Tough at the top

Celtic reclaimed top spot in the Scottish Premiership after a feisty meeting with Livingston on Sunday lunchtime. There were no goals in this game, but enough meat on the bones to get your teeth into.

It was a very physical match. Some of the challenges might suggest a bit too physical at times by the home side.

When Celtic get into their stride, getting physical with them is sometimes the only answer an opponent has. Livingston gave a very good account of themselves, but they also got away with a few incidents.

Dedryck Boyata had a few challenges come his way. Mikael Lustig was another.

Perhaps the most significant incident was the headbutt Dolly Menga placed on Ryan Christie during a corner. A replay of the incident clearly shows the Livingston player make deliberate and significant contact.

By the letter of the laws of the game, it is violent conduct. There is no area of doubt whatsoever.

Whatever the SFA decide to do it should be a lengthy ban. Credit should also be awarded to Christie for not making a meal of it.

Menga was not short of putting himself about in that game. Although the BBC’s Brian McLauchlin chose to credit the Angolan as being “more like a £9M striker than Odsonne Edouard” on this game’s evidence.

I wonder, Brian, was it a £9M pound headbutt as well? Be sure to include that in your next article please.

Another unfortunate incident was the injury to Kris Ajer. The young Norwegian retook his place in defence at the expense of Filip Benkovic.

He continued his fine form as a ball playing central defender right up to the point he got a knock to his face. The result appears to be a broken eye socket which will require surgery and a lengthy lay off.

It’s another blow for Celtic on the injury front, but one they must soak up. As we have seen over the recent weeks, we require everyone to dig deep and apply themselves.

I want to give credit to Livingston for putting up a good fight but they were also being overly physical. Celtic may have been a bit battle weary from Thursday’s encounter with Leipzig, but the main thing was we didn’t lose this one and it has taken us to the top of the league for the first time this season.

Now we have a challenge to remain there no matter what problems we may face along the way. I’m sure that game at hand will come in handy as well.

All about being at the top.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am still buzzing from Thursday night. We invest a lot as football supporters and for passionate Celtic supporters we probably go that bit further.

The team’s physical and spiritual transformation in recent weeks allowed us to get that result against Leipzig. This could be the making of Celtic’s season.

Players are evolving into strong or stronger characters. Taking their place as key contributors in this squad.

There is a shift within the team which is beginning reshape the way we look and feel altogether. A team without Scott Brown as the anchor man was unthinkable.

Since he got injured, enforced changes have been a blessing of sorts. The club captain is an important figure in this side and with the fans.

The rest of the team has shown that they can perform without him. Even though he is in the final year of his current contract, I don’t think that necessarily spells the end of Broony.

It is encouraging though that we are beginning to see the talent in this squad shine. Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Kieran Tierney, Filip Benkovic, Kris Ajer, Tom Rogic, Odsonne Edouard, Oliver Ntcham and now Ryan Christie have all been exceptional under Brendan Rodgers this season.

Benkovic aside, all of these guys have long-term futures at the club, with Ntcham the latest to pen a new deal. Christie could well be the next to agree new terms, following his recent rise in popularity.

I also hope to see more of Lewis Morgan. He looks to be a sound investment and could have a key part to play as the season progresses.

Of course, Brendan will still be counting on the contribution of maturer players in the team. They have as big a part to play, but the future is bright with the young talent we have at our disposal.

And so onto today’s lunchtime meeting with Livingston. The West Lothian club started off this campaign strongly, but their form has taken a bit of a battering of late, losing their last two games.

What won’t help them today is that Celtic’s form of late has been devastating. They lost the first game of the season 3-1 at Celtic Park and defeat today be three straight losses.

Despite having dropped to 8th in the league, they are still only 8 points off the top spot with two games at hand over Hearts. So there is an incentive for them to claw themselves back up the league again.

The incentive for Celtic is not only about maintain their own form. A win today (or a draw for that matter) would put them back on top of the league.

Hearts lost at home to Kilmarnock yesterday and now have the same form (2 wins, 2 defeats, 1 draw) in their last five games as Livingston. Should Celtic get the right result today and retake their place at the top of the Scottish Premiership, I don’t expect to see the Hoops shift.

Celtic are firing on all cylinders right now and the momentum is building. Nobody will want to give up their place in the team whilst others will be champing at the bit to be involved.

This is a good period for Celtic. You can feel the difference.

Long may it continue. Next stop, Almondvale Stadium.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Belief…

Last night, Celtic had to shine. And shine they did.

They didn’t have it all their way of course. Progress comes in stages.

Celtic had to weather the Leipzig storm on more than one occasion. This was, to a certain extent, the making of the Hoops though.

Having been pressed by the visitors for the opening 10 minutes, Celtic responded by scoring the opening goal in the 11th minute. And in the 78th minute Celtic conceded an equaliser only to go up the other end of the park and score the winner in the 79th minute.

This was a demonstration of character, determination with mental and physical strength at the heart of everything they did. Apparently this is a weaker Celtic team than last season.

Right now I’d say this group of players are showing attributes of a strong Celtic side. Last night they rose to the challenge.

Kieran Tierney scored the opening goal which was a key part in him winning man-of-the-match. However, Callum McGregor was a phenomenal presence, covering every blade of grass and was perhaps every bit as good if not better.

Leipzig found the net themselves much later on. A perfectly weighted cross was poorly defended by Mikael Lustig, a constant weak link on the night, and was hammered home by Jean-Kevin Augustin.

As was evident throughout this match, Celtic were not dead. 15 seconds after the restart, Celtic put together a passing move from the centre spot which resulted in a match winner, courtesy of Odsonne Edouard.

It was a euphoric moment. Celtic never seem to bounce back from these type of setbacks, but they did last night.

Even when Leipzig later slapped the woodwork the team dug deep. The belief we saw from the Hoops was encouraging and rewarding.

Celtic’s only weak links came in the form of vice-captain Lustig and Scott Sinclair. Sinclair didn’t start to badly, but as pointed out by a friend, Sinclair goes into his shell when something goes wrong for him and he did.

Lustig’s performance was somewhat different. He was getting roasted down Leipzig’s left flank and failed to cope with everything that came his way.

Next season Celtic will have to invest in that area. It is unlikely the Swede will be given a new contract or at least one that means regular football.

Elsewhere on the field every player was tireless. This was exactly what we needed from the team.

Ryan Christie continued to impress un central midfield. He even outshone Tom Rogic on the night with his work rate.

James Forrest ran himself into the ground. Craig Gordon was dominant behind his defence which, Lustig aside, was convincing.

Odsonne Edouard grew into the game after a slow start. He just got better and better and capped things off with that winner.

The players should be proud of themselves. We now have a fighting chance of qualifying for the last 32.

There is still much work to be done in the remaining two matches. However, had we not won last night the party would be over.

This was a point Brendan Rodgers tried to batter home to BBC’s Jonathan Sutherland. The Sportscene presenter chose to reflect on the negative instead.

It was Celtic’s night though and they should enjoy the moment. They rose to the challenge and got the result.

We build on that and face the next task. Away to Livingston at lunchtime on Sunday.

Well done Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Shine…

Now is the time for Celtic to shine in Europe under Brendan Rodgers. The majority of this team have had plenty of high-profile European matches under their belt now.

That sort of exposure counts as experience. Others know the continental game because well, that is where they are from.

So what is holding us back? Self belief? Confidence? Communication? Tactics? Quality?

Probably a bit of everything and a different times. Right now though, Celtic are playing well, domestically at least.

To perform on the bigger stage requires more. More from everyone involved.

It isn’t simply about spending money on the best players out there. It is about developing your own talent and creating a team that can execute orders together.

Just because Callum McGregor was born, raised and developed as a player in Scotland doesn’t mean he isn’t as good as someone at Barcelona, Juventus or Bayern Munich. It only means a player in one of those teams benefited from the system of development in that country and club.

In fact I would argue that our versatile midfielder would be comfortable in any of those teams mentioned. The point I am trying to make is that we often mention that it is the gulf in finances that holds us back.

Certainly, that is the conclusion with some clubs, but not all of them. Are Leipzig and Salzburg really that much better than Celtic?

Is it really impossible to beat these teams? I’m not buying that.

When we play the cream of Europe – and I mean the “cream” – then I recognise the gulf. When you are playing a team who undoubtedly have the best players money can buy then the odds are stacked against you.

We’ve played the best in recent years and been put to the sword. But we’re not playing the best in this group nor did we exit the Champions League at the hands of the best.

Celtic have lost those matches because they didn’t play well enough. There is little wrong with the talent we have right now.

Leipzig paid close to £40M on three players during the summer. We spent less than a quarter of that on one player for the first time in our history.

That demonstration of spending power comes from investment or reinvestment. You can only put in what you are hopeful of getting back and to be honest, Leipzig sold Naby Keita to Liverpool for over £50M so they aren’t necessarily richer.

Celtic are still developing as a club in this type of market by buying “cheap” to sell on for more. Scotland is a hard sell to overseas players, but we are fortunate enough to tick a lot of boxes for players looking to develop their careers.

For Celtic to get anything out of the Odsonne Edouard purchase, he has to score in big games and help the team progress. He has done wel thus far, but he has more to do before he becomes a profitable player.

One day he is sure to make way for the next star, the way Moussa Dembele has for him. That is our market.

To get back to the main point though – money. More money can increase your options, but it doesn’t always buy success.

By comparison our Europa League group leaders, Salzburg, spent just over £10M this summer. In return they received almost £50M in sales.

So are these clubs richer than Celtic? Or is it just a better market place in Austria and Germany?

For clubs like Salzburg and Leipzig they are not too different from Celtic. They buy to sell and generate some of their income that way though domestic TV revenue is better.

Potentially, Celtic are a bigger club but we are confined by the league standard and domestic TV revenue. We make our own major income through merchandise, season tickets, players resales and European TV money.

On our day we can still beat teams in Europe. When we do not it isn’t necessarily because we aren’t spending the same sort of money.

Yes, you need the right personnel, but it is also about belief in your abilities. That must come from every player and coach at the club.

Martin O’Neill once said his Celtic team were punching above their weight. He was right about that to a certain degree, but he also had one of the best Celtic teams in history.

It is not out with the realms of possibility for this Celtic squad to go further. The evidence is there, but every single player needs to have the confidence, belief and conviction with everything that they do.

To be blown away by the likes of Barcelona and PSG in the last two seasons was tough especially when you are trying to progress as a team under new management. Those were setbacks however, we are not playing those teams right now.

Celtic Park is our turf and it is time to shine at home. It is time to believe in ourselves and our ability to win.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Can Celtic carry their domestic form into Europe?

 

It’s been a week since I published anything and during that time a number of things have happened on planet Celtic. Last Wednesday, Celtic wiped the floor with Dundee at Dens Park.

The Hoops destroyed the bottom club 0-5 in a rare full midweek domestic card. Five different scorers provided the goals in that game to continue Celtic’s blistering form including the rise of Ryan Christie and a more positive looking Scott Sinclair.

The sad news from that game came in the form of another injury. Having waited two-and-a-half months to make his first team debut, the player came on as substitute.

He was lively and making his presence known until he got his studs stuck in the grass and twisted his knee. The Australian international will take no further part in this season.

Whilst Celtic were humping Dundee at Dens Park, Hearts were struggling to score against Hibs at Tynecastle. The Edinburgh derby remained a stalemate, even with Hibs down to ten men for a third of the match.

That game was not without incident though. As Hibs manager, Neil Lennon, found out to his own personal cost.

Once again he was the victim of abuse by a Hearts fan. Once again, he was attacked by Scottish football.

The ugliness of our game north of the border appears to be alarmingly comfortable with its hatred toward the ex-Celtic player and manager. It served as a sad reminder of how troubled Scottish football still is.

It also served as a reminder to what sort of club Hearts are. Their fans are vile.

Even when sitting atop the League for as long as they have, they can’t conduct themselves in a decent manner. They contain a proportion of subhuman scum of the highest order.

Last Saturday Celtic hosted the table-toppers at Celtic Park. It was only the previous weekend that Brendan Rodgers’ Hoops put Craig Levein’s Jambos to the sword in the League Cup Semi Final with a 0-3 victory at Murrayfield.

The upturn in performances by Celtic continued at Celtic Park with a 5-0 slaughtering of the visitors. To say the scoreline flattered Hearts would be an understatement.

Celtic were emphatic. It could have been more.

The tide is turning in the league. Hearts are losing momentum and Celtic are gaining some.

To see the Edinburgh club stumble three times in three games gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. “Natural order”, as Craig Levein likes to put it, will soon be restored when Celtic take their place at the top of the Scottish Premiership again.

The way in which Celtic are performing in domestic football right now has not been seen for some time. Perhaps not since Brendan Rodgers’ first season in charge.

Celtic progressed through last season with some very unconvincing performances. They still won a treble of course, though it was anything but pretty.

This season was looking like a good advert for Scottish football with the top six slugging it out. It is difficult to back that up when one man continues to be abused left, right and centre.

Even the social media reaction to him being hit by a coin at Tynecastle was disgusting. You even had pundits like Gary Caldwell saying “he doesn’t help himself.”

An outrageous statement to make by an ex-Celt. Not the first time we’ve heard that from a pundit.

It seems to be the default stance by many. What a despicable crowd we serve.

For those that say “he brings it on himself”, is that really a valid argument? Are you saying that he deserves to be coined or verbally and physically abused?

This is old ground we’re covering. The football authorities do nothing about it.

The failed Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 is evidence of that. This was a law so flawed it failed to prevent or protect anyone and was repealed.

So concerning is this latest attack on Lennon that I find myself talking about it in the midst of a great period for Celtic. When will Scottish football grow a pair of balls and hammer the culprits?

Having scored 13 goals now without reply, Celtic have now come full circle. They last conceded against RB Leipzig, losing in Germany 2-0.

Two weeks on, Celtic have the chance to carry their domestic form into Europe. Leipzig will be in Glasgow tomorrow night for a crucial tie with Celtic.

Are they a better team than Celtic? You would have to say that they are because they are ranked higher by UEFA, play in a superior domestic league and have gone further in Europe as recently as last season.

That doesn’t mean Celtic cannot beat them though. Celtic lost sloppy goals in Germany and not for the first time.

Winning over there has never been achieved. Celtic can take the game to them in Glasgow and get a result though.

The emphasis on this fixture is one of make-or-break. Celtic have 3 points from 3 games and are 3 points behind Leipzig.

Salzburg are expected to win the group, so it will be between the Scottish Champions and last season 6th placed team from the Bundesliga.

It’s a remarkable rise for Leipzig who have come from the lower leagues. Of course, that has not been without the financial backing and business acumen of several faces at Red Bull.

There has already been a separate debate about Red Bull’s interest with more than one club and the amendments made for them to continue in German football. That isn’t a matter I want to get into though as Celtic only have one goal here – to win.

Leipzig are no unbeatable. Celtic on the other hand will have to be at their best to get a win.

European performances so far this season have been poor. A narrow home win over Rosenborg back in September was followed by a second half capitulation in Austria when Celtic threw away a 0-1 lead over Salzburg to lose 3-1.

Whilst we were no better in Germany, Celtic can make amends in Glasgow. A win puts us on level pegging with one away game to Rosenborg and a final home game against Salzburg who by that time should have secured the winners spot.

To make the last 32 would be a great boost for everyone. Especially after such an awful transfer summer.

The players are working hard and getting results. We are seeing the team in their best form in a long time.

I hope to continue writing positive things after tomorrow nights match.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Today Celtic released a statement on the further conviction of Jim Torbett, who founded the Celtic Boys Club in the 1960’s. Whilst justice has been served on this deviant for the acts that he committed, many still wish to bombard Celtic Football Club for their association and relative inaction.

From time-to-time you hear the chatter from across the city accusing key figures at the Celtic for not taking action or falling silent on the matter. It is entirely possible that those who were running the club back then and in the years that followed did not handle the matter appropriately.

Indeed it is also possible that some were asked or told to remain silent on the incidents that took place. You could even argue that the magnitude of the matter may not even have been known to those at the club.

However, that does not disregard the fact that it was a despicable and horrific series of acts carried out by this man. The victims and their families are the ones who have suffered here.

I hope that the justice served provides some form of closure to the victims. As mentioned in the club’s statement, this type of historical act has plagued society in many of our sports, social and working groups for too long.

Sadly, this type of thing still happens today. To utilise this, as many have across the city, to bait the Celtic community as a form of banter or rivalry is equally as sick as the crime itself.

This does not help the victims. It only disrespects them.