Match 6 of 6 in January: Ross County v Celtic

Ronny Deila will be looking to complete a 100% record in January by recording a sixth straight victory. Ross County stand in the way of that and a place in the Scottish League Cup final place at Hampden Park this afternoon.

Celtic are the current holders and will be looking to reach the final once more as they pursue a long-awaited treble. This is a hugely important match for both teams and Ross County will be wondering if they can dump Celtic out of a cup competition again.

You couldn’t blame them for thinking that either. Back in 2010, when Neil Lennon stepped in as caretaker, County beat Celtic in the semi finals of the Scottish Cup.

It brought an end to a dismal season for Celtic, largely under the inept management of Tony Mowbray. For County this was an unbelievable feat regardless of Celtic’s situation at the time.

Ronny Deila won’t be thinking about that though. He has watched his players step things up in the last four weeks.

After a defeat at home to Motherwell and a draw away at Hearts in late December, Celtic have had better fortune in January. The timing of this couldn’t be better with three trophies on their radar.

Off the field Celtic are still recruiting, with Patrick Roberts the latest loan signing for Ronny Deila. There are mixed views about another loan deal but this is the market Celtic are operating in and have him on a longer term.

Whilst the club have significantly better finances to any other Scottish club, they are out of their depth in the wider market. Because of that, you need to appreciate these short-term signings.

Short term commitment is about as much as the club can afford. Some fans still seem to think otherwise.

You can’t guarantee all of your acquisitions will work out but at least with loan signings there is no long-term commitment. For Ronny Deila it has been a mixed success with both loanees and purchases.

However, it is fair to say he has seen the best come from two youth players so far. Callum McGregor and Kieran Tierney are both players the Head Coach has given an opportunity to and not been let down.

With the right blend of youth and experience, Ronny might just get what he promised us, next season. The Champions League remains a target for then but as for today, it is all about getting past a resolute Ross County and into the League Cup Final.

I said at the beginning of the month that if Celtic could win all six matches in January, it would be a massive boost for their treble chances. We’ll see what today brings.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Scottish Football’s Cancer

Scottish football, it’s relationship with the media and more importantly the existence of Sevco, has culminated in another new low. Scottish football as a whole is always a topic of debate but the recent apology to Sevco by the Herald (on behalf of a Graham Speirs column) has left a bad taste in the mouth.

On the one hand, bravo to Graham Spiers for giving his own take on the matter. It was over and above the Herlad apology and as well as putting the truth out there, discredits the ‘official’ statement by the Glasgow broadsheet.

Let’s look at this scenario with some perspective:

A director of a football club claims a song, regularly sung by the club’s fans (and the club whose ashes they arose from), is a “great song”. That song, as it turns out, is by far one of the most sectarian chants heard in Scotland if not the worst.

To admit such a thing to someone in the media, particularly a person in such a position, must either feel completely comfortable with that scenario or are totally stupid. The fact that Spiers prints this is where the fun begins.

Now you have the club getting involved with the paper. A resolution is sought to maintain relations, subsequently dismissing the article and it’s writer.

I get the public relations thing with the media and clubs. Aren’t we avoiding the real subject here which is a bigoted football club director?

Just so we’re clear, that wasn’t a question. That was just a reminder of the issue.

It’s not often I believe or read what a sports journalist has to say particularly when it is to do with Scottish football. Every now and again though something credible pops up on the sports pages that is worthy of our attention.

To this day I am utterly astonished at how blind people are when dealing with sectarianism and bigotry. This subject has been mishandled by virtually everyone in authority from police to politicians and of course our very own incompetent football authorities at the SPL/SPFL and SFA.

Fan’s will sing what they sing. There is little a club can do to control that but for the love of god, “up to our knees in fenian blood” is NOT repeat NOT okay on any level.

Fine, calls us a bunch of fannies. That’s funny and that’s banter.

The Billy Boys is not banter, a laugh or taken in good humour. It’s offensive, derogatory, abusive and more importantly direct in the face of a living, breathing community.

I mean some people actually live a life steeped in this shit and see no wrong in what they sing or believe. This is a historic debate but we live in a modern world where we know what is right and what is wrong.

This bile is a stain on our football community in Scotland which thanks to the death of Oldco, has been silenced for almost four years. Now it is rearing its ugly head and as you can see we are back to square one where the media bows to the (new) Ibrox club over a matter which is quite frankly disgusting.

Graham Spiers isn’t the first to be targeted by the Ibrox club. Jim Spence, formerly of the BBC, was the target of abuse not so long ago which eventually ended with him leaving the BBC.

The BBC didn’t back him as they should have. The cowardice (or is that collaboration?) shown by the Scottish media when dealing with Oldco/Newco is close to Jimmy Saville standards.

It appears you cannot question, criticise or investigate matters over at Ibrox for fear of death threats to you or your family. Is this really being tolerated in modern soceity?

I say this quite openly, but what harbours at Ibrox, not just now but in the past, is a cancer. Despite having fiddled the HMRC whilst trying to get one over Celtic, they have failed to learn their lesson on any front.

As a business they went caput and couldn’t even muster a singular mindset to use the opporuntity to rebuild a club, such as Hearts did. Instead they avoided all responsibility to their debt and now dare to function as the same club.

The only item high on the agenda at Ibrox appears to be the same sectarian shite that they are well known for and has not been missed since they died in 2012. That is the only thing I can credit them for getting right with Newco.

You are and always will be Scotland’s shame.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Back on form

A year ago, Celtic signed Dundee United duo Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong during the January transfer window. They made their joint debut memorable by each scoring a goal in that game against St Johnstone on February 11th which the Hoops won a comfortable 3-0 in Perth.

Mackay-Steven finished that half-season having played 15 times and scoring 4 goals. Armstrong played 17 times and scored 2 goals, one of which was against Inter Milan on his Celtic Park and European debut.

Yesterday, Celtic fans were reminded of some of that form from last season as both players netted at Celtic Park. The Hoops ran out 3-1 winners, coincidently against St Johnstone, with a double from Mackay-Steven and a superb volley from Armstrong.

Neither player has been among the key performers this season despite both playing almost 30 games each. However, they are not alone as the first half of the season has been rather unremarkable for Ronny Deila’s side.

Now, there is a glimmer that Celtic have turned a corner and at the right time and once again have restored the lead to 6 points over Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership. Throughout the season there have been a few players doing a fine job whilst others have been less than impressive.

To win the treble this season I said that it would take the rest of the squad to get their finger out. Prove to themselves as well as the fans and coaching staff that they have what it takes to play for Celtic.

Stuart Armstrong has been in good form this month and involved in much of the build up play which has brought goals. Almost as if they were joined at the hip, in steps Gary Mackay-Steven to have his say and suddenly looks like he was making his debut all over again.

After the Zig and Zag show yesterday, Leigh Griffiths must have been thinking “this is my show”. Though the in form striker was not among the goals against St Johnstone, he’ll back on the trail again very soon.

This return to form is well-timed given recent omissions from the Celtic team. Stefan Johansen dropped recently and not before time was back in for this match and well whilst in-form Tom Rogić had an injury.

With Scott Brown out for some time now and the long-term absentee Charlie Mulgrew unavailable as a utility player, Celtic have struggled in the midfield this season. It is only since some players have come back onto the scene such as Callum McGregor, that we’ve seen a surge in form.

Nir Bitton and Tom Rogić have carried the midfield all season and Leigh Griffiths has been essential to Celtic’s attack. Hopefully now we are starting to see the squad as a whole weigh in as Celtic push for their first treble in fifteen years.

To remain in the hunt for that Celtic must complete a run of six games in January by winning next Sunday. They take on Ross County at Hampden Park in the Semi Final of the League Cup and will be looking to continue their good form and make the final for the second year running.

Welcome back to form Zig and Zag. Now all we need is for Nadir Çiftç to find his shooting boots, some players back from injury and we might just have a fully performing squad!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Match 5 of 6 in January: Celtic v St Johnstone

After Tuesday’s annihilation of Hamilton Accies, Ronny Deila must organise and prepare his players for the visit of St Johnstone today. After that 8-1 home win, the manager will be looking to make Celtic Park a difficult place for teams to visit.

It’s match 5 of 6 for the month of January where six victories would be a very positive marker for the domestic campaign. I think it is fair to say though that St Johnstone will be the toughest opponent Celtic will have faced this month.

So far the Hoops have overcome Partick Thistle (9th), Stranraer (8th in Scottish League One), Dundee United (12th) and Hamilton Accies (10th). St Johnstone on the other hand are a respectable 4th in the Scottish Premiership.

The fact that they are seeking their first victory since 5th December is something that should be met with caution though. You never know when that run of games without a win is going to end and you don’t want to end up being the team it happens against!

With that in mind, Celtic will set up differently against Tommy Wright’s side. St Johnstone caused Celtic one or two problems last season though Celtic have put three goals past them on both occasions in the current campaign, conceding only one.

Aberdeen remain on the coat tails of Celtic after winning 1-0 last night at Pittodrie. They beat Dundee to close the gap to 3 points.

Celtic can restore that 6 point gap by winning once more at Celtic Park this afternoon. There may be some personnel changes in the midfield but the back four is likely to remain unchanged as is our lone striker, Leigh Griffiths.

St Johnstone will be seeking that first win since December. Celtic will be looking to maintain momentum.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Celts go marching on…

Hamilton Accies showed little in the way of resistance or shape as they were swept aside at Celtic Park last night. In truth the game should have been abandoned as Celtic inflicted an 8-1 mauling upon the South Lanarkshire side.

After as little as 10 mins, Celtic were 3-0 up. Leigh Griffiths wasn’t even among those early goals but his time would come.

Instead it was a Mikael Lustig header from a Stuart Armstrong free kick, a wonder strike for Nir Bitton from 30 yards and a despite taking a deflection, a nice piece of work from Tom Rogić to score the third. This was a busy opening period and Leigh Griffiths was keen to get amongst it.

And he did so by latching onto two passes, one from Gary Mackay-Steven and one from Rogić to score his first and second goals of the game. To complete his hat-trick, he robbed a Hamilton defender and lobbed the ex-Celt keeper, Michael McGovern.

This came after James Forrest had slotted home Celtic’s sixth after some unselfish play from fellow substitute Scott Allan. The massacre was completed by in-from Callum McGregor who smashed home number eight.

Hamilton grabbed a consolation in 73rd minute but they were very poor. Take nothing away from Celtic though, they were ruthless and as many match reports rightfully suggest, there could have been more goals.

For Celtic this was a very good night playing at home in front of their own fans and Ronny Deila will be delighted. As I said yesterday, positive displays have been seldom seen at Celtic Park this season but that was satisfying for everyone with the exception of Hamilton Accies.

Tougher games lie ahead but it was good to see what can be done when you are in the mood and playing with a bit of confidence. Had this been earlier in the season, it could have been a different game but this was an example of teams at polar opposites in the Scottish Premiership.

Next up is St Johnstone who will pose a different threat. For now, the six point lead is restored and Celtic go marching on.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Match 4 of 6 in January: Hamilton Academical

Tonight, Celtic host Hamilton Accies at Celtic Park. It’s match 4 of 6 for Celtic in January and another win is being sought after.

At home, Celtic have looked unconvincing over the season so far. Recently though they’ve looked more confident, despite the level of opposition.

Away games have seen better performances but now the fans will be looking for an upscale in performances at home. Tonight would be a good time to put that on show and ensure that the gap of six points is back in place.

Aberdeen are not giving up easily and Hearts are closely behind them. That makes the league title more interesting especially when you have three teams all having an impact on one anothers chances.

Don’t take tongiht’s opponents Hamilton 10th placed position in the league though. They’re one of three teams on 24 points at the moment and with only 4 points separating 11th placed Kilmarnock from 7th placed Inverness in the Scottish Premiership, there is another wee battle going on in the bottom half of the league.

So to tonight and Ronny Deila’s team selection. Will ge go with the same side that beat Dundee United in a thrilling match?

Well there is one player I would drop for sure. Stefan Johansen is way off the boil and needs to park it on the bench until he rediscovers his skills because they’ve not been seen since last season.

Tom Rogić has the job covered for now and deserves to stay on the park instead of being the guy to make way for someone else as seen on Friday night. James Forrest came on for Rogić in the 60th minute when he should have hooked the Norwegian instead.

That’s Ronny’s decision but Johansen input was minimal and most of the time misplacing passes. He doesn’t have the tempo for the game right now so should play someone who does.

Even Callum McGregor looked more effective against Dundee United and it wasn’t even his best game. Though to be fair to the young guy, he has been playing well recently.

There might be an opening for Scott Allan to make his first start tonight though. In front of the home crowd would be a positive for him as well and many are waiting to see him play more.

Sadly we won’t see our new signing Erik Sviatchenko but he is in training so hopefully we will see him in the Hoops before the end of the month. Until then, Efe Ambrose just needs to keep doing what he is doing and playing it safe and simple at the back along with the steadyJozo Šimunović.

Out of the picture is Anthony Stokes who today agreed a deal to go back to Hibs on loan. Whether that becomes permanent or not we will have to see but he isn’t getting his game at Celtic and if he can help throw a spanner in the works of Sevco’s Championship title ambitions then so be it.

Tonight it is another ex-Hibee everyone will be looking to score goals. Leigh Griffiths, a rising star in the Hoops will be looking to add to his 51 goal tally for Celtic.

Having come to Celtic two years ago this month and not always first choice since then, his goal return has been excellent. It isn’t just his scoring that is to be applauded, but his application to training and development when he seemed to be a the troubled character we bought.

It has been a success story for Ronny Deila’s management, even if he wasn’t the manager who signed him. However, one of Ronny’s most significant tasks, though largely undiscussed at times, is to improve players.

Now in his second term as manager of Celtic, his signings have been a mixed bag of loans and purchases. Šimunović is bringing some stability to the rearguard that was left a like a gaping void when Virgial van Dijk and Jason Denayer departed but with Sviatchenko looking like a promising signing, that area should bring some defensive balance to the team.

That leaves the midfield combination which of late has had multiple reasons for instability. Injuries to Charlie Mulgrew and Scott Brown have left gaps in player depth and experience but the much known poor form of Johansen has been equally disruptive, particularly when he continues to play every match.

Success stories have been Nir Bitton and Tom Rogić this season. There are still one or two individuals who are not yet up to scratch yet but hopefully we’ll see further improvement before the end of the season as well as further signings.

As for tonight, three points are essential.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

 

 

 

 

51 and counting…

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Leigh Griffiths got proceedings under way last night at Tannadice with his 50th goal for Celtic. It was such a superb finish on his weaker right foot that he even managed nutmeg Dundee United keeper Eiji Kawashima in the process.

That was the opener for Celtic but there was more to come. A free kick floated in from the left  found the head of Jozo Šimunović who duly finished from close range to get his first goal for the club.

After a brief stutter at the beginning of his Celtic career with injury, the Croation is slowly introducing some assurance and composure to the backline. In fact I would be be doing the defence an injustice if I did not mention his counterpart these past few games, Efe Ambrose.

Efe has been the culprit of some key blunders for Celtic, all of which I’ve tried to forget. Since stepping in to replace the injured Dedryck Boyata though, he has looked more comfortable and last night he was in good form.

I would give him a bit longer before I am convinced he has turned a corner though. This is no time to get carried away on the back of a few games against Partick Thistle (9th), Stanraer (League Two) and Dundee United (bottom).

Despite that defensive stability United pulled back a goal after a ball was played through to Simon Murray. I take nothing away from the pass and finish but it was sloppy play by Celtic who had more than enough players behind the ball to deal with this.

Griffiths would add to his own tally by scoring the third goal of the match and his 51st for the club with another right footed finish. He was positively sailing at this stage and was in the hunt for the hattrick.

That would not come to fruition despite being a constant menace. Instead Kris Commons, so quiet for much of the game, would round things off style.

That is often the gift with the 32 year-old and why he is always worth keeping on the park ahead of others such as the disappointing Stefan Johansen. After some nifty footwork by Tom Rogić, he found Stuart Armstrong wide on the left who in turn put in a perfect cross to Commons who smashed in an excellent volley.

This was a great all round performance by the Hoops. They looked confident and positive again but they need to keep that up from now until the end of the season.

Armstrong who had just come back from injury was a thorn in the side of his old club. His prowess in the first half was unfortunate not to produce a goal but his involvement in the game was significant, such was the rough treatment he got in return.

After putting in a tireless effort, he made way for Scott Allan. Allan is a player we may not see enough of until next season but at least he is getting more game time albeit from the bench.

Once more Kieran Tierney put in a hungry performance. Had it not been for the second game in a row where received some rough treatment on his shoulder, he would have finished the match last night.

That allowed a rare appearance for Emilio Izaguirre. Not enough game time for him to impose himself though.

Rogić was a constant menance and involved in everything. He was substituted, much to his disappointment, in all likelihood to keep him hungry for the midweek game against Hamilton.

His replacement James Forrest began to cause problems for Dundee United. However, he was probably more notable for his handball in the Celtic penalty box which was overlooked by the very inept match officials.

I think United had about three claims altogether. I wouldnt necessarily say they were all penalties but the Forrest handball was a stonewaller.

At least the officials were consistently poor for both teams. Poor judgement was so frequent with Griffiths’ ‘offside’ decisions that they were almost the story of the game.

For a team who are rooted to the bottom of the table though, Dundee United showed enough desire to suggest they could be further up the league standings. Perhaps it is the fact they are fighting for their Scottish Premiership survival that is bringing out such displays or that Celtic took three of their best players?

Whatever the case this was an encounter at Tannadice that wouldn’t have disappointed even the neutral fan. And speaking of fans, the travelling Celtic support were in fine voice at Tannadice.

I’m sure Friday night inebriation played a big part but the singing was great. I particulalry enjoyed the constant rendition of singing about former Celtic players.

For Celtic it was another victory January to help them toward reacipgphing a possible treble. In contrast, Dundee United are a step closer to relegation

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac