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

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Ross County v Celtic: preview and lineup

Celtic and Aberdeen sit top of the Scottish Premiership on the same points this morning. Come lunchtime, Ronny Deila has the opportunity to take advantage of one of those games at hand to make open up a gap.

Midweek saw Celtic go ahead by a single point after a comprehensive win over a lacklustre Motherwell side. Derek McInnes’ side could only manage a draw away to St Johnstone last night and lost the chance to keep the pressure on Celtic.

This season is far from over though and there will be more twists and turns to come I am sure. Today though, Celtic must keep up their progress and get an away.

They visit Ross County for today’s 12.45pm kick off and despite the Dingwall outfits league position, nothing should be taken for granted. The last the two teams met, it was a rather drab 0-0 affair and a disappointing end to 2014, having suffered a 2-1 defeat to Dundee United six days earlier.

After a short break to Gran Canaria, Celtic have returned with a spring in their step. With three clean sheets and three wins to start 2015, Deila will be keen to see that maintained.

Yesterday saw the departure of Beram Kayal to Championship side, Brighton & Hove Albion. Albion are struggling this season and will be aiming to avoid the drop.

When Kayal came on the scene at Celtic, he made a huge impact. Injury saw him displaced when he was a key player though he did make a comeback.

His career began to dwindle as he struggled with some injuries. Eventually Victor Wanyama would keep him out of the side before he himself departed for the south coast of England.

There is no doubt that Kayal has talent, but he appears to have wanted to leave for some time. At one stage this season it looked as though Ronny Deila might give him his chance but his departure is good for everyone and I wish him all the best.

If Ronny Deila can offload a few other players not fulfilling their roles or achieving full potential, it will free up wages and open up spaces for youth players and new signings. We may not see much more activity this transfer window for Celtic, but the summer is likely to see Ronny Deila impose more of his own vision on Celtic.

As for today, three points will do nicely. The team:

Gordon, Matthews, Denayer, van Dijk, Izaguirre, Brown, Bitton, Commons, Guidetti, Henderson, Griffiths.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

One game

Defeat can bring out the worst in people, particularly in football. In the aftermath of a humbling European result for Celtic the post mortem has been in full swing.

Having not watched the match live, I was not in the company of my usual crew. I watched the match very late last night having avoided the score all evening to “enjoy” in my own time.

I thought Celtic started well enough even if the team selection was different to what I would have expected. Certainly it was as best a start as I could have expected going into a match of this kind in late July.

Last night the debate was under way with analysis of players, tactics, coaching and of course Celtic not spending cash on the agenda. This is what I’ve come to expect when the proverbial hits the fan, though Celtic didn’t exactly help themselves.

A bright start coupled with a sublime opener by Callum McGregor was short lived following Miroslav Radovic’s equaliser. That was a real slap in the face but that agony was further compounded by another goal by Radovic.

To say both of these goals were defensive brain farts is an understatement. The space gifted to opposition in and around the box was almost gift wrapped.

If Virgil van Dyke and Efe Ambrose built up an understanding last season then that is where it remained last night. Whether it was a communication or purely a positioning issue I am uncertain, but basically the defence didn’t do their job.

Any communication they did possess ceased when Ambrose was sent off. A mistimed tackle was Efe’s last participation in the match due to being the last man.

At 2-1 down and showing signs of fragility, half time couldn’t come quick enough. The chance to regroup was much needed but to be honest any opportunity Deila and his players had to resolve their mistakes ended when Celtic went down to ten men.

The second half was hard to watch. The failure to snub out Legia Warsaw left Celtic riding their luck for 45 minutes.

Charlie Mulgrew, captain in the absence of Scott Brown, stepped into the central defence. His contribution to defensive calamity was as much a surprise as it was a disaster.

In midfield, Celtic lacked the steel and courage to dominate. Moving the ball about at high tempo merely impacted the rate of complete passes.

I also questioned the decision to play Adam Matthews in place of Emilio Izaguirre. I know he has played at left back before but was it necessary?

Many brought up the inclusion of the loaned, Jo Inge Berger. Given that he hasn’t trained to the same degree, it is a valid question.

I’m not judging the player, just the fact that Leigh Griffith’s might have been the better choice. Given that Teemu Pukki knows the players better, hooking him instead of the new boy was another error.

Beram Kayal didn’t bring much to the game as his replacement. By the time he came on, the game was already an uphill struggle and moving players around as we did failed to help matters.

There were too many risks and changes made for this game. It was always going to be a step up from KR Reykjavik.

Under the circumstances the final result of 4-1 could have been much more and some have said that the scoreline flattered Celtic. Then again, perhaps Legia Warsaw aren’t as good as a “could have been 8-1” suggests and that Celtic capitulated?

Come what may its early days for Ronny Deila and his coaching team. They’ve had the instant pressure and expectation of qualifying for European competition.

The departure of Neil Lennon severed the understanding between coaching staff and team, though he himself suggested that the relationship was waning in his final six months. The one thing that has remained in place is the same squad, minus of course the services of Georgios Samaras.

Last season saw this group of players plateau on the European stage. Deila’s outlook of high tempo football may be a long term vision but to expect this group of players to make that happen could be a big ask.

As yet, we have yet to discover whether any of the transfer speculation regarding some of our players yield any truth. If departures are imminent then Deila would need to be able to spend.

Youth will hopefully be given its chance, as McGregor and Henderson have. Should Deila’s vision be realised, the team will need enhancing but possibly not before departure of one or two.

With all of this in mind, the tie is still open. A three goal deficit is far from encouraging but Deila should at least be afforded the courtesy to put it right with eleven players rather than ten he had for the second half.

We can analyse the damage as I have myself and we know the mistakes that were made but I think many have been too on quick to condemn Deila. Strachan and Lennon didn’t exactly have the best start to their Celtic management careers in Europe, but they did alright in the end.

Murrayfield may not be Celtic Park but it is still home territory for us and the chance remains to turn things around. A tougher opponent would surely await in that next round so its worth remembering when you look at last seasons Champions League performances with this squad, the Europa League could be better value for a team in transition.

We all want the Champions League, but it might be too soon for Deila. A week from now we’ll know where we stand on that matter.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Work to be done

And so another season comes to a close with another league Championship in the bag. Had it not been for Celtic’s unfortunate Scottish Cup exit all eyes could have been fixed on this Saturday’s final, but what’s done is done.

I do enjoy a day in May and Hampden in the sun, even if it’s not that good an atmosphere or venue for football any more. And there’s that feeling once more that our season dried up after European exit and the realisation thay nobody can possibly win the league other than Celtic.

That is the reality of Scottish football right now. And in many ways its good that Celtic don’t have a double or treble.

Good in that other Scottish clubs experience glory as they should. That they can claim the scalp that prevents them from winning the league.

An yet its  a bad thing because it can devalue the trophy. Not me of course, I’ve always been a huge fan of the Scottish Cup and I miss being involved.

Of course this year the final is at Celtic Park and not Hampden so I’m pleased with that for starters. The atmosphere generated is superior, the camera positioning for TV gives the viewer a better perspective of the matchplay and well… its Paradise.

That’s by the by though. The fact is Celtic won’t be there to compete.

Its fair to say that Neil Lennon has missed out on another treble opportunity but the heads are not down. Having said that, the finalists deserve to be there and Celtic don’t.

So what next for Celtic then? Well there will be exits this summer.

Sammy is the first confirmed departure, whether he wanted to go or not. If players are to be brought in then its likely more room will have to be made.

Other than the ongoing rumoured interest in Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk nobody else on the playing staff is a cert to leave. However, Celtic may decide to cut their losses with some under performers.

Amido Baldé, Teemu Pukki, Derk Boerrigter and Beram Kayal are all names on the lips of frustrated fans. Some have suggested all of these guys could go on the summer though I’m more realistic that it will amount to no more than two.

Pukki started off with a couple of goals this season and then faded faster than London Road School did. Typically, when the expectation and spotlight came off him, his performances eventually improved and unless he’s not enjoying life at Celtic, I think he’s got another chance at the club.

Still, he must improve further if he is to win over the fans or indeed the manager. If doesn’t, he’ll join the club of recently failed strikers that already include Morten Rasmussen, Mo Bangura and Daryl Murphy – not where you want to be.

Also in that category is Amido Baldé, who on arrival was pretty raw. The few opportunities he has had to prove himself have been inconclusive in my opinion, but Lennon sees him on the training ground so it’ll be interesting to find out if as he’s seen enough.

On the flank (or should that be the treatment table?) is Derk Boerrigter. He has had his injuries throughout the season, but lets be honest, when you come with the player nickname ‘sick note’, you’re a gamble.

Allegedly he didn’t cost the club as much as was first mentioned. Though that doesn’t excuse just how unimpressed we’ve all been.

When I saw him in the opening game of the season at Celtic Park I thought he looked well up for it. That was of course until he went off injured in the same match.

I reserved judgement until I’d seen more evidence but this had been a write off début season. Will he get another chance though?

Last on my list is Beram Kayal. In contrast to ‘sick note’ the, Israeli international had a fantastic start to his Celtic career.

Despite suffering injury in that first season, he had successfully established himself in the Celtic midfield and caused the media to report of imminent moves to Man U (we know how well that went for Liam Miller). Sadly, since then he has picked up further injuries and lacked the composure witnessed in his début season.

I’m sure many thought, as I did, he would stake his claim once more in the wake of Victor Wanyama’s departure last summer. To a certain extent he did only to endure further injury and poor form.

So a huge question mark hangs over Kayal’s future at Celtic. He is claimed to have bad mouthed Celtic and Scotland but the accuracy of those comments have never been verified.

Whatever the future of these guys, changes in the squad will be made. Some player’s might move up the ladder such as Friðjónsson and some may need a new challenge like Zaluska.

Whatever the comings and goings take place, one man who will not oversee it is Johan Mjallby. His imminent departure sparked not just rumours about the vacancy he would create but the future of Neil Lennon himself.

In Johan you have a man who served Celtic as a player and in a god-like manor. He played through the pain barrier for Martin O’Neill and was rightly credited by the Irishman as the type of player he could have done with having a whole team of.

As an assistant manager I don’t see that quality. That’s why I think he has to be his own man and I wish him all the best with that – a rare idol of mine, I must say.

So what about Lennon? Is this a prelude to his departure?

For me, not a chance. I know a few folk in the Celtic community might think so but I’m not convinced.

I’m fairly certain there’s a number of Scottish and Northern Irish folk who would like him to leave as well. But can I just remind all of you that this guy has stuck with this club through thick and thin please?

He’s battled the kind elements the majority of us have only dealt with, one at a time at the most and some not at all. Lennon has taken on physical violence, death threats, parcel bombs and depression.

Aside from family life itself, that’s just the personal check list. He still has to manage the media, the board, the owner, the players, the expectations of the fans, a tight budget and of course every team that wants to beat Glasgow Celtic at home and abroad.

Do you think he’s doing a good job? I do and I think it’s absurd to suggest that a man with such will and determination should or could you go.

For starters, he is still a young manager and probably not equipped for Premier League jobs. He has done well with what he has, but surviving the English Premier League is different territory altogether.

Also, it should not be forgotten that Scottish football is so transparent these days, Celtic would struggle to capture someone of sufficient quality to improve things with the same constraints a Celtic managerial role has. Celtic is a self sufficient club but Scottish football is as unstable as the Ibrox bank balance.

Lennon can and will achieve more at Celtic and is far from the finished article in coaching. A time will come when it is time for him to move on but that time is not now.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Until Tuesday then…

There’s nothing better than playing at a stadium with bit of noise. Sadly, there aren’t many to choose from in Scottish football anymore, but from my sofa Easter Road sounded decent enough for the viewer.

Celtic travelled to Edinburgh for the lunchtime kick off against Hibs. It wasn’t an eyecatching first half but at least the atmosphere generated was one more deserving of TV coverage.

Hibs took a disputable lead on 18 minutes much to the distaste of Neil Lennon. Celtic were closed down quickly and hassled off the ball during that first 45 minutes but it didn’t prevent them making attacking moves.

The second half saw a better performance from Celtic but it took until the 77th minute to draw level. As is often the case, they had the lions share of possession but still had to contend with some rough tackling from Hibs.

There was ample time and opportunity for Celtic to do something about the scoreline though. Neil Lennon had deployed a whole host of attackers but it was second half substitute James Forrest who scored for Celtic.

He’s often received criticism for disappearing in games but he showed the fans and his teammates where the goal was. It was a superb finish to the far post from the outside of the boot which is right up there with the best of this seasons goals so far.

Forrest almost grabbed another later on had it not been for an excellent one handed save from the Hibs keeper. The winger looked a little dejected at the end having come so close to getting all three points but he singlehandedly got one point for his club.

With a starting lineup including Commons, Pukki, Stokes and Samaras I suggest Lennon was trying to put this match to bed early. Had any of these players been as clinical as Forrest then the manager would have got his wish.

Instead Commons had to come off early with an injury. If it weren’t for the fact Celtic face Ajax on Tuesday he may even have walked that one off.

My feeling is that it was more a precautionary measure than a conclusive inury. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.

One refreshing feature from yesterday’s match was the performance of Darnell Fisher. I first saw him turn in a good display against Liverpool, albeit it in a friendly.

It was always going to be a bit of a step up for him given the void left by Lustig and Matthews. On yesterdays contribution alone I would say he stood up to task well.

Fisher bore the brunt of the hefty tackling from Hibs but he also took it in his stride. His progress up the right channel often led to the exchange of passing moves rather than just a defending role.

Champions League duty may prove a daunting task for him should Lustig fail to be fit. I don’t think it will come to that but he seems capable for a young player.

From what I saw on TV, there is no doubt the Celtic players had their minds on the Ajax match yesterday but they can now give Tuesday their full attention. Decisions will be made in the next couple of days on the fitness of Commons, Lustig and Izaguirre.

Players who haven’t featured much recently such as Ledley will be considered for starting places as well. Though it is more likely that Kayal will be first pick in midfield along with Mulgrew.

There is also the option of new boy Nir Biton. He hasn’t looked out of place on early viewing and with the absence of Scott Brown for the next three Champions League games, Neil Lennon will need as many options as possible.

On the attacking front, things need to settle down. Stokes has started the season on spectacular form but he isn’t an out-and-out striker.

Despite some goals, Pukki hasn’t settled in yet but his role is in the striking department and hopefully there will be more to come from him very soon. Samaras looks confident right now but a goal from him and a victory on Tuesday night would supercharge the Greek for sure.

In the Champions League he has been fantastic for Lennon. Two narrow defeats against Milan and Barcelona haven’t prevented him from putting in good performances either so Lennon will be counting on him big time.

Celtic’s first Champions League points must be taken against Ajax. In the stands the fans will be right behind the players and I’ll be in travelling north to be there.

I can’t wait. Until Tuesday, Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie