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

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