Windfall and woe

There was good news and bad news for Celtic on Wednesday. From a financial point of view and on the injury front.

As stories began to develop of ex-Celt, Virgil van Dijk’s proposed move to Liverpool, calculators were clicking away at Celtic’s potential slice of the fee. Celtic installed a sell on clause when they sold Virgil to Southampton and now they are about to benefit from this world record transfer for a defender.

This is how Celtic do their business in the modern-day. For a club in their position it is a smart thing to do and now there’s an amount not far off £10M headed from Southampton to Glasgow via Liverpool.

I wouldn’t go assuming that money will go straight into the player purchase fund. Football is a business and business doesn’t work that way.

It’s a nice little profit for sure, but I’m fairly certain that player budgets for this season have already been set. The windfall may help to boost summer spending, but right now I’m not expecting any monumental moves in the transfer market by Celtic.

The second piece of news for Celtic wasn’t so good. Word had been circulating about Jonny Hayes’ scan update for a few hours before the club made an announcement, but Celtic eventually confirmed the Irish internationalist will be out for the rest of the season with a broken leg.

Brendan Rodgers had played down speculation until the scan was done hoping that it might just be bruising. Verification of the injury is a huge blow for Hayes.

Some Celtic fans don’t see this injury as a huge loss to the team. I actually think the opposite.

We know Hayes hasn’t set the game alight since his arrival in the summer. He just got off the mark at the weekend though and a huge weight must have been lifted from his shoulders.

The way his team mates celebrated with him after scoring that goal against Aberdeen showed the support he has from within the squad. To see him stretchered off the following game must have been devastating.

Jonny might have pushed from here and finished the season on a high. He was certainly heavily involved in the Dundee match before the clash with Josh Meekings, but I guess we’ll never know.

We can only wish him a speedy recovery and hope to see him back in the summer. I’m sure the rest of the squad will be out there playing for him in every game from now until the end of the season.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Double at Dens

Celtic visited Dens Park on Boxing Day seeking goals and points and were successful in getting both. They also came up against a Dundee side who were very physical, as Jonny Hayes will testify I am sure so they had their work cut out for them.

Brendan Rodgers made three changes to the starting lineup from the team that faced Aberdeen on Saturday. Out went Stuart Armstrong, Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele and in came Callum McGregor, James Forrest and Leigh Griffiths.

The Hoops looked up for this one and worked hard to control the flow of the game. It was a dogged display at times with Dundee being, as I mentioned earlier, physical.

Surprisingly, it was Celtic who topped the stats for fouls committed. Though it appeared as though Dundee were the getting a better deal from the match officials given some of the challenges.

This didn’t deter Celtic from playing their game though. A sense of determination from the Bhoys was apparent has they pressed forward each time.

The chances were coming thick and fast. Elliot Parish did his job in keeping the scoreline down as did the woodwork and some inaccurate finishing by Celtic.

Because of that the scoreline remained 0-2. The first goal came from man on fire, James Forrest.

If he keeps this up for the second half of the season he’ll be challenging Scott Sinclair for top scorer. And if he does even that he is a clear winner for Player of the Year.

I’m sure one or two others might have a say in that such as Scott Brown and Kieran Tierney but for now Forrest is the man. His goal came from fine piece of play from just inside the Celtic half.

Ajer played it to Brown who did a one two with McGregor on the halfway line then slotted ahead to Hayes. Hayes threaded it to Griffiths who laid it off for Tierney on the left.

Tierney’s cross found Forrest who smashed it home with his left foot. It was a fantastic move against any opponent.

So Celtic were off to a great start after just 8 minutes. Then in the 23rd minute Jonny Hayes and Josh Meekings clashed as they went for the same ball.

Meekings went full force into the challenge, but both players went off injured after a long delay to the match. Hayes is due to have a scan on what looked like a bad one, but the extent of the injury is still unknown.

It’s an unfortunate setback for Hayes who after scoring is first ever competitive goal at the weekend was looking full of confidence. Celtic need players like that right now as others are perhaps not quite on their game at the moment.

Substitute Michael Johnston came on and played on the left-wing. To be fair to the Celtic youth player he put in a decent shift as well.

He’s pretty slight in build compared to other youngsters like Kieran Tierney and Anthony Ralston, but he certainly made up for it in guile. He was heavily involved in several attacking moves for the rest of the match including a clear opportunity to score one himself.

The second goal would come from former Dens player, Leigh Griffiths though. A weak pass out of the Dundee defence was pounced upon by a pressing Scott Brown who played it quick to Olivier Ntcham.

The French under-21 internationalist found Griffiths running into the box. From that position on his left foot, Griffiths rarely misses and he didn’t.

The second half was still fiercely competitive by both teams, but it failed to yield any more goals. Brendan Rodgers will be pleased with the performance overall.

With series of teams changes over the last few weeks he will have a better idea of who his best performers at this stage of the season. In the final game of the year against Rangers at Celtic Park he’ll want his strongest side out there to see off the challenge of the Ibrox side.

Kieran Tierney, Scott Brown, Oliver Ntcham and James Forrest are the team’s best players right now. They look hungry and confident.

With Craig Gordon certain to keep his place and Kristoffer Ajer likely to be given another starting slot at centre half, that’s the bulk of the lineup decided.

Mikael Lustig will definitely play at right back, but I’m still uncertain about Dedryck Boyata. He’s been favoured over Jozo Simunovic of late but I’d still say Jozo is the better player.

Scott Sinclair will play on the left for sure. With Hayes out he needs Sinclair out there with Forrest on the right, but whether Scotty has a good day or a bad day is down to him.

He’s still been among the goals this season and still our leading scorer, but his performances have not been so great. The final midfield berth would generally be between Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor (Tom Rogic excluded through injury), but there might be room for another.

Neither of those Scottish players have been at their best recently and with other options available I wouldn’t be against a fresh option. Nir Bitton has been patient and shoring up things in defence when called upon so he might be an option.

Other available contenders are Liam Henderson and Eboue Kouassi but both are short of first team action. It is unlikely they will be involved in a starting eleven.

Up front Brendan Rodgers has three options to choose from. In reality it is only between Leigh Griffiths and Moussa Dembele though.

Odsonne Edouard has done well despite only being given a handful of games so far, but he has the rest of the season to show he can do even more. For now, it will be between Griffiths and Dembele.

Dembele’s future has been the subject of ongoing media speculation. With that distraction in place, Brendan may opt to go with Griffiths.

There is of course the option to play two up top in either a 3-5-2 or 4-4-2 formation. Would Brendan be so daring against the mighty Rangers?

Your guess is as good as mine. It’s one more game and then a welcome break for the players I am sure.

Until Saturday.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

A position of strength

Celtic increased their lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership by swatting nearest challengers Aberdeen 3-0 on Saturday afternoon to keep them off their tail. It was a solid victory for Brendan Rodgers and guarantees Celtic as league leaders going into 2018.

Regardless of what happens in the final two games of the year, Celtic will finish the year in the same position that they started – on top. For a team looking in need of a break they haven’t surrendered their league position.

Mikael Lustig opened the scoring with a deflected shot on 40 minutes. It was all down the combination play of Jonny Hayes and Olivier Ntcham, who would get on the score sheet themselves.

Goals have eluded Hayes since is £1M move from the Dons in the summer. We know he’s a capable player for this league, but he hasn’t really raised the quality of the squad.

For the player though, this will be a real boost to get that first goal and against his old club. It was a poachers goal if ever there was one but they all count and maybe this will help him push on for the rest of the season.

The third and final goal came from one of my favourite Celtic players. He’s had his critics from within our often fickle support, but this guy is a great player.

Ntcham is a young and gifted midfielder with the physical presence of an older, experienced player. He demonstrated that combination in this game and with his goal.

A very sloppy pass back by Kenny McLean was pounced onto by the Celtic midfielder who rounded the keeper to finish off a very good second half. Thanks for that Kenny.

So all in all a good days work for Celtic. The last word goes to Kristoffer Ajer.

Ajer was one of Ronny Deila’s last signings, albeit arriving after the former Celtic manager had departed. He came highly recommended, but got nowhere near the Celtic team in that first season with the exception of some preseason friendlies and a substitute appearance against Lincoln Red Imps.

In January of the same season he went on loan to Kilmarnock and played 17 games at the heart of the Ayrshire club’s defence. That warmed him up for the Scottish game in general but even then he has only managed four competitive appearances this season.

After the unconvincing displays from our preferred centre halves there is every chance we could see more of Ajer as the season progresses. He has had to be patient so perhaps now is the time for him to emerge.

With two games left in 2017 and eight points in front, Celtic are a position of strength going into the winter break. Next stop Dundee on Boxing Day.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac


After Sunday’s disappointing result at Tynecastle, Celtic had to respond. On and off the field of play.

On Wednesday we witnessed a response. On and off the field of play.

Marvin Compper joined Celtic from RB Leipzig on a two-and-a-half year deal. He was later paraded in front of Celtic fans attending Paradise for the visit of Partick Thistle.

Compper comes with a wealth of experience and acknowledged what the club means to the fans and his desire to play for Brendan Rodgers. All that was left for Celtic to do was to get a result in the Glasgow derby.

Celtic scored a goal in each half to secure a 2-0 win. There was nothing inspiring about the match overall, but it was the result that was important here.

Stuart Armstrong scored a terrific goal at a crucial stage in the first half. Kieran Tierney did the same in the second half to ease the minds of the fans.

This was the kind of response that the support wanted even if the stadium was a bit on the empty side. Though at this time of year it is not entirely unusual to see empty seats midweek the week before Christmas.

Celtic have now used their game at hand to give themselves a five point cushion. That’s a real positive with the game against 2nd placed Aberdeen on Saturday.

We’re now in entering the last three games of 2017. Two home matches and one away match aren’t a bad way to end the year either.

And what a year it has been so far. The completion of a treble in May and the possibility of another starting with the League Cup victory last month.

Then there is the unbeaten run. Whilst we process the obvious disappointment at that coming to an end, take time to remember what a marvellous achievement that has been.

Not just for the club or for us fans, but for a manager who has done so since taking charge of the team in the summer of 2016. 69 domestic games unbeaten is a tremendous feat which may never be beaten again in my lifetime or yours.

When you consider how far back the winning run goes you have to appreciate the effort even more. Also, the amount of games Celtic have had to play over and above every other domestic opponent is staggering.

Mentally it feels as though last season has finally come to an end and a new one has just begun. Is it any wonder the players having been looking a bit jaded?

I think this unbeaten run has been more of a drain on the players than we realised. Not a motivator in slightest.

With that pressure gone hopefully some focus will return to the current season. That they’ll begin to prove themselves all over again.

And to think, Brendan Rodgers has worked largely with an inherited squad. He hasn’t quite given it his own look just yet.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. There is more to come from the Brendan Rodgers era.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

How does Marvin Compper to who we have already?

Marvin Compper is expected to sign for Celtic should he agree terms and pass a medical. It’s a swift move by Brendan Rodgers for a troublesome position though perhaps six months later than some may have preferred.

Celtic started their competitive campaign back in early July. They’ve had injury issues in attack and defence since then, but no immediate action was taken.

As close to full strength as Celtic have ever been this season, they’ve still looked weak at the back. Form seems to have abandoned Dedryck Boyata whilst injury has held back Jozo Simunovic.

The Belgian was largely unconvincing under Ronny Deila. He rose from the treatment table later into last season though and impressed under Brendan Rodgers.

Further injury left him on the sidelines this season. Upon his return he hasn’t looked particularly confident.

Jozo Simunovic is by far Celtic’s best central defender at the moment. However, he is prone to injury and protected from playing on artificial surfaces.

If this is Brendan Rodgers best central defensive pairing then Compper only has stay fit and do his job to be a success. Celtic desperately need their back line to hold especially in Europe.

The only central defender Brendan Rodgers has ‘invested’ in since arriving in 2016 was Kolo Toure. There’s no doubt he brought some influence and stability in the short-term, but even he wasn’t the long-term answer for Celtic’s defensive woes.

We’ve seen too many tryouts at the back this season. Nir Bitton and Kristoffer Ajer are both midfielders, but both have been deployed at the back in several games.

Erik Sviatchenko looked out of favour last season despite his availability but at the same time hasn’t been entirely convincing. Out with injury for months now, it’s been rumoured he might even get shipped out.

It seems unclear whether Ajer will ever take up a role at the back permanently. Anytime a space needs filling Brendan has opted for Bitton instead which doesn’t exactly sound like Ajer has a future for that position at Celtic.

Should Ajer want to succeed in adapting to  centre back then he might need some more game time and that could end up being elsewhere. With the amount of inconsistency at the back this season I would suggest he would have been no more of a risk for Brendan Rodgers though.

With this pending signature of Compper many of us are hoping that the current Leipzig player will bring some stability. At 32 years-old he has experience, but does this largely unknown German have the attributes to shore things up at the back?

There hasn’t been any indication if this is a loan deal with a view to buying or a permanent deal. If the latter of the two then it would either be a one-and-a-half or a two-and-a-half year deal.

Personally, I just want the guy to succeed and to steady the ship. This is a priority for Brendan Rodgers.

Celtic will need to contend without new blood until after the winter break though. That means bouncing back tomorrow night at Celtic Park against Partick Thistle.

The home tie may just be the tonic the players need to rebound from Sunday’s setback. They then have to contend with Aberdeen at home on Saturday, away to Dundee next Tuesday and then Rangers at Celtic Park a week on Saturday.

It’s a tough end to a long first half of the season. The three-week break in January will do the team some good.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

All good things…

There comes a point when every journey must end. When a cycle has run its course.

That time was Sunday at Tynecastle. Brendan Rodgers’ unbeaten domestic run has come to a halt after 69 matches without a loss.

Few would have envisaged it happening in such a manner, but Celtic were diabolical. The stats will show a more even game, but the truth is that the Hoops failed to impose themselves in this game sufficiently.

The conditions were poor but also exactly the same for both teams. Yet Celtic seemed to be the only ones struggling to maintain composure and footing.

I don’t know if stats are recorded for players falling over. If there is then Celtic won that by a quite a long way.

Going to ground was beginning to look like a new addition to the game. Why Celtic players couldn’t rectify that issue is beyond me.

I’m not going to single out any one player as many Celtic fans have and continue to do. As a team Celtic failed miserably and so did the manager.

They didn’t cope with the conditions and Hearts punished them with four goals and no reply from the visitors. On the officiating side of things Willie Collum certainly didn’t do us any favours contrary to the popular belief of many that he’s “one of ours”.

Our Scottish media have been waiting a great many days for this result. You’d be hard pushed to miss the glee in the voices and on the faces of the pundits.

As much it wrangles me I have to give credit to Hearts for causing an upset though. They didn’t just beat Celtic they got a solid result.

So now the counter has been reset for Brendan Rodgers and for the better. I’m not saying that losing was good because I had hoped to maybe go a bit longer and maybe even until the end of the season.

In truth this defeat had to happen. The longer things went on the greater the pressure and this invincible run was like a millstone around our neck.

Celtic, despite the current side’s greatness, look tired and off the pace compared to last season’s performances. That doesn’t mean they haven’t carved out goals, assists or results, but they’ve lacked the same conviction and prowess this season.

Scott Sinclair is perhaps the epitome of Celtic right now. Playing without the same verve as last season but still top of the statistical charts.

In Europe progress has been made but only just. The parachute into the Europa League has given Celtic European football after Christmas, but it was a narrow escape from a group of death in a disappointing campaign that fizzled out at home to Anderlecht.

Despite wiping the floor with them in Belgium they overwhelmed Celtic at home. Craig Levein claimed to have used the same tactics in order to get a result but I won’t be cross-examining him in this blog.

This season we’ve seen Brendan Rodgers take some stick for Champions League performances. To take this team to the next level he will require further tweaking on the training ground and delving into the transfer market.

Celtic can still improve, but they will always have limitations where money is concerned. Nobody should be under any illusions about that.

How far can Celtic go under Brendan Rodgers? Further we all hope.

Sunday’s defeat might just be the jolt Celtic needed. There were signs our form might be picking up, but Hearts gave Celtic a game and put that to bed.

I’m not going to join the bandwagon of mudslingers within our ‘support’. Whilst understanding how hard Sunday’s defeat was to take, some of the reaction has been nothing short of embarrassing.

Individual players are now being hounded out by some of the fan base. Wow, what a low point that is for the best fans in the world.

Some of last season’s heroes are now done apparently. Time to go.

And maybe one or two will but Celtic need to get up off the canvas. Get back in the fight and move things forward.

There hasn’t been a flurry of activity in the transfer market. What has been done is that the team has been reduced to a workable size.

Now we know where those weaknesses are. January should be earmarked for forward planning and how to finish off the season.

As I said earlier though, it is as much about the training ground as the transfer market. These players don’t suddenly turn poor after a good season.

I made the point when Stefan Johansen had an amazing first full season only to be a shadow of that in the season that followed. You don’t become a bad player over night, there is always a reason.

My hope is that this invincible run coupled with a heavy schedule of games with an expectation to win all of them can now be put to bed. That a weight has been lifted with the monkey firmly off their back.

Now it is time to get back in the fight and move on. There is always pressure as a Celtic player but the one we’ve just disposed of will do this team some good.

The players will respond. The manager will respond.

We start over on Wednesday night at Celtic Park. This is a time to get behind the team and the manager…all of us.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Europa League awaits

Celtic ended their Champions League campaign with an unexpected defeat. It was a rather flat performance for the home side, but they have made it into Monday’s Europa League draw.

It was a strange post match feeling. The expectancy to win coupled with a defeat left me feeling deflated yet satisfied at securing a last 32 spot in European football’s other tournament.

Anderlecht started the match better. Celtic seemed unable to produce anything similar to the Belgians until the second half.

They also provided Anderlecht with the winning goal. Jozo Simunovic’s header beat Craig Gordon meaning the Belgians failed to score against Celtic home and away. 

Given their seeding and player budget that has to be a disappointing result for Anderlecht. Celtic on the other hand have beaten the odds.

Regardless of the result, I’m pleased Celtic are still in European competition. For two more matches at least. 

Being unseeded means a tough draw but to be fair Celtic will be up against it anyway. It would be nice to get a run in the Europa League for experience if nothing else. 

I’m certainly not expecting Celtic to win the tournament. This team has potential but there are a number of areas that still require attention.

With any luck those areas have already been identified and will be addressed in due course. January would be a good time to start.

Celtic don’t require major surgery. Brendan Rodgers does need to consider his defensive frailties, the loss of Paddy Roberts and improving Celtic on the European stage. 

Any departures are unlikely until the summer. Next season will be tougher to get into the Champions League so investing now for a possible run in the Europa League would be good preparation.

For now, we can breathe easy for a few months. European football will be waiting for us after Christmas.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac