Step it up

Celtic missed out on three points on Sunday. Instead they had to settle for one point but this wasn’t a game without entertainment.

Excitement may be missing from many of this season’s matches. It wasn’t elusive from the game at Tynecastle though.

This was a match anyone could tune into and enjoy. Good goals, good on-field battles and some good saves.

Am I disappointed with the result? No not really because it was a good contest.

That’s a seldom seen thing in Ronny Deila’s players this season. In the end the result was probably fair.

Personally, and I mean personally,  I genuinely thought this was a great game. I’m not judging the entire season on this match, just this match so we’re clear.

It was a good advert for the game in Scotland. Fine, if you’re sticking to your guns on Deila getting the sack, so be it.

You want a good game of football? You got it.

You want Celtic to win the league by a huge margin? No thanks, too boring.

It’s time to get real about the situation. I enjoyed this game and so did the punters I was watching it with, who by the way weren’t Scottish football followers at all.

Once more, I found myself doing a bit of educating and preaching about our game north if the border. It’s a huge void to fill but as a Scotsman living in the south I feel it’s my job.

Let’s not mock what both sets of players put into this game. It was a very good match.

We often talk about Celtic’s downgrading. Financial restraints that hinder club growth.

Celtic have downsized but it has probably brought back competivity to the league. The gap that needs to be filled lies in Europe but I’ve talked about that before.

We’re watching football in Scotland on a reduced budget. Winning margins are smaller.

People used to crave an early league title. Now I can’t imagine anything more unappealing.

Times have changed and we want better for the game. Or at least, I think that’s what we want?

Do we want to win the league with a huge gap? Or do we want to experience the highs and lows of a real domestic battle?

That’s where I think we’re at now. We can still improve our game but we need to recognise our level, respect it and grow from there.

Yes, we blew the chance to make the gap three points. I also think that it was a good spectacle.

I don’t think the pressure got to Celtic. Both teams went at each other.

No I don’t agree with all of Ronny’s decisions and we would all set up a Celtic team of our own differently. Right now that’s Ronny’s job and we’re still top of the league.

I’m not blind to the individuals who aren’t performing or where I think things need freshening up. In the grand scheme of things, that draw had more positives than negatives.

Tonight Celtic have another tough match away to Dundee. I say tough because of injuries currently plaguing our squad.

We can’t complain though. It’s just time to get on with it.

Regardless of any downsizing at Celtic Football Club, we are still superior in strength to any other Scottish club. Key players are missing yes, so it is time for those on the periphery to step in and for the whole squad to step up.

Aberdeen are at home to Partick Thistle which I’m betting they’ll win. So given the circumstances, I’ll take any kind of victory at Dens Park this evening for Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Capital gains

Whilst Aberdeen showed real character in the second half of yesterday’s match at Pittodrie by fighting back for a draw, they passed up the chance to go top of the Scottish Premiership. Now the day has arrived for Celtic to respond to that missed opportunity by taking all three points at Tynecastle.

Yesterday I mentioned pressure and the ability to handle it. Aberdeen failed to deal with the pressure that awaited them before yesterday’s game kicked off and ended up putting themselves under further pressure, the result of which they overcame.

Now Celtic must rise to the task of beating Heart of Midlothian away. The Edinburgh club came back to the top flight this season (after learning a valuable financial lesson and going about recovery with professionalism) to give a very good account of themselves by keeping up with the best in the league.

Recent form has not been great for Hearts though. It is five games since they recorded their last victory back in early November againt Hamilton Academical.

Don’t be fooled by this spate of form though. Hearts pose a serious threat for Celtic and in an intimidating atmosphere as well.

Tynecastle is one of the few Scottish grounds that offers an atmosphere. The tight pitch and proximity of the fans to the action can make this a hostile environment.

Today it will add to the pressure Celtic are already facing. Supporter withdrawl, an under fire coaching team and below par performances from key individuals are the self made pressures at Celtic.

Winning the treble and winning all your games are the domestic pressures imposed by the fans, the media and the pundits. Not just this season, but every season.

Are they handling it? Well you’d have to say yes because they are still top of the league, still in the fight for the treble and this is all being done with some inconsistency.

Two losses is by no means a disaster for Celtic. Nor are the three draws they’ve picked up from eighteen games – the halfway mark of the season.

I’m more concerned by how unconvincing Celtic are at home. They look nervous in front of their own fans.

Do they feel supporter pressure? Well they should do because that’s your yard stick to how well you are doing.

Performing in front of them should be the motivator that drives you on. We’ve seen Celtic give more of a battling account of themselves away from home which is why I think they will win at Tynecastle this afternoon.

It’s a mouthwatering tie in Edinburgh and is a key marker in the current campaign. What better challenge than to overcome the pressure of Tynecastle and start putting some distance between you and your rivals?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The Pressure

Celtic could find themselves in 2nd place in the Scottish Premiership this afternoon. That all depends on a few things of course.

Firstly Aberdeen will need hold their nerve. A win will out them 2 points ahead of the Hoops albeit having played two more games.

To take top spot comes with its own pressure as well. That’s dealing with the pressure of getting there and then sustaining the pressure once you are up there.

We’ve already seen Aberdeen lose their nerve this season whilst Celtic caught up and overtook them. They then slipped into 3rd place when Hearts stepped up to 2nd spot for a month or so.

The tables turned again at the end of last month when the Dons stepped ahead of the Edinburgh club. They managed to put some daylight between themselves and Hearts thanks to a run of four successive wins, one of which was over the Midlothian club.

Today they have the comfort of a home match against Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Normally I’d say this is a match where anything can happen but Thistle have looked a shadow of the team they were last season.

With the visitors languishing in 9th place I’m sure Aberdeen will feel confident of a victory today. And yet they are equally capable of blowing the opportunity to go to top.

So today will give not just Ronny Deila, but Scottish football fans just how far Aberdeen have come. Should they stay the course, the pressure will then shift to Celtic.

Nothing new for Celtic though as the pressure is always present. What it does demand though is a response from the Hoops and to show their worth when it matters.

Ronny Deila has been under pressure from day one. It comes with the Celtic job but Deila has had a lot of criticism from different directions as well.

The fans have been his greatest critic. Most of it negative, much of it warranted.

Then there is the unyielding torrent of snash from the Scottish media. They have an agenda which is probably the biggest reason for bloggers like myself to take to the keyboard and write real stories and create good debate.

Deila isn’t the first Celtic coach to lack support from the media. In fact very few do but he is by no means any more hard done by than any of his predecessors.

In all fairness to Ronny, I think he handles the press well. It’s hard to defend yourself in front of the media when realistically your team is playing awful but he remains unshaken and adamant that things are still moving forward.

It is hard to see that on the field of play this season compared to last. Celtic are still in the hunt for three trophies though and the players still back the manager publicly.

The tough part for Ronny is that he is losing support from the fans when he needs it the most. To get supporters back on board will have to be achieved by doing a job on the park.

Positive results and performances will accumulate support. Any moves in the transfer market might also create some positivity among the fans as well as on the park.

Talking of transfers, Celtic still need to get rid of a few players. Similarly a few acquisitions would go a long way to improving matters.

Too many of Celtic’s players have been a let down this season. Craig Gordon, Efe Ambrose, Tyler Blackett, Dedryck Boyata, Stefan Johansen, Gary Mackay-Steven, Stuart Armstrong and Nadir Çiftç are all guilty of poor form this season.

The rest of the squad has done well enough to avoid major criticism in my opinion. Among them, we’ve had some standout performers in Kieran Tierney, Nir Bitton, Tom Rogić and Leigh Griffiths but it takes more than just a few players to make things happen, it takes the whole squad.

With two games left in 2015, Celtic have to go into the New Year with more positivity. Equally, the club must make some changes in playing personnel if not for now, then for the future.

Regardless of today’s result at Pittodrie, Ronny Deila and his players have their own agenda. That begins with beating Hearts at Tynecastle tomorrow.

The pressure won’t go away. It is here to stay, win, lose or draw.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

See it out.

The other day I wrote that Celtic were at a crossroads. Despite any faults we may have with our head coach, the last thing he deserved was a petition to sack him.

Whoever started that should be ashamed of themselves. As should those who signed it.

I’m not against petitions. In fact I signed one relating to our very own Lord Of Parkhead and his political conflict with our club values.

Petitions rarely have the desired effect but we start them based upon strong feelings. Personally I think this one to sack Ronny Delia is an embarrassment and food for the Scottish media.

I opened up a debate of sorts in my last blog. A debate about where things have gone wrong and how we might resolve them.

Europe has been our main on the field slump. Domestically we’re still the best club in the country.

I played devil’s advocate around the issue of on the field performance. Was it the coaching, the players or even the board to blame?

I was also acutely aware that the knives were out once more following this latest of setbacks at Celtic. So perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising to see an online petition given how fickle our fans can be.

Was this really necessary though? Between that ridiculous motion and the rumour that Ronny was going to be sacked on Monday left me feeling a little uneasy.

We know Europe has been a shambles but for crying out loud the guy is sitting with the possibility of a domestic treble. Are we really in a position to be putting that trophy haul in jeopardy by calling for his head?

If you think that by removing Deila and replacing him now improves our treble chances you are mistaken. That is a mistake on many levels.

There is a desperate need for this team to up their game and stay the course. Ousting Deila mid-season is not the answer though.

If you remove Europe from the debate Celtic aren’t exactly in dire straits are they? We’re seeing a competitive league where every team suffers a loss of form.

Aberdeen and Hearts have both slipped up at some stage this season. Celtic started slowly but they are still top right now.

I think we need to be realistic here and stick by the team and coach right now. Celtic are not in a position to go out and enlist Guus Hiddink.

We’ve gone down an experimental path with Ronny which was bold and brave. I’m as frustrated as the next supporter about Europe, poor tactics, poor performances and any other factor you wish to throw into the mix.

Right now though we need to see this season through with Ronny Deila. We’ll still drop points between now and May as will our nearest competitors.

Tell me a Celtic manager who hasn’t? That’s football, even when you’re Celtic.

As a fellow blogger wrote on Hail Hail Media, there is nothing to suggest things won’t change in the coming weeks. Personally I agree with that and I’d like to see how that plays out.

I’m not ignoring the bigger picture here. That Celtic have gone backward in Europe.

That area of discussion is for the end of the season though. Right now we should focus on what we do have a chance with.

That’s the Scottish Premiership, the League Cup and the Scottish Cup. They’re still on the table and Ronny has the task of being only the third Celtic coach to make that possible.

Is it possible? Absolutely but only with our support.

Through the good and the bad times. We’ve stuck with the managers through worse even when trophies weren’t on the table for us.

The team need our support more than ever. Particularly at Celtic Park where for me, we’ve lacked conviction as the home side.

We’ve worked harder and played better on the road. Is there a story in that?

Are we nervous playing to our own fans? If so it needs to be addressed.

We need to get back on the horse. The only change I want to see right now is some desire from our players to win the treble.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Crossroads

Yesterday’s home defeat at the hands of Motherwell was a disappointment for all concerned at Celtic. Although the Hoops remain top of the league with a game at hand, this result is another blow for Ronny Deila.

Opinion from the Celtic fans has been varied but the supporter axe has been falling on Ronny long before now. This is by no means a unanimous viewpoint but if fans were to vote today, I think you would find the manager would be out of a job tomorrow.

I have mixed feelings about what is going on at Celtic right now. As a club, we are almost untouchable in Scotland.

That’s down to fan base, marketing, financial structure, business acumen….all of that. However, what the club don’t do is turn the screw and we are not untouchable on the park.

Celtic have downgraded since the Martin O’Neill era. There are many reasons for that, one being that Scottish football is not a lucrative or positive market place.

So the club have cut their cloth accordingly. That means living within your means and just keeping ahead of your rivals.

Without a rival such as Oldco and their unlawful spending, Celtic can compete on a relatively low-budget. This of course has its problems such as being able to compete properly in Europe.

I’m not laying that down as the sole reason though. There are other factors that have ruined our European campaign but that’s another debate.

Tightening your belt is good but do Celtic need to be so frugal or do they need to be more savvy? Poor signings have been seen far too often in recent years and that spells frugal more than savvy.

Yes, you can’t get every player right, but what kind of scouting network do we have now that allows for this? It certainly doesn’t seem to be pulling in the best under Ronny Deila and whilst not always getting it right may be partly true, I don’t think this is the type of excuse Peter Lawwell should be giving at a club AGM.

The problem Celtic have right now is that there is an “x factor” of sorts missing from the team. The big question here is does that come down to the coaching or is it a lack of quality on the park?

As I’ve said before, I think we have the basis of a decent squad though some individuals have been a let down this season. What we seem to lack is a spark in the team that can change games.

Despite the club’s reduced spending, you need a player who can inspire the rest of the team. To get that player, you might need to spend that little extra.

I don’t buy that this sends out a negative message to other team members. Yes it’s a team game but the best players deserve the better money particularly when they can produce something out of nothing and in big games and big opposition.

Let’s put to one side the transfer market one moment though and focus on the coaching. Is there something in that area that hinders us?

First of all, Ronny Deila is a coach. A coach with a philosophy.

He maintains that outlook and continues to do things his way. For the time being he has the support of the board even if support from the fans continues to drop.

The problem is that if your philosophy is not bearing fruit, what else do you have? It is a dangerous game to play if you cannot adapt.

Adaptation is essential in football but I question what else Ronny has in his locker. I’ve not seen much evidence of changing tactics which as I say, is an important part of the game.

Before we’ve even kicked a ball though I do wonder whether half of these players are properly motivated. I’ve talked about the support for Ronny Deila from the players even in the face of defeat.

That kind of back up for the manager deflects blame from him. But is that really the case?

If so then perhaps these players just aren’t capable of carrying out Ronny’s master plan. Do you believe that though?

I often wonder if you installed another manager to motivate the current crop of players, without making any further purchases what sort of reaction you would get in the team? That would depend on who that coach was of course but I do think about what difference we might see – better or worse.

Once more though, I will say that I don’t think Ronny will be gone before the end of the season. If the treble is still on, change would only bring further disruption.

We would have to be on the slide domestically for anything to happen now. On the flip side, the only guarantee that Ronny will be in a job next season is a domestic treble.

It will certainly take that for him to get another crack at Europe. Anything less than that and there will be long discussion to see where the club go from there.

To ensure that discussion is not necessary, some motivation and inspiration will need to be found within this playing squad. I never expected Celtic to go the rest of the season undefeated but losing at home to third from bottom does not inspire supporters…..it dents your confidence.

Celtic are at a crossroads right now. This team needs an enema badly and to realise that this treble is all we’ve got.

It is in the hands of the coaching staff and the players. They are all responsible and they must do their job.

If they need motivation then listen to the unhappiness of the fans. Have a look at Aberdeen creeping behind them once more.

Every team in Scotland will do their utmost, as they should, to prevent Celtic from winning. If that isn’t enough motivation I don’t know what is.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Goodnight, Europe

Celtic close their Europa League campaign against Fenerbahçe tonight in Istanbul. The match itself is insignificant to Celtic but for Fenerbahçe it is about trying to seal second spot in Group A.

Ronny Deila will have to decide what sort of team to put out for a match that has no real value to our club. Pride was severely damaged in this campaign but even though there is nothing to play for, you still don’t want to go out looking like chumps.

My personal opinion though is that we should experiment a little. So far this season we’ve been let down by some of our senior players so some fringe squad members would benefit from the experience.

Our top players this season have been Tierney, Bitton, Rogić and Griffiths. Tonight I’d like to see young players get a chance and follow the example of ‘young Tierney’.

The result is not important but the performance is. Ajax will be bursting at the seems for a Celtic result but I’d rather see that shower crash out.

Fenerbahçe head coach Vitor Pereira spoke to the media by saying that he felt Celtic had been unlucky in the Europa League. Before you completely dismiss that suggestion it’s worth thinking about what he said.

This has been a very poor campaign for the club and the fans but from time to time you need a bit of luck. Unfortunately for Ronny Deila, every mistake made on the park was costly.

Sometimes you need a bit of luck to get past those blips. Instead Celtic were punished each time.

The superstitious streak in me would say we used up our luck last season at the expense of Legia Warsaw. We blew that opportunity though and this season has proved to be worse in Europe.

Putting luck to one side, Celtic have not one but two seasons to learn from now. We hear from players and coaches that there is improvement.

Next season fans will want to see some evidence of that in Europe. The Europa League was consolation for the Champions League and like last season it is very possible that had we got in we would have been slaughtered.

Malmö, our conquerers in Champions League qualifying this season racked up three points in total in the group phase. That’s one win and five defeats with an 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Real Madrid the greatest of the damage.

Many assume that having exited at the hands of the Swedes, Celtic would have suffered a greater defeat by Real Madrid. In the real world that isn’t how football works.

I’m not suggesting that Celltic would have done a better job in the Champions League. Malmö had a tough group but every team has variety of experiences against the same opposition.

Celtic will return to that arena once more and hopefully with bigger impression. To build you must be consitent and by being consistent you will make progress.

Send out the boys tonigjt and put the Europa League behind us. Better times are ahead.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

What happens in the media when Celtic aren’t playing?

You write a story that one of their best players is leaving. Nothing new really.

Nir Bitton signed a new deal recently. It doesn’t guarantee he’ll stay forever, it just means he has a better deal and he’ll stay a bit longer.

There is nothing to suggest that Celtic would reject good money for him. Similarly, there is nothing to say that he wouldn’t want to move eventually.

The story has caused quite a few Celtic fans to get upset though. For those that have soiled themselves in the process, you have learned nothing.

Do not be baited by our media. Do not buy or read their trash.

Disregard everything you hear from them. You will live a happier life by doing so.

I’m not promoting my own Celtic blog (though I am by writing this). There are far more informative blogs out there though with more accurate and credible content than the Scottish media that you can fill your boots with.

Normally I’d say “is there a big game this week?” Unfortunately the Fenerbahçe game is a dead rubber so I put this down to no Celtic matches from the weekend to dissect for the media’s boredom.

Get back to writing Christmas cards, buying presents and planning the festive period celebrations. I’m sure there’s a better chance of Bitton doing that than planning a move in six months.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac