Sinclair breaks Hearts

Just when it was looking like a draw, up stepped debutant Scott Sinclair to send Celtic fans wild. Tynecastle is a hostile environment and it rarely produces a dull match when Celtic come to town.

Sunday’s opening league match away to Hearts was always going to be a tough start for Brendan Rodgers. Celtic took the lead though in just 8 minutes as James Forrest pounced onto the loose ball Callum McGregor had been relieved of inside the penalty box.

It looked like a penalty but play continued to allow Celtic their first goal of the domestic season. Hearts were up in arms about Stuart Armstrong interfering with play (though not at the time of the incident) but whether the rules say he was or wasn’t,  McGregor was fouled for a penalty that wasn’t given so let’s scratch that one shall we?

Talking of penalties, Hearts equaliser came courtesy of a Jamie Walker dive. There was no contact with Kieran Tierney and by his own admission the referee owned up to getting that one wrong. 

Will Jamie Walker face retrospective discipline for cheating? Not unless he changes his name to Derk Boerrigter.

One glaring opportunity that Hearts should have equalised with was the free header ex-Celt Tony Watt had. Not only was he unmarked by Mikael Lustig, the goal was wide open for him. 

Nae luck wee man. Thanks for missing though.

Later on there was another penalty shout for Hearts. At best it would have been very soft and not giving it was the correct decision, most likely aided by the Hearts spot kick awarded in error earlier in the match. 

Like Wednesday night against FC Astana though, this match produced a winning moment from the bench. I don’t know if ‘Mystic Mick’ McManus saw this in his crystal ball, but Scott Sinclair seized his opportunity to win the match for Celtic. 

Celtic broke down the left hand side after a Hearts move broke down. The ball was chased down by Leigh Griffiths who, after fending off his pursuers, squared the ball long and low to the onrushing Sinclair who finished neatly inside the box.

What a start for the English winger and what an end to a fiesty match. Celtic deserved their victory, even when you take into account all of the right and wrong decisions.

Robbie Neilson, a good young coach, sadly had a touch of the Jim Jeffries about himself post-match. Being a sore loser and not understanding the rules of the game only makes you look like a bit of a fanny, so only whinge when your facts are solid.

On the subject of fannies, Sportscene was back last night and in glorious er…SD. We were told of this new time slot and promised longer coverage.

What about the Scottish Championship coverage though? Why would they ever have dropped that segment for this season I wonder?

Still no post match interviews from Ibrokes for the BBC. I guess Sportscene will need to try even harder though I doubt their two bob mixture fund will stretch any further.

The Scottish Premiership’s first timers might have failed to speak to the grovelling BBC, but it wasn’t because they drew with Hamilton Accies at home. It’s all historical, though given their history only goes back to 2012, not that historical.

Elsewhere the Dons drew with St Johnstone in a 0-0 thriller. Having gone out of Europe to Celtic’s old foes Maribor midweek I thought Aberdeen would come out of the traps at the weekend.

So none of Celtic’s so called ‘contenders’ managed a winning start. I guess that’s because only Celtic have a £4M player on the bench eh Robbie?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Celtic first, Scotland second

As a Scotsman I was totally disappointed with Scotland’s Euro exit last Thursday. Even with my Irish roots, I felt somewhat bitter and jealous toward the Republic of Ireland and their win over World Champions Germany.

Not all Celtic fan’s will be in the same boat, but that’s how it is for me. Celtic first, Scotland second and Ireland…..well if they’re in a competition I’ll back them over any other country but that’s another story for another time.

I’m a big fan of Gordon Strachan. Even before he came to Celtic, I liked the guy.

Despite our failure to reach France 2016 and yet another major competition, I would like Gordon to stay on. The job needs finishing and some progress has been made with these players under his management.

The result away to Georgia was the one that made things difficult for Scotland. Of course there were plenty of unlucky results against Poland and Germany but Georgia was a costly mistake.

I’m not going to hold that against Strachan though. He just has to move on and build for the next qualifying campaign.

And that won’t be an easy task either. In a group with England, Lithuania, Malta, Slovenia and Slovakia, Gordon Strachan has his work cut out already.

A betting man would put England through as group winners meaning Scotland’s best chance is that second spot. Eight of the best runners-up from the nine European qualifying groups will go into a play off with the eventual four winners going through.

That’s a bigger task than the one this most recent of campaigns. The question is will Strachan fancy it?

I don’t think there is a better manager out there right now to do the job. Given the amount of poor managers Scotland have had in place in the past, you need to know when you have a good one.

There’s a new breed of players still trying to get a Scotland cap. Let’s work on that and start a new wave for what will be a tough campaign with more pressure because by the time Moscow 2018 comes around it will have been 20 years since Scotland’s last tournament.

In the aftermath of this campaign, it has been suggested that Scott Brown may retire from international football. Personally I’d like to see him continue until the qualifiers begin and use it as an opportunity to ‘hand over the reigns’ as it were.

By the time the current season is over he will be approaching 31 years old. The other figure I would like to see him reach is 50 caps for Scotland.

I think he has earned it and using those four caps to welcome in the next captain would be fitting. Once he has done that, he can concentrate firmly on his club career at Celtic.

It’s not unusual for players to start hanging up their international boots around this age. The demands of players such as himself as captain of club and country and playing in four domestic competitions a season is quite demanding.

I’d like to see him play for another six years at Celtic. Quitting the international scene might be the only way to achieve that.

As I said before, Celtic first and Scotland second. Unlucky Gordon, but let’s focus on the future.

Fellow blogger, James Forrest, asked recently who was the better Celtic manager out of Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan. Like myself in previous articles, I’ve brought to the table all of the factors into my writings.

Personally, I can’t take one over the other for a variety of reasons as they both did equally good work for the club. James makes good points about both managers and there’s no doubt that Martin had a powerful impact that helped change the direction of the club but Gordon was charged with taking that further and he did.

Martin had the better players and spent a lot of money but also benefited from Larsson. Gordon built a team with less money whilst seeing most of Martin’s players disappear.

That was a tough job and he did it without the backing of many fans. Gordon had the tougher circumstances and Martin had greater control.

We ALL wanted Martin. Not everyone wanted Gordon.

They both served Celtic well in their time and put us where we are today. Time for Ronny to make an argument for himself.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Spicey encounter awaits at Hampden Park

This week saw Virgil van Dijk and Paul Paton’s red cards rescinded allowing both players to take part in today’s League Cup Final at Hampden, as will the unpunished Calum Butcher. However, it was Scott Brown who grabbed the media spot light for this one.

You may have noticed one or two articles being run about the Celtic skipper enjoying himself the night before his day off? Oooh the scandal!

For me this was a non-story to begin with. With pictures and quotes being printed and uploaded in abundance, I could just sense that people were hoping more was going to come from “Broony’s big night out”

And thats just it, there was nothing worth discussing except of course does he have garlic mayo and chilli sauce like me? With a day off to wake up to, a bit of a splurge is nothing when you’ve been working your nuts off all season.

Celtic made no comment about the matter and quite rightly so. The only thing that does matter is that Scott Brown turns up today with his game face on as he has done all season.

His presence in the team is important and blowing off some steam midweek will probably have done him some good. Even the currrent in-form-as-kisser Chris Sutton weighed in with some support to play matters down, but we don’t need your opinion Chris so thanks but no thanks.

Today’s match is huge and you can be sure Broony will be right in amongst it. I wonder what the bookies odds are for him scoring and celebrating with a reinactment of Wednesday night?

In all seriousness, this is built up to be a great game today. Dundee United have been in good form this season and always a great team to play against.

The downside for United is the missing Nadir Ciftci. He was rightly suspended after last weeks post match inquiry for his deliberate kick at Scott Brown.

Ciftci is a key danger man for United but I don’t expect his absence to hamper their chances in this match. Jackie McNamara, one of my favourite all time Celtic players, will have his players fired up for this.

I was always under the impression McNamara was a quiet, calm guy who focused on his game at Celtic. In truth, he did as much challenging behind the scenes as he did on the park.

He also walked away from Celtic when they were slow to offer him a new deal. It wasn’t the ideal way to leave after being such a great servant but he is his own man.

That is why its no surprise he is in management and making a good go of it. He’s the longest serving head coach in the Scottish Premiership at present and hopefully will continue that if Scottish football ever hopes to gain some momentum again.

Scottish football needs coaches like McNamara to reignite the game once more. Usually once a coach gets a better offer from down south they’re gone and yet the grass isn’t always greener so hopefully Jackie will stick around for a while.

This has been one of the best Scottish football seasons in the top flight for as far back as I can remember. Where it wasn’t just about Celtic and Rangers, as it was before the demise of the latter.

Since then its just been about Celtic but this season its been about Dundee United, Aberdeen, Inverness and even Hamilton’s early season form. Sure, Celtic may still be on for the treble but they are being challenged at long last.

So today will be no pushover for Ronny Deila, not after last weeks encounter at Tannadice. Finals can produce anything and will provide enough entertainment to keep us all perched on the edge of our seats.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the refereeing today as well. With Bobby Madden in charge you can only wonder how he’ll perform.

Is it nearly kick off yet? Make mine a Hampden kebab with everything on it.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Firm Opinions

On Sunday, a full page advert was taken out in the Sunday Herald containing a statement from a group of Celtic supporters. Those who funded it did so with the intention of setting the record straight on all things “Rangers”.

Whilst many Celtic supporters share the view that has been outlined in the statement, the decision to take out an advert has not. Reaction has been mixed amongst the wider support and as you would imagine the blue half of the divide had their say on the matter as well.

Now we’ve long argued about the term “Old Firm” but no newspaper advert or statement is ever going to prevent the media from using it. The best that can be achieved here is that a group of Celtic supporters have gone on record to air their views, it is not officially club backed.

The timing of this advert is of course in the path of Sunday’s meeting between Celtic and the Rangers team that now occupy Ibrox. Some would suggest that it has only added fuel to the fire, and I would agree, but the real motivation here is that the “Old Firm” term has been wheeled out once more to the disgust of many a Celtic fan.

Many Celtic supporters would like to distance themselves from the usage of the term particularly as it was originally used to describe the historical Celtic v Rangers clashes, not this new one. Having said that, the phrase has never really gone down well with Celtic fans at all, but even more so now that the club that does reside at Ibrox is not recognised by many (not just Celtic supporters) as the club that once did.

The one thing I can say wholeheartedly about the advert, whether I agree with the motion of it or not, is that it was not created to generate conflict. It was merely something which most Celtic fans felt had to be said because no one else was saying it, particularly in the corridors of Hampden and the laptops of the media.

The Rangers debate will go on forever, you can be sure of that. The advert may not sit well with everyone, but it is clear how people feel.

The question is, will it have any effect Scottish football in the weeks and months ahead? That all depends on how strong you feel about it.

If you are a Rangers fan then its likely your view here is that it is still the same club playing at Ibrox these days. I’m sure in the minds of those supporters, its the best they’re going to get so I can’t blame them for trying.

I’ve covered the position of the Celtic community and it is mixed. Celtic Football Club have not declared their position on this and I doubt they ever will.

How do other clubs feel about it though? Is it really that big a deal for everyone else?

Again, I would have to say it appears to be mixed amongst supporters of other Scottish clubs. Though I wouldn’t expect to see any kind of statement from these supporters or clubs.

Come Sunday, two sets of fans will be housed in Hampden Park once more. Technically it will be the first time these two teams have met, but the fans know each other all to well.

Veteran’s of the historical fixtures say that Scotland needs this fixture. In fact most ex-players and managers still use the phrase “Old Firm” so for me, this statement will do little to change anything.

Sky Sports, STV, BBC, BT Sport and all the newspapers will still be using the term years from now. Everyone gets their say in this matter but you cannot change opinions.

There is a big game on Sunday. Lets focus on winning that.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Rules are rules

It’s not the kind of path you expect to walk down, but rules are rules. Celtic are back in the running for the Champions League Group Stage after being handed a second chance at the expense of their conquerors, Legia Warsaw.

At what stage UEFA became aware of Legia Warsaw’s breach of rules is uncertain. Having glanced over their rules last night, this mornings 9am meeting in Nyon appeared to be a mere formality.

Multiple attempts by the media to draw a comparison with Legia’s situation to that of Debreceni VSC’s in 2010, when they fielded an ineligible player, was nothing more than lazy journalism. The rules affecting each case aren’t even in the same category, but it only goes to show how much unverified nonsense gets passed from one media outlet to another.

Debreceni VSC fielded an ineligible player in 2010 against Bulgarian side, PFC Litex Lovech. Péter Máté was deemed ineligible because he was not on the official list submitted to UEFA whereas Bartosz Bereszyński had only served part of his suspension.

In the case of Bereszyński:
* “A match is declared forfeit if a player who has been suspended following a disciplinary decision participates in the match”

In the case of Máté:
* “A match may be declared forfeit if a player who is ineligible participates in the match, as long as the opposing team files a protest”

Máté was not suspended, just not on the official list submitted UEFA. Bereszyński was on the official list submitted to UEFA, but also suspended.

Despite the obvious screw up or misunderstanding by Legia Warsaw only they are culpable here. There may be zero advantage in Bereszyński’s appearance but the breach is clear.

The fact that the forfeit is to award the opposition a 3-0 win is only part of it. Had the Pole’s actually scored either of their penalties from the first leg they would still have gone through.

Hard luck for them considering Celtic go through on the away goals rule 4-4 on aggregate. They can’t have any complaints though.

This morning Sky Sports News were pedalling the same nonsense that the BBC (amongst others media outlets) were last night. Only those who chose to research UEFA rules or even read them knew that unless this was UEFA’s own error, the rules were clearly broken by Legia Warsaw.

As it turns out he Polish team have chosen to appeal the decision. They have stated that the punishment is disproportionate to the breach of rules.

Not wishing to jump the gun here, I cannot see this being overturned. Any teams who have been punished previously would be up in arms i.e. FC Arsenal Kyiv’s (though they are now dissolved!) forfeit to ND Mura 05 in 2012.

With all that to one side Celtic now find themselves facing Maribor in a Champions League play off. This change of fortunes guarantees European football for the club whether they overcome the Slovenian champions or not.

At this stage I am not fussy though obviously, I’d prefer Celtic to avoid further humiliation! The question most fans are asking is that with European football guaranteed until December, will the club supply Ronny Deila with funds to strengthen the squad?

In the past the club have been prudent to the point where they haven’t bought a player until a Champions League position has been secured. Although that competition is assured, the Europa League is.

If the Celtic board are as good as our bank balance suggests, then they’ll already know the projected income from a Europa League campaign. Should income be the dictating factor in transfer funds, then Celtic can surely start spending now.

The other question is the future of the current squad. The rumours around our key players will surely be cast in doubt now that Europe is secures until Christmas.

With that in mind, does it be any better? Well yes it does actually.

In the last 24 hours, HMRC announced their decision to appeal in the “Big Tax Case”. Whilst they may not succeed with this, the odds are in still their favour going by previous cases.

As I said at the beginning, rules are rules and down The Celtic Way, we like to play by them as well as remind people of them. Celtic may have gotten lucky here but they lost fair and square and still won in the end!

Sadly, elsewhere in Scotland we saw Aberdeen and St Johnstone exit European competition last night after a valiant effort by both clubs. This leaves Celtic as the only Scottish club flying the flag in Europe this season.

Not unusual, but once again, not great for the coefficient either. Keep the green flag flying high.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

* thanks to moravcik67 from the Kerrydale Street forum for highlighting the UEFA rules last night