Warning signs

Sunday’s result at Celtic Park has been coming for while now. The warning signs have been visible in this and other Celtic fixtures.

The big question for Celtic now is what are they prepared do about it? Everyone is accountable so nothing can be left to chance.

So many of our players looked off the boil. That has been evident in the weeks building up to this game.

Is it fatigue? A lack of hunger?

Neil Lennon must have some inkling. He’s not entirely blameless himself because for the last two games against Gerrard he has been dominated.

Celtic stole the League Cup and that should have been a huge signifier for him. I didn’t expect Celtic to lose at Celtic Park, but now Gerrard can score that one off his list of things to do.

You saw the joy on his face at winning on our turf. It’s a hurdle cleared and now gives his side a chance to go a point clear when they finally take on that game at hand in the new year.

Of course, to do that Lennon and Gerrard will both have to hit the ground running when the season resumes on 18th January. That will be the Scottish Cup, so league duties will not get underway again until 22nd January.

What Celtic have to achieve in this window could have a huge impact on the rest of the season. The coaching team have to identify what has made the players so flat lately and get us back to where we were.

I agree that additional personnel will be welcome, but you don’t necessarily solve a team problem by throwing more players at it. The players have be playing competitive football non-stop since 9th July and so have Gerrard’s.

So fatigue shouldn’t really be a factor in this debate? Is it simply just that our rivals wanted it more than us?

I’d hate to think we are getting complacent. If it isn’t that then I’m running out of ideas as to what it can be.

Whatever it is, Celtic have a couple of weeks to identify it and work the problem. If the league comes down to these matches between Lennon and Gerrard then the indication is that Gerrard will win based on the last two encounters.

We’ve had more than enough warning. Now show us you’re going to do something about it, Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The end of the year is nigh…

Celtic’s final game of 2019 is here. Today, there is an opportunity.

A year ago to the day, Celtic were heading to Ibrox, under the management of Neil Lennon’s predecessor. We all know the outcome of that match and could offer a variety of reasons as to why it occurred.

As it turned out, that season was riddled with simmering, underlying issues. In the end it culminated in a calculated, mid-season departure by the man how now sits in the Leicester City hot seat.

That is now all history of course. Neil stepped in, in our time of need thanks to his departure from Hibernian weeks earlier.

This rather convenient opportunity was ideal back in February though not the name on everyone’s lips as we approached the summer. In the end, those of us who doubted his appointment, myself included, were wrong because now we have a team of fighters.

The summer didn’t inspire many with prompt signings and an exit from the Champions League, which continued the idea that Lennon was not the right choice. Now, look at what has be born out of those set

Five points ahead in the league of our rivals with an opportunity to make it eight today. League Cup winners and qualified for the last 32 by finishing top of our Europa League group.

Our gap in the league is small, but one that keeps us in front. In fairness to Gerrard, he has improved the team he took over eighteen months ago and has stayed on our heels this season.

In some matches against us, Gerrard’s players have been wasteful. Though last season, won both games at Ibrox and ended 2018 on the same points as us thanks to the win at Ibrox.

He would have been looking for the same if not better this season, but so far he has lost at Ibrox and Hampden against Celtic. At Celtic Park today every attempt will be made to halt this Neil Lennon Celtic side.

What Celtic do today will set the tone for the rest of the campaign. There’s no doubt that we have the advantage of being the home side, but how Celtic play today will also be of interest.

Allow Gerrard’s team to play or dish out some of our best football? I recall Celtic going out all guns blazing during the years of Ibrox dominance, but now that shoe is on the other foot.

We are in the driving seat. We are the Champions and it’s ours to lose.

Now is the time to demonstrate our strengths. Let’s end the year on a high, Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The next three games are ours to lose…

Celtic have been ploughing through a hectic schedule of matches since late November with relative success. It has seen Neil Lennon’s side approach a sequence of two games a week in European and domestic arenas for a period that will last five weeks, having dealt with everything that has been thrown at them in the process so far.

Before this run got under way, Celtic had already qualified for the last 32 in the Europa League having beaten Lazio home and away, but they still had to entertain Stade Rennais, travel to Romania, play in the League Cup Final and defend their position at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

Just to make things that little bit more challenging, there have been a number of injuries to key players in the squad. Whilst the club do benefit from a larger pool of talented players than most in Scotland, the injuries have meant not having some of our best players to call upon.

It is all part of the game of course, but even some of our back up players haven’t been available or at the very least, not sharp enough. This was evident in the usage of Lewis Morgan at centre forward, something he took a lot of flack for.

I can only imagine it is his appetite and application in training that has caused him to be selected ahead of guys like Leigh Griffiths, Vakoun Bayo or even Scott Sinclair who has played there himself in the past and must desperate for some action. You can’t fault Morgan for being given the chance to play up front though because ultimately it is the manager’s decision to play him there.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t surprised to see him play in that role, but it deos appear it was something they were doing in training. I don’t mind experiments if they pay off and to be fair he has scored in that position, but long term I’d rather see a proper back up striker from the two that we do have.

I don’t agree that Morgan isn’t a good footballer as many have said though. I do think we have yet to find out where his best position is and if we can make it work for him.

Thankfully, we have Odsonne Edouard back in contention and although he was a little unlucky not to score midweek at Tynecastle, he did a lot of the dirty work and in awful conditions. Winning matches on surfaces like that are crucial and to be fair to Neil Lennon his team have not slipped up since the defeat to Livingston back on 6th October.

That’s eleven domestic games undefeated including semi-final and final victories in the League Cup. If Celtic hadn’t lost to Cluj in the final group phase match of the Europa League they would have been looking at a fifteen game unbeaten run to date.

To be fair, that game out in Romania was meaningless in that we had already qualified and topped the group with two games and one game to spare respectively. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have tried to win it, but when you have a crazy run in of matches such as the oen we are in and with an injury list the size of ours, this was a game I was happy to forfeit as did Scott Brown when he got himself booked against Stade Rennais to miss the final match.

We had just won the League Cup prior to the Cluj game and then we had to face Hibernian to maintain the gap in the league. Arguably two more important games to us than the Cluj one and Celtic have dealt with those both of those matters.

There was a lot of doubt about Neil Lennon being appointed during the summer after stepping in as interim head coach in February to steer Celtic home to a treble treble and eighth successful league title. Much was made about the club’s slow paced moves in the summer transfer market, early form or absence of new players and subsequent exit from the Champions League at the hands of a team who we ended up facing in the Europa League.

All of these doubts, some of which came from the media, some by our own fans and some even relevant, have all been answered thus far by a calmer version of Neil Lennon and his players. He is a seasoned player and manager for this club and has endured arguable more than any other single Celtic professional ever has done in history, both on and off the field.

Look at this team now and how they conduct themselves. They have a demonstrated strong character and will to win regardless of the circumstances.

This has been built up over years of course and every manager that has been involved in the club’s current run of success has played a part in that. Neil Lennon was the beginning of that and after two successors he is continuing that in a new generation.

Things have changed behind the scenes since Neil was last in charge and he has only benefited from it. Injuries aside, Celtic have players in better condition thanks to the change of culture within the club.

Our recruitment for this term has been very good too. We have a strong squad and it will only get stronger.

The break in January will be a welcome one for the squad and with three games to go until then, the focus remains on winning. A home game against Aberdeen today will be an interesting encounter and an even more important result if we can keep up that winning run.

Steven Gerrard’s side are keeping up their fight having won against Hibernian last night. If Celtic can maintain this unbeaten run they will finish the year with a solid gap.

After today they are away to St Mirren on Boxing day and finally at home to Gerrard’s side next Sunday. It’s a critical time in the league for Celtic.

They have momentum, but every team wants to disrupt the flow. Aberdeen will attempt to do so today, St Mirren might fancy a festive disruption on their own turf and the Ibrox club will make a third attempt this season to beat Celtic.

We just have to remain composed over these next eight days and see out 2019 on a high. It’s ours to lose.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac