A negative night, but the table doesn’t lie

The starting line-up was predictable, but the performance was ineffective. Salzburg outclassed Celtic in the first 45 minutes of last night’s crucial match at Celtic Park and even an improved second half performnace wasn’t enough to earn the point we were seeking.

However, as it turned out, Rosenborg did the unthinkable and stole their first point in this group in their final match. The outcome of that unlikely result allowed Celtic to progress despite suffering defeat in Glasgow.

Thats because we won three, lost three. Leipzig won two, drew one, lost two.

I’m not going to excuse anyone for last night’s poor effort. We should have changed tactics much sooner than we did as it clearly wasn’t working.

Salzburg enjoyed themselves so much, they looked like Barcelona. Wave after wave of attacking, free flowing football.

Nobody would have argued with our starting line-up. It has brought us recent success on the park.

It was evident early on though that it wasn’t going to work against Salzburg. So obvious, you knew we’d have a different shape at half time.

We should have instigated that change no later than the half hour mark. So why didn’t we do that?

We were hanging on by the skin of our teeth in the first half. How we didn’t concede is a miracle.

I think most of us were satisfied with the team Brendan put out and wouldn’t have disrupted that. As it turned out it yielded nothing.

When Brown and Olivier Ntcham entered the fray we looked a different team. But we were gutless on the left wing with Scott Sinclair and James Forrest never really got the service until the second half.

Kris Ajer had a terrible time at right back filling in for Mikael Lustig who went off with a head knock. I’m not even sure Cristian Gamboa would’ve been the answer either had he even been on the bench.

Kieran Tierney was getting rinsed in the first half and was even a culpable at the first goal. Overall I thought Jozo Simunovic and Filip Benkovic didn’t do too badly, but they had no protection and made some poor decisions under pressure.

Tom Rogic looked way off the boil, even when he did get the ball. Callum McGregor didn’t impose himself enough and Ryan Christie never saw much of the ball before eventuallygoing off injured.

I thought Odsonne Edouard did okay considering the pressure on the young striker. In fact he worked harder in the first half defensively than in an attacking sense.

Overall this was a game to forget. And yet Brendan Rodgers must learn from this.

It was a tactical error and he should hand changed things sooner. You could argue that had Craig Gordon, who was keeping us in it, not made a second half blunder we’d have got the draw.

The fact is we got it totally wrong and must learn from it and move on. We’re in the last 32 because we got more points than Leipzig and Rosenborg.

Many have focussed on the fact that ‘Rosenborg did us a favour’ and I’ll be sure to buy a pint for the first of their supporters I meet. However, if Rosenborg had got a draw in Trondheim against Leipzig earlier in the tournament and lost last night it would have been the same outcome with Celtic going through.

So I’m not going to start saying we got lucky. It’s about six games over a period of three months.

The permutations can vary. What Celtic must do now is invest in our squad.

We have to buy players to plug the gaps now and for the ones that will appear come the end of the season. There is also a need to inject further quality into this team.

If Lewis Morgan is to be the replacement for Sinclair then I want to see him now. Edouard will need support, especially with Leigh Griffiths on a sabbatical.

Our defence needs surgery particularly at right back. The centre of defence will be without Benkovic and probably even Dedryck Boyata by January or June.

We have the makings of a good team, but it requires an upgrade to progress. Success doesn’t come cheap, but we don’t have to break the bank either.

European football is secure for another two games. On Monday we will find out who we face in the Europa League draw.

Last night was in our hands and we blew it. Fate played its part and gave us a helping hand.

We won’t always get a rub of the green. We must make our own luck.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Advertisements

It’s all in your hands, Celtic.

If you’d told me a couple of months ago that we were going to go into Matchday 6 of the Europa League with qualification in our own hands I wouldn’t have believed you. However, the turn around in Celtic’s fortunes since that time has been fabulous.

The issues of the summer, though not completely forgotten, now seem like a bit of a distant memory. Such is Celtic’s level of performance right now it is hard to look back.

Celtic have got themselves out of a rut and playing some tremendous football into the bargain. They have been focussed on what lies ahead instead of dwelling on the past.

To watch the team evolve in the last couple of months has been thrilling. Player after player has stood up to be counted.

During a hectic winter run in, Celtic have put themselves back at the top of the league, won the League Cup and got their European mojo back. Tonight they welcome RB Salzburg to Celtic Park in a match that the Hoops cannot afford to lose.

Now to be honest, had Salzburg not beaten Leipzig two weeks ago, the game would probably have been a bogey. That said it also required Celtic to beat Rosenborg in Trondheim and Leipzig in Glasgow prior to tonight’s game.

Celtic have done their bit and Salzburg have done theirs. The Austrians have won 5 out of 5 games in this group and they will want to make it 6 despite having won the group already.

They’ve also bagged three times the amount of goals that Celtic have and conceded one less. Brendan Rodgers will not be underestimating Salzburg.

The Austrians have a good record against Celtic and competing in last seasons Europa League. I’m not going with the Red Bull collusion storyline.

I don’t expect anything but a victory from Leipzig who entertain Rosenborg at the same time. The Norwegians haven’t got a single point to show and I don’t expect that to change this evening.

The ball is in entirely Celtic’s court. A win would be fantastic, but a draw is more than sufficient and possibly the best we can hope for given how well Salzburg have done in this tournament in the past 18 months.

The only modicum for Celtic is that with qualification and top spot already secured by Salzburg, the visitors may not be quite as up for it as the hosts. And when you consider Celtic are on playing well right now, these combining factors could be well-timed for our European hopes.

Our form is good, our attitude is balanced and player availability strong for the most part. For a squad that has been criticised for being smaller than previous seasons, each player has their own unique value.

With a few exceptions, every single first team player has a key role to play be it in the starting eleven or from the bench. The headache for Brendan Rodgers is how does he play it tonight?

Celtic’s last two Europa League matches have been without Scott Brown in the starting lineup. With fluidity playing a key part in Celtic’s form right now would Brendan even dare displace anyone to allow the club captain back in?

There is a balance to be struck in these games. To remain strong, retain your form and not upset the flow.

At this moment in time I would suggest that Broony coming back in could go either way. With Celtic’s scoring opportunities greatly enhanced without his inclusion of late it is a tough call whether you want to disrupt that in place of a no holds barred midfield spoiler.

My feeling is that we start with Broony on the bench as we have since he returned from injury. The only exception being that he started against Motherwell.

As much as he can offer in physical games, we also have to flex our muscles on the attacking front. We have to take the game to Salzburg and that might be more successful with a bit more verve in the midfield.

Callum McGregor has covered every blade of grass since he filled in for his skipper. You could argue that he even has a good shout as captain.

Ryan Christie’s continued rise this season has been nothing short of impressive. You can’t leave him out of any midfield selection right now.

Tom Rogic, is still getting back to his best but he can always produce something magical in a game. Tonight could be just one of those matches for him.

James Forrest has been unplayable since last season. He has goals, assists and route one football in his locker and a strong contender for Player of the Year.

Those are the guys that have to play tonight. The question for Brendan Rodgers is who does he throw in as his fifth midfielder/attacker?

With the exception of the match away to Motherwell, Scott Sinclair has started every game since Celtic since the 0-5 demolition of Dundee at the end of October. Therefore it is likely that he will get the nod ahead of Olivier Ntcham or Scott Brown.

Sinclair has yet to rediscover his first season form of 25 goals and 13 assists in 50 games. That earned him the SPFA Player of the Year, SFWA Player of the Year, Celtic Supporters’ Player of the Year and the Celtic Players’ Player of the Year awards.

Last season both his and Celtic’s performances were lacklustre yet the stats tell a different story. 18 goals and 17 assists in 55 games is not to be sniffed at as it played a huge part in securing the double treble for the us.

This season he’s way off the pace with 5 goals and 5 assists from 27 games, but there have been moments of confidence creeping back into his game albeit with no real consistency. A continued run in the team will perhaps help him get back to his best because if he doesn’t, Lewis Morgan will be knocking on the door.

For now the spotlight is off Sinclair as fans and the media focus on the top performers in this team such as Forrest, McGregor, Tierney, Christie and Benkovic. Tonight though I expect to see Sinclair on the left and he must focus on getting back to the player he can be.

It’s all in your hands boys. It’s all in your hands.

I end today’s blog in acknowledgement of Leigh Griffiths. Yesterday, Brendan addressed the media and informed them that the striker would be taking a break from the game to obtain some help and support with issues that have been affecting him.

I’m not going to speculate on what those issues may be. The only thing I want is for Leigh to seek the assistance he needs and that he gets back to a good place on and off the field.

He’s an important player for the club and the fans, who has overcome every obstacle to be a Celtic star. Whatever is affecting him right now, we all want to see him back in the Hoops as soon as he physically and mentally can.

Let’s hope we can give you some good news after tonight. All the best Leigh.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

First silverware in a captivating season awaits

Celtic’s story so far this season has been eventful. There have been highs, there have been lows.

On Thursday night they put in a professional performance against Rosenborg in Trondheim. Coupled with Salzburg’s home win over Leipzig, Celtic’s Europa League fate is now in their own hands.

I’m not sure that was a situation I envisaged given how this season unfolded in those early months. Celtic’s change in form in the past couple of months has been nothing short of formidable.

They’ve taken top spot in the Scottish Premiership and kept their Europa League campaign alive going into the last group stage game. On Sunday they face Aberdeen in the League Cup Final to decide who takes that first piece of domestic silverware.

Aberdeen will looking to exorcise recent cup final defeats by Celtic. They last faced each other in this final two years ago.

Celtic were 3-0 victors in that one which put them on the road to their first treble since the Martin O’Neill era. Tom Rogic, James Forrest and Moussa Dembele were all on the score sheet that day.

In the same season, Celtic cemented that treble with another win over Aberdeen. They ran out 2-1 winners in the Scottish Cup Final by which time Aberdeen must have been sick of the sight of us.

In fact I’d imagine that most of Scottish football are sick of us winning everything. Should Aberdeen fail to halt Brendan Rodgers’ domestic superiority at Hampden tomorrow you can only imagine what will happen in the weeks and months ahead.

Celtic have suffered the loss of key players, injuries, poor form and even personnel infractions. The transfer market wasn’t exactly fruitful either, but look at us now.

A smaller squad we may be compared to previous seasons, but practically every player is playing a key role these days. Only a few are either out of the picture or injured.

I’d suggest that this close knit squad are functioning more effectively. There’s certainly another wave of belief sweeping through the squad.

That might just be enough to win another treble. First though, we must win on Sunday.

Derek McInnes’ side aren’t having their best season in the league. Then again only ten points separate the top eight teams.

That’s remarkable for Scottish football. We’re so used to a greater gap by now.

I’d say this has been one of the most interesting campaigns in a long time. So Sunday could be a classic given the possible implications should Celtic win.

There’s generally a bit of a physical tussle between both clubs these days. That goes back to the days of Neil Lennon, through Ronny Deila and now with Brendan Rodgers.

Aberdeen have been the second best team in Scotland the last four seasons. This season they may have to relinquish that to one of the other teams currently performing better.

Sunday will be a different situation though. I fully expect a serious challenge from the Dons.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The revolution will not be celebrated

You will not be able to stay in your seat, Bhoy
You will not be able to stand up, wave your fist and enjoy your victory
You will not be able to lose yourself on trebles and zombieskelping
Skip out for beer during half-time
Because the revolution will not be celebrated

The revolution will not be celebrated

The revolution will not be brought to you by Ibrox
In two halves without commercial interruption
The revolution will not show you pictures of Dave King
Blowing his own trumpet and leading an AGM with Stewart Robertson
Steven Gerrard and Gary McAllister to eat
Humble pie left by Brendan Rodgers’ trebles

The revolution will not be celebrated

The revolution will be brought to you by the Sky Sports and
will not star Chris Sutton and John Hartson or Eilidh Barbour and Darrell Currie
The revolution will not give you a red card appeal
The revolution will not get rid of you being the best
The revolution will not make you look five millions pounds
better, because The revolution will not be celebrated, Bhoy
There will be no pictures of you and Jock Stein
Holding the European Cup on an open top bus
Or trying to slide that jumbotron into a supporters bus
SMSM will not predict the league winner correctly or the players to watch next season

The revolution will not be celebrated

There will be no pictures of Police Scotland manhandling
Hoops in an instant replay
There will be no pictures of Celtic fans being
Stewarded out of Celtic Park effectively following a new process
There will be no coverage of
Rod Stewart singing Grace on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show in a
Green and white hooped jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the right occasion
Wes Foderingham, Lee Wallace and
Graham Dorrans will no longer be so damned relevant
and Tims will not care if anyone at Ibrox finally gets capped for Scotland for the first time because Bhoys
will be in the street celebrating another treble

The revolution will not be celebrated

There will be no decent highlights on Sportscene
and no pictures of foodbank collections outside Celtic Park and
Dermot Desmond blowing his nose
The theme song will not be written by Jay Z, Paulo Nutini
nor sung by Bobby Gillespie, Snoop Dogg,
Noel Gallagher, or The View

The revolution will not be celebrated

The revolution will not be right back after a memo
Revealed by the D**** R***** from Police Scotland about Celtic player’s behaviour
You will not have to worry about laps of honour in your own stadium
Hoopy the Huddle Hound on matchdays, or Gerry McCulloch Tweeting #onlyinscotland
The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight the germs that cause sectrarianism
The revolution WILL put you in the driving seat forever
The revolution will not be celebrated
WILL not be celebrated, WILL NOT BE CELEBRATED
The revolution will be no re-run Bhoys
The revolution will be live

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

With special thanks to Gil Scott-Heron (son of Celtic’s Gil Heron)

Must win in Norway

Celtic swaggered back onto the domestic scene last Saturday with a convincing victory over Hamilton. After a two-week international break, the Bhoys put three goals past the Accies on their own (artificial) turf.

James Forrest has hugged the headlines for club and country recently, but it was the Ryan Christie who continued is amazing form for the Hoops. He scored the opening goal after a training ground corner, something that Chris Sutton slammed Hamilton for.

You don’t get something for nothing when it comes to the former Celtic striker. And yet that was what Celtic got next.

Celtic’s second goal came in the second half when Hamilton’s Scott Martin flicked in a Scott Sinclair header to make it 0-2 to Celtic. With Sinclair’s luck it might not have gone in but we’re all happy to accept that gift.

Perhaps the best moment was when Leigh Griffiths took to the field in the 75th minute. He has been missed by the fans and seven minutes after his arrival, he drilled home a low free kick to complete Hamilton’s misery.

Accies were lucky it wasn’t more. They’d already got away with a stonewall hand ball in the box during the first half which should have been a penalty.

Celtic also missed a barrel load of chances by Odsonne Edouard, Olivier Ntcham and of course Scott Sinclair. It was a solid victory though on return to domestic matters.

Tomorrow night it is back to Europa League duty and an away trip to face the Norwegian Champions. There aren’t many teams Celtic have faced in Europe more than they have Rosenborg.

This will also be the fourth time they have played each other in the same season. Having eliminated Rini Coolen’s side in the Champions League qualifiers, they were grouped once together in Group B for the Europa League following Celtic’s exit from the Champions League qualifiers.

Celtic have won both home games so far, but last time they were at the Lerkandal it was 0-0. Realistically, Brendan Rodgers needs a victory in Norway.

Leipzig and Celtic are on the same points. If the group stage was to end like that then Leipzig would go through to the last 32 based on goal difference between both teams’ games against each other.

The best ideal scenario for Celtic tomorrow would be to beat Rosenborg and for Salzburg to beat Leipzig. In a fortnight, I would firmly expect Leipzig to beat Rosenborg in Germany so that would mean Celtic would need to get something from their final match against Salzburg at Celtic Park be it a win or a draw.

If Salzburg do beat Leipzig then they may not be as fired up for the last game having secured the winners spot. This is all ifs and buts and Celtic have to take it one game at a time.

For now, they are still in with a chance of qualification. Both games are in their hands but they need the Germans to slip up as well.

Brendan Rodgers will know who is going to be playing in this match. Players are returning from injury at a crucial time as the fixtures begin to pile up.

Let’s hope that after tomorrow night we are looking towards the final group stage match in two weeks time still in with a chance of a place in the last 32.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Signing on the line

Since Brendan Rodgers came to Celtic, he has seen several Celtic players renew or extend their contracts at the club. His stature, as well as his man management, have all played a role in that.

James Forrest, Tom Rogic, Callum McGregor, Kieran Tierney, Kristoffer Ajer, Leigh Griffiths, Olivier Ntcham and now Ryan Christie have all signed new deals since the Northern Irishman arrived in May 2016. You cannot argue with any of those players being rewarded for their application and effort in that time.

Brendan and his back room staff have helped improve the team he inherited. The players have also had to put the hard work in though.

What fans will be wondering is are any other players in line to get a new deal? I’ve mentioned many times before those who are out of contract at the end of this season and they are the bunch we turn our attention to.

Ryan Christie is the first to chalk his name off that list. He is a superb example of just how things can turn around for you if you get an opportunity.

Sections of our support wrote-off Christie a long time ago. Some (such as myself) never really thought he was given a good enough chance by Ronny Deila or Brendan Rodgers to hold that opinion.

His loan spell at Aberdeen demonstrated just how much of an asset he could be. As a standout performer for the Dons and the Scottish Premiership last season perhaps the timing was just right for him this season.

Circumstances, such as Stuart Armstrong’s departure and missing out on John McGinn have worked out well for him and Celtic. They already had such a player waiting in the wings.

Many of us already thought he deserved a chance. In fact some may feel the same about Scott Allan though I cannot see the ex-Hibs midfielder experiencing the same luck.

He has never kicked a competitive ball under Brendan Rodgers. Whilst out on loan, he has proven his worth to Dundee and latterly, Hibs, but he remained at Celtic.

I firmly expected to see him sold in the summer transfer window. It has been suggested that the breakdown in negotiations between Hibs and Celtic over McGinn put paid to a move back to the club Celtic plucked him from.

With his contract due to expire at the end of the season and no competitive first team appearances to his name, he will be gone next summer if not before. That still leaves a couple of other players to talk about.

The one many have been talking about is Dedryck Boyata. His mid-summer drama now appears to be water under the bridge.

Brendan himself stated that the player had admitted his mistake and was ready to move on. Since he reappeared in the Hoops his presence has been both influential and necessary.

With all that negativity around a supposed summer exit, many are wondering will he stay or will he go? Under the cloud he created for himself after the World Cup, it would have been impossible to offer him a new deal then.

I don’t think the board, manager or fans would have been receptive to that never mind the player. Now, we could be looking at a different scenario before the end of the season.

The possibility of him now leaving in January would be unlikely unless both parties were offered a good deal. Even then he could be too much of an asset in the current campaign to cash in especially if Celtic are battling for a third treble and still in Europe after Christmas.

I think many of us would agree that we would rather retain his services for the rest of the season and lose him for free next summer than cash in on him now for pennies. There is also still the remote possibility that he could be tempted by an extended stay on better terms but that remains to be seen.

And what of Scott Brown? Is our club captain going to stay on another year or two or move on to a player-coach role somewhere else?

Only Broony and the club know that and there’s been little mention of it. I’m sure we would all love him to stay though equally he has the right to make the move he wants after devoting most of his career to Celtic.

By the time next season comes, he will be 34 years old. There is much for him to think about in terms of his fitness, future career options and of course ten-in-a-row.

Mikael Lustig has been a huge contributor to Celtic since he joined nearly seven years ago. With over 250 games to his name over 70 caps for his country, will he be in Brendan’s plans beyond this season?

Next month the Swede turns 32 so is a little bit younger than his captain. I don’t undervalue his contribution even though he is prone to having nightmare performances.

He is vice-captain and with the amount of games he is sustaining injury free, I can see him being offered another year or two at the club. The player himself said he expects to be here next year.

It is clear thait Lustig loves life at Celtic and is influential within the dressing room. That alone can be of great value to a growing team.

What it doesn’t resolve is our long-term right back issue. Nor has the presence of Cristian Gamboa who is also out of contract in the summer.

The Costa Rican full back has played less than 30 games for the club in the space of nearly two-and-a-half seasons. He’s made some high-profile appearances in the Hoops only to disappear once more.

Just when you think you might see what he has got, he fades into the shadows again. On that basis alone, I can’t see him getting a new deal and would much rather Celtic sourced a long-term candidate for Lustig to oversee.

Emilio Izaguirre returned in the summer as backup to Kieran Tierney. He has played three matches in total and the perfect candidate to step in if required.

Is it possible he could stay on beyond this season as backup? Well he’ll be 34 going into a new campaign and for another year, I don’t see why not.

That only leaves Dorus de Vries who will end his contract having not played since March 2018. After that game he picked up an injury and allowed new Bhoy Scott Bain to move into second spot.

So the writing is on the wall for the goalkeeper who turns 38 next month and to be fair, Celtic don’t need three senior goalkeepers. We have sufficient cover for the time being without need of his services.

Celtic may also begin to think about moving on players who are still under contract to make way for new blood. January could be an opportunity for out of the picture players like Scott Allan, Marvin Compper, Dorus de Vries and Kundai Benyu to go on loan or move permanently as they don’t appear to have a part to play.

The team will need strengthening as we increase our bid for another treble and prepare for the season that follows. Time to make some more room.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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