Friday Feeeling: Dundee United v Celtic

Celtic take on Dundee United this evening at Tannadice. This is match number 3 of 6 for the month of January where Celtic should be aiming for straight wins.

United find themselves rock bottom of the Scottish Premiership on 10 points. This has to be a one of United’s worst seasons since the 1920’s but I’d need a Dundee United statto to confirm that.

I’ve always found ties with United entertaining over the years but they have found themselves way off the pace this season, compared to previous years. In the last 12 months Celtic have taken three of United’s best players off them which hasn’t helped of course.

I wouldn’t go blaming Celtic for Dundee United’s problems though. They’ve been selling their best for a while now; Andy Robertson, Ryan Gauld etc.

The question is are they reinvesting that? That’s something an Arab might know more than me.

Ironically, Nadir Çiftç, Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven have yet to set our pulses racing at Celtic. The two Scot’s have a had a longer bedding in period (and some decent games) than the Turk but none of them have been among our top players this season.

Our best players have been few in number but sometimes the latter half of the season can produce something new, sometimes in the form of a new signing. So far it has been Kieran Tierney, Tom Rogić, Nir Bitton and Leigh Griffiths keeping Celtic fans entertained.

Over the coming weeks and months that list may well grow. Tonight though, it is all about the three points for Celtic.

Despite United having a season of woe and being locked in the relegation zone, the bottom club can sometimes take you by surprise. However, Celtic are (I hope) on-the-up right now and should be aiming to put United to the sword this evening.

Ronny Deila took us all by surprise last Sunday and played two strikers. Tonight he would do well to do the same against a team who are suffering badly and show them no mercy.

It would also give Griffiths and Cole the chance to play together again. They teamed up well enough against Stranraer and I see no risk in going with the same plan against United.

As much as Ronny appears to oppose a two-man attack, one man hasn’t exactly being paying off for us. Against top class opposition I can understand a single front man but we are playing domestic football in Scotland and is totally different to playing European opposition.

So to ensure 3 points tonight I would go with Griffiths and Cole for sure. Celtic have a treble to chase and I think it is high time this team took the gloves off on the domestic scene.

Celtic should be smashing teams left, right and centre in the league. Sure, be conservative in Europe but in Scotland we are the best team in the country by far.

It’s time to start showing that because we’ve regressed. Role your sleeves up and start dishing out some punishment.

We aren’t going to win treble by being over-cautious in our formation.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Composure in the cup

Celtic booked their place in fifth round of the Scottish Cup with a 3-0 away win over Stranraer. This was a composed performance which in truth could have had a far greater scoreline for the Hoops.

Part of that was down to 18-year-old Max Currie playing in-goal for Stranraer for only his second start and third competitive appearance for the club. He pulled off some magnificent saves at Stair Park which saved his team from a drubbing.

A gulf between teams is often evident by what you can spend on players and wages. Stranraer were plucky though and even started the better team.

The opening moments of the game saw them come at Celtic. Eventually though the Hoops would get a foothold in the match and would not let up.

In terms of performance, this was one of Celtic’s best of the season. Yes, this isn’t a Scottish Premiership side or even European opponent but the attitude of Ronny Deila’s players was correct.

That’s been a rarely seen thing this season. So what was different and what’s changed?

Well aside from playing a Scottish League One club, Carlton Cole started the match though not as a sole striker. He partnered Leigh Griffiths who was himself returning to the starting line up.

I was surprised to see a 4-4-2 formation as much as anyone. As I said in my previous blog though, it suits some games and you need to be able to adapt.

Despite resembling a collapsing building at times, Cole put himself about. He may be at that stage of his career where he doesn’t have the legs, pace or sharpness but his presence was certainly felt.

I miss having a player like that as an option even if not a regular. For that reason I welcomed his inclusion on Sunday and he was to be rewarded as well.

However, it was the effervescent Leigh Griffiths who would draw first blood. A nicely weighted diagonal pass from Callum McGregor found Celtic’s leading scorer who netted a perfect finish.

Then came Carlton Cole’s goal. A cross from Nir Bitton found Cole at the back post to head home from very close range.

Throughout the game there were countless chances for Celtic. As I said, if it were not for the heroics of Max Currie, it could have been far more punishing for Stranraer.

Griffiths was denied and missed further opportunities. The same goes for Cole, Kris Commons, Stefan Johansen and Scott Allan.

In fact it was Allan that turned provider for the third goal. He slipped through a ball to the marauding Griffiths to complete the win.

Celtic should take a lot of positives out of this game. It was their best performance for a long time, regardless of the level of opponent.

There were a couple of moments Celtic got lucky with. One was an apparent handball by Efe Ambrose in his own box and the other a Leigh Griffiths reaction to a challenge.

Ambrose got lucky but depending on retrospective action, Griffiths might not be. His reaction to a Stranraer player’s challenge was caught on camera but as yet, I’ve read nothing about it other than Twitter retweets.

Sadly, the match was blighted before it even kicked off thanks to some morons. Several flares were let off prior to kick off by some travelling Celtic supporters.

I don’t know what motivates you to throw anything onto the field of play to be honest. There is one thing I do know though and that is by doing this you drag down the name of the club and the reputation of the supporters.

Whoever you are, whatever your objective is, it isn’t smart/cool/clever/funny/safe etc. You need to learn some social skills and pay attention to the game or just get lost for good.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Stranraer v Celtic

Celtic travel to Stair Park today for the Scottish Cup Fourth Round tie with Stranraer. The game might offer Ronny Deila the chance to field some players lacking game time so far this season but he won’t be taking this game lightly.

This match is key to maintaining Celtic’s treble hopes, so a strong team will be put out. With injuries and suspensions though, a few changes are on the cards.

Craig Gordon and Nadir Çiftç are both suspended for this game so the expected starters will be Logan Bailly and Leigh Griffiths. Efe Ambrose is likely to step in for the injured Dedryck Boyata and partner Jozo Šimunović in the heart of the defence, flanked by captain Mikael Lustig and Kieran Tierney though there is every possibility we may see Emilio Izaguirre in this match.

It’s in the midfield where there is the opportunity for change today. Deila might take the opportunity to mix things up a little against smaller opposition.

There is an element of risk but freshening things up might be good. Scott Allan and Gary Mackay-Steven will be looking for more game time as will James Forrest particularly with Stuart Armstrong being added to the injury list.

Callum McGregor has been seen more recently and I would expect that to continue. The question is do you drop experienced players such as Nir Bitton and Stefan Johansen for such an important fixture?

Also on my mind is playing two up front in this game. Carlton Cole is waiting in the wings and so is young Aidan Nesbitt.

Ronny Deila is not keen on the idea of two strikers but adapting your tactics should be in your locker. I’m fairly certain that some games deserve a partnership in attack.

Instead we’ve seen Tom Rogić, Kris Commons and less recently, Stefan Johansen, play an attacking midfield role. Perhaps there is room to accommodate Nesbitt in there today.

However Ronny decides to set up today, there needs to be focus throughout the team from back to front. I’m always a little bit nervous when changing keepers, particularly when you’ve seen little of the replacement.

An unsettled defence doesn’t help matters either. Whilst Šimunović has brought a degree of calm to things, I’m not 100% about Ambrose or even Boyata.

A win is all that is needed today. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just no errors.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Stranraer omen

The toughest period in Ronny Deila’s Celtic career (so far) has coincided with a dry month. I’m not talking weather though, I’m talking bevy.

Throughout January I am on the wagon. There’s a big birthday for me at the end of the month so that’s where my sober period will cease as I ‘celebrate’ one of life’s milestones.

So whilst that sense of impending doom awaits a booze-free-me, Celtic have as tough a job as I do – winning all their games in January. It started last week with a last gasp winner against Partick Thistle in the dreariest of New Year encounters.

That was Ronny Deila’s first win of 2016. It also marked the 200th goal scored by Celtic under his management.

However, it was also Celtic’s first home win in two months. The last one being a 3-1 win over Aberdeen on 31st October 2015.

That victory needs to be an anchor point for the remainder of this season. The treble is the remaining target for Ronny Deila, his players and his backroom staff.

There are five more scheduled games for Celtic this month. Five more wins would see the Hoops remain at the top of the Scottish Premiership, reach the League Cup Final and the fifth round of the Scottish Cup.

In the latter if those targets, Celtic travel to Stranraer on Sunday for the first time since the 2000/2001 season. That game was won 4-1 by Martin O’Neill’s Celtic side at Stair Park.

Fifteen years is a long time. A lot has changed in that period.

You look at the Celtic team back then on 28th January 2001: Douglas, Boyd, Petta, McNamara, Valgaeren, Vega, Lennon, Agathe, Larsson, Thompson, Sutton. On the bench: Gould, Mjallby, Lambert, Moravcik, Smith – the beginning of the O’Neill era.

The playing field isn’t the same level of course, but Celtic should be more than capable of disposing of the Scottish League One club. It’s funny that these two teams should face each other at the same stage, competition, ground and month from fifteen years ago in a season which would be our last treble winning campaign.

Is that an omen? Well I dunno, but if Celtic don’t win this one I think the fans might chase Ronny on a boat to Cairnryan!

There is a lot riding on this game. The supporters expect.

Squeezing out a last minute winner over Partick Thistle was 99% dire. That remaining 1% was huge for Celtic in terms of how bland things have been for us recently.

If the players realise the value of that and invest some belief in themselves then they can salvage something for themselves. The squad in general have been a let down this season but it’s not too late.

Of the the few shining lights who have performed this season, full credit to them. It’s not enough though, not for this club and this fan base – this is a team game.

I do believe the players when they say they back Ronny, I really do. That isn’t winning us matches though and I’d like to see how this mutal relationship is benefiting the club long term.

If Ronny wants to see his vision come to fruition I think we are all in agreement that we’ll need to see some evidence very soon. There is too much at stake to be throwing it away.

Throughout this month I fully expect some personnel changes. Not so many going out as coming in, but changes are required.

Will they be loans or purchases – who knows? I think whoever these acquisitions turn out to be and on what terms will show the intentions of the board.

Something needs to change in this squad. Be it tactics, coaching or luck, fresh blood might provide this side with some motivation.

The performance of the current squad though has not been good enough. Whether you love him or loathe him, Ronny Deila must know that it has not been pleasant to watch the team this season at all.

He still has an opportunity to make this season a success. The season that follows is another matter entirely.

Long live the treble.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Change of fortune

Ronny Deila will be looking for a change in fortunes in 2016. From one end of 2015 to the other, his Celtic have team regressed.

Recent attempts to move forward in the league have been thwarted by injuries, postponements and draws. These are the setbacks that managers must deal with though and despite all that, Celtic remain top of the league with a 3 point advantage and a game at hand.

Ronny has stood up to the criticism and responded to the heckling from the crowd and the media. It’s a job that comes with pressure but he has yet to fold in front of the cameras.

Whilst support may be waning from some quarters, the manager remains focused on making things happen. However, at Celtic Park yesterday there was little sign of this as Celtic were once more looking devoid of ideas as they took on Partick Thistle in the New Year Glasgow derby.

Home advantage should have been capitalised upon, particularly with a long injury list. As it was, Celtic made sluggish attempts to create anything on the park.

Aside from some isolated moments in a few matches, Celtic have been lackadaisical this season. So to get things moving in 2016 a bit of luck was required.

In a game where Partick Thistle showed more enthusiasm and better passing, Celtic required some important saves from Craig Gordon and a moment of brilliance by Leigh Griffiths to overcome this dire encounter. They were also hindered by the inept refereeing of Stephen Finnie who, as well as waiving away penalty claims, sent off Nir Bitton for a very soft second yellow.

Despite the misfortune with the match official, ten men managed to steal the match on the 90th minute. This was very far from the entertaining game we saw at Tynecastle or even the kind of game we were hoping to see from Ronny Deila this season but against all odds, Celtic got the victory they needed.

To be fair to Thistle, they played their game well and were unlucky not to get the draw. On the flip side, Celtic were diabolical but never gave up.

If you want to win titles and trophies these are the kind of results you need. I’ve seen Celtic teams over the years do this when it really mattered but the question remains are this team worthy of a treble?

This result should be used as a marker for the rest of the campaign. It was fitting that the goal should come courtesy of Celtic’s best player.

Leigh Griffiths, one of Celtic’s many injured players of late, was a half time replacement for the ever so frustrating Nadir Çiftç. His energy has been missed and although he is still developing as a player, this Celtic side are lost without him.

There are a number of underperforming players in this side but he is not one of them. Celtic don’t just need all their players available, they need them to be doing their job.

Had Ronny not won this match, I wonder what the aftermath would have been like. It is clear that this team needs an injection of some kind to get them through the rest of the season because I’m not sure of their ability to get results.

Nothing is guaranteed for Celtic or Ronny Deila this season. I would forget about planning for the summer and concentrate fully upon January buys and doing everything possible to bring this treble to Celtic Park.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac