Thistle get stung by Celtic

soccer-pa-45Celtic tucked away a 4-1 victory on Friday night at Firhill. Partick Thistle missed opportunities but they didn’t really trouble Celtic enough to alter the destination of the game.

Brendan Rodgers made some personnel changes and the football wasn’t as fluid over the 90 minutes as we’ve seen of late. However, after going out of Europe with a spirited display on Tuesday night you could forgive the squad for displaying some fatigue.

There weren’t too many talking points from this game apart from the goals which were all of good quality. Stuart Armstrong sent home his first goal six minutes from the interval thanks to a great square ball by a hard-working Leigh Griffiths.

Armstrong was front and centre once more in the second half as he received yet another assist from Griffiths in the 49th minute. A free kick from the right hand side of the Thistle box was knocked low into Armstrong who controlled and finished calmly.

Griffiths then turned from provider to opportunist a minute later. It was a reminder of what he is great at when capitalising on hesitant opponents by notching up his first and Celtic’s third, after some quick-wittedness in the danger zone.

Thistle then pulled one back after a solid header from a free-kick beat Craig Gordon. Celtic were sloppy on this occasion but the a Jags weren’t.

The Firhill players then sensed another opportunity and almost did the same again with a near identical free kick and header. Thistle weren’t as fortunate with offside given on this occasion, but if they had been the game may have looked very different from this point on.

With Thistle not giving up, Callum McGregor had come off the bench to secure the win for Celtic. A delightful ball in from cut back on the touch-line by Emilio Izaguirre found McGregor who slotted it ball home from close range.

There has been criticism on Callum McGregor and his finishing. Yet, he’s scored twice in his last two games and as Brendan Rodgers says, he’s always good for a goal.

I think he is a magic wee player who has a role to play. Goals and guile he has in abundance and is a good squad player.

The one key talking point for me in this match was the foul/penalty claim by Ade Azeez. I didn’t see much contact when it happened in real-time and when the replay was shown, I couldn’t see much more either.

Chris Sutton was keen to see the replay and the different camera angles but he along with the rest of the pundits were convinced Gordon had taken Azeez out of the game. Well, I’ve looked at it several times and I still can’t see any contact in or outside the box and I am by no means in denial.

I don’t think any of the replays show contact and for once I’m not hearing too much from the media suggesting that Celtic got away with murder. Despite this not being a polished display, there were some very good performances at Firhill though.

I thought the Partick Thistle keeper Tomas Cerny was great to stop Leigh Griffiths from helping himself to more goals. In turn, Leigh Griffiths was instrumental in practically every forward move.

He demonstrated his full skill set in this match. His footwork is unbelievable at times and has proven time and time again that he can provide assists as well as goals.

That was certainly on display at Firhill. He did so much in this game which at times even includes tracking back which isn’t something you get from a player like him very often.

And….that’s the difference between Leigh and Moussa Demeble. The French forward has been fantastic for Celtic but there are significant differences between himself and his Scottish counterpart.

They both offer something different to Brendan Rodgers and equally as effective. That is the kind of headache you want as a manager but it remains to be seen if he will ever play them together.

Out on the wings, it was a pretty quiet night for Celtic. Patrick Roberts looked decent early on but like his fellow winger, Gary Mackay-Steven over on the left, they were both having a largely unproductive match.

The same could be said for Tom Rogic but to be fair, I felt the majority of the play was coming from Cristian Gamboa and Emilio Izaguirre. Some Celtic fans have been quick to judge Gamboa but he came onto a game at Firhill.

It should be remembered that he has barely kicked a ball for Celtic this season and needs time to establish himself before we sound the horn of disapproval. On the other hand, I though Izzy was great down the left and provided a lot of support to the front men.

Armstrong was good throughout as was captain Scott Brown who continues to have a fantastic season. The Celtic defence was steady enough to see off Thistle but in terms of future proofing, Brendan Rodgers will need to establish interchangeable players for central defence.

Whilst Mikael Lustig can play in there, I still think he is better at right back or in a back three. Erik Sviatchenko is a key figure in this squad and will play there week-in, week-out but I am sure he would like to know who his partners are going to be in the long-term.

Jozo Simunovic is being used sparingly for fitness reasons which is fine but I’d like to think we can bring in one more suitable defender to do the same job. Kolo Toure brought steadiness and experience at the beginning of the season but even he is looking short of confidence right now and almost certainly won’t be here next season.

As for Dedryck Boyata, I am not sure what will happen with him. I’ve never really been convinced by him and I’m not sure if Brendan Rodgers is either.

Efe Ambrose has become a spectator and his time at the club will end in the summer if not before. So unless Eoghan O’Connell is deemed to be an option in the long-term, central defence needs another player.

However, a good win for Celtic and good to see some players getting a run out. I’m sure as the season progresses and January looms, availability for places will grow with injuries, suspensions and exits.

Eleven points clear at the top of the league, two games at hand and the rest of the Scottish Premiership in action today. The question remains, will Celtic go the distance unbeaten?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

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Celtic not too far off the pace when you consider Spurs result

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It appears that the gap between Celtic and Borussia Mönchengladbach is not as big as we first thought. Celtic played at Borussia Park on Tuesday and earned a draw against the German side, but the Hoops almost won it.

After taking the lead through Lars Stindl on 32 minutes, it looked as though Celtic might be facing a second defeat by Gladbach. However, the performance either side of this opening goal by Celtic was far better than the one they put in at Celtic Park.

That wouldn’t be difficult of course because they never turned up at home two weeks ago anyway. What is more commendable though is that Celtic were vastly weakened going into this match, the odds were stacked against them (aren’t they always?) and going in at half-time a goal down you might just think another goal would finish the match.

Celtic had other ideas though and played some good football throughout the game. Scott Sinclair had already hit the upright before going a goal down to the Germans and there was still fight in Celtic.

Gladbach also hit the woodwork and both keepers were drawn into action, but it was Celtic who showed greater character in the second half. Away from home and a goal behind, Moussa Dembele won and scored a penalty with the resultant offender red carded.

Celtic smelled blood and were trying to win it as well. Nobody will be more disappointed than Callum McGregor at failing to hit the target after being one-on-one with the goalkeeper in the closing stages of the game.

On another day, I’m pretty sure McGregor would have tucked it away. It wasn’t to be and so the task remains tall with one win required at the very least to even have a chance of qualifying.

When the group was drawn, we all knew it would be tough and that the best we could hope for would be third place. After four roller coaster games Celtic are still in it, however unlikely it may seem that Brendan Rodgers will be playing European football after Christmas this season.

As I said at the beginning though, perhaps the gap isn’t as big as we thought. Rodgers mentioned ‘time’ in his post match interview as the requirement to make progress and not ‘investment’ as the BT Sport interviewer did.

I found that encouraging because it calmed the nonsense that usually arises from the post match analysis after these European fixtures. Speaking of which, look no further than Tottenham Hotspur as an example.

Last night they slumped to a 0-1 defeat at home to another mid-table Bundesliga side, Bayer Leverkusen. I’ve commented previously about the gulf in finance between Celtic and many other European clubs, but Spurs are not short of cash.

In fact like Celtic they are run pretty well financially. The difference is they can spend like most high-end European clubs can because of the income generated in English football.

Like Gladbach, Leverkusen sit mid-table but they showed away from home that they can get a result. So perhaps Celtic aren’t as far out of things as we think when you compare the Spurs v Leverkusen result.

If Brendan needs time to close that gap then he has it. I’m sure Celtic will invest what they can, but the response in Germany was very encouraging and the Bhoys were desperately unlucky not to get the win.

I guess all Celtic need to do is beat Manchester City or Barcelona (or both) and we’re in the Europe after Christmas eh? Sounds like a challenge.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Cock of Gibraltar 

I wrote that headline in jest earlier today. I didn’t think I’d be using it in my post match blog.

I’m not going to round on one player though. He doesn’t pick himself – that’s the manager’s job.

The question is why has Efe Ambrose survived three Celtic managers? Why not play O’Connell or McCart tonight?

Better still, sign a defender for the short term whilst we await our injured defenders coming back. No, lets play Efe because it worked so well for Neil and Ronny.

Well Brendan, you’ve made your first mistake. Putting your faith in a calamity. 

We knew the conditions and we knew our opponents beat a better side in the previous round. We also knew about Efe’s ability to fuck things up, but you ignored all of it anyway.

Let’s just be clear on one thing though: Celtic were dire tonight. The surface contributed to that but should still have done much better.

A forgettable start for Brendan, but I’m hopeful we’ll plough through this mob on grass in Glasgow. A sore one nonetheless which will need to be exorcised immediately. 

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac 

Steady as she goes…

For the second time in a week, Partick Thistle were turned over 2-1 at Firhill. This was good news for Ronny Deila even if it wasn’t for Alan Archibald.

It was an important win for Celtic which had a nervy ending. With Aberdeen inflicting the other 2-1 win over the Jags, the title race is being maintained for now.

The Dons also won on Saturday to close the gap to 1 point again. Though Celtic still have a game at hand to play with.

A slender gap keeps everyone on their toes and right now, that is a good thing. Yesterday’s performance at Firhill didn’t ooze class but it was solid enough once more from back to front.

Craig Gordon seems to have rediscovered his form recently which is good because he has kept us in the game with some of those performances. A bit earlier in the season and we may not have been so lucky.

Since Charlie Mulgrew has stepped into the back four he has looked good. We found out by accident under Neil Lennon just how useful he was as a centre back but he has rarely played there in recent times.

Right now, I think he is a good choice next to Erik Sviatchenko who, aside from handing Partick a late penalty, has been an imposing presence. With a more settled defence, it has probably aided Gordon with his goal keeping, knowing what his defence are going to do.

Mikael Lustig has had a long run of games and dealt well with his injuries this season so far. On the opposite berth Kieran Tierney hasn’t just ousted Emilio Izaguirre, he has established himself as one of this seasons best players and is without a doubt a fans favourite certain to pick up at least one award at the end of the year if not two.

In the midfield it has been chop and change throughout. Too many players to choose from has been a hindrance in my opinion.

Yesterday it was a good display from the quintet of Scott Brown, Nir Bitton, Kris Commons, Callum McGregor and Gary Mackay-Steven. They all worked hard and kept things moving though only Commons looked a little off the pace at times.

McGregor grabbed a beauty of a goal as did the man in front of him, Leigh Griffiths. Both players demonstrated good footwork and finishing and despite losing a goal towards the end of the game it was enough to take all three points.

So job done and onto the next match which is away to Aberdeen’s latest challengers, Kilmarnock. In fact including yesterday’s game at Firhill, Celtic will have played 4 of their final 5 Scottish Premiership matches before the split away from home.

Call me Paranoid Patrick, but isn’t that just a tad ridiculous for any club? Sure we get the live TV coverage, albeit 4 of those 5 games have now all been scheduled for lunchtime kick-offs, but does that really serve the travelling fans well?

No, not really. Celtic fans should get a medal just for coming in their droves at stupid o’clock just because the club are at the mercy of BT Sport and Sky.

There isn’t much you can do about it without it. As a Scottish football club you are lucky to get a game televised and the available slots aren’t any better.

The best we can hope for TV coverage are evening slots during the week or on Friday nights. Our next match though is yet another Saturday lunchtime kick in the baws…..as is the next one…..and then the match two after the next…..

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac