Europa here we come…ready or not

Celtic shrugged off all the negativity last night and did their talking on the park. There were some fine moments for the fans to enjoy including new century Bhoy, Leigh Griffiths.

Last weeks 1-1 draw in Lithuania wasn’t ideal. However, Celtic showed character, domination and perseverance for 90+ minutes to get the result they needed.

Goal number one came courtesy of a Leigh Griffiths free-kick in the 27th minute. Callum McGregor won a foul outside the box and Leigh converted to score his 100th goal for the club and join an exclusive list of former Celts.

McGregor went from goal maker to goal taker for the second. Seven minutes after the restart the Celtic midfielder received the ball from Scott Sinclair to slot home a low finish from inside the box.

Celtic’s third and final goal came from the unlikeliest of players in Kris Ajer. The big man was in the box to the left of the goal and out-jumped his man to head home a bit of a fluke.

Nonetheless, it was his goal. Celtic could have had many more, but it was job done without the aid of either of Celtic’s French strikers.

There were some notable performances though. Sinclair looked hungry, Brown was at his best, Johnston had a good second half, Ntcham was dominant and McGregor was lively.

Celtic’s defence had very little to do. Boyata was almost playing a sweeper role with the rest of the defence playing higher up the park.

That allowed Lustig and Tierney to support the attacking play. It was good for McGregor to get another European goal, Leigh to get his 100th Celtic goal and Ajer to get off the mark.

Even Celtic’s subs were in good form. Ryan Christie was very effective, as was Emilio Izaguirre.

Hayes came on as well, but he seems to lacking match sharpness by the looks of things. Still early in the season though.

And so to today’s draw. The Europa League draw took place in Monaco where Celtic learned of their three group opponents.

Celtic were dropped into Group B which already had RB Salzburg from Pot 1. From Pot 3 came RB Leipzig and finally our old Scandinavian foes Rosenborg from Pot 4.

It isn’t a bad group to be honest and our chances of qualifying are good so long as things settle down back at the ranch. We’ve had far too much disruption over the summer.

Today the transfer window closes and the club have to unsettled players in the ranks. Neither of which Brendan Rodgers appears happy to lose without ample replacements.

He has drafted in former Kilmarnock and West Brom midfielder, Youssuff Mulumbu on a free transfer and supposedly taking young defender Filip Benkovic on loan from Leicester City before the end of today. On their way out is Calvin Miller on loan to Dundee, but we are no closer to discovering whether a petulant Dembele, misled Boyata or anyone else will be on their way out.

Once this window is shut we can concentrate on Sunday’s show down with our fellow Europa League associates from Ibrox. This should be a very good game.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

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Get it done…

Whatever bollocks has been going on recently, Celtic need to go for the jugular tonight. If Leigh Griffiths is speeding out of his speeding trial and Odsonne Edouard is fighting fit then throw them both into the starting lineup this evening.

Get this tie killed off and then get them both off the park and rested for Sunday. We don’t want this game to go on any longer than required.

If we’re going to be without a number of players as of tomorrow, don’t even bother playing them tonight. As much as I would like to say goodbye to Moussa Dembele, his head won’t be in the right place.

His soon to be ex-team mates will be in the zone and fully focussed on the job at hand. We need 100% from everyone with no distractions.

Suduva have every right to feel they have a chance coming in with a draw. Celtic have every right to feel they have the advantage which of course they do playing at home and with an away goal.

This game sets Celtic up for the next few months if they get the right result. I’d like to think of tonight’s match and tomorrow’s transfer deadline as a watershed moment for Celtic’s recent misfortunes.

There has been enough distraction. There has been enough negativity.

Let’s get the job done tonight and see what tomorrow brings.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Are Celtic about to cash in on their biggest asset?

The last 24 hours have sparked the first ever genuine news about Moussa Dembele leaving Celtic. The French striker has been subject of continuous rumours since the day he scored his first Celtic goal, a match winner against Astana in the Champions League qualifiers two years ago.

He’s had injuries, he’s scored goals and he is an awesome player. The truth is he was always going to leave and now that the Celtic failed to secure a Champions League group stage slot for the first time since he arrived, discussions are going on about a potential move.

What wasn’t clarified was whether Celtic were still in with a chance of retaining the player’s services on an improved deal. All the stories so far have been about interest from France and Germany.

Brendan Rodgers confirmed there was interest, but no formal bids. He also confirmed that work was still being done to replenish and improve the squad.

If Dembele does go, it will be a huge blow. Injuries aside, he is a brilliant player and one we need for Europe.

With the club shelling out a record fee for Odsonne Edouard though, it was something that was more than likely to happen within the next twelve months. It would seem that exiting the Champions League has perhaps brought that situation about sooner.

I hold no grudges if Moussa moves on. He’s remained loyal to the team and provided some exciting moments.

With two years left on his contract and a good record at Celtic behind him we are sure to get a decent price for him. The question now is what the club do with that money.

We would be down to two recognised strikers. At the very least we need three though with injuries and the occasional two-up-top scenario we may need four in total.

That doesn’t solve our other personnel issues. The situation around Dedryck Boyata has yet to be made clear.

Staying or going? Who the hell knows!

The Belgian was subjected to booing from sections of the Celtic support on Sunday. The Green Brigade in particular making their feelings known with an audio-visual display.

What cannot be denied is that you could not fail to see this coming. After the events of the last few weeks and the club’s failure to put a lid on it properly, the boos from the stands were on the cards.

The impression that Boyata would never wear the Hoops again was very strong. So to throw him back into the team, albeit among a defensive injury crisis, was going to draw anger from the supporters.

I don’t blame people for that. I’m not saying I would have booed the guy myself, but I totally get why people did.

Celtic should have seen this coming and dealt with it accordingly, but they didn’t. Brendan even stated that he understood the negative sentiment bu the fans.

Which of course he had to because he’s played a vocal part in the ongoing club drama with his comments over the John McGinn saga. That’s just another part of a summer of discontent.

Now with Dembele looking to be on his way out, things don’t look great. This is all self-inflicted.

We’re one day away from learning our European fate and two days from the closure of the transfer window. We have yet to show any real intent on either front.

Let’s hope it all doesn’t end in a pile of misery. That would be the perfect invitation to those around us.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Take my breath away…

When I saw the team sheet for Sunday’s encounter with Hamilton I was a stunned, but not totally surprised. With Celtic’s central defensive injury crisis deepening, Brendan Rodgers recalled Dedryck Boyata.

The World Cup player hadn’t kicked a ball since he returned from Russia. Firstly he was given time off to recuperate, then he was subject to speculation that a move away was on the cards and was “injured.”

We know that his agent was pulling the strings, such is their job. Brendan also recognised that the player had made a bad call himself and was willing to forgive and move on.

However, the Belgian remained on the sidelines. Tactical rather than physical one would assume.

There’s no doubt that the drama involving Boyata over the last month or so had been an ongoing distraction. The picture that was being painted was that he was on his way out.

Some of this was coming direct from the club, some of it by the media who love this kind of storyline. The problem was that Celtic were never setting the record straight.

Every time Boyata or his agent would say something, the club would say something different. Celtic have tried to do their business behind closed doors in recent years, but this is something they should have got in front of immediately.

Instead the whole fiasco got out of control, muddied by the media and bled onto the field of play and into the Celtic community. Fans were left to make up their own minds.

All this did was allow the matter to spin out of control. Now we have a confused, disgruntled and divided support.

Having been left out of so many match day squads, the writing appeared to be on the wall for Boyata. Or so we thought.

With Kris Ajer the only central defender fit and available for duty against Hamilton, there was every possibility that Boyata would be drafted in. Had he been left out, that surely would have confirmed his departure.

When it was confirmed Boyata would play, this as always going to stoke a reaction. Even when I had considered the possibility of Boyata returning to the first team prior to this match, I fully expected sections of the support to boo him.

That is exactly what happened….and more. A banner was unfurled at Celtic Park on Sunday, outlining exactly what the Green Brigade thought of the player’s inclusion in the starting line-up.

Now this has divided the support by quite some way. What cannot be ignored though is that we saw this coming and the fans are entitled to their opinion.

If Brendan Rodgers had any intention of playing Boyata ever again, every effort should have been made by the club to ensure the fans backed the manager and the player. The exact opposite happened though.

I’ve been disappointed by Celtic so far this summer. Not just on the park, but off the park.

These European qualifiers are gruelling enough without having to watch a club drama unfold at the same time. None of what I have seen has put me at ease.

I had already knew I wouldn’t see Sunday’s game against Hamilton though after watching the 1-1 draw with Suduva I was probably going to avoid watching it anyway. Boyata’s inclusion had nothing to do with that decision of course.

As soon as I heard that Boyata had scored the only goal of the game, all I could think of were the ensuing headlines. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Brendan is publicly behind the player and the same is being said by the players. The question as ever is will Boyata be staying beyond this transfer window?

Before this stage in the drama, I was 100% convinced Boyata would be out the door. Now I am not so sure.

Celtic don’t have enough fit central defenders and there hasn’t been any activity in the transfer market to suggest a new one will be acquired before the deadline next Friday. I would now be very surprised if Boyata didn’t play on Thursday night against Suduva.

After that match we will know one thing. Will he have played his last game or are there more to come?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Achilles Heel

When FK Suduva come to Glasgow next week they stand a chance of causing an upset. It remains advantage Celtic for now, but as we’ve already seen this summer that doesn’t really count for anything.

Last night Celtic were on front foot and scored early. Then it was same old story.

Concede an equaliser and fail to find a winning goal. It’s a scenario played out all too often in Europe by Celtic.

Cheap goals are Celtic’s Achilles heel. They also seem to have a constant stream of players injured these days.

With the greatest of respect to Suduva, we should have pumped them. Instead we settled for ball retention and a 1-1 draw.

We football fans are a fickle bunch at times. Some fellow Celtic supporters will remind us of our recent double treble or even times when the trophy cabinet was bare.

That isn’t the general complaint. It is Celtic’s failure to strengthen from a position of strength in a timely fashion.

Sure, it is early in the season and we can improve. The most lucrative part of the season starts early though and we were not ready.

This isn’t a new thing. We’ve been kicking off our competitive season early in the summer for a long time now.

There’s no point singling out individuals in Celtic’s underwhelming start to the season. The cloud currently hanging over the club appears to be all encompassing.

There is something affecting us. The intensity that Brendan often talks about is not there right now.

We saw glimpses of it pre-season. In a short space of time it has vanished like a fart in the wind.

I’ve levelled some criticism at a handful of Celtic players, but they don’t account for our woes. The real issue is bigger than that.

This squad has been downsized by some way. The ranks needs replenishing with quality as Brendan often reminds us.

Last night’s result in Lithuania was not disastrous, but it came close. Suduva’s chances to score again came just as close as Celtic’s.

What I don’t understand is why we continue to be ill-prepared each season. I’m not a football manager, coach, scout or chief executive, but I know when something isn’t working or requires tweaking.

It appears to me that there isn’t enough focus on the field of play. Too many distractions are happening off the park.

We haven’t done our transfer business early or quick enough. We’re turning down bids for players who clearly want to move.

There are still a handful of players good enough, but not getting a sniff. We’re a week away from the transfer window closing and is looking like a disappointing one for the season ahead.

Unless Brendan is about to unleash the Quality Street Gang on the first team then we’re only a few injuries away from a struggle. If we get past Suduva next week we’ll be getting a hiding in the Europa League never mind the Champions League.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Forget recent issues and get this tie over the line

This evening Celtic will embark upon a mission to save their European hopes. It is the last role of the dice for Brendan Rodgers and his players to secure European football up until Christmas.

FK Suduva are this evenings opponents and not for the first time either. 16 years ago under Martin O’Neill Celtic met the Lithuanians in the UEFA Cup, having failed to reach the Champions League Group Stage.

Back then Suduva were playing only their 3rd and 4th ever European tie. Some 40 European games on, they have more experience under their belt.

To date they have never progressed in any European competition beyond the play-off round. Even then that only happened once and as recent as last season when they went out to Bulgarian side Ludogorets Razgrad in the same competition.

Like Celtic, they participated in the Champions League first and second Qualifying rounds this season having won their domestic title for the first time ever. After beating APOEL of Cyprus, they then lost to Red Star Belgrade and dropped into the Europa League third qualifying round.

Having beaten FK Spartaks Jurmala of Latvia they set up this tie with Celtic. Which brings us squarely to tonight’s match.

The first leg is in Lithuania and despite recent disappointments, Celtic need to focus and get this tie over the line. Brendan may have injuries and awaiting further comings and goings in the squad, but the objective is crystal clear.

Three players who didn’t make the trip were Jack Hendry, Odsonne Edouard and Dedryck Boyata. Hendry is a recent addition to the injury list whilst Edouard is still recovering from a knock.

The Boyata drama continues to take further twists. Having been brought back in from the cold by Brendan, the Northern Irishman declared Boyata was not ready for this game.

Many are speculating that the writing is on the wall for the Belgian following this recent outcome. For many fans, that is certainly what is desired myself included.

Now Celtic are likely to go with Kris Ajer and Jozo Simunovic at the heart of the defence. Marvin Compper travelled, but given his lack of games he is probably a risky venture for such a crucial game.

Some fans might be of the belief that Suduva will be a pushover. With the clouds still hovering over Celtic, nothing can be taken for granted.

Brendan must put out his strongest side and try to kill off the tie at the earliest possible chance. I’d rather not wait until the return leg.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Random Ransom

Let me tell you what I know about Scott McKenna. Not very much.

In the last couple of days we’ve read about a supposed bid by Celtic for the Aberdeen centre back. Also, its subsequent failure.

What is hard to believe is that Celtic would bid such a ludicrous amount of money for the player. A 21-year-old Scottish defender who has played just one season in the top flight.

Yes, he has 4 Scotland caps (all friendlies I might add), has even worn the captain’s armband in one of those games and played two Europa League qualifiers this summer. That doesn’t make him Alan Hansen.

I haven’t seen much of the player to be honest. I have heard positive things about him though.

With the issues Celtic have in their own defence, does Brendan Rodgers believe he is the answer? I am not doubting the kid’s potential, but potential is not what Celtic need right now.

They need experience at the heart of their defence pronto. If McKenna was available for about £1M and we had a settled defence then I’d be happy to bring him on board.

Right now though we already have two work-in-progress central defenders in Kris Ajer and Jack Hendry. It’s bad enough that a section of our support are already giving Hendry it tight, but to bring in another prospect for an outrageous fee would cause uproar.

Aberdeen, like any club, are within their rights to hold out for whatever they value their player at. If Celtic have bid £3.5M and had it turned down then I would suggest we leave the matter there.

As one fellow Celtic fan said on Twitter:

“I don’t know who’s the daftest. Celtic for bidding £3.5m for Scott McKenna or Aberdeen for knocking it back. He’s a modern-day Zander Diamond.”

A bit on the harsh side, but it did make me laugh.

We’ve spent £1M on Marvin Compper who has managed to play just one game. We’ve spent £1M on Jack Hendry who has been thrown in at the deep end and is currently under attack from some of our fans.

Kris Ajer was a midfielder re-branded as a defender and our most consistent centre half. Jozo Simunovic can’t play on suspect surfaces or during a full moon.

Let’s not forget Dedryck Boyata who’s agent thinks he’s the new Vincent Kompany. Can matters get any worse?

I’m all for planning ahead, but I really don’t know what we’re doing with this central defence. I feel sorry for Hendry getting all the flack but if McKenna comes in, is he in line for the same treatment?

I want to trust those at Celtic to do the right thing, but Brendan’s is now in his third season and he still hasn’t established a central defensive partnership. We need to sort this out now.

Not in a year. NOW.

If the bids are true and we’re willing to shell out £3.5M on McKenna, why the hell were we penny-pinching with John McGinn who was valued at even less? This all makes about as much sense as turning down £9M for Boyata.

Either the media are making more excrement up than usual or we are just destined to shoot ourselves in the foot. There comes a point when you must have a look at what you are doing.

A player of McKenna’s relative inexperience is not worth the sort of money Aberdeen are rejecting. I mean what do they want £5M? £7M? £10M?

Don’t give me this 4 Scotland caps nonsense. Alex McLeish is in charge!

Celtic bought a Brazilian defender on the back of 3 international appearances and the guy was never even scouted. We all know how that cash-for-caps fiasco turned out so I’d be inclined not to spunk several million on an “international footballer” for a country where just about anyone can get a game.

Even if McKenna turned out to be as good as Virgil van Dijk, that’s a lot of money Celtic would be putting up. At 21 this guy needs experience in Europe and a run in the team, but not for this kind of money.

When it comes to playing  against top opposition you need quality players. Right now we’re beginning to make the Stephen McManus and Gary Caldwell look like Puyol and Pique.

Tomorrow we are away to FK Suduva. We humped them 16 years ago over two legs on our way to Seville.

Right now I’d be happy with a clean sheet and a second sighting of Marvin Compper in the Hoops.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac