A season gone and a season to come

On Sunday afternoon, Celtic put Inverness Caledonian Thistle to the sword. It was a fine way to bring the curtain down on a season which has seen Ronny Deila’s team bond and progress.

At first, most people were open minded about Deila and the swiftness of his appointment. Then a failed Champions League campaign changed that.

Some unconvincing domestic displays in the early part of the season added to the Deila doubter’s list of dissatisfaction. If that wasn’t enough, you had the media, including ex-Celtic players, weighing in with their own tuppence worth of bile.

The breakthrough for Ronny was of course the Europa League. It was an ideal competition for a team in transition and kept both the club’s and the fan’s interests in the European scene.

Good performances home and away were encouraging, even if all results weren’t perfect. It was enough to build confidence though and there were signs that some players were beginning to respond to Ronny Deila’s methods.

That kind of positivity started to populate and by November, Celtic finally reached the summit of the Scottish Premiership. Having endured several months of negative media and a portion of the team not performing well enough, the tide was beginning to turn.

There was still a lot of work to be done though. Celtic were under pressure from a few teams and that kept them on their toes throughout the winter.

It was in this period that Celtic really started to gather momentum. Finally, the team was beginning to play like a unit.

Those players who had been out of sorts were emerging from the shadows. Griffith’s, Commons and Bitton were staking a claim and it was a real shot in the arm.

The arrival of Mackay-Steven and Armstrong not only boosted Celtic’s campaign, it ended Dundee United’s. They both slotted into the squad like it was meant to be.

For some Celtic players though, their own personal situations were beginning to look bleak. Guidetti, Tonev, Wakaso and Boerrigter were all fading with varying degrees.

Šćepović was also well out of the picture but his case was somewhat isolated from the rest. He may still have a chance as Sunday’s finale demonstrated.

Later on in the season Forrest emerged from the shadows and made a good contribution to the second half of the season. His injury problems are his only hindrance and only time will tell if he has overcome these.

Another player with injury hell is Lustig. A fine player if ever there is one.

His cameo appearance against Motherwell in January where he scored an amazing double after coming off the bench remains his primary contribution to the season. Deila knows as we all do just how good a player Lustig is and he will want him available for the early Champions League campaign, particularly if he is looking to bolster the back line.

There is still cover there with Ambrose, Matthews, Fisher and Izaguirre. The central defence is the main area of concern though.

If Celtic were to lose both Denayer and van Dijk, they also lose the meanest defence in Scottish Premiership history. Having conceded only 17 goals, that is a huge void to fill.

Part of that defensive success comes down to Gordon’s amazing return to the game as well. If he was considered a gamble when drafted in after years out injured then the pay out has been massive.

Despite the ability to get a bit lonely as a Celtic goalkeeper in some domestic games, like Foster before him, he has pulled off some magnificent saves to keep the Hoops in the game. That ability was on display Europe as well as in the domestic game and it has been a fine season for the big man.

Long-term injured Mulgrew made a late return this season and despite links with clubs in the south, I doubt he’ll be heading for the exit door. He may not be a first pick, but he is a good utility player.

It will be hard to break up the current midfield but he is a big enough character to stay on. Even if Johansen and Brown are the mainstay’s of the midfield there will always be opportunities for Mulgrew to step in there or in the back line.

So where do Celtic need to strengthen? Well that all depends on movements in the current squad.

Should Zaluska go as expected, a backup will be needed. Fasan is as yet untested and it remains to be seen if Deila would be prepared to rely upon the Italian as a suitable stand in.

Central defence is top of the list. If one or both of the current pairing go, the standards will slip so rebuilding that wall and the understanding they created will be a priority, particularly in Europe.

The midfield has a wealth of options. The choices are vast and if anything, Ronny may look at the wide men.

Mackay-Steven is terrific as is Forrest so long as the latter avoids injury. If you are relying upon Forrest as a regular and then gets a bad one, you need a similar outlet.

McGregor was one of Deila’s best players at the beginning of the season and filled the Forrest void for a short time. However, he burned out before Christmas and is currently on the injury list but I don’t know if his purple patch was a flash in the pan.

Stokes, who featured on the left flank and forged a good partnership with Izaguirre earlier in the season is a potential leaver. His off the field story has kept him in the sidelines and his time could be up.

Up front Griffith’s is hit man number one. When he arrived over a year ago, I questioned the validity of his signature.

Despite one or two infractions in his time at the club, he has made me eat my words. His prowess in front of goal has earned him the right to start every game but Ronny will need someone to put pressure on him as well as being able to step in and do the same job.

Šćepović may or may not be that guy but I can’t see the summer passing by without the procurement of another striker. Be that on loan or a permanent deal, you need options in Europe.

The clear out list for Celtic is pretty big and I expect the transfer window to be a busy one. At a glance I expect to see Zaluska, Pukki, Baldé, Boerrigter, Stokes and Friðjónsson to leave.

On loan we’ve had Tonev, Wakaso, Guidetti and Denayer. All four will be gone though I wish Denayer was staying on for another season.

Loaned players McGeouch, Irvine, Henderson, Herron and Findlay are certain to be assessed as the team moves forward. McGeouch is still young but at 22 will want more games and that may only happen away from Celtic.

He has ability, no arguments there but a decision is sure to come over Celtic career. Personally, I can’t see him forcing his way into Ronny’s plans though.

As for the others on that list, I can imagine them on further loan deals. Henderson may be the only one who is retained for squad duty back at Celtic.

One player I’m keen to see more of is Rogić. The Australian joined just over two years ago and showed a lot of promise in those rare appearances.

His loan spell back in his homeland in 2014 did not offer the expected aim. He has had injury to contend with as well but there is every chance he will wear the Hoops next season.

So for Ronny Deila and his back room team, there is further assessment and decision making to be done with the current squad. Some of those decision will already have been made whilst some await the transfer window to open to have their futures decided.

After a short break, it will be back to pre season training for the Hoops. With the Champions League qualifying just seven weeks away the team will be back before your know it.

For now its been a fantastic season for Ronny and the Bhoys. Looking forward to the next one already.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

So big Dave is fit and proper?

Forget for a moment that I despise Rangers, new or old. Also, dismiss that I have zero respect for the Scottish football authorities, whatever they are called these days or whoever is in charge.

Then consider the desire we the fans have to see Scottish football reclaim some respect in world or even just European football. Did we achieve any of that in the last week?

No, not a chance. In fact we have taken one step forward and two steps back.

The Scottish Premiership, despite just being the newest name for the Scottish top flight these days, had its first real title challenge since the demise of Celtic’s old rivals, in the form of Aberdeen. Regardless of how much we all agree on how great a challenge they provided to Celitic, it was still valid up until a few games ago.

Just as we dust off that glimmer of hope in Scottish football, someone goes and has a massive dump all over it. Two dumps in fact.

Recently Neil Doncaster announced that a sponsorship deal had been struck with Ladbrokes. Deals are generally good things but this comes after two years without any main sponsor at all.

To exist in football without this kind of funding is a failure in your ability to perform. In Scottish football, that appears to be acceptable.

This titchy deal has got Doncaster all excited. I’m sure he’ll feel he’s pulled off a cracker of a deal but he’s the only one.

For to have a two year gap in primary sponsorship, he should have had something better to show for it. Scottish football fans were certainly looking for more.

I wonder, did he use Rangers as a bargaining chip to broker that deal? “Yes, they’ll definitely be in the Premiership next season, we’ll make sure of it.”

And so to Rangers and their royal seal of approval. Dave King, South African fraudster and heir to the throne.

Having allowed David Murray to walk off into the sunset unchallenged, waived through a conveyer belt of ‘suitors’ in the years that have followed, the Scottish football authorities grant their latest fit and proper man to the ‘Rangers’ establisment. It is yet another chapter in this embarrassing tail of how not to run a football club.

The worst thing about it is that the Scottish football authorities have done everything in their power (and beyond) to get The Rangers of the present day into the top flight as soon as possible. How many clubs would they have done that for?

Despite Dave King being as crooked as a 90 year olds toenails, his approval to become a board member has been welcomed by many I’m sure. Over at Ibrox, the saga continues but it is time that will tell just how positive a step this will be for the club that resides there.

King may have the best interests at heart for this club but not one person has gone through those doors and demonstrated with conviction a decent plan of revival. To date things at Ibrox have resembled more of a team of cannibals feasting on a festering carcass.

It has been anything but a pretty picture. Even as an outsider, I’ve had to turn a blind eye to this circus because of its farcical state.

To be honest, I’d like to see an end to it all. It has been a distraction for too long and for some the whole matter has become an obsession.

The gift that kept on giving ended a long time ago. These days it is more of a national embarrassment.

For the sake of Scottish football I hope to see an end to all of this so that we can focus on football once more. Whether Rangers make it up to the Premiership next season or the one that follows does not concern me.

All I want is Scottish football to rise once more. Its just a shame that neither Rangers or the Scottish football authorities have taken the opportunity to do that with any decency.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Scottish Media Churn

Press speculation around the future of certain Celtic players is never far from the back pages of Scottish newspapers and their online equivalent. Rarely are these ramblings ever on the money though.

Yet, there is a sufficient amount of readership to buy into this garbage. If you throw enough shit, eventually some will stick and some people are helping to fund it.

I’ve often been critical of the press in England when assessing their own international football team. They aren’t as damning with their club football, but then again these aren’t purely English funded or staffed teams.

In Scotland it appears to be the opposite. The Scotland national side have generally got the backing of the media north of the border, even in defeat, but when it comes to club football the knives are well and truly out.

From a Celtic supporters perspective, we’re well aware of the negative stories levelled at our club on a regular basis. We know only too well how much Minty Moonbeams had the media wrapped under his reign across the city as well.

So I still find it hard to fathom the stance taken by our old rival fans, that Celtic are the club to have the press wrapped around their finger. I don’t think that’s ever been the case and we have the historical facts to back it up.

Meantime back at Celtic Park, Virgil van Dijk is the hot topic. Not satisfied with linking him with every club south of the border, now it’s all about how he’s too good for Scottish football, is strolling through matches and is not developing in our crappy game.

Releasing stories which state the obvious offer no reasonable debate. None of these factors are ground breaking or news worthy – Scottish football has been off the boil for as long as I’ve been alive.

Still, these stories always comes across as a parting shot by the media. If half of these papers could write as well as some of my fellow bloggers could, I’d probably buy their publications.

As it is, I don’t and haven’t done for many years because they are about as out of date as the SFA. One by one they have all stuck the knife into Celtic over the years and do nothing to support the club sport.

Disappointly there are still some muppets out there that buy the a Daily Record, Sunday Mail etc. Well done to you, you serve your masters well.

Virgil might be a Premier League player next season, he might not. If he’s going to go its because he’s earned it over the last two years so let the guy go in peace.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

The Whitewash Factor

Beating your biggest opponent in Scotland has always played a huge part when it comes to winning the league. Against each rival, twelve points are at stake every season and more often than not the results of those games are crucial in the destination of the title.

This season Aberdeen challenged the reigning champions with Celtic only confirmed as this seasons champions just over a week ago when the Dons failed to beat Dundee United. However, Derek McInnes’ inability to overcome Ronny Deila in four attempts this season can be viewed as a key factor in the title destination.

Of course if you’re Kenny Shiels’ granny there’s every chance she’d have done a better job. What are you up to these days anyway, Kenny?

Last season, Derek McInnes faired better by beating Celtic twice. They ousted the Hoops from the Scottish Cup at Celtic Park and ended Neil Lennon’s unbeaten league run at Pittodrie.

In fact, Celtic lost only one game in the league last season. Despite being further off the pace than this season, Aberdeen caused more damage to Celtic than any other SPFL team.

They have already surpassed last seasons points total with two games remaining of the current campaign to go. That deserves some credit, but they failed to take any points off the Champions and that would have made a difference.

When Ronny Deila said that he wanted more from Aberdeen he wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t a swipe at them either, in fact I only saw his comments as encouragement.

Scotland needs the larger clubs to be all that they can be. Nobody wants a one sided league campaign and this season there were signs of improvement.

The greatest factor sorely missing in Scotland is of course money. On the other hand, there is plenty of talent available but it is holding onto it in Scotland with the inability to pay higher wages that means moving on is inevitable unless Celtic are doing the buying.

What Ronny was getting at was an all round improvement. This was not a dig at Aberdeen being good enough, but more of an encouragement to go further.

Negative press around Celtic is of not unusual. So Deila’s recent ‘compliment’ being taken out of context is of no surprise either.

I think we’ve gotten to know Ronny well enough this season to know that speaking ill of an opponent such as Aberdeen holds no water. I look forward to seeing the Don’s step it up next season along with the rest of the SPFL clubs.

For now though, I’m happy with this season’s green and whitewash of Aberdeen. Payback for last season at the very least.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Progress and Silverware for Deila

Celtic kicked off a busy weekend of sport on Friday night. By Saturday, they had won the title without even kicking a ball.

After beating an uninspiring Dundee side 5-0 at Celtic Park, it was a case of sitting back and seeing how the Dundee United v Aberdeen match turned out. The Dons failed to keep the title challenge up by losing 1-0 to Jackie McNamara’s side and in doing so, gift wrapping the title for Celtic.

It would have been a huge match to have gone to Pittodrie next weekend and tried to seal the league there. Though I can’t imagine any Celtic player or official is too disappointed that the hard work put in this season has paid off whilst they were on a rest day.

Celtic are champions for the fourth successive season. For Ronny Deila, it could be the first of many.

The best thing about this seasons title is that it did not come easy. It has been a season of change and improvement under new leadership.

In the early days of Ronny Deila’s tenure it was about preparation for the long road to European qualification. Four friendlies in nine days before taking on KR Reykjavik in a Champions League qualifier was the initial task for Celtic’s new head coach.

He overcame that first hurdle home and away before falling at the next. We all know the story of the Legia Warsaw ties.

They left a scar on proceedings for the months that would follow. Any further slips by Deila would be referenced with the matches against Poland’s champions.

Even with a second bite at the cherry, Celtic came off the worst. They lost to NK Maribor at home after earning a draw away in the first leg.

For many Celtic fans this was unacceptable. It was a closer affair than the Warsaw results but the outcome was an unhappy one for the support.

The European story didn’t end there though. Another opportunity was secured by parachuting into the second tier of European club competition.

Far from the arena most football fans desire, the Europa League was probably the best option for a team in transition. This wasn’t the view shared by all Celtic fans but it was most definitely mine.

The Champions League is where it is at but in my opinion it was too early for Deila and his plans. It may have brought big cash, but it may also have delivered further humiliation.

On the domestic front Celtic had won their first two matches but would drop points in four of their next ten games. That and the games at hand scenario left Celtic in an unfamiliar position in the league table.

This also left many Celtic supporters in no doubt that Ronny Deila should be shown the door. Despite that opinion, Celtic stuck by Deila and showed no sign of disenchantment.

When Celtic players spoke of Deila in interviews, they too demonstrated support of his methods. A lot of tinkering was being done with the squad as the head coach was getting to know the personnel and their strength and weakness.

Again, this made Deila unpopular as he was leaving out guys like Kris Commons, a fans favourite. What many of the Celtic support were lacking though was patience and seeing the bigger picture.

It wasnt as though Celtic were in a drastic situation. They were still in four competitions.

What I had read about Deila and his methods was fascinating. I knew that there would be a lot of work going on in the background, even if the supporters weren’t seeing it.

That was why I was prepared to hold fire until Christmas and see what would come of the work being done behind the scenes. Whilst some of us waited patiently, the media attacked and mocked with some fans buying into what the media sell to them.

Enduring that has he did, only made me respect Ronny Deila more as he handled all who opposed without offering an opinion. I watched the media goad him and some fellow supporters call for his head but I was encouraged by his focus on raising standards even if it wasn’t on show just yet.

In Europe, Celtic were earning points in the Europa League and keeping in with a chance of making the last 32. Then came a game that would be pivotal in  Celtic’s domestic progress.

That twelfth game of the season up at Pittodrie was significant as Celtic rose to the task. A 2-1 away win over Aberdeen finally put Celtic at the summit of the Scottish Premiership.

It had taken a dozen games to get there but it was a breakthrough for Ronny Deila. Despite going into an international break after this, it would be a spring board for the rest of the campaign.

I knew there would be points dropped as the season continued but the hard graft was beginning to pay off. Changes began to take place in the team and there were positive signs that the players were beginning to tick.

The end to 2014 saw Celtic lose and draw their final two games of the year but things were still on the up. A last 32 spot against historical rivals Inter Milan awaited us in February and the league title was anything but the foregone conclusion it had been for the last two seasons.

At last Ronny Deila was beginning to see some of the hard work he had put in pay off. Positive player attitudes were now growing within the squad.

Kris Commons, Nir Bitton and Leigh Griffiths were three of the best examples of players who had knuckled down. Commons signed another contract after it looked as though he was on his way out, Griffiths made himself a serious contender for first choice striker admist former favourite Guidetti whoring himself to any club but Celtic and Bitton embossed himself as a regular starter for midfield.

The tide was turning and even though all were not aboard the Deila bus, the silence was deafening. Where were the Ronny haters now?

With a treble still on the cards and Europe still on the fixture list, 2015 was looking pretty good. The additions of Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven from Dundee United made Celtic an even stronger unit.

As the weeks rolled by and the results came in Celtic were purring along nicely. Exiting Europe at the hands of Inter Milan by a very narrow margin was tough to take but Celtic pursued that first trophy of the season.

Having disposed of Rangers in the semi final, Celtic took on Dundee United in the final of the League Cup. This came amongst a run of four straight fixtures against the Terrors and despite having to replay a Scottish Cup quarter final, Celtic emerged triumphant.

With the first of the silverware already residing at Celtic Park, Ronny Deila set about obtaining the remaining two. That required focus and determination which Celtic had plenty of by this stage in the season.

The league was taking care of itself but the Scottish Cup offered a different challenge altogether. The semi final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle would throw up one of the major talking points of the season.

As we are now aware, the farce that surrounded that ‘honest mistake’ cast a shadow over the reputation of Scottish footballs already deplorable standards. The fact that Celtic asked for clarification on the match referees actions demonstrated just how bad the media are in Scotland with their personal criticism of Peter Lawwell.

The negative press levelled at Celtic is nothing new but they should have focussed more on just how catastrophic an error it was. An error missed by not one but two match officials each with a clear line of sight.

No matter, for Celtic went about their business in a professional manner for the rest of the game. Despite that incident and Celtic’s own red card, I take nothing away from Inverness or their Scottish Manager of the Year, John Hughes.

The treble was not to be but the double is now in the hands of Celtic. With three games remaining it has been a challenging season across four competitions.

Celtic have emerged from early season trauma to cross the finish line with the most important of domestic silverware, the Premiership title. Ronny Deila, who was back in his homeland for a family celebration when the Aberdeen result came in must have been ecstatic.

He has proved the doubters wrong and the best thing? Ronny’s just got started.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

One way traffic

Last night at Celtic Park, Ronny Deila’s player’s executed a near perfect performance. Whilst Dundee offered nothing at all, Celtic played some nice, easy on the eye football.

The task was not completely difficult as Dundee chose to sit back the entire match. It did take Celtic a bit of time to break them down but they got there in the end.

Paul Hartley claimed in his brief post match interview that Celtic had them pegged them back from the beginning. In reality, it was more that Dundee sat back and planned to hit on the break.

As it turned out, they were rarely given that chance because Celtic pressed the whole match. Their ‘plan’ backfired but Celtic’s tempo kept us all entertained and if you come to Celtic Park and play like that, well, you deserve everything you get.

Take nothing away from Celtic because they carved out some nice goals. With all of their men behind the ball, Dundee weren’t doing anything but defending.

Leigh Griffiths popped up in the 30th minute to score a great header. On watching the replay, the goal had a touch of Larsson about it.

My thoughts were mirrored by an associate on Twitter, I just didn’t have the balls to say it myself! Whilst Griffiths and Larsson are two totally different players, it does show you how long its been since I’ve seen someone score decent headers in the box.

Seven minutes later the second goal came and with it the hallmark of Champions. Every player got a touch without a Dundee interception before Captain Scott Brown rounded off the passage of play by running into the box to make a calm finish.

Commons got his name on the score sheet later in the second half. Darnell Fisher came off the bench, added some pace to the right hand channel and was duly fouled in the Dundee penalty area – Commons didn’t waste the chance.

Then came James Forrest, man of recurring injury but with pace and ability to cause problems to most defences. The ball fed through to him was perfect but the finish was difficult so to score it was the icing on the cake.

They say you save the best until last and whilst the four goals in the game at that point were all excellent, the fifth was brilliant. Nir Bitton, a player who has taken his opportunity to impress this season went one step further last night.

In the 89th minute, he took control of the ball 35 yards out and smacked it towards goal. If Forrest’s goal was the icing on the cake then Bitton’s was the candle.

As far as Friday nights go, this was one to remember. Many will say that without a decent challenge from our opponents that it wasn’t a test.

It certainly wasn’t a test, but it was great to watch. Even as I write this, I’m watching the goals again.

The finish line is in sight but the title has not been decided. Aberdeen still have a say in this but should they fail to get anything other than a victory today at Tannadice, Celtic will be crowned Scottish Champions.

Personally, it would be sweeter to go to Pittodrie next Sunday and try and win it there. It would certainly make it a huge occasion, given what is at stake.

For now, Celtic can sit back and see what the weekend brings.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie