Goals, points and old rivals

I know it’s a modern trend to make an arse of yourself on Twitter, but you would think that sports personalities would learn from the mistakes of others? Well, it would seem not.

There have been two tweets and two apologies in the Celtic community over the last couple of days. It won’t be the last time this type if scenario occurs on Twitter either, but the timing of one tweet in particular is hardly the best way to prepare for one of your biggest games of the season.

The game in question is of course tomorrow night when Celtic take on Ajax at Celtic Park in the Champions League. They haven’t faced each other since 2001 when Ajax beat Celtic 1-0 in Glasgow.

That result didn’t matter in the end thanks to a jaw dropping 1-3 away win for Celtic from the first leg. It was sufficient enough to send Celtic through to the Champions League group stage for the first time in existence.

Neil Lennon played in both of those matches and now the teams meet once more. Interestingly enough, Lennon’s opposite number in the other dugout is one Frank De Boer.

Whilst each playing for Celtic and Rangers, they came up against each other on two occasions. Lennon was on the winning side both times.

Now both are in their first head coach jobs and both are desperate for points. It’s possible that Celtic and Ajax could be slugging it out for third spot in Group H, but we know how quickly things can change in the Champions League.

Celtic should be aiming to win their next three group games. It’s a tough ask given that so far its played two, lost two and no goals scored.

Ajax may only have one point and one goal but its one point and one goal more than Celtic have right now. De Boer will be looking to add to that tally and keep Neil Lennon and Celtic at bay.

The way I see it though is that tomorrow night is a blank canvas. Forget the last two Champions League match days.

Celtic’s campaign begins on Tuesday at 7.45pm. There is no point in looking back, only forward.

Yes, Lennon has injuries to his squad and a suspension to contend with. Thinking about that won’t help him or the club tomorrow night though.

He must take the players he does have available and galvanise their belief to win. Celtic are due to bang some goals in against someone soon because they’ve been playing well enough.

There have been some fantastic European nights at Celtic Park. I’ve watched from the terracing, from the stands a from my sofa.

I believe Tuesday can be one of those special nights. I didn’t think so against Barcelona.

Lennon knows what is at stake here. He won’t need to remind the players either, though I’m pretty sure he will.

A win for Celtic tomorrow would put them in third place. And if say Barcelona beat Milan home and away over the next two matches, Celtic could potentially go second in the group with the right kind of result in Amsterdam.

There are of course other permutations but it demonstrates the complexity of the group phase. So it should be both encouraging and motivating that despite two defeats and no goals you’re never out of it.

There’s no debate on Celtic’s passing or possession, it’s their ability to put the ball in the net that is my only concern. This season I’ve yet to see the kind of killer instinct in front of goal that can win you games.

There are goal scorers throughout the squad and I’ve seen some good goals so far this season, but Celtic have had little luck in the Champions Leaguw. At some point that luck has to change but not without being ruthless in front of goal.

Be it Forrest, Pukki, Samaras, Stokes or whoever it doesn’t matter. Celtic must take their chances tomorrow night because I am damn well sure they will be created.

Until tomorrow, Celtic. Glasgow here I come.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Until Tuesday then…

There’s nothing better than playing at a stadium with bit of noise. Sadly, there aren’t many to choose from in Scottish football anymore, but from my sofa Easter Road sounded decent enough for the viewer.

Celtic travelled to Edinburgh for the lunchtime kick off against Hibs. It wasn’t an eyecatching first half but at least the atmosphere generated was one more deserving of TV coverage.

Hibs took a disputable lead on 18 minutes much to the distaste of Neil Lennon. Celtic were closed down quickly and hassled off the ball during that first 45 minutes but it didn’t prevent them making attacking moves.

The second half saw a better performance from Celtic but it took until the 77th minute to draw level. As is often the case, they had the lions share of possession but still had to contend with some rough tackling from Hibs.

There was ample time and opportunity for Celtic to do something about the scoreline though. Neil Lennon had deployed a whole host of attackers but it was second half substitute James Forrest who scored for Celtic.

He’s often received criticism for disappearing in games but he showed the fans and his teammates where the goal was. It was a superb finish to the far post from the outside of the boot which is right up there with the best of this seasons goals so far.

Forrest almost grabbed another later on had it not been for an excellent one handed save from the Hibs keeper. The winger looked a little dejected at the end having come so close to getting all three points but he singlehandedly got one point for his club.

With a starting lineup including Commons, Pukki, Stokes and Samaras I suggest Lennon was trying to put this match to bed early. Had any of these players been as clinical as Forrest then the manager would have got his wish.

Instead Commons had to come off early with an injury. If it weren’t for the fact Celtic face Ajax on Tuesday he may even have walked that one off.

My feeling is that it was more a precautionary measure than a conclusive inury. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.

One refreshing feature from yesterday’s match was the performance of Darnell Fisher. I first saw him turn in a good display against Liverpool, albeit it in a friendly.

It was always going to be a bit of a step up for him given the void left by Lustig and Matthews. On yesterdays contribution alone I would say he stood up to task well.

Fisher bore the brunt of the hefty tackling from Hibs but he also took it in his stride. His progress up the right channel often led to the exchange of passing moves rather than just a defending role.

Champions League duty may prove a daunting task for him should Lustig fail to be fit. I don’t think it will come to that but he seems capable for a young player.

From what I saw on TV, there is no doubt the Celtic players had their minds on the Ajax match yesterday but they can now give Tuesday their full attention. Decisions will be made in the next couple of days on the fitness of Commons, Lustig and Izaguirre.

Players who haven’t featured much recently such as Ledley will be considered for starting places as well. Though it is more likely that Kayal will be first pick in midfield along with Mulgrew.

There is also the option of new boy Nir Biton. He hasn’t looked out of place on early viewing and with the absence of Scott Brown for the next three Champions League games, Neil Lennon will need as many options as possible.

On the attacking front, things need to settle down. Stokes has started the season on spectacular form but he isn’t an out-and-out striker.

Despite some goals, Pukki hasn’t settled in yet but his role is in the striking department and hopefully there will be more to come from him very soon. Samaras looks confident right now but a goal from him and a victory on Tuesday night would supercharge the Greek for sure.

In the Champions League he has been fantastic for Lennon. Two narrow defeats against Milan and Barcelona haven’t prevented him from putting in good performances either so Lennon will be counting on him big time.

Celtic’s first Champions League points must be taken against Ajax. In the stands the fans will be right behind the players and I’ll be in travelling north to be there.

I can’t wait. Until Tuesday, Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Out of the woods? Not yet.

Domestic football returned to our screens yesterday. Its been all international business since Celtic’s victory over Motherwell following a narrow defeat to Barcelona.

Sadly the international breaks have not had much to offer lately. Thanks to the SFA appointing Craig Levein, Scotland’s a World Cup qualifying campaign ended way back bringing forward preparations for the European Championships!

New Scotland manager Gordon Strachan has injected a little bit of life back into the national team. What his presence will yield only the future knows but I feel he’s the right man for the job for now.

Lets not carried away with the 2-0 home win over Croatia though. Whilst these are encouraging signs, I’d much rather have been watching that victory with the chance of still qualifying for Brazil.

That hope died when Craig Levein was still in charge. His presence in the Scotland national set up was similar to that of a dying swan but without the grace, just the pitty.

How the SFA ever thought Levein would be able inspire a generation of international players is beyond me. He’s not exactly been the most prolific club manager either.

Scotland may not be brimming with stars these days, but when you are managing players from a variety of backgrounds and clubs you need to have the presence and character to get their full attention. As an international coach, you see very little of your squad so on that training ground and when you walk into that dressing room you need to full control of those players.

I’m not suggesting that Levein was not respected by the players, he always comes across as a decent guy. Though when your national team continually sucks you need someone to stoke the coals, not fan the flames.

Strachan was what I would refer to as a national idol, an inspiriational player. Levein on the other hand was not.

Levein saw international duty, but he was no Miller or McLeish. I’ve always felt that for Scotland and their languishing campaigns, you need to be one of those idols and that they possess managerial skills to inspire your countrymen.

Agreeable as it is having Strachan as national coach, I am not getting carried away either. I’m positive he will have players playing with heart again but Scotland aren’t out of the woods yet.

Kevin McKenna’s article in the Observer today suggests Scotland may be on the mend. He writes a good article but lets not get ahead of ourselves here.

McKenna goes on to talk about the failings on the SFA over the decades up to the current day. Nobody knows the failings of the SFA more than a Celtic fan.

We’ve been venting our ‘paranoia’ long before I was born. It still happens today yet nothing ever changes.

Few Scottish journalists have ever challenge the men at Hampden and when they have its been a solo venture. If done on a larger scale, things might improve but as history has shown, and we’ve seen in the present day, its easy to have the Scottish media in your back pocket.

Until that power is rested from the incompetent men at Hampden, the wounds of Scottish football will never heal. At least we have a national coach I can follow again.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Bouncing back.

Celtic responded positively to the midweek loss against Barcelona with solid 2-0 victory over Motherwell yesterday at Celtic Park. It was virtual one way traffic with two sublime goals by Anthony Stokes and Kris Commons.

The first was pure instinct by Stokes as he struck the ball from a difficult angle without much time or thought. For Commons he required a strong run, two or three defenders, a nutmeg and a good finish, all accomplished with perfection.

Despite all that, Motherwell offered very little in return which is unlike them I’m sure you’d agree. In many ways this was almost like the Morton game in that Celtic were in control throughout whilst the opposition sat back.

The only difference was that Celtic took two of the chances they created and they were not gifted to them either. There could have been more but I think Neil Lennon will be more than happy.

Given the slender loss midweek and the dismissal of Scott Brown, it would have been easy for the heads to go down. As the players demonstrated though, it was game on and it only goes to show the positivity around Celtic Park.

Things are so positive that big Virgil was seen performing a cameo role in the Motherwell box. He could have bagged a brace as well.

He is lookin like a real player for Celtic. The partnership with him and Efe Ambrose is looking solid.

We’re all aware that Ambrose takes risks but he’s confident. The same goes for Virgil and both players are good at bringing the ball out from the back and taking it up the park.

Behind that central pairing, Fraser Forster is looking bigger than ever. I had my concerns about him early in the season but he’s been doing so well ofmlate thaf the old England debate has reared its ugly head once more.

The attention Forster has been getting is warranted but the plaudits aren’t just about playing for England. Its players like Alves, Buffon etc that have been talking up the big man and quite rightly so.

The one downside to yesterday’s game was the concern over the injury to Adam Matthews. Whilst making one of those signature surging runs into the box, he landed awkwardly after a penalty box challenge by Keith Lasley.

The early reports are saying that it could be a fractured collarbone but that’s yet to be confirmed. Worse case scenario would be a few months on the sidelines.

That would be a severe loss for Celtic when you consider what Matthews offers alone. With four games left to play in the Champions League group stage, the Welshman’s pace and craft are vital for Neil Lennon.

Should our worst fears happen, it’ll fall to another to step up. It’s how you respond to these kind of setbacks that defines you and the same applies to the Celtic squad.

Despite being beaten in both Champions League matches and losing to Morton in the League Cup, Celtic have done very little wrong recently. Overall I think we as fans can be pleased by the way Celtic have played but I think there’s more to come from the team.

Its onwards and upwards for now. We wish Adam Matthews a speedy recovery.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Red mist, diving and dire officiating

You never give up on Celtic. Especially in the Champions League.

These days I like to take the positives from games. In previous years it was usually the negatives, but I’m a changed man.

Celtic do their utmost to get into Europe year upon year. The Champions League is a great competition and the fans come out in their droves to support the club home and away.

The club also continues to fly the flag for Scotland in Europe. In fact its surprising Alex Salmond hasn’t been seen waving a saltire at Celtic Park.

Two games into the Champions League and two defeats. Both have been hard to take.

Like the Milan game, I would have bitten your hand off for a draw last night. Instead, Celtic walked away with nothing.

Barcelona fully deserve praise for the way that they play, its mesmerising. However, for Neymar I have zero respect.

Not because of the Scott Brown incident but because of his diving antics. I shouldn’t be surprised given what can be seen in Spanish football.

Last weeks Madrid derby left me unimpressed. The amount of diving, rolling around and ground slapping dramatics made me sick.

It’s not something unfamiliar to us though. Italian players have the same gene and lets not forget the South Americans, but I digress.

After one of Neymar’s blatant dives in particular, the referee allowed play to continue. When play stopped he called the player over.

All the referee did was talk to the player and it was obvioulsy for the dive. However, the refree took no action.

Had the referee done the right thing, the Brazilian wouldn’t have continued to play in the manner that he did. A tight grip on the game is all you can ask of the match official but even that was hard to come by.

Some of Stéphane Lannoy’s decisions were abysmal. Celtic had their twelfth man in the stands and Barcelona’s was on the park.

Then came Scott Brown’s moment of lunacy. His challenge on Neymar was risky enough, but the cheeky kick afterward was Scott Brown of old.

Brown didn’t see much of the ball last night. With Neymar’s continual play acting thrown into the mix it seems Brown’s frustration levels had peaked.

I thought our club captain had put these tendencies to one side. For a long time many fans didn’t think he was right for the team but he grew into the role over time so its disappointing to see last nights incident.

The point is that Scott Brown, club captain or not should know better. He’s played in umpteen Champions League matches and knows the score with Barcelona.

Lennon used the antics of Neymar to shield some blame from Scott Brown, but the truth stands. Celtic were still in the game and standing firm so its disappointing that the game was tarnished by a red card amongst poor refereeing and cheating.

On a positive note, Samaras and Forster were outstanding. Samaras was on his own for long spells but he knows his role in Europe and does it effectively.

Fraser Forster pulled off some huge saves in the second half. He looked about ten foot tall after seeing those saves only to be beaten by Fabregas after Ambrose failed to mark him.

Aside from that blip I would say that the defence did their job well. What has to be remembered is that the team were down to ten men and Barcelona still struggled to get a goal.

When Celtic lost Brown, they created two fantastic opportunites. The effort by James Forrest would have been a corker had it not been for an amazing save from Victor Valdes.

The most glaring miss was Charlie Mulgrew’s. He’d outjumped his marker and got a firm head on the ball only for it to go wide of a gaping goal.

That could have been a game changer and a good repsonse from Brown’s sending off. What’s done is done and now Neil Lennon must move on.

Despite being in a difficult group, Celtic must and can win their next three group stage matches. Its a big task but it is possible.

You can forget about the match at Camp Nou. By that stage Celtic will need to have taken the points required on the road.to Barcelona.

I don’t expect Ajax away to be a pushover, but I believe a win is possible. What I do expect though is two home wins.

Celtic take on Ajax in three weeks time in Glasgow. This is where Lennon must get those first points.

He’s been desperately unlucky not to have picked up any points at all. The team have been worth two draws at the very least.

There shouldn’t be any pressure upon the players to get points because they’ve played well enough in the first two group stage matches. Someone just needs to step up and inspire.

Samaras readily leads the team in Europe, but influence must come from other areas. For me the defence is one of Celtic’s greatest strengths, but from midfield to attack there is room for improvement.

I have no intention of criticising the team after last night because when you play Barcelona you see very little of the ball. There were one or two players not in the game but I found those players come into to it later on.

Lennon has options and in general his tactics are right. He’s found a blend between the cavalier football of Martin O’Neill and the effective yet unattractive style of Gordon Strachan.

It’s a case of knowing when to attack and when to defend. Lennon must now get back to domestic duty but it is important for his players to remain confident.

I’d like Samaras continue his leading role in Europe. I’d also like to see Pukki emboss himself in the forward line because Celtic need it.

As far as the midfield goes, Celtic have options. What Lennon has to do now is get the right blend.

Two games down, six points lost, but lets leave the past in the past. Ajax at home, Ajax away and Milan at home – three wins is the target.

Come December 11th, I’d like to be sitting in Camp Nou anticipating a favourable result from the other group match in Milan.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Can it be done?

Last years Champions League campaign was successful for Celtic. The opposition faced had the odds set against Celtic.

When you take on Europe’s top clubs you find out exactly how the football community rates you. As a manager and a group of players, it’s up to you to prove those people right or wrong.

Celtic defied those odds last season. In fact they took it a wee bit further.

Only seven out if nine points were taken from Celtic’s home matches. However, three were taken on the road – a first for Celtic in the Champions League.

Now if that isn’t progress then I don’t know what is. Though there was more than just that.

As well as the away win in Moscow there was that home win over Barcelona. And what a night that was.

Having been narrowly beaten 2-1 by the Catalans at Camp Nou it was always going to be a edge of the seat affair. Secretly, you always expect Celtic to do something special at Celtic Park on those European nights.

That was one of those occasions. The question is will tonight be amongst those memorable nights?

Lennon and his players had to come through pre-season qualifiers to get to this stage. After six matches, they started off the group stage against AC Milan.

That was two weeks ago but despite a brilliant performance, a cruel deflection handed Milan a very lucky win. That goal was followed by another, by which time Celtic had the wind taken out of their sails, with both goals coming in the closing stages of the match.

Before the kick off I would have bitten your hand of for a point. Having looked at the evidence, it should have been three points for Celtic.

Now that’s not bad considering the company Celtic are in. So when approaching tonight’s game its worth remembering what can be achieved by this team, despite seeing two of last years key contributors leave the club.

Celtic have already been judged by the media. They are without a hope.

I like Celtic being the underdog. It gives the team a platform to prove others wrong and the fans more too shout about

Celtic Park isn’t an easy place to come to. That can continue tonight.

There’s no Tony Watt to score that winner. So which Celtic player is it going to be then?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie