It could be all change in the Scottish Premiership this weekend

Celtic welcome Hibs to Celtic Park on Saturday in a 3pm kick off as the domestic campaign resumes. It will be the first time the teams have met this season and both will fancy a victory.

Despite Celtic’s slow and sluggish start to the season, they appeared to be getting into their stride just as the international break approached. Hibs have been in good form since the season kicked off, but they are only one point ahead of Celtic right now.

With Hearts still topping the table, and at home to Aberdeen who are languishing in 7th place, they have a chance to increase their lead. However, if results went against both Edinburgh clubs, Celtic could claim top spot on goal difference.

Kilmarnock are also in this fight and on the same points as Celtic. They are away to St Mirren and will be motivated against the Paisley club who have so far managed just one win and one draw from eight games.

A point below the Ayrshire club are Livingston who are at home to Dundee. The Lothian club have also started off brightly and a victory over the bottom side, who just sacked manager Neil McCann, would keep them in with the top half of the league.

On Sunday, Rangers are away to Hamilton and will be battling to stay with that group as well. Steven Gerrard’s side are sixth in the league, but only five points off the top spot over all.

If things go their way, they will remain ahead of Aberdeen regardless of the result at Tynecastle. So far, the season has not been dull nor does it look like changing anytime soon.

You could argue that Celtic’s stuttering start has contributed to the competitive nature. In fairness to the other clubs though they are where they are right now on merit.

As much as it pains me to say it, Hearts have set the pace. Hibs are the highest scorers in the league so far with Rangers a close second.

Three clubs (Hearts, Hibs and Livi) have lost just one of the eight games played and four clubs (Celtic, Kilmarnock, Rangers and Aberdeen) have lost just two games. Celtic have the meanest defence with only four goals conceded but they have the third highest goal difference behind Hibs and Rangers.

After this weekend it could all look very different though. Those clubs who had a lot of players on international duty will be assessing fitness before selecting their matchday squads.

For most Scottish clubs the majority of their players will have been taking a break. Ten players from clubs outside of the country made up this Scotland squad whilst the other fifteen play in Scotland’s top flight.

Celtic were the biggest contributor to the national squad with seven players. Aberdeen provided four, with Hearts providing two and the remaining two home based players coming from Kilmarnock and Rangers.

Not everyone got game time or had a positive experience. It was far from a happy camp.

With internationals behind us – until November – we can focus on the league again. Other first team players will be returning from international duty be it at senior team or under age level.

Tom Rogic, Daniel Arzani, Mikael Lustig, Emilio Izaguirre, Cristian Gamboa, Dedryck Boyata are amongst the other players who were away on international duty. Filip Benkovic, Lewis Morgan and Olivier Ntcham turned out for their respective under-21 national sides.

So very few of Celtic’s team actually got a rest. Weary from their travels or not, the focus turns to Hibs.

This could be a great game. There haven’t been too many dull encounters between Rodgers and Lennon.

There could be opportunities for players not away on international duty to get a starting place. However, Brendan will not want to experiment too much against a form side such as Hibs.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Advertisements

Another couple of nails in the coffin for McLeish. Another couple of quid towards the tax man.

Alex McLeish will not survive the Nations League campaign. The tax cheat and has-been manager is currently faltering in his second spell as Scotland manager.

Poor team selections and tactics has meant poor results. And it’s never a good sign when some of the best players available to you are walking away for one reason or another.

Player extractions are not uncommon on the international scene. However, the manner and frequency tend to stand for more in that environment.

I’ve made myself clear that although I am a Scotland supporter that I would not follow the national side under McLeish’s reign. I’d follow Malky Mackay before him and he’s not the exactly football’s best role model either.

In fact you have to wonder about the type of characters that are on the SFA’s agenda these days. Following Gordon Strachan’s departure, the governing body struggled to appoint a candidate.

Michael O’Neill turned down the job. Though he’d have been off his head to take it anyway.

Even though Mackay, already Performance Director at the SFA, took up the reigns temporarily, he was not given the role on a permanent basis. Nothing to suggest he wouldn’t step in again if McLeish were to leave abruptly.

And when might that be do we think? Well, I certainly don’t think McLeish has the kind of support he had when he was still a credible manager.

His career has taken a nosedive since his days at Birmingham City. Ironically, the job he chose over remaining Scotland manager first time around.

It was that departure that left a bad taste in the mouth of many, myself included. He had done a good job in his ten games in charge of Scotland back then having won seven and lost three.

Many felt he was still the man to lead Scotland on their next qualifying campaign. Though he chose the bright lights of the Premier League instead.

Almost a decade later his return to Hampden filled me with anger. Not just because he jumped ship so quickly first time around, but coming back when his stock is even lower.

The fact that both he and members of the SFA were complicit in the whole EBT fiasco, rile me further. So it pleases me to see him falter as Scotland manager this time around because he’ll be out on his ear with any luck.

Whatever skills he had before, have deserted him now. His reputation is not the standard required to manage Scotland’s best and brightest players of which there are a decent number these days.

McLeish has failed to demonstrate in the eight games he has managed thus far that he is still capable. He’s won just two of those, having lost the other six.

If still in post, he will oversee Scotland’s two final Group C1 games away to Albania and home to Israel next month. Depending on how that turns out may determine whether he stays on or the SFA look for another candidate before the next challenge comes up for Scotland.

I honestly don’t think he has the stomach to see it out. Though he does have that huge tax bill hanging over him.

I doubt the Scotland salary would cover it though. I doubt it’d even cover half of it.

Does that mean he’ll stick around for a bit longer then? I can’t see it being f he keeps going like this and it may not be up to him either.

I fully expect someone else by 2019. Right now the options are limited, at least in terms of leadership.
There are some excellent Scottish coaches. Just not enough figureheads to unite the team and lead.

The Scotland manager would most likely need to be Scottish. It isn’t the sort of job many non-Scots would rush to.

A suitable manager would have to galvanise the squad for the short period of time they spend together. As a player you would have to want to play for that manager and be motivated by them.

In the current football climate, who would your ideal coaching team consist of? Home grown, foreign or a mix of both?

I wouldn’t wish any person to lose their job. With McLeish I’m willing to make an allowance.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Forrest on fire

After a disappointing trip to Salzburg last week, Celtic made their second visit McDiarmid Park in less than two weeks. Having beaten St Johnstone 0-1 in the League Cup, a common scoreline for Celtic this season, there was always the possibility that they could stumble after a second half capitulation in Austria on Thursday night.

What occurred couldn’t have been further from that. Celtic were on fire and in particular, one player.

Whatever went wrong in Salzburg Brendan and the Bhoys shrugged it off, but they will need to resolve those issues before the next Europa League match. However, Celtic exorcised that defeat with a scintillating victory in Perth on Sunday afternoon.

I had mixed feelings about this game and came close to not catching it on TV at all. Well, I’m glad that the way my day panned out that I did.

Once Celtic got into their stride, they were ruthless. Those players who have been less than impressive so far this season looked to have shrugged off the shackles of poor form.

We’ll talk about the man-of-the-match in a moment. There is cause to mention a few others first.

Looking sharp again was Tom Rogic. The Aussie international has looked short of…well everything this season.

It could well be that he had never fully recovered from his World Cup ventures. He was back to his best on Sunday and that is great news for Brendan Rodgers.

That creativity has been sorely missing from the team. Now the Wizard of Oz back on form.

Another player looking back to his effervescent self again was Callum McGregor. Usually a reliable and versatile player, he has also been off the boil.

Against St Johnstone it looked as though he had found his rhythm again. Callum is a tireless player with a tremendous work rate.

He maintained that throughout this game and even scored the final goal of the game to complete the 0-6 rout. This could be a key turning point for his season.

Although not so much off the boil, Odsonne Edouard has been posted missing during some matches. Well, he wasn’t hiding in this one as he put himself about.

He played wide left allowing Leigh Griffiths to play as the target man. However, it was Edouard who got on the score sheet.

The Frenchman killed a fierce square ball from Kieran Tierney with his right foot. He let it drop and bounce once before smashing it home with his left foot, just inside the penalty area to score the second goal of the game.

It was a fine goal from the £9M player. He’d been involved throughout the game, but his goal was superb.

Captain for the second game in a row, Mikael Lustig, also had a good match. He is definitely a player who divides the opinion amongst the support.

There are a lot of fans who would rather see Cristian Gamboa or Anthony Ralston over Lustig. Brendan has persevered with the Swedish international yet again this season despite the early promise of forgotten man, Gamboa, during the summer.

On his day, Lustig is a good player. He has bags of experience, but at times can look a little leggy and off the pace.

Occasionally, he can stand up and take the game to the opposition, making runs down the right, whipping in crosses and even bagging a goal for himself. However, there are times when he is under pressure from the opposition and has been found out which is where some of the fans lose their patience with him.

I’m on the fence to be quite honest. I think he’s a good player who enjoys playing for Centric and despite having injury troubles over the years has been a valuable player.

On Sunday he played like a captain should. Always involved and influencing others.

That is not to say that there aren’t others in the team capable of doing so or better. We’ve already seen Kieran Tierney wear the armband and show his influence.

On the subject of influence, I come to the man-of-the-match, James Forrest. This was the game of his life.

James has been at the club since he was 11 years old. He broke into the Celtic team at the age of 18 under then caretaker manager, Neil Lennon.

Following the permanent appointment of Lennon, Forrest became an integral part of his squad. There were always two things that held James back though – inconsistent form and regular injuries.

On his day James was capable of terrifying the opposition with his direct play and eye for goal. When injury or form struck, Celtic would often be left without someone to step up and perform in that position.

Under Brendan Rodgers, James has found both the form and the fitness that has made him the player we all knew he was. We just hadn’t been seeing enough of it.

On Sunday against St Johnstone he was devastating. In a demolition of the Perthshire club, he scored four of the goals himself.

Maturity is doing all the right things for James. He’s in his ninth full season of first team football at the club, just signed a new contract and still only 27 years old.

Whilst we mourned the loss of Paddy Roberts, James Forrest has seized the role for himself. He was at the centre of everything against St Johnstone.

Not just on the attack. James was tracking back as well.

The goals he scored were all things of beauty. Great interplay with team mates and individuality saw off the opposition.

I felt that last season he was unlucky not to get player of the year which went to his team-mate and club captain, Scott Brown. If James keeps this form up for the rest of the season he might just take all of the plaudits for himself.

At a time when Celtic need to pick up the pace, James has taken the initiative. Let’s hope that continues for rest of this season at home and abroad.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Far from the Madden Crowd

“Here Dermot. Is that a Sellick scarf?”

It didn’t take long for Dermot Gallagher to call out another Scottish referee. The former FA referee, now a pundit on Sky, was quite frank when he said “…it would be easier to give a penalty there than not to be honest.”

Incompetent? Conspiracy? Inconsistent? Honest mistake?

Some of the words we use to describe our match officials in Scotland. Every league in the world likes to have a go at the officials.

Do Scotland have some of the worst though? It certainly isn’t a profession I’d want to get into in general but in Scotland they do seem to be particularly abysmal.

You’d have to be off your head to be one. It’s right up there with parking attendants.

What sort of person would you have to be to stand there and take the flack (and sometimes abuse) for your on the spot decisions? Regardless of whether you are right or wrong!

We’ve seen the scale of incompetence within the SFA’s officials over the years. There has also been the controversial and conspiratorial side.

Very often we talk about the officials having it in for Celtic. They might, they might not.

Maybe there is an agenda is certain matches. I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.

This is Scottish football after all and we know just how badly it is governed. So for Gallagher (clearly a Tim, right?) to come out and say Madden got it totally wrong is another nail in the coffin of the SFA’s men in black.

It doesn’t all go Celtic’s way on Sky right enough. We don’t even need former Rangers players to have a go at us – we’ve got our very own!

Kris Commons has been making a name for himself as a pundit – not a very good one. However, it is Soccer Special’s Charlie Nicholas who has decided to chime in now.

He’s now claiming Brendan Rodgers will be gone in January. Now, as I said in yesterday’s blog, there was a similar opinion from the ByTheMinute Celtic podcast last week that Brendan would be gone by the end of the season if not January.

I’m not in that camp and I don’t know where Charlie is getting his information from. He’s either just listened to this podcast or has an inside man at Celtic Park.

To be honest, Nicholas has about as much credibility amongst the Celtic fans as the Orange Walk do, so I doubt he has an inside man at all. Based upon that, I will assume he’s just listened to the podcast and agreed.

Sky pundits and presenters are regularly in the crosshairs of Celtic fans, with Hayley McQueen getting it in the ear over the weekend for the negative coverage of Celtic on the backdrop of a Rangers defeat. So it’s refreshing to hear Dermot Gallagher come out and say that Scott McKenna’s scissor tackle on Odsonne Edouard was wrongly dealt with.

Not that we really needed that insight to be honest as we all have eyes of our own, even if Madden doesn’t. Still, got to take everything you can in the media these days.

Some decisions in general within the Scottish game of late have been very bizarre. It doesn’t matter if it is before (League Cup semi-final debacle), during (Collum, Madden, take your pick!) or after a game (the Allan McGregor panel decision), Scottish football is well and truly screwed.

It’s just as well we’re in control of our own destiny, right? Right?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

 

Is the season beginning to swing?

Hearts may still sit atop the Scottish Premiership, but the landscape around them is ever-changing. The ideal start can do you a huge amount of good, but your best challenger having the worst possible start can help you even further.

What then if that competitor turns things around? Starts getting their house in order?

Well, it’s too soon to tell. If the late winner away to St Johnstone in the League Cup and resilient home victory over Aberdeen in the league are anything to go by then Celtic might just have their mojo back.

By no means is Brendan Rodgers and his squad out of the woods though. The challenge remains closing the early points gap created by Craig Levein’s side.

Cup competitions are also on that list of tasks with Hearts their next opponent in the League Cup. And Celtic will want to remain in all competitions for as long as possible.

Perhaps the one area that has been hit hardest is Europe. The Champions League has provided stern tests and financial reward for the last two seasons, but that’s out of the picture for now.

The Europa League is on the menu until Christmas and there is work to be done. Celtic travel to Salzburg for matchday two in Group B.

Salzburg top the group with Celtic on 3 points having both won their opening matches. Celtic made heavy weather of their tie with Rosenborg whilst Salzburg battled it out with Leipzig.

The Austrian Red Bull team emerged as victors over their German Red Bull counterparts. Much has been made of the relationship between these two clubs and the conflict of interests.

Conflict of interests aside, Celtic have one task when taking on these teams. To get a result.

With both Red Bull clubs having progressed well in the Europa League last season the task is daunting. But the improvement on the field during the last 135 minutes of play by Celtic might just be timely.

Whist we can say that the team has lost some individuals from last season who in the past have been important to us, we have to move forward with what we have now. Forget January, it may be too late to do anything in that transfer window unless the current squad get their act together.

If we can continue the work rate that we saw during the second half against St Johnstone and the entire match against Aberdeen then we can build upon that. We still have injuries, we still have some players off the boil, but we also have some players yet to make their mark.

It will be a tall order to get any kind of result against Salzburg with or without our best form. Four years ago, Celtic drew 2-2 in Austria with Celtic’s goals provided by Mubarak Wakaso and Scott Brown.

There are a few survivors on from the squads that evening. Craig Gordon, Emilio Izaguirre, Callum McGregor, Nir Bitton and of course Broony were all in the squad that night.

Salzburg’s captain, Andreas Ulmer is still present along with Andre Ramalho Silva, Christoph Leitgeb and Alexander Walke who were also in their squad that evening. Only Bitton and Walke didn’t play that night.

Both teams of course are under new management, have each dropped out of the Champions League qualifying and now hoping to make progress in the Europa League. Salzburg have home advantage and Europa League semi-final place from last season to work off whilst Celtic finished third in their Champions League group and only went as far as the last 32 in the Europa League.

It’s a huge contrast but Celtic must try to make some impact. The income may not be as inviting as the Champions League but progression is equally, if not more important in this competition.

Has the season finally swung? We might just find out on Thursday night.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Page not found…?

This weekend, the ByTheMinute Celtic podcast came to my attention. It was posted on Friday, but I read a “transcript” from it over the weekend courtesy of the John James blog.

Having read that, I listened to the podcast for myself. However, the post “What’s Really Going On At Celtic” by John James, has since been removed from his blog site.

There might not be anything in that since the podcast itself remains online. The only thing I could suggest is that this transcript was inaccurate.

The podcast itself is hosted by Lawrence Donegan along with regular Remy McSwain. On the latest show they were joined by Harry Brady of the Celtic Underground.

The reason this podcast was of particular interest to me was that they not only discussed the events that took place over the summer. Harry Brady provided some insight to that period as well.

I don’t know Harry or any of the hosts personally. Harry made it clear how he gathers his information without specifically naming anyone.

It’s from a variety of sources. When all these strands are analysed it provides a fuller picture.

Through deduction material can be omitted which is either unlikely or unverified, whilst the material that does hold some water against that particular source, remains. Some of the remaining blanks can be filled by common sense and the laws of average.

No quotes, no names. Not complete fantasy though.

Why did this all resonate with me? Well, it should probably resonate with most of us because of the bizarre summer it was at Celtic Football Club.

After two months of twists and turns I actually wrote a blog titled “Selling the crown jewels”. It’s still sitting in my drafts folder unpublished, but much of the content matches up with what Harry, Lawrence and Remy were discussing in this podcast.

I don’t have the gift of inside knowledge or sources. I just read between the lines and write what’s on my mind.

Having listened to the podcast, it does vary from the transcript that was featured on the John James website. Some of the transcript isn’t even direct quotes from the podcast from what I could tell.

To be clear, I didn’t write or know anything about the Chinese offer. My unpublished blog focussed on three men: Peter Lawwell, Brendan Rodgers and Lee Congerton.

I talk about their roles at the club, performances and relationships. The bottom line being that they all needed to get on the same page which is where last week’s meeting comes in.

Congerton aside, the manager and the CEO supposedly met with Dermot Desmond. Well, I think we can all agree they didn’t meet up for a few beers and karaoke.

When you put together some of these strands of information, and I don’t know who Harry’s sources are, the content of the podcast does make sense. What remains to be seen is whether any of it is true or if it is pure conjecture though we may never know.

A lot of what was in this podcast does seem plausible. I’m not entirely in the camp that Brendan will be gone by next summer as was suggested – not now.

I do agree that there has been much more going on behind the scenes than we know about. That much is obvious, but as I said in my last blog, I certainly don’t agree with the codswallop Kris Boyd was spouting recently that there is a dressing room divide.

The fractures are or were higher up than that. It’s just that it has filtered down onto the field of play through Brendan.

Deliberate or natural? Who knows, but we’ve had a lot of team sheets leaked recently and other occurrences which quite frankly didn’t come across as being normal.

The type of agenda that fits with is the nature of someone being unhappy. Were team changes made to deliberately destabilise match days so as to make a point?

Again, conjecture. All I can say is that the podcast was recorded between two excellent games by Celtic both of which occurred after the London meeting of Lawwell, Rodgers and Desmond.

The St Johnstone match last Wednesday saw a stunning second half display from Celtic. It was as if they had just woken up.

On Saturday, Celtic went up against Aberdeen (and the match officials) and put probably their best 90+ minutes of the season so far. The scoreline of the last two matches may only have been 1-0 victories for the Hoops, but the significance is huge.

This sticky, disjointed opening to the season has been marred with bad headlines, an unforgiving media and behind the scenes misery which has bled on to the park. Perhaps the swingometer is back in Celtic’s favour.

Maybe just in time as well. Next up is last season’s Europa League semi-finalists, Red Bull Salzburg.

Brendan has his work cut out for him in this away match. Let’s hope that this upturn in team performances has arrived just in time.

If you haven’t listened to the ByTheMinute Celtic podcast, you can find it here:

ByTheMinuteCeltic

Worth a listen.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

It’s time Celtic emerged from this gloom

A treble is probably not on the minds of many Celtic fans. With the way in which the season has started for Brendan and the Bhoys, the league is always the priority.

In the last two seasons we’ve been the proud recipients of trebles. Tonight’s encounter with St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park in the League Cup is the second test for Celtic this season as to whether they will remain in the hunt for a third treble in a row.

My thoughts on this are simple. I can’t see another treble on the cards this season, even if we do win tonight.

Every team in Scotland is keen to have a bite of Celtic’s flesh right now. With our fortunes on the park experiencing a difficult period I find it’s hard to envision a domestic clean sweep.

Last season, the cracks were already showing with certain players and we managed to pull off a double treble. This season will be hugely difficult in my eyes.

Scott Sinclair was so far off the pace last season he was eventually and rightfully dropped. He seems to have continued in that vein into the current campaign though the season is still young.

There were numerous injuries to our strikers, barely allowing us to have all three available at any one time. Of course, that number has dropped to two since we sold one on deadline day.

However, there are other factors at play. Such as our very unsettled defence.

Injuries and inexperience appear to be the top issues for Brendan’s current crop of defenders. Kris Ajer has demonstrated himself as a good work in progress.

Dedryck Boyata has helped settle things in defence again after a fall out over the summer. Though the recent defeat to Kilmarnock may change opinions on that.

Many have levelled abuse at Jack Hendry. I feel the guy has been a bit unlucky and has time on his side to improve.

Cristian Gamboa looked to be getting a look in earlier in the season only to dropped for Mikael Lustig. The former showed promise earlier in the summer, but the latter has taken back his slot much to the disappointment of many in our fan base.

Filip Benkovic has so far looked good. Having pulled up in the warm up against Killie, he finds himself on the sidelines for now.

Further down the pecking order is Jozo Simunovic. The injury prone player once looked to be better than Boyata, but now it seems he is well out of the picture.

Not as far out of the picture as Marvin Compper though. Will we even see him play again?

I’m glad that the one area we do look sorted for in defence is on the left hand side. Kieran Tierney is our number one left-sided defender and it pleases me to know that Emilio Izaguirre is also there to supply some back up.

Overall we are nowhere near secure or settled. We must establish a solid back line by personnel changes or tactics (or both).

The midfield also has a responsiblity to protect the back three or four, but they have not done so particularly effective way of late. Though some might argue that the defence should be able to hold its own.

Well, it certainly isn’t the only role the midfield have. They are also responsible for retention and progression up the park – the engine room.

If that fails then their role becomes a key problem in the overall game plan. Many have criticised the midfield for playing the square ball on match days recently and not being quick or intuitive enough to unlock the opposition.

And who could argue? However, this has been evident going way back.

Most of Celtic’s domestic opponents will sit in, home or away so more often than not they do find themselves passing the ball from side to side. We can’t use this as an excuse though.

It is up to the team and the manager to find a way past that. We will only do so whilst we are in the right frame of mind and have that killer instinct.

The job at hand is to alter the mindset that currently seems to be affecting those performances. And Brendan is beginning to sound more positive in the last 24 hours which is good news.

Among some of the more concerning quotes chosen by Brendan of late, he has come out in the last couple of days with some more positive stuff. One such comment was to deal with the mutterings from Kris Boyd.

The Kilmarnock player had suggested there was a dressing room divide at Celtic. I was in the middle of typing a blog yesterday based on Boyd’s comments (as well as Peter Grant’s media comments about jealousy within Celtic) when Brendan came out and addressed it himself.

So I shelved that blog and enjoyed the words of our manager instead. He said, “Kris is probably best suited trying to get himself into the Kilmarnock team and get back playing and we will concentrate on our own job in here.”

Smashing. Just the right balance of a put down and professional reply.

Boyd was way off the mark. As I was beginning to write myself at that time, I got no impression at all there was a divide in the dressing room.

A cloud, yes. Not a divide.

We’ve had them before and we know what they look like. This isn’t one of them.

And as Brendan also mentioned, the challenge is to overcome this bad start. The fact that he is talking about that whilst still enjoying the challenges at the club shows he is already on the case.

Enough people have been having their say in the media. Most of it baloney.

Brendan appears focussed on the task. Everyone will be watching tonight with great interest.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac