the border may have a bearing on this recent omission.

You would think that on an occasion such as this (a friendly), old “Woy” might have used the match to test out the striker. It would seem that he has other options – despite a lack of strikers for the game!

I would like to give Hodgson the benefit of the doubt, but unless it was Neil Lennon who warned him off this time, Gary Hooper is off the radar for England.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie