Glasgow Derby on the horizon

The day looms closer when Glasgow’s top two clubs lock horns once more. Partick Thistle will host Celtic at Firhill this Saturday lunchtime in the Scottish Premiership.

It’s another hugely important game for Ronny Deila as he aims to keep the title hopes on the radar. It has suffered a few blows in 2016 after a good start to the year and even with Sunday’s positive show against Greenock Morton, consistency is now the essential.

Before this match though, Partick Thistle have an opportunity to put a dent in Aberdeen’s title hopes. The Dons travel to Firhill tonight hoping to close the gap on Celtic to one point.

It would still leave Celtic with a game at hand, but psychologically it could be harmful. That’s all it is though, a psychological.

Right about now is the time teams need to start demonstrating their title credentials. If Aberdeen beat Thistle then they’ve done their job.

Then it would be down to Celtic to cross the city and do the same on Saturday. However, you just don’t know what will happen in these two Firhill fixtures.

The next four games for Celtic are all televised for Saturday lunchtime kick offs, this one included. All eyes are upon this club and the coaching staff with the media hoping for some headlines and we all know what that means.

Are Celtic going to see off this threat from Aberdeen? Will they maintain a winning run or get a favour or two elsewhere?

I’ve been watching some highlights of Celtic matches from the Gordon Strachan era recently. Real battling performances to fight back in big games after falling behind and even snatching victory at the death.

This was not uncommon under Strachan. Playing to the final whistle and grabbing something when you least expect it.

Like any Celtic manager, Gordon had his flaws but pushing his players to the max was not one of them. If Ronny Deila can coordinate the same kind of spirit with this squad it would get better results even if the majority of a game proves to be lacklustre.

The problem is that right now the heads go down in this current side. They lose focus and end up looking rudderless.

I’ve often mentioned motivation with this team and I keep coming back to it. These players should be performing much better than we have been seeing.

If Ronny Deila is to blame for that then he will carry the can. However, these players should be doing it for themselves, the manager and the supporters.

It’s their playing careers that are at stake. A short one at that.

There are 10 games each left in this title race for the title challengers. 30 points are available for each of them as well.

Should Aberdeen win all 10 of their remaining matches, Celtic would need 26 points to secure the league. That’s based on goal difference and assuming Celtic maintain their superiority in that area.

Let’s hope it isn’t as close as that though. Instead let’s take the initiative and widen the gap.

Time to start proving yourselves Bhoys. There’s a fifth successive league title to be won.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Advertisements

Three and easy, but it’s time to trim the numbers

Celtic won their Scottish Cup quarter-final match against Greenock Morton on Sunday in just 35 mins. The Hoops went in 3-0 at the interval after goals from Leigh Griffiths (14), Gary Mackay-Steven (25) and a superb finish from Callum McGregor (35).

Despite the meagre attendance of under 15,000 at Celtic Park and the opposition lying 6th the Championship, Ronny Deila needed a response from his players. He got one as well with Celtic pressing Jim Duffy’s side from the beginning.

There was certainly more conviction with Celtic’s play on Sunday, something which has been missing in quite a few games recently. If it came from these so-called clear the air talks then it looks as though it had the desired effect.

To say that Morton weren’t any trouble though would be disrespectful. They drew two great saves, one either half, from Craig Gordon which the keepers deserves full credit for.

The truth though is that Celtic were pummeling Morton and should have finished more than 3-0 especially with the foothold they had in the game. Second half substitute Patrick Roberts hit the foot of the post after some fine work and Mackay-Steven rattled the crossbar.

Another substitute, Colin Kazim-Richards, came close as well but to his frustration hit the side netting. This was better from Celtic over all but as I said, the game was already won in the first half.

Speaking of which, Stefan Johansen’s game came to a halt at half time. A dangerous challenge by Mike Miller left the Norwegian’s writhing in pain.

Referee Willie Collum took no action on the incident. Instead he blew his whistle for half-time and trotted off, leaving a Johansen sprawled out on the Celtic Park surface like nothing had occurred.

Miller had just been booked moments before and given the nature of this challenge, should probably have received a second yellow. Instead, he walked in at half-time a lucky man but he was substituted 7 minutes into the second half which was probably a smart move by Jim Duffy.

Johansen was subsequently replaced by Kazim-Richards for the start of the second half. Later on, Patrick Roberts would replace an unhappy Griffiths and Stuart Armstrong came for Kris Commons.

So 3 goals, a clean sheet and a bit more conviction was a welcome boost. Then came the draw and a pairing with Rangers at Hampden for the semi-final.

This will be the second time Celtic have faced the Championship club. They met for the first time in their history last February in the semi-final of the League Cup at Hampden.

Ronny Deila’s players ran out 2-0 winners that day without the Ibrox club managing a single shot on target. Griffiths and Commons were both on target that day to book Celtic a place in the final which they would go on and win.

This season it’s the Scottish Cup and with Rangers looking very likely to get promoted to the Scottish Premiership, they will fancy their chances this time around. They beat Dundee 4-0 at Ibrox on Saturday to secure a spot in Sunday’s draw and already comparisons have been made by the media.

Dundee drew 0-0 with Celtic in the days before that game at Ibrox and as you can imagine, media mouths are watering already. The build up to this one is going to be unbearable.

The match itself is many weeks away and a lot can happen between then and now. It’s a must win game for Ronny Deila for many reasons though.

Firstly, a win means a place in the Scottish Cup Final and secondly, it keeps the dream of a double alive. There is also the small matter of Deila’s place among the fans which is a debate of its own.

Then there is the ‘rivalry’ between the two sets of fans. This Rangers is supported by the same fans as the old Rangers even if these same fans fail to admit they are two different clubs.

As someone who deals in fairness and justice in their working life, I will never accept this Rangers as the same club. After the old club cheated Scottish football as well as the taxpayers, I only see this current incarnation as a new club wearing the same colours as the one that no longer exists.

A new rivalry will be built and this fixture next month at Hampden is another part of that. Whatever came before is now confined to the history books.

No person in the media will ever say that right enough. After all, this is Scotland we’re talking about.

Let’s talk a bit more about Celtic though. Sunday was a solid performance but we need to see more of this kind of effort for the remainder of the campaign.

The debate continues as to whether Ronny Deila will be here next season or not. Right now, I think that idea needs to be shelved.

Celtic are in a winning a position and the focus must be upon winning. Recent displays have cast doubt over this team and the coaching staff as to whether they can secure a league and cup double.

There is certainly more ability in this squad than we have seen. There are a lot of players at Ronny Deila’s disposal compared to any other Scottish club.

Too many options in fact. From now until the end of the season, injuries aside, Deila must narrow those options.

We’ve seen too many changes. Some have been obvious alterations through injury or suspension but there are other issues that affect the choices made and I am not just talking about form.

James Forrest is a yo-yo and with his contract talks hitting the skids his appearances are now tainted. Tom Rogić suffered a similar story though he himself rubbished that.

Callum McGregor’s focus looked to be a factor when he was absent for a while following his drink driving case. This is all over and above the guys who, whilst have had their illnesses and injuries, never seem to get a proper run.

Kris Commons is a fans favourite and rarely gets a look in. Scott Allan has been waiting in the wings and after a short run of games has found himself out of the picture again.

You see all these guys, and even the ones I haven’t mentioned, must make selecting a Celtic team a total nightmare. There is no excuse though because this is one of Ronny’s own making.

He said a long time ago he wanted to trim this squad down. Well, it just keeps getting bigger.

I’m all for options but if someone is out for one reason or another we have more than enough options. The problem right now is that we have a first, second and third choice for virtually each midfield/attack position and can’t please everyone.

That’s without even considering the young players who in your worst case scenario would probably get a chance. You can’t even begin to imagine a youth player getting into the team right now.

If making the squad bloated is an indirect way of trying to push certain players out then its a strange business we’re running. Whether it is Ronny that gets to do it or someone else, this squad needs some breathing space to allow youth to develop as first team players.

For now, the best thing Ronny can do is channel the first team squad into a smaller group and stick with it. If a place becomes vacant then pick from his backup group.

There are too many fighting for the one spot and that would make me miserable as a player. If Ronny doesn’t know what his best team is then perhaps he should look at the numbers he is working with.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Everything out in the open

At a time in the season when trophies are the paramount of importance, another discussion is in circulation on planet Celtic. Discontent is high on the agenda right now and the future of this Celtic team, their coaching staff and those who wear the suits, surrounds everything.

If you consider Celtic to be the best team in Scotland, which they still are at the moment, an outsider might say “well what’s the problem then?” The simple answer would be “for how much longer?”

That of course is based partly on the current sequence of events which is largely seeing Celtic struggle to secure a fifth successive league title. It doesn’t end there though because the situation is bigger than that.

What’s bigger than the league? The Champions League of course.

One does not exist without the other though. To get to the latter you must first win the former.

Having missed out last season, but having a relatively decent innings in the Europa League, we all expected more in the current campaign. What happened turned out to be worse though.

It’s hard to ignore the regression of this season. Celtic’s faltering attempt to remain a European force has taken us down a peg or two.

Nobody likes it and it has hit the supporters hard. In truth we threw away a superb opportunity to make it this season and ultimately failed the European test.

By comparison we failed even more in this season’s Europa League campaign than the last. Statistically, there isn’t much between this season and the last in the Scottish Premiership and at the same stage.

Yet this time last year this squad were finding their feet. They were looking sharper than what we had seen earlier in the campaign and there was a sign that things were coming together.

Where did it all go wrong then? Was it Champions League failure that crucified our season or was it something else?

Are Ronny Deila’s efforts exhausted or is something amiss? It’s hard to define exactly what the problem is when you have players coming out to back the manager and taking the blame themselves.

Then Ronny calls it as he sees fit. The “players didn’t do well enough” or “we’re improving all the time”.

At times I feel he is just telling the media whatever he needs to protect himself and his players. You can’t ignore a really dire performance but he has done so on occasion.

Ronny is a highly intelligent and likeable man. I get the distinct feeling we don’t see the real Ronny enough.

As for the current set of problems, I don’t know where the issue lies precisely. The only thing I can say is that we’re not seeing a good product on the park for this club or its fans.

Is it the coaches or is it the players? Are the players not receiving the right motivation and tactics or are the players simply not good enough or influential enough to lead this club?

On their game, I would say all of the current Celtic squad are capable of remaining Celtic players with one or two exceptions. So why aren’t they performing individually or as a team?

What do the men upstairs think about all of this? Are they already looking at alternatives or are they sticking by ‘their’ man?

I’m not sure that the addition of more players is the answer either. It’s about how we are playing on the day.

I’d happily take a couple more players to ensure that next season we have the correct quantity and quality for each position. That would also mean moving some deadwood out, but I think there is more at play here.

I think there are some players in this team that really want to play for this coaching team and some that don’t. This is where I think the problem might be and if I am being honest something or someone will have to give.

If I am right about this then there is a stalemate within the club. Even if you have most players playing for the head coach, there will be an atmosphere which upsets the harmony.

You know what though, I could be completely wrong but I think there is something in that. And perhaps this is where these “clear the air” talks have stemmed from.

This time last year we were on the up and now we’re not. If it is simply that Ronny Deila is out of his depth then we’ll soon know.

If there is more to it and Celtic have been trying to contain the matter then I’m sure it’ll all come out in the wash eventually. The club do not appear to be pushing Ronny out the door and whilst that may suggest they are not taking action, perhaps we as supporters don’t have all of the facts.

Only the players and coaching staff know what the problem is. It’s up to them to sort it out if they are to win this double.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

 

Hard to defend…

For a long time now, many Celtic fans have been of the opinion that Ronny Deila is not the man for Celtic. Since his tenure began on June 6th 2014, I looked forward to seeing how this left field and bold appointment by Celtic Football Club turned out.

Differences among the supporters remain on several matters. Some of these I have defended in my blog for almost two years now.

In season one the club experienced mediocrity in Europe but found domestic success in the second half of the same season. That led many, if not all, to believe that the following season, the one we are currently in, would see progress.

Unfortunately we have seen Celtic regress in Europe. Another opportunity at the Champions League gone and an even more disappointing Europa League campaign in its place.

To compound that misery further, Celtic have failed to make an impact in the second half of the current domestic season. Last season a belief was found among the ranks and it was a relatively positive finish to bring home a domestic double, only narrowly missing out on a treble.

When preparations were under way for the current season we expected to see that little bit more but we haven’t. What we have seen is a lack of belief, conviction, motivation, commitment, impetus and more importantly a squad not playing anywhere near their best.

Europe was a disaster this season and given the lesser of two European tournaments, should have seen Celtic do much better. As it was it was an abysmal exhibition.

Throughout the season, I like to think I call things as I see them. I generally apply some perspective, the conditions at that moment in time and make a judgement based upon that.

Be it injuries, suspensions, poor decisions or just bad luck, I say what I see. I wouldn’t say I have gone out of my way to defend Ronny Deila or the club, just how I see it and without the knee-jerk reaction that I find appalling.

What we have all been seeing recently in this key stage of the current season has been far from convincing. Some will say “I told you so” or “this is what I’ve been saying all along”.

I like to think I’m a patient guy though and that Ronny has deserved time. From the beginning I saw Deila’s appointment as a brave move but I liked that.

As a character I liked his approach, grasp of the language and calm demeanour. Over time that has become eroded by performances, results, supporter opinion and of course the Scottish media.

Celtic had a bit of a purple patch in January. That came to a halt in the League Cup against Ross County in the last game of that month.

That was followed by a defeat away to title challengers Aberdeen a few days later. Since then performances have been well below par.

Three victories and two draws might not seem that bad, but when their is much at stake (and there is), Celtic must be doing better. At the very least, they need to be doing it in a more convincing fashion.

Of course, that is where the problem lies. It has been far from convincing by the Hoops this season.

Fan pressure aside, we haven’t seen the correct response from the players. When the chips are down and you get a bad result you want to see a reaction but it hasn’t happened this season at all.

Even if Celtic have cut their cloth to suit the environment they operate in, it hasn’t been impressive. In contrast, I was actually quite pleased with the activity in the January transfer window.

Erik Sviatchencko may turn out to be a decent acquisition. Colin Kazim-Richards could well be a diamond in the rough.

Something tells me though that Ronny Deila may never get to see that come to fruition under his management. The season is far from over and a domestic double remains in Celtic’s hands.

At Celtic Park last night though, it was a bitter blow to the club’s current campaign and far from what the fans expect. You can only defend matters so long and with matches like this becoming the norm, it becomes increasingly hard to defend the current set up.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Backtracking

From time to time we humans get things wrong. The weather forecasters, politicians, bookies and even referees.

On Friday night, Craig Thomson got it wrong at New Douglas Park on quite a few occasions. One of those particular errors was the red card on Dedryck Boyata.

Despite the risk of the tackle, he got the ball fairly. In fact, it was a superb tackle.

The only thing that took the shine off it was that he was sent off. Had he stayed on the park we would have been talking about how good a tackle it was.

In fact if had it been Virgil van Dijk or Jason Denayer making that challenge we would have been singing their praises and admiring the sheer quality. Instead it was Dedryck Boyata who has yet to reach that level of respect among the Celtic support but it was a good tackle all the same.

As a result of that red card, Celtic lost control of the game for more than half of the match and not for the first time this season either. This is something we must be more careful of in future which in fairness to Ronny Deila, is most likely what upset him on the night.

A draw was acceptable under the circumstances even though Celtic were leading 1-0 at the time of the incident. In the aftermath of the game, Ronny Deila refused to lay the blame at the door of Craig Thomson.

Instead, Ronny was critical of Boyata not staying on his feet as I said earlier. Whilst I get what he was saying and the risk that Boyata took, you cannot argue that he won the ball cleanly.

I made the point in the last blog that I disagreed with Ronny on this. Yesterday, in complete u-turn, Celtic officially announced their intention to appeal Boyata’s red card.

There has obviously been a discussion about this within the club. Now Ronny’s opinion has changed whether it his own or someone else at the club.

The bottom line here is that Celtic are correct to appeal. It is also very likely that they will win this one as well.

What won’t change is the result against Hamilton. Fortunately for Celtic, Aberdeen threw away the chance to close the gap after drawing with St Johnstone.

The Dons were 1-0 up after 35 minutes and it stayed that way for some time. St Johnstone were then awarded a penalty in the 88th minute.

Like the Dedryck Boyata challenge at New Douglas Park, there was a similar case at Pittodrie for Aberdeen’s Ryan Jack. Derek McInnes said that the penalty claim was no excuse for the result, almost like he’d been taken a leaf out of Ronny Deila’s post match book.

I think it was a harsh penalty though. Just as Boyata’s red was badly judged.

At least the gap at the top remains in tact and the title challenge continues. Tomorrow night Celtic host mis-table Dundee whilst Aberdeen travel to Tannadice.

The two Dundee clubs are almost poles apart this season. Dundee are in a respectable 6th position whilst Dundee United achored at the foot of the table, fighting for Scottish Premiership survival.

It couldn’t be more different for Celtic and Aberdeen as they slug it out for the title. All eyes on tomorrow night.

On another backtracking moment, Tom Rogić has made it known he wishes to stay at the club. Surprise, surprise, the Scottish media reporting lies.

Whatever next? A Sevco warchest?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac