Waiting for a decent match

During the international break, football fans find themselves divided. Some will tune in or travel to follow their country whilst others a dislike of the whole bout of fixtures.

As a Celtic fan, I’ve always followed Scotland. I’m not in the Tartan Army league but I always had time for Scotland (except when they’ve had really awful managers).

Last night Scotland played Northern Ireland but I wasn’t all that interested. International friendlies are,for the most part, tiresome.

I don’t mind meaningful qualifiers and of late Gordon Strachan has reignited the fires . So I’m happy to wait until Sunday’s encounter with Gibraltar to get on board.

If anything, I think friendlies could be played behind doors. They’re good for the players but not always for fans.

On the subject of meaningful matches, I tuned into El Clásico on Sunday. As far as huge fixtures go, this is one of the best and yet I always find the same disappointment.

Diving.

When I was growing up folk used to go on about the dirty South Americans and the divers from Italy, Spain etc etc. Whilst the former may be a distant memory (except maybe Honduras in last year’s World Cup Finals) the latter is still in full flow today.

El Clásico had plenty of antics going on last Sunday. I get that its part of a culture with some countries but its a negative one.

I tune into these matches hoping to be dazzled by the things that Scottish football cannot produce. So when I see guys billed to be the best in the world, falling over holding some part of their body Family Guy style is a little embarassing to watch.

If you’re not very good and you need all you can to get the game, fair enough. These guys earn a fortune though and have global exposure, yet collapse with all the drama of an injured ballerina.

Its a total disgrace to football and its crept into the game in the England. That may be to do with the influx of huge salaried foreign ‘stars’, in fact it is.

Lets hope it doesn’t become prevalent  in Scottish football. We need a helping hand now and again but this we can do without.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Advertisements

To the sword

Going into the final of four straight encounters against Dundee United, its hard to imagine this one will slip past quietly. The matches have been laced with battles on and off the park.

With the red card count currently at six, there must be odds on a seventh. Two of those were rescinded but I’m certainly not hoping for any more.

This spate of fiesty encounters have brought an dirty element into the game this season. You can be sure that Jackie McNamara is at the heart of it as well.

Celtic must keep their eye on the prize though and that is three points today. Three key players are back in the frame after Wednesday’s 4-0 victory.

Stefan Johansen returns from suspension and Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong are eligible for league duty after being cup – tied for the last three ties. Johansen is a major boost for Deila but the width and pace of the former Dundee United duo has been sorely missed these past few games.

Their introduction to the squad has been a success for Deila. The transition into the team couldn’t have been any smoother particularly when you see how they eased into the Europa Cup matches.

Celtic’s gain has been United’s loss and the latters petulance has been shown in these recent games. McNamara says the pressure is beginning to show on Ronny Deila’s face but I would suggest the opposite.

Ronny has whethered the storm and come out fighting this season. Its one reason clubs, fans and the media should show more patience when making early judgementsin players or managers.

This season isn’t over and only one trophy has been decided. If Jackie McNamara believes the pressure is all on Deila he is mistaken.

The question McNamara should be asking himself is where do I go from here now that the club have sold all our best players? Not, playing mind games and getting your players to get into dirty tackles.

I expect better from the ex-Celt but I expect more from Ronny Deila and so far he’s been doing just that. Time to put United to the sword.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Spicey encounter awaits at Hampden Park

This week saw Virgil van Dijk and Paul Paton’s red cards rescinded allowing both players to take part in today’s League Cup Final at Hampden, as will the unpunished Calum Butcher. However, it was Scott Brown who grabbed the media spot light for this one.

You may have noticed one or two articles being run about the Celtic skipper enjoying himself the night before his day off? Oooh the scandal!

For me this was a non-story to begin with. With pictures and quotes being printed and uploaded in abundance, I could just sense that people were hoping more was going to come from “Broony’s big night out”

And thats just it, there was nothing worth discussing except of course does he have garlic mayo and chilli sauce like me? With a day off to wake up to, a bit of a splurge is nothing when you’ve been working your nuts off all season.

Celtic made no comment about the matter and quite rightly so. The only thing that does matter is that Scott Brown turns up today with his game face on as he has done all season.

His presence in the team is important and blowing off some steam midweek will probably have done him some good. Even the currrent in-form-as-kisser Chris Sutton weighed in with some support to play matters down, but we don’t need your opinion Chris so thanks but no thanks.

Today’s match is huge and you can be sure Broony will be right in amongst it. I wonder what the bookies odds are for him scoring and celebrating with a reinactment of Wednesday night?

In all seriousness, this is built up to be a great game today. Dundee United have been in good form this season and always a great team to play against.

The downside for United is the missing Nadir Ciftci. He was rightly suspended after last weeks post match inquiry for his deliberate kick at Scott Brown.

Ciftci is a key danger man for United but I don’t expect his absence to hamper their chances in this match. Jackie McNamara, one of my favourite all time Celtic players, will have his players fired up for this.

I was always under the impression McNamara was a quiet, calm guy who focused on his game at Celtic. In truth, he did as much challenging behind the scenes as he did on the park.

He also walked away from Celtic when they were slow to offer him a new deal. It wasn’t the ideal way to leave after being such a great servant but he is his own man.

That is why its no surprise he is in management and making a good go of it. He’s the longest serving head coach in the Scottish Premiership at present and hopefully will continue that if Scottish football ever hopes to gain some momentum again.

Scottish football needs coaches like McNamara to reignite the game once more. Usually once a coach gets a better offer from down south they’re gone and yet the grass isn’t always greener so hopefully Jackie will stick around for a while.

This has been one of the best Scottish football seasons in the top flight for as far back as I can remember. Where it wasn’t just about Celtic and Rangers, as it was before the demise of the latter.

Since then its just been about Celtic but this season its been about Dundee United, Aberdeen, Inverness and even Hamilton’s early season form. Sure, Celtic may still be on for the treble but they are being challenged at long last.

So today will be no pushover for Ronny Deila, not after last weeks encounter at Tannadice. Finals can produce anything and will provide enough entertainment to keep us all perched on the edge of our seats.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the refereeing today as well. With Bobby Madden in charge you can only wonder how he’ll perform.

Is it nearly kick off yet? Make mine a Hampden kebab with everything on it.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Who said Scottish football was dull?

WELL, I’m guilty of saying it myself but certainly not this season.

This week saw two notable occurrences in Scottish football and I don’t know which one I’m least surprised at. Stuart McCall appointed interim manager over at Ibrox or the SFA mishandling a post match enquiry.

For McCall I will say this. In his four years at Motherwell he did a good job, finishing 3rd in his first full season and 2nd in his final two full seasons.

As well as Celtic’s closest rivals for two seasons McCall also managed positive cup runs for Motherwell as well as entry into Europe. So it was a no brainer that he would end up at Ibrox, particulary after leaving Motherwell earlier this season.

He may improve the current form at Ibrox but Scotland’s newest club have much to resolve off the park before anyone takes them seriously. They remain an embarassment to the Scottish game not just because they failed to learn from the omnishambles of the 1872 club but because they are in eternal denial about the facts that led them to their even eventual predicament.

What was left after liquidation resembles nothing other than a festering carcass. The hyenas that have fed off that have varied whilst the SFA have stood back and allowed this to ramble on like it isn’t damaging the credibility of the game in Scotland.

Which brings me to my next point. The Scottish Football Association.

When I think of the SFA, the words “trust” or “faith” do not come to mind. I would say “inflexible” or “unyielding” are more apt.

This week saw the farcical events of the Scottish Cup quarter final between Dundee United and Celtic dissected. Not only was it poorly refereed by SFA officials, the enquiry has failed to address all the issues that came from that post match enquiry.

Celtic made a statement to this effect:

“CELTIC Football Club notes that no action appears to have been taken in relation to Calum Butcher of Dundee United.

It seems completely illogical and fundamentally unfair that, in an incident where mistaken identity has been claimed, the Dundee United player now identified clearly as being involved in the incident appears to have no case to answer – and would be available to play in the League Cup final and the Scottish Cup replay between the two teams – while Celtic’s player may potentially miss both of those matches.

Celtic Football Club and Virgil van Dijk maintain their position that no red card offence was committed by Virgil.

Virgil will appear at Hampden to put his case on Thursday and we will fully support him in this appeal.”

There were many cases to answer in this match. That includes the refereeing itself.

On a more positive note, Stefan Johansen won the Player of the Month award for February. His form this season has been outstanding and has shown the passion and ability to make him a first pick for Ronny Deila.

His influence has grown since he arrived a little over a year ago. So much so, he ousted Kris Commons for the same berth this season under Deila.

He is but one example of players showing true commitment to the personal adjustments required to advance in this metamorphic season. Ronny Deila continues to shape Celtic in his own way, a new way.

Some players took up his challenge immediately whilst others took time to decide and realise what was required and what they had to do. Commons, Griffiths and Bitton are examples of those frozen out but eventually stepped up to the plate.

On Sunday, Celtic will meet Dundee United at Hampden to contest the first of this season domestic trophies. The League Cup will be decided in the aftermath of the two teams previous meeting a week earlier and its hard to imagine that it will be without incident.

This is possibly one of the best domestic Celtic matches I’ve been looking forward to in a long time. Lets hope it lives up to it.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Better make that four

With a Scottish Cup Semi Final place at stake and any hope of a treble for Celtic, the tie was already a tense affair before a ball was kicked. As it was, the game against Dundee United would go through a series twists and turns from one minute to the next.

First off, the surface at Tannadice on Sunday was a total disgrace. Scotland is not blessed with great weather but there are a number of measures football clubs can take these days to maintain their pitch.

The ball was bobbling all over the place and caused as many bad touches as it did prevent goals. These were the conditions that both teams had to deal with though.

As of the the 11th minute the conditions would take a back seat. After a series of tasty challenges the game was stopped.

The unnecessary intervention of the assistant refereree after a few players faced off, led to some disciplinary action. Scotland’s so called top referee, Craig Thomson, lost his head and ejected Virgil van Dijk and Paul Paton.

Now it is a referees responsibility to control the game and take appropriate action using the rules of the game. In football, a refree should use some common sense as well and allow the game to flow with as little disruption as possible.

Red carding a player from each team did nothing to keep order on Sunday. In fact, he even managed to red card the wrong Dundee United player.

Calum Butcher was the player involved with van Dijk but it was Paton who walked with the Dutchman. As Kris Commons pointed out in the studio, in the time the game was stopped, a video replay could have been used to verify the situation.

Being so early in the game, it was clear that Thomson was letting the tackles go as the play moved toward the Celtic goal. It was the post-tackle altercation that stopped the game.

The smart thing to do there would have been to warn or yellow card each player. There were several challenges going on and Thomson could have spoken to both captains to calm things down.

Sending off two players was poor judgement. As it was, Thomson missed or ignored the Ciftci/Brown and Butcher/van Dijk tackles so it made no sense to then send off two players and propel the game into madness.

Despite still being even on both sides, the surface was anything but that and it was back to dealing with that diabolical pitch. The game moved on two players down and further controversy would follow.

A late penalty in the first half was awarded to Dundee United. Anthony Stokes was judged to have fouled Aidan Connolly inside the penalty box and Craig Thomson did not hesitate.

There was definitely intention from Stokes to go for the ball but it is extremely questionable as to whether he made any contact. Connolly looked as though he had dived, he certainly projected his eventual fall.

When the second half came, it brought another penalty in the opening minutes. A blocked shot by Paul Dixon’s arm saw him red carded.

You can contest that he knew little about it. The fact of the matter is that his arm was raised and blocked a goal bound shot so there can be no complaints.

Leight Griffitths stepped up but Radosław Cierzniak made the save. With a one man advantage Celtic pushed on.

When the equaliser came it was carved out beautifully. A sweet ball into the United area from Stefan Johansen found the waiting Griffiths who bullet headered it into the goal.

He was jubilant, not just because it was the long awaited equaliser, but that he had made up for his earlier miss. Something which he had apologised to the fans about at the time of the penalty.

The winner wouldn’t come though and the game which had already seen red cards, penalties, bad refereeing, a ploughed surface and wonder saves from Cierzniak was going to a replay. As if playing United three times in a row wasn’t enough.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Tannadice Shuffle

It has been ten days since Celtic exited the Europa League at the hands of Inter Milan. Since then its been back to domestic business and the Hoops have played two matches in the Premiership.

Bouncing back from European defeat came in the form of a 4-0 thumping of title challengers, Aberdeen last Sunday. This was an excellent response from Ronny Deila’s players.

With Aberdeen put to bed for now, the midweek challenge at home to St Johnstone seemed like routine business. As it was, the Perth side had other ideas and Celtic lost to a solitary goal from outside the box.

I felt there could be a potential slip up going into that game. A home match which may have seemed like a foregone conclusion playing against a mid-tabled team.

Credit to St Johnstone for organising themselves in the fashion which most clubs do at Celtic Park these days. Its the only way they know how to avoid defeat and they got the points.

As much as it is a minor setback, Celtic must also heed the warning from this result. It would have been an opportunity to go 9 points clear of Aberdeen, but it is also a reminder that this title will not come to Celtic Park easily.

The timeliness of this result comes just before Celtic embark on a triple bill of encounters with Jackie McNamara’s Dundee United. They currently lie 4th in the Premiership but still pose a great threat to Celtic’s title and cup hopes.

First up is today’s Scottish Cup Quarter Final at Tannadice. The last visit there by Celtic ended in a 2-1 defeat.

The winner that day was scored by new Bhoy, Stuart Armstrong. He, along with Gary Mackay-Steven are both cup-tied for today’s encounter and next weeks as well.

The addition of these two players have been a fantastic boost for Ronny Deila. Like Dundee United though, Celtic will have to do without both, or at least for the next two matches anyway.

United will be looking to up there game which has suffered at the loss of Armstrong and Mackay-Steven. With home advantage they’ll be looking to inflict a similar result on Celtic as they did on 21st December.

For Celtic that means they will need to be at their best and shrug off Wednesday’s set back. Ronny Deila must shuffle the pack to bring balance back into the team which will be missing some key players this afternoon.

With injuries and cup tied players affecting the starting eleven, its time for those in reserve to step up and play their part. Stokes, Wakaso, Forrest, Fisher, McGregor and Henderson are all capable on their day and today could be the day for all or some of them to prove that.

If the treble is truly being sought then a victory on today will be a step nearer to making that happen. Further crucial matches against Dundee United await in the weeks ahead.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie