Stick or twist?

Ronny Deila’s job just got that little bit harder. In the wake of this season’s first Europa League defeat he is now under full scrutiny as Celtic manager.

Having weathered last season’s storm he and his players got into rhythm and looked to have turned a corner. This season we haven’t seen an improvement and are being worn down by the team’s own shortcomings.

I’ll nail my colours to the mast, I’m supporter of Ronny Deila and I want his plan to come to fruition. We’re not seeing evidence of it though.

There are many talking points on this. It doesn’t all come down to one person though.

Celtic have brought in and moved on some very good players in the last few years. That is where the club are at these days and I have no problem with that.

The most recent example is Virgil van Dijk. Rumours are not unfamiliar with Celtic but his departure was certified if the Champions League failed to materialise.

So with that eventually being te case and the on-loan Jason Denayer back at parent club Manchester City, Celtic no longer had a central defence. At best, Efe Ambrose was back up and certainly not a player to build your team around.

Mikael Lustig is a player whose skills and abilities have at times been hampered by injury. We’ve seen more of him recently and whilst that has been pleasing, he cannot carry the defence.

On the opposite berth, Emilio Izaguirre has had flashes in his debut season form. He is still often been found out defensively though which is why seeing young Kieran Tierney emerge has been encouraging.

With Adam Matthews departing for Sunderland and Darnell Fisher going out on loan to St Johnstone, Celtic were further weakened defensively. The arrival of Dedryck Boyata appeared to be swift and many would have though we were getting a maturer Denayer but I’ve yet to be convinced.

Celtic’s bold move for Jozo Šimunović at the supposed fee of £5.5M took be by surprise. For a player of his age there is a lot of pressure on him to match the valuation and with injury being his great contribution to the team, we’re still waiting to see what he can do.

Saidy Janko signed a four contract and fellow Manchester United colleague Tyler Blackett signed on loan to bolster the depleted ranks. Neither had a vast amount of first team experience though.

As yet, we have yet to see this current crop of defenders form an understanding. Many factors have played a part in this but it is alarming that Celtic are so vulnerable at the back.

Even the fine first season Craig Gordon had under Ronny Deila is beginning to look like a one off. So far he has escaped criticism from most but he has been as culpable as any Celtic defender this season.

So where do we go from here? Is it it just a failed defence that blights the Celtic cause or is there a bigger issue in play?

Celtic aren’t exactly prolific up front either these days or well endowed and despite the acquisition of Carlton Cole, he can’t play in Europe. That short sightedeness hurt Celtic last season and it appears we haven’t learned from that issue.

Like him or not, Stefan Šćepović should not have left the club without a suitable replacement.Nadir Çiftçi is not an out and out striker and we’ve entered this campaign without sufficient strikers.

The midfield on the other hand has a good supply of players. Even with the dip in form of Stefan Johansen, the performances of Nir Bitton and Tom Rogić have given us hope.

Even still, Kris Commons made his feelings known for all the world to see when he was substituted on Thursday evening. That was followed by a humble apology on Friday in front of the media.

As much as venting his spleen was unprofessional and underminding of the management, it did add weight to the fans argument that Ronny might be losing the fight. Many want him out and have done since last season.

Whist it is difficult to defend such appalling Celtic performances, I don’t wish to see Ronny Deila fail. I like the guy, I like that Celtic opted for a coach like him but this turn of events has made me wonder whether he has his reached limitations or simply requires more time to make things work.

Despite the Commons protest, the players have still come out and backed Deila. If the club are to get through this period it will only be done by standing together.

There needs to be a positive reaction to this bout of negativity. The Europa League is still salvageable and the Scottish Premiership remains on course but the one burning question for many is would Ronny Deila be given another crack at the Champions League?

Neil Lennon had two cracks at Europe before reaching the Champions League and one of those attempts was at the expense of FC Sion. Similarly, Ronny got another crack at Europe at expense of Legia Warsaw, albeit a different competition and different set of circumstance but as someone pointed out to me yesterday, Ronny has had better chances to get into the Champions League.

To ensure a third season happens, everyone at Celtic will have to step up there game. Not just Ronny Deila, but the players, the coaching staff and the scouts.

Today Celtic host Dundee United. With Aberdeen being held to a draw by Motherwell, Celtic have the chance to widen the gap at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

This team needs and enema.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

All the best Adam…

For a young talented player with only two years senior experience under his belt, Adam Matthews turned out to be a good acquisition for Celtic. Having signed him for nothing, retained his services for four years and sold him on for over £2M with a sell on clause, it is good business for the club.

Adam proved himself at right back, left back and on the right wing for Celtic. He played in some huge matches, scored goals, provided assists and even had a great pair of lungs!

The one thing holding him back was in proneness to injury. He isn’t the only Celtic player in the present day to be held back by such an issue but it was an issue.

It has been said that it was his desire to move on and not Celtic’s that brought about his transfer request and subsequent move to Sunderland. I see no reason to doubt that given that he has served us well and despite his injuries.

And it is was his injuries that were the only issue for me. His ability was more than enough to hold down a regular place.

If you are a manager and looking to make strides in Europe as Celtic always are then you need to be able to rely on your best players. The unfortunate thing for Celtic is that they haven’t always been able to rely upon Matthews, Lustig or even Forrest because of niggling injuries.

For Ronny Deila to even try to achieve his goal at Celtic, he needs to know the players he has at his disposal will be available for him. If there is a ‘cure’ for Lustig and Forrest then I see no reason for them to leave the club.

At the same time, the club are under no obligation to hold on to players who cannot fulfill their contract. I’m sure given maturity Matthews will overcome his injuries but he has been granted a transfer request and Celtic get something in return.

The young Welsh international has done his job for Celtic these last four years. 150 appearances and 5 goals later, he goes south with my blessing.

Good luck Adam in the rest of your career. You have a bright one ahead of you.

His departure makes more room on the right hand side for Darnell Fisher and new Bhoy Saidy Janko to compete for a place. Mikael Lustig will also compete for a place in the right back berth but as mentioned before, a solution to the Swede’s recurring injuries will make or break his Celtic career.

In the meantime, we have two young lads battling it out for a starting spot. With any luck, neither will have the injury issues either of their predecessors have had.

Celtic have also shipped out Paul McMullan (to St Mirren) and Michael Duffy (to Alloa Athletic) on loan. Both forwards will get invaluable experience playing in the Scottish Championship against Hibernian and Rangers as well as each other.

There is lots of movement for Celtic right now and things are shaping up nicely as Ronny Deila begins to make this team look more and more like his own. I expect more changes in the days and weeks ahead but today, it is back to the preseason schedule with the second of three matches at St Mirren Park.

FK Dukla Prague are today’s visitors and it’s another opportunity to see how preparations for the Champions League qualifiers are going. Today I hope to see new Bhoy Janko in at right back and those who never featured midweek to get some game time.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Competition for places in Paisley

Celtic got their preseason underway at St Mirren Park last night. The result is often not an immediate concern in these games but it was still good to end the match with a clean sheet and two goals in the bag.

Paisley was the location for these first of three warm up matches, with FC Den Bosch the first opponent. The Dutch second division club were overawed by Celtic dominance in the first half which featured both goals for the Hoops.

The first came from Gary Mackay-Steven in the early minutes of the match. The second also came via the former Dundee United player though the Den Bosch keeper saved the effort only for it to be bundled into the net by his own player.

Cruel, but fair because it was one way traffic by Celtic. In truth it could have been much more in that first half alone.

Gary Mackay-Steven was at the heart of most moves showing great energy with every run. There were plenty of other notable performances into the bargain.

Boyata looked comfortable to the point he van Dijk were mainly just feeding the ball forward whilst Lustig (C) and youngster Kieran Tierney filled the full back berths. They were rarely called into to defend much but a valuable run out in the Hoops for Boyata, a development squad player in Tierney and of course a very much missed Lustig.

Young Luke Donnelly took up the midfield attack role between Mackay-Steven and Armstrong. He turned in a good performance and looked comfortable in the role.

Tom Rogić was among a midfield holding two along with Liam Henderson. Both were close to matching energy of Mackay-Steven and is encouraging news for Ronny Deila that they both looked so capable together.

Many fans have been keen to see Rogić back in the Hoops, myself included. With Henderson back from a brief, but worth while loan spell at Rosenberg its like having two new players.

That can only be good news for Celtic. Knowing that Scott Brown and Nir Bitton have back up means there is cover as well pressure.

In fact Celtic have an abundance of wealth in the midfield. The question is who will be shed by the club to trim down to Ronny Deila’s ideal squad size?

So far Celtic have moved on four players and acquired two. Over the next two months I would expect to see more exits.

I was surprised to see Dylan McGeouch and Jackson Irvine (you have to check out his squad picture on the official website) among the recently updated squad list. Both have been on the books for a while and out on loan recently so what of their futures?

McGeouch has had a good season with Hibs and Alan Stubbs looked keen to have him stay but I believe Celtic activated an extra year on his contract. As for Irvine, he’s had good run in the Ross County side.

Despite both having a good season I was a little surprised to see them back. Not because I don’t rate them but because Ronny is trying to trim the squad.

Perhaps it is part of some bigger plan. Pool all of your talent throughout this summer and have them all competing for a place to stay?

Well I’m not sure but Ronny is intent in blooding youngsters as part of using the talent the club rear. With that in mind these friendlies are as much of a shop window as they are a warm up for the Champions League qualifiers.

Then second half of last night’s match saw the manager throw on eight players on for the last 30 mins. Though mostly players from the academy, one of those was the not so young Derk Boerrigter.

He turned in a decent 30 mins to be fair and even recovered from an injury during play. If there was one player who is on that list to exit though it is Boerrigter and he did his chances no harm if any prospective buyers were watching.

One player keen to ensure he stays will be Stefan Šćepović. After a season of woe, he will be aiming to up his game this summer.

Recently he openly admitted to struggling to adapt to the Scottish game. This season the gauntlet has been thrown down for him to perform because I doubt he will be on the snip list.

Next up is Dukla Prague where we’ll see further outings by from the whole squad. One of those could be new signing Saidy Janko from Manchester United.

His role has yet to be established but it could spell the end for someone in that right side of the park. The club cannot sustain Lustig, Fisher, Matthews, Ambrose and Saidy for that right back/wing back role so something will have to give.

It’s interesting times with competition for places are fierce. With the young talent that took to the field last night the future looks bright for Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

A season gone and a season to come

On Sunday afternoon, Celtic put Inverness Caledonian Thistle to the sword. It was a fine way to bring the curtain down on a season which has seen Ronny Deila’s team bond and progress.

At first, most people were open minded about Deila and the swiftness of his appointment. Then a failed Champions League campaign changed that.

Some unconvincing domestic displays in the early part of the season added to the Deila doubter’s list of dissatisfaction. If that wasn’t enough, you had the media, including ex-Celtic players, weighing in with their own tuppence worth of bile.

The breakthrough for Ronny was of course the Europa League. It was an ideal competition for a team in transition and kept both the club’s and the fan’s interests in the European scene.

Good performances home and away were encouraging, even if all results weren’t perfect. It was enough to build confidence though and there were signs that some players were beginning to respond to Ronny Deila’s methods.

That kind of positivity started to populate and by November, Celtic finally reached the summit of the Scottish Premiership. Having endured several months of negative media and a portion of the team not performing well enough, the tide was beginning to turn.

There was still a lot of work to be done though. Celtic were under pressure from a few teams and that kept them on their toes throughout the winter.

It was in this period that Celtic really started to gather momentum. Finally, the team was beginning to play like a unit.

Those players who had been out of sorts were emerging from the shadows. Griffith’s, Commons and Bitton were staking a claim and it was a real shot in the arm.

The arrival of Mackay-Steven and Armstrong not only boosted Celtic’s campaign, it ended Dundee United’s. They both slotted into the squad like it was meant to be.

For some Celtic players though, their own personal situations were beginning to look bleak. Guidetti, Tonev, Wakaso and Boerrigter were all fading with varying degrees.

Šćepović was also well out of the picture but his case was somewhat isolated from the rest. He may still have a chance as Sunday’s finale demonstrated.

Later on in the season Forrest emerged from the shadows and made a good contribution to the second half of the season. His injury problems are his only hindrance and only time will tell if he has overcome these.

Another player with injury hell is Lustig. A fine player if ever there is one.

His cameo appearance against Motherwell in January where he scored an amazing double after coming off the bench remains his primary contribution to the season. Deila knows as we all do just how good a player Lustig is and he will want him available for the early Champions League campaign, particularly if he is looking to bolster the back line.

There is still cover there with Ambrose, Matthews, Fisher and Izaguirre. The central defence is the main area of concern though.

If Celtic were to lose both Denayer and van Dijk, they also lose the meanest defence in Scottish Premiership history. Having conceded only 17 goals, that is a huge void to fill.

Part of that defensive success comes down to Gordon’s amazing return to the game as well. If he was considered a gamble when drafted in after years out injured then the pay out has been massive.

Despite the ability to get a bit lonely as a Celtic goalkeeper in some domestic games, like Foster before him, he has pulled off some magnificent saves to keep the Hoops in the game. That ability was on display Europe as well as in the domestic game and it has been a fine season for the big man.

Long-term injured Mulgrew made a late return this season and despite links with clubs in the south, I doubt he’ll be heading for the exit door. He may not be a first pick, but he is a good utility player.

It will be hard to break up the current midfield but he is a big enough character to stay on. Even if Johansen and Brown are the mainstay’s of the midfield there will always be opportunities for Mulgrew to step in there or in the back line.

So where do Celtic need to strengthen? Well that all depends on movements in the current squad.

Should Zaluska go as expected, a backup will be needed. Fasan is as yet untested and it remains to be seen if Deila would be prepared to rely upon the Italian as a suitable stand in.

Central defence is top of the list. If one or both of the current pairing go, the standards will slip so rebuilding that wall and the understanding they created will be a priority, particularly in Europe.

The midfield has a wealth of options. The choices are vast and if anything, Ronny may look at the wide men.

Mackay-Steven is terrific as is Forrest so long as the latter avoids injury. If you are relying upon Forrest as a regular and then gets a bad one, you need a similar outlet.

McGregor was one of Deila’s best players at the beginning of the season and filled the Forrest void for a short time. However, he burned out before Christmas and is currently on the injury list but I don’t know if his purple patch was a flash in the pan.

Stokes, who featured on the left flank and forged a good partnership with Izaguirre earlier in the season is a potential leaver. His off the field story has kept him in the sidelines and his time could be up.

Up front Griffith’s is hit man number one. When he arrived over a year ago, I questioned the validity of his signature.

Despite one or two infractions in his time at the club, he has made me eat my words. His prowess in front of goal has earned him the right to start every game but Ronny will need someone to put pressure on him as well as being able to step in and do the same job.

Šćepović may or may not be that guy but I can’t see the summer passing by without the procurement of another striker. Be that on loan or a permanent deal, you need options in Europe.

The clear out list for Celtic is pretty big and I expect the transfer window to be a busy one. At a glance I expect to see Zaluska, Pukki, Baldé, Boerrigter, Stokes and Friðjónsson to leave.

On loan we’ve had Tonev, Wakaso, Guidetti and Denayer. All four will be gone though I wish Denayer was staying on for another season.

Loaned players McGeouch, Irvine, Henderson, Herron and Findlay are certain to be assessed as the team moves forward. McGeouch is still young but at 22 will want more games and that may only happen away from Celtic.

He has ability, no arguments there but a decision is sure to come over Celtic career. Personally, I can’t see him forcing his way into Ronny’s plans though.

As for the others on that list, I can imagine them on further loan deals. Henderson may be the only one who is retained for squad duty back at Celtic.

One player I’m keen to see more of is Rogić. The Australian joined just over two years ago and showed a lot of promise in those rare appearances.

His loan spell back in his homeland in 2014 did not offer the expected aim. He has had injury to contend with as well but there is every chance he will wear the Hoops next season.

So for Ronny Deila and his back room team, there is further assessment and decision making to be done with the current squad. Some of those decision will already have been made whilst some await the transfer window to open to have their futures decided.

After a short break, it will be back to pre season training for the Hoops. With the Champions League qualifying just seven weeks away the team will be back before your know it.

For now its been a fantastic season for Ronny and the Bhoys. Looking forward to the next one already.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Caution with Caley

Today, Celtic take on Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Hampden Park. The Scottish Cup Semi-Final is yet another significant match that stands between Ronny Deila and the treble dream.

Last weekend saw his side face a tough Inverness side in the Premiership away from home, earning only a draw in the end. Despite coming from behind during the week to eventally scalp Kilmarnock 4-1, last weeks 1-1 draw will serve as a reminder that this will be not be an easy match for Celtic.

Caley Thistle have been a bogey team for the Hoops stemming back several years now. Nobody needs reminding of Scottish Cup results in 2000 and 2003 and the accompanying tabloid headline from that first defeat suffered at Celtic Park.

The highlanders have also enjoyed some notable battles with Celtic over the years, raising their game when called for. And this season, they’ve given a very good account of themselves under former Hoops defender, John Hughes.

So going into today’s match, Celtic must proceed with caution. Thistle are more than capable of an upset and can demonstrate the kind of tough tackling and stubborness to frustrate most teams, though mostly Celtic.

Last week, I didn’t think the draw was a bad result given that it can be tricky to get one up in Inverness. At Hampden today though Celtic must show who is boss because there is the personnel to do just that.

Before I come to the team, its worth remembering that almost a year ago Celtic recorded one of the biggest wins over Caley Thistle in the Premiership. That 6-0 win was preceded by another 6-0 thrashing of them in League Cup in September 2010, so Celtic have had their revenge over the years.

That is a reminder of what Celtic can inflict upon Thistle given the right blend on the park. And that is the burning question today: how will Deila line up for this crucial cup tie?

There is no doubt Leigh Griffiths is our best striker right now but Ronny still interchanges him with John Guidetti, a man not hitting the netti. Although Griffiths was totally frustrated at being hooked against Caley Thistle last week despite scoring in the third minute of the match, he did come off the bench midweek and bag a sweet hat-trick to win the game.

That should make him a starter for today alongside the usual suspects of Gordon, Matthews, Izaguirre, Denayer, van Dijk, Bitton, Brown and Johansen. With Gary Macakay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong both cup-tied, the remaining berths are likely to be filled by Commons and Forrest, unless Ronny fancies going with two up front and playing the moody Swede alongside the Teacake.

Personally, I can’t see him doing that from the outset though. With Scepovic rarely featuring these days, it is more likely that Deila will play one striker at a time, only playing both at a point in the game when dual power is called for, as seen on Wednesday night.

Let’s hope for a good contest today, whatever the result. The treble is our goal, but we’re not at the final yet.

The hard work must be put in today to make sure there will be a day in May at Hampden. Falkirk made their first final in six years by beating Hibs 1-0.

Its another rare Scottish Cup Final appearance by the Bairns. Let’s make it a date.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Total football

It was a game to match the occasion. A meeting of two old foes from the old days of the European Cup.

Many years have passed since Lisbon, but the sentiment around that historic encounter had not. Both teams came out of the traps with intent and the fans roared from the stands.

It was anyone’s guess how this was all going to pan out. Mistakes and lapses of concentration would play a big part but how would it all end?

Celtic showed will early on, but Inter would draw blood first….and second. Then Celtic would come back….twice.

Watching from home as I was, the lounge carpet was worn out. Not to mention a lot of man hugging – strictly platonic, you understand.

The noise from the fans, one of the greatest gifts from the Celtic faithful, was heard once more. They did the players proud and those of us who could not make the trip or fortunate enough to get a ticket.

As for the men in the studio, it may as well have been a World War II propaganda film. Chris Sutton, once a fans favourite, now a media moron, took another swipe at the club he once donned the Hoops of.

In tandemn, you had Steve McManaman following his lead into negativity. There was no mention of the financial gap, difference in managerial experience or standard of player personnel at each club within their analysis of the match.

Not only did they fail to highlight these facts. They ignored that this Celtic team are a progressive one, advancing in the league and trying to build a reputation in Europe under new management.

Sutton’s view on Celtic these days baffles me. The only assumption I can make is that his stance is purely career driven.

McManaman, I have no opinion on really. It was clear he only had an interest in the mighty Liverpool’s blistering 1-0 home victory over Beskitas and Spurs’ fantastic 0-0 draw, both home matches I might add.

Let’s talk about some of those errors though. Craig Gordon gifted two opportunities to prowling Inter players and they were out of character for him.

To be fair to the keeper, the first error began with Denayer playing an awful ball to Matthews who was unable to deal with it. That led to a passage of play forcing a save out of Gordon.

With the initial shot already going wide it was frustrating to see him parry it to Shaqiri who didn’t waste the opportunity. The second error was typical of a “heads down/just your luck” moment.

Izaguirre’s attempted clearance smacked off van Dijk and Palacio pounced. Cruel, unlucky and somewhat deflating.

Then Celtic got a break and two quick goals. Armstrong latched onto a Matthews cutback, tucking it into the Inter goal and the second came courtesy of Armstrong’s pressure, forcing Campagnaro to bundle the ball into his own net.

The game was all square and Celtic were back in the tie. Justified I would say.

However, Palacio would have a further say and Gordon would make another error. What looked to be a good take or a palm off to the side turned out to be something in between.

That resulted in Inter taking the lead once more and Celtic receiving the sucker punch before half time. By which time I had already endured several bouts of emotional trauma.

As tame as the second half was, it produced the moment of the game. Having never been in front the entire match, the draw was the best we could hope for given our luck on the night.

Step forward John Guidetti. A player without a goal since November 30th.

More recently he has been noted for stalling on a permanent deal with Celtic than making the net bulge. He picked his moment to return to form and did so with a sublime finish.

Credit must also go to the pass played by fellow substitute Liam Henderson. The young player’s touch picked out the Swede perfectly and it was all square in the third minute of the six minutes that were added on.

It was almost as though it was written for Guidetti. And a goal to send Celtic supporters into delirium.

When you consider Inter went with the mandatory five man defence manoeuvre to protect their lead, you have to applaud Celtic for picking the lock. Mancini was within his rights to deploy his team this way but Deila’s players took up the challenge.

We often talk about clean sheets and not allowing the opposition an away goal. In reality, I’m pleased we got a draw though.

On last nights evidence, it won’t be impossible to win at the San Siro. Not because Inter are a poor side but because Celtic were unlucky to have lost the goals in such a manor.

Most importantly, Celtic scored goals of high quality. Credit is due to the craft and determination that helped Deila’s players carve out three goals.

If someone had said to me before the match that we were going to be 0-2 down after 15 minutes and 2-2 after 25 munutes I wouldn’t have believed a word of it. This was a game of real football played at maximum pace and I accept 3-3 as a good graft from the team.

The tie is alive and the second leg awaits us next week. There’s everything to play for.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Destiny awaits

Today sees the return of two fierce rivals at Hampden Park, Glasgow. I am of course talking about Celtic fans and Rangers fans.

Both sets of supporters will take up their old places in the stadium. The teams being supported meet for the very first time though.

Articles and blogs have been populated with this fixture ever since the draw was made for the Scottish League Cup sem finals. The media continue to perpetuate the lie that the club Celtic face on this afternoon is the same one they faced for over one hundred years.

As I said in my last post, you are never going to change the opinions of others. People believe what they want to believe but credit to those who aim to set the record straight.

Just as my fellow bloggers have done, we can lay down the facts around the the truth about Rangers. As one half of the divide though, we will struggle to convince anyone who is neutral because we are in direct opposition to the other half.

That is all that people see and that is your problem right there. Despite the media initially reporting the death of Rangers in 2012, they are now fully paid up members of the Rangers are alive and kicking club.

Sound familiar? Well Sir David ‘Moonbeams’ Murray had the media in his back pocket for the entirety of his reign at Rangers 1872. Rangers 2012 have now managed to convince the Scottish media, the SFA and the SPFL that it is the same club.

In reality, the only ones who believe this is the same club are the deluded fans who need someone to follow, follow. The media toe the line along with the muppets at Hampden.

Celtic also play their cards close to their chest. By doing so, they keep the peace.

The sad reality here is that Scottish football has once more gone backwards. Every time an opportunity arises to change the shape of our ailing sport, the powers within the game make a patchwork effort in healing Scottish football.

Everything was done to get Rangers 2012 into the top flight of Scottish football as soon as humanly possible. Only the integrity of the majority of Scottish clubs prevented that from happening.

It didn’t prevent the SPFL/SFA from reforming the structure and adding play-offs though. With the Ibrox club having no chance of winning the Scottish Championship this season, they have a life line in the play-offs with thanks to SPFL/SFA.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the play-offs are a good thing, as it has been in England. The timing of these changes is very convenient for Rangers 2012 though.

So it is up to Celtic to lay to rest this Ibrox team’s efforts in the league cup. Celtic are expected to win but that isn’t how football works.

The Hampden surface is in a terrible state and that will help level the playing field today. Add to that that we’re the biggest team Rangers 2012 have ever faced in their competitive history and there is plenty of motivation for them.

As former Celtic coach Kenny McDowall said:

“We are under major pressure to perform and it’s up to us to prove, if you can work, like Bradford and Middlesbrough did at the weekend, you can upset the favourites.”

Well, it is a cup game and it is not impossible. The only upset I want to see though is that continued upset look on McDowall’s face.

Ronny Deila is new to this level of tension in a fixture. It can get to you but he has plenty of experience around him from head to heads with the old club in guys like John Collins and John Kennedy.

On the field if play he hss more than enough experience and influence to see off the opposition. Gordon, Zaluska, Matthews, Izaguirre, Mulgrew, Brown, Commons, Forrest, Griffiths and Stokes have all played against the old club though not all will play today.

Mulgrew is injured so the rest comes down to starting lineup and substitutions. There are a whole host of options open to Deila for this one though.

My favoured lineup would be:

Gordon, Matthews, Izaguirre, Denayer, van Dijk, Brown, Johansen, Commons, Bitton, Stokes and Griffiths.

Lustig, Forrest and Guidetti as potential substitutes.

The pitch may be a mess, but there can be no mistakes from Celtic today. A date with Dundee United awaits.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie