Champagne on ice

I’ve mentioned in recent weeks about other Scottish teams that have impressed me this season. One of those teams happened to be Hibs.

So it came as no surprise when they beat Celtic on Saturday lunchtime at Easter Road. It means that the title Champagne is on ice for at least another week now.

Before this match I warned that Neil Lennon wouldn’t want to be the manager to hand the title to Celtic. Aside from being a servant for almost 15 years at Celtic, his current job has it’s own demands such as a European place.

And that’s just what Hibs took another step closer to making a reality. By defeating Celtic, one of only three Scottish clubs to have done so this season so far, Hibs have put pressure on Rangers who today will host Hearts.

There was of course disappointment at the manor of this loss. Both teams had come out of the blocks and were sluugging it out.

Celtic struggled for composure in the final third of the park. As the match wore on, Hibs determination was shining through.

The previous week’s evidence of what Celtic can do when in the mood was absent in Leith. Take nothing away from Hibs though, it was a fine performance from start to finish.

They’ve come close to beating Celtic this season and have the fewest amount of league defeats next to Celtic. Now they finally got the victory they’d deserved.

Although not Celtic’s best game it was a good match. Certainly a good advert for the Scottish game.

A neutral would have enjoyed this one. A real end-to-end, fist fight of a match.

I was very impressed with Kristoffer Ajer in this game. He’s developing into a fine player.

Naturally I was disappointed with the result though. What it does set up is a fixture that the governing bodies and police had planned to avoid.

With Aberdeen beating Kilmarnock on Saturday afternoon, the mathematical possibility of Celtic losing the title remains. Whether Rangers beat Hearts or not matters little at the stage.

So that means Celtic could clinch the title next Sunday in front of their home audience. That would be an unpleasant day for Rangers fans.

There is however, a slim chance the title could be decided before then. If Rangers got anything but a win today at Ibrox, the title could be clinched if Aberdeen lost to Hearts next Friday night.

Celtic won’t be looking at that though. They’ll be focusing on their own game.

A week ago Celtic wiped the floor with Rangers at Hampden to reach the Scottish Cup Final. Now they’ll want to do something similar to wrap up 7-in-a-row.

We know Police Scotland wanted this situation to be avoided. That has completely backfired now.

There’s no guarantee that Celtic will win of course. The unthinkable is always possible though.

It’s actually turned out how many Celtic fans wanted it. Now Brendan Rodgers must do what he’s failed to do since September 10th 2016 – beat Rangers at Celtic Park.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac


Calm down, calm down.

A few people have been getting hot under the collar about Dermot Desmond. After comments made by the major shareholder that he wouldn’t stand in the Brendan Rodgers’ way to talk to Arsenal, some supporters have been showing their dismay.

It isn’t the first time Rodgers has been linked away from the club. Martin O’Neill went through the same rigmarole during his time at the club.

The landscape has changed since then and the way to deal with these stories is to let them play out. So I have no issues with Desmond being open about it.

Brendan has rebuilt his reputation after exiting Liverpool. He had a good spell there and people are adding that to his domestic success at Celtic.

If Arsenal truly do want Brendan as Arsene Wenger’s successor they might want to see him prove his worth in Europe first. At Celtic he’s made slow progress in that area and a little more with Liverpool.

That isn’t to say that with a bigger budget and more options in the transfer market with Arsenal he couldn’t make a success of it. If he had fewer limitations at Celtic, he might even close that gap with Europe’s elite clubs.

As Dermot said though it’s up to Brendan. Furthermore is whether there is even any genuine interest.

I’ve always maintained that Arsenal would probably go contintenal again. No offence to Brendan, but all the top clubs in England have foreign coaches.

Do Arsenal see Brendan as the man to take on Conte, Guardiola, Mourinho and Pocchetino? I dont.

Brendan can cut it in England as he’s shown, but clubs like Arsenal will be looking to win the league and progress in Europe. Brendan came close with Liverpool, but he still didn’t win anything.

What Liverpool probably should’ve done was stick by him. I’m not even sure if Arsenal fans are in favour of the rumoured story.

If the club were willing to stick by him then yes, I think he could do a good job in London long-term. My instincts tell me that they’ll go contintental though and aim to make an immediate impact.

Arsenal have lost ground in Wenger’s later years. His exit is long overdue.

We all know that Brendan won’t be here forever. I don’t think he’s going anywhere yet though.

He’s already writing history at Celtic Park and there is more to come. And let’s not forget, he’s signed on for five years and he can still have his day in the south or overseas after he’s sealed 10-in-a-row.

Sure, he can be bought out of his contract if required or he might even have a release clause. Does he want to walk away now or finish off the job he started though?

I don’t think he’s going anywhere just yet.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

In the Spirit for another treble

On Sunday I had pleasure of attending the Spirit of ’67 Worthing Celtic Supporters Club. Given the general accent of those in attendance, it felt like I was back in Scotland.

Tam, Fee and all the Celts there made me and my small crew feel very welcome, laying on food as well as some brilliant banter. We even had a sing song afterwards.

I couldn’t have picked a better place to watch Celtic smash the zombies into the Hampden turf. And that’s just what the Bhoys did.

We’ve never stopped hearing “The Rangers are coming.” If it hasn’t been their fans it’s been the media.

The so called title challenge has been anything but that. Celtic haven’t been as good as they were last season – we know that.

Though this fact has never been taken into account when playing this mob. Even then, Celtic have only been overturned twice though never by our Glasgow rivals.

And this is important to factor in when assessing your own progress. Because when you consider that Celtic didn’t start well in the last game at Ibrox, came from behind twice and eventually won the match with 10 men you have to recognise the difference in quality.

There is no title race and the last opportunity for silverware at Ibrox this season was snuffed out by a Celtic team very much on their game yesterday. Celtic had a few lapses in concentration by those who for me cannot be considered first choice any more.

Still, Graeme Murty’s side couldn’t take those chances. Even if they had, Brendan Rodgers players were in total control throughout and that’s the difference.

So it should serve as a reminder to the blue half of the city, who cheered when they were drawn against Celtic, that they are way off the pace when faced with a fully loaded Celtic side. The evidence was on show for all to see in glorious HD.

So now Celtic have a date in the final. Once again they will face Motherwell in a cup final.

Having wiped the floor with Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen, Stephen Robinson has taken his physical and ruthless side to another Hampden final. There will be further determination to right the wrongs of the League Cup Final at the end of last year.

Motherwell are not a team to take lightly. Celtic may have won the last final, but there is sufficient evidence from previous meetings this season to suggest the Steelmen are a credible threat.

Along with Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock and Neil Lennon’s Hibs, I rate these clubs to put pressure on Aberdeen and Rangers next season. I’ve been impressed by all three managers and their teams this season.

For now, a place in the final has been firmly established by a clinical performance from Celtic. On Saturday they will travel to Easter Road to try and secure their 7th title in a row.

Hibs will be no pushovers. They’ve already held Celtic twice this season to 2-2 draws home and away. Celtic won the last league encounter as well as beating Hibs in the League Cup.

There’s a confidence and determination from Lennon’s side though. They’ve scored six goals in four games against Celtic drawing blank only once.

So if Celtic are to win the league this Saturday they’ll have to be at their best. Failing that they can always do it at home against our friends from Ibrox the following Sunday at Celtic Park.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

A place in the final awaits

After a short family break, I’m back in time to blog about the Scottish Cup semi-finals at Hampden. Motherwell take on Aberdeen today whilst Celtic play Rangers on Sunday.

These are hugely significant ties for each club. A place in the final awaits each of the ties’ victors.

Aberdeen will be looking for their first top flight silverware since winning the League Cup in 2014. Motherwell have to go much further back to find success when they won the Scottish Cup in 1991.

As for this incarnation of Rangers……well they’ve yet to get off the mark with any of the top prizes in their six year history. They’ve won the lower division titles and even the Scottish Challenge Cup, but have yet to win any of the big three.

All three have appeared in finals in recent years. All have been runners up last time around.

For Celtic this is huge. Not only are they the holders, but to make the final would put them in position for another piece of history.

Their 49th league title is all but tied up. Winning the Scottish Cup would be their 38th.

More importantly, they are going for back-to-back trebles. Never achieved in Scottish football.

Many have claimed this is bad for the Scottish game. Much of that commentary coming from the blue half of Glasgow.

It’s hard for me to comment without a degree of bias. However, Celtic’s dominance is purely a sign of their continued strength.

Until another club steps up and challenges within their means, Celtic will continue in this fashion. There won’t be a stream of trebles forever, but this team ARE making history.

The weekend’s ties will both be worth tuning in to. Aberdeen have been Celtic’s closest rivals since the demise of Rangers in 2012.

Motherwell, despite missing out on a top six place in the league have found a new lease of life under Stephen Robinson. With both clubs being defeated finalists to Celtic in the last two cup finals in 2017, there will be a strong desire to exact revenge.

Celtic will have to get there first of course. Rangers will be out to stop them on Sunday.

In one-off games, anything can happen. The last meeting between the two Glasgow clubs ended in a sweet victory for Celtic at Ibrox.

This time it’s Hampden and Celtic will be aiming to complete the match with 11 players on the park and a fitter squad. It’s a huge game where victory would be another step toward history for Brendan Rodgers, his players and Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Getting back to our best

It was good to see Celtic back in action yesterday and take another step closer to silverware. The encounter with Ross County did not pass without incident though.

From the moment the game started, Celtic were all over County. Stuart Armstrong was running the show in those opening 20 minutes.

There were plenty of chances, but no goal to show for it until Scott Sinclair, showing a little more confidence, was fouled in the box. The resulting penalty was converted by Moussa Dembele who is also beginning to look more like his old self.

Just before half time though came a moment of madness from Andrew Davies. The Ross County captain, making his 100th appearance for the club, stamped on the Celtic captain Scott Brown having already being felled by another County player.

No question about the red card that followed. It was an abysmal challenge that only had one intention.

Brendan Rodgers later spoke that some players in some teams are targeting Scott Brown. Given some of the comments by managers and pundits this season I would say that is probably more like ‘team instructions’ but there is plenty of footage to back up the Celtic managers claim.

Broony is not a dirty player. He’s made some meaty challenges in his time and is a physical player but he is no hatchet man.

Yet many see him that way. Or at least their reactions to the Celtic captain suggest as much.

When you see challenges like that one yesterday, you can tell Broony is a target. Two players pursued him as he moved ploughed ahead and after being taken down, the opposing captain stamps on him.

That sends out a message of intent, malice and poor character. It is not the first or the last time we will see that before the end of the season.

County lost their goalkeeper just before the interval as well. He was replaced by former Celt, Scott Fox and had an equally busy afternoon.

After the break, Armstrong imposed himself in the game once more. This time he hit a fine finish from the edge of the box.

Then Tom Rogic got his name of the score sheet. He collected a ball just outside the box, beat his man a put home a fine finish to round off a solid 3-0 win.

Overall it was a good exercise for Celtic without having too much in the way of trouble. 90 minutes for both Armstrong and Rogic as well as a run out for Patrick Roberts and Leigh Griffiths is positive sign at a crucial stage in the season.

Celtic are now three wins away from ensuring a seventh league title in a row. Dundee visit Celtic Park on Wednesday night and then it’s away to Hamilton next Saturday.

As I said yesterday, the earliest we can win this is on the first match of the post-split fixtures. We’ve yet to hear who that will be against and on what day.

Whoever it is I’m sure we’ll have our work cut out for us. There are no easy games after the league divides.

Rangers are in second place for the time being. They managed a comeback at Motherwell yesterday having come from 2-0 down to draw 2-2.

It was a good game, but it left me wondering why Motherwell were lying in 7th place. Having watched that game and the way they’ve played against Celtic this season, I think they’re worthy of a higher position.

They’ve got a very physical side and some talented footballers. I would expect them to be pushing higher up the league next season.

They will entertain Aberdeen on Tuesday night for a rescheduled encounter. They will be desperate to finish 6th though they are running out of matches to do so.

If Aberdeen flex their muscles in that match they will move up into second having beaten St Johnstone 4-1 yesterday. And that’s bad news for Rangers who are also being pursued by Hibernian.

The Easter Road side also won yesterday with a 2-0 victory over Partick Thistle. Like many teams, Hibs have a game at hand to play midweek and victory over Hamilton will put them a point behind Rangers.

So after Tuesday night the league could look a little like one of these:

Makes for interesting reading whatever happens.

Celtic will only be focussed on the visit of Dundee on Wednesday of course. The signs of Celtic’s strength are beginning to show.

Whatever teams are willing to throw at the Bhoys we are getting back to our best. Couldn’t have timed it better.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

In the post match media conference, Brendan was posed yet another dumb question by the SMSM. The put down was sublime:

“Did the Rangers result give you a little lift before the game?”

“No not really. It’s completely irrelevant”

Loving your work, Brendan.

Things could look very different in the coming weeks

Celtic return to action today as they host Ross County at home in the Scottish Premiership. It’s a top vs bottom scenario where both clubs are separated by 46 points and a goal difference of +59.

Talk about contrast. And that’s been a relatively timid season by the Hoops.

Last season Celtic were rampant, unbeaten and of course treble winners. This season they are still out in front and in with a chance of winning another treble, but less convincing.

Now that won’t matter to Ross County today. Anything they get from today’s match will be a bonus.

At this stage in the season though, Celtic will not be slowing down. In fact they need to get into top gear.

Injuries have plagued Celtic all season. With eight league games remaining and everything left to play for, it’s good to see so many players returning for such an important part of the season.

Few in the media have commented on Celtic’s injury blight. Presumably as it gives us an excuse for poor results.

And still, here we are in the hunt for back-to-back trebles. Could be another piece of history in the making.

Assuming that Celtic, Rangers or Aberdeen don’t stuff up any of their remaining pre-split matches, the earliest the league could be tied up would be on matchday one of the post-split fixtures. By that time Aberdeen could have used their game at hand to leapfrog Rangers into second spot.

After today, Celtic have Dundee at home on Wednesday and Hamilton away next weekend. Rangers are away to Motherwell today and it is a potential banana skin for them.

They then host Dundee at Ibrox next weekend. Aberdeen have it a little tougher though.

Today they are at home to St Johnstone, away to Motherwell midweek and away to Hearts next weekend. So despite having a game at hand they also have three hard matches.

There is also Hibs to consider. They also have a game at hand.

They’re at home to Partick Thistle today, home to Hamilton midweek and away to Ross County next week. You might also think Kilmarnock cab put pressure on the situation as they also have a game at hand.

Their next three matches are home to Hamilton, away to Partick Thistle and away to Hamilton again. So the top four spots could look very different very soon by the time the league splits in two.

Celtic’s objective is to start flexing their muscles. Despite still missing five first team players through injury and suspension, they have gained from those returning from injury recently.

Stuart Armstrong, Tom Rogic, Marvin Compper, Patrick Roberts and now Leigh Griffiths are all back in contention. Probably not what the opposition want to hear at this end of the season.

Celtic also boosted their ranks of course with Scott Bain, Jack Hendry and Charly Musonda in January. These are all timely arrivals which so far I’ve been impressed with.

It’s such an important stage of the season for everyone. There are trophies, contracts and history at stake.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

When will UEFA implement a fair game for ALL clubs?

Next season is set to get tougher for certain teams from certain countries. It doesn’t matter how big a club you are or even think you are.

European club football is for the big boys. It’s more about the wealth of your league.

UEFA have been rewarding the affluent leagues for decades now. The rich get richer and the poor stand still or drop further down their rankings.

Under the current system clubs and leagues with high revenue streams get rewarded handsomely. They have stronger leagues and are better funded so in European competition can compete at a higher level.

Meantime, everyone else suffers as a result trying to keep up the impossible task. If it is was a level playing field in football it would be more of a fair fight, but it isn’t.

European countries have a whole range of infrastructure variables which dictate their game such as TV revenue, stadium capacity, population, climate etc etc. There has always been disparity in football between European countries, but the competitions always allowed a team regardless of location or wealth, an opportuntity to win.

You never knew who was going to win the European trophies. Now you can narrow it down to a handful of teams each season, because they are the only ones that can afford it and the gap is widening.

UEFA ensure the wealthy prosper, thus creating a super league. It isn’t exactly what I would call fair play.

Every league winner under UEFA’s wing should have automatic entry into the group stage of the Champions League without argument. Unfortunately that isn’t how the men in Nyon see it.

The seeding system currently employed by UEFA does work, but it is also heavily imbalanced. Why should leagues with less income have to jump though more hoops?

If UEFA want to seed teams over based on the last five seasons I have no problem with that. However, if some teams are having to play anywhere between one to five qualifying rounds just to get there, playing against teams that finished 2nd, 3rd or 4th in their league then I do have a problem.

The continual rewarding of non-champions with direct entry and/or little to nothing in the way of a qualifying campaign is a two-fingered salute to clubs like Celtic. We know Scotland are way behind the times in terms of football, but clubs such as Celtic are suffering by the ineptitude of Scottish football and the greed of UEFA.

Here’s the thing, if you give all UEFA members one winner from each league, direct entry into the group phase then smaller countries get an opportunity not just to experience the Champions League/Europa League, but also to accumulate some wealth which can benefit that club and country’s development. A team from Kosovo, Andorra, San Marino, Gibraltar or the Faroe Islands, currently the bottom five nations in UEFA, are unlikely to every see the inside of the Champions League group phase because them system keeps them down there.

Whilst it is great to see the best teams in Europe all slug it out, it isn’t a fair system. It certainly isn’t a Champions League.

A Champions League consisting of 54 of the 55 members plus the previous seasons winners of the Champions League and Europa League would give you 14 groups of 4. Seems like a lot compared to the 32 you get in the current group phase, but considering 79 teams competed starting back at the qualifying stages in June 2017 why not just expand it and if required lengthen the whole competition for all nations?

For Celtic, another round of qualification this season is quite frankly, insulting. Once crowned the Champions of Europe against all odds, though in with a fair chance, we now face oblivion against a wealthier team before the group stage is in sight this summer or indeed one that didn’t even win their own league.

There was no rewarding the big clubs or ensuring direct entry back in those days. It was a fair fight on every match day and of course a knockout competition.

In order for Celtic to ever win the Champions League, they’d have to break the bank. With financial fair play rules in place that isn’t going to happen.

So Scottish football would have to get its house in order and that isn’t going to happen any time soon either. The bottom line is if your league is poor you’ve got no chance.

Celtic have all the right things in place as a business, but we are let down by the environment run by the SFA and the SPFL. UEFA aren’t going to change the rules unless there is some kind of stance taken by other leagues across Europe.

In the mean time, Brendan Rodgers will just need to keep plugging away and build on these last two seasons. He can’t go beyond a certain budget, but to be fair he has been patient and prudent so far but it’s beginning to look more and more like his team.

There will come a point when he can go no further, but as we’ve seen so far during Brendan’s reign, there is still much left to do. He’s here for three more seasons and there’s still time to see an improvement.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac