Over to you, Celtic…

When I posted yesterday’s blog, so far only Hibs had qualified for the Scottish Cup Quarter Finals after playing on the Friday night. Edinburgh rivals and bottom of the Scottish Premiership Hearts were the next team to join them in the pot at the expense of Rangers yesterday, whilst later that evening Aberdeen walked away from St Mirren Park with a victory.

Today, the final Scottish Cup place will be decided when St Johnstone host Celtic. The draw for semi finals will take place after the match live on TV.

Hibs’ 5-2 win over Championship side Inverness and Aberdeen’s 0-2 win over St Mirren were kind of the expected outcomes. With Hearts beating Rangers just five weeks ago, I wondered if that victory had been a fluke, but as it turned out it wasn’t.

Hearts were the better team. No doubt about it.

They should have had a penalty and both teams should have been reduced to ten men in the first half. Referee Steven McLean had a howler of a game into the bargain.

It was a good game to watch though. Not just because it eased my pain of our European woes, but because it had enough drama to make it a good cup tie.

Alfredo Morelos had been disciplined for his late return to training and left out of the squad entirely. Some cited that as playing into the hands of Hearts, but given how utterly garbage Steven Gerrard’s side have been in domestic football in 2020 leaves me in no doubt that Morelos was not as big a miss as some have suggested.

If he was, Gerrard wouldn’t have risked leaving him out for such a vital game. Realistically, this was his only remaining chance of silverware this season so as a manager he was taking a massive gamble leaving him out.

Should Bayer Leverkusen fail to dispose of them, the next team will. However, Gerrard might even be gone by then himself.

His post match interviews yesterday evening collectively signalled that he hadn’t even gone into the dressing room to talk with his players after the final whistle. Instead he had been talking with his coaching staff and when talking to the media stated that he was at his lowest point since arriving at the club and would be taking the next 48 hours to give serious thought to his future.

The one interview I saw was probably the best interview I’ve seen him give in his time in Glasgow to be honest. It also sounded like a farewell speech.

Some folk think he wouldn’t walk away whilst the club are still in Europe. However, they have absolutely no chance of winning the Europa League so walking away, having taken them to that stage in the first place, would mean he wouldn’t have to preside over another competition exit.

If he doesn’t leave now, he’ll leave at the end of the season because that’s two seasons with not a single trophy and as a club they are already spending out with their means. Granted, he has improved them over all, but they are still way off the pace and power of a fully functioning Celtic side.

What did hit me yesterday was, how bad were Braga to lose home and away to a side who have now lost to the worst team in the Scottish Premiership twice in five weeks? It does make you think.

Should Celtic have been feeling any pressure from their rivals’ progress in Europe upon facing FC Copenhagen midweek, then they should feel a huge lift with their closest domestic rivals now out of the Scottish Cup picture altogether. I am not dismissing Hibs, Hearts or Aberdeen because they will all be excellent competition should today’s result go the way I want it to.

Celtic must respond by dusting themselves off and walk out onto that McDiarmid Park turf this afternoon with some conviction. There is no better cure from the hurt of exiting one competition by ensuring you forge ahead in another.

Victory would take Celtic one step closer to another piece of history. They have to earn it though and everyone in the squad will be keen to put right the wrongs of Thursday night.

I have total faith in this squad and in Neil Lennon. Thursday was a bitter disappointment, but it’s gone and we have a chance to win another treble.

Celtic aren’t talking about it, but they will be thinking about it. St Johnstone stand in the way of progress.

Are you ready to respond, Bhoys? Over to you, Celtic…

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Hangover or not, you have to be in it to win it

Having dealt with the severe disappointment of losing our third home game of the season, I’m getting myself head back in the game again. As I am sure Neil Lennon and his players are.

I was bitterly disappointed on Thursday night by the performance and the result. I think I might even have walked out of the pub before the final whistle.

I agree that you win and lose as a team. Whilst individual mistakes cost us, we were ineffective for at least 90 minutes as a team over both legs, but I don’t know why.

Despite a variety online, post match rants, I didn’t aim any of this at one particular person. I still believe in Neil Lennon and these players, but it did show that we still have a long way to go until we stamp out these errors in Europe.

I mentioned prior to the match that there were some nerves out in the Celtic community. Some of which were most likely due to the fact that our city rivals had already secured a last sixteen place.

Well, as the game at Celtic Park drew to a conclusion, it was that very issue that began to dawn on me. Even though I don’t live in Glasgow any more, I am well aware of how everything that happens in the city between our two clubs gets measured against one another.

Credit to our rivals for getting there. I can’t take that away from them.

I just couldn’t imagine them making it there and us not. That very thought of course came to fruition and I found it hard to process.

When you consider how well we played in the group stages, it is even harder to fathom. We’ve already seen us handle the pressure so why we failed this time around I have no idea.

Though, like myself in this depressed state of mind getting back to writing again, Celtic must get themselves up off the canvas and beat St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park on Sunday. It is a Scottish Cup Quarter Final and if the idea of another treble is to remain a reality then Celtic need to get their game face back on.

Europe has gone from being something very positive to a psychological blow. We still have a job to do on the domestic scene though.

The league is not over. The Scottish Cup is still in progress.

Now we have to show why we are the Treble Champions of Scotland three years running. Hibs booked their place in the last eight after beating Inverness 5-2 on Friday night.

This evening, Hearts host Rangers at Tynecastle whilst St Mirren welcome Aberdeen to Paisley. The winners of tomorrow’s match in Perth will complete the semi-final line up and go into the draw afterwards.

You have to be in it to win Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

No reason to doubt progress

Tonight Celtic face the task of qualifying for the last sixteen of the Europa League. FC Copenhagen stand in their way but after earning a 1-1 draw in Denmark they will feel positive about ensuring qualification at Celtic Park.

Celtic have faltered at this stage of the Europa League every time, but this has also been their best display in the competition in our history. Having lost only one of their group stage games, they finished top of their group having won 4/6 games including home and away to Lazio.

Neil Lennon can feel both pleased and confident about that. The match in Denmark was literally a game of two halves and probably a justified scoreline in the end.

You might argue that Celtic should have scored more in the first half or that Copenhagen should have scored their VAR awarded penalty. At the end of the day, you just have to do your best and I am confident Celtic’s best is enough to get the result we need.

This evening, Celtic must go about their business in the way that they have for most of this season. The last sixteen is uncharted territory for Scottish clubs and all going well, Celtic will be in their alongside their city rivals.

Despite all our verbal battles off the field and physical battles on the field, you have to give credit to our rivals across the city for making earning a place last night in Portugal. They pushed us in the league up until Christmas only to have fallen away since the new year, but now they have booked a place in the next round of the Europa League.

That has to be commended. Will Celtic feel the pressure of that?

No. Celtic have their own pressure.

If they feel anything from last night’s win it might be simply inspired. Not that Celtic are in the same position, but two Scottish clubs in the last sixteen would be massive for our game in Scotland.

However, we cannot underestimate the Danes. Unlike us they have reached the last sixteen before and given their second half efforts on home soil they will be geared up to try and shock Celtic.

There are some nerves out there in the Celtic community this morning. I think this comes directly from our city rivals reaching the last sixteen first and in challenging circumstances when they were expected to fail.

As I said though, that should inspire not raise concern. We have reason to doubt Neil Lennon this team.

They blazed a trail to this stage. We can go beyond this by doing the job right.

Neil Lennon won’t be taking anything for granted. You can be sure of that.

We have a couple of key players out, but we still have a match day squad capable of winning on home soil tonight. This will be an epic game and I will be thinking about little else today.

What formation will we go for? Who will be in the starting eleven?

Get ready for a big night. All the best Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Cowardly BBC Sport

You have to marvel at the anonymous sports writing of the state broadcaster, BBC. In the last hour they released a story covering the midweek football in the Scottish Premiership.

The piece isn’t aimed entirely at Celtic, however they begin the article by covering the Champions first. Within that, they focus entirely on Leigh Griffiths.

Having recently come back from a lengthy period out with his career and personal life being under scrutiny by a savage media, he had to endure some negative comments from Sky Sports’ Kris Boyd during the live show on Wednesday night. Upon scoring the second goal of the win at Kilmarnock, Griffiths responded in kind to the former Killie forward aloft in his studio punditry position in the stadium.

The criticism Griffiths had taken was underhand. As a mental health advocate, Boyd should have known better.

Then Griffiths had to deal with the Killie fans upon being substituted. This is where the BBC’s piece was solely focussed on.

Bad enough that Boyd was giving a comeback player grief live on TV, now the BBC were wading in with both feet. Whoever wrote this piece obviously felt that it was worthy to centre on the Celtic striker’s discipline rather than his return to the game.

Never mind the fact he had been out for a long time with personal issues which have been speculated on by the media. If Griffiths was out of order, which he wasn’t, then I would understand making the story about that.

It’s not as though he gestured to the crowd with a throat-slitting motion. No, he’s thrown a flimsy bit of rolled up tape he was wearing during match play.

The crowd were on his back and the Celtic bench came to his defence. Indeed, the abuse was said to have been unwarranted but the writer of this article has not stated as much.

The three paragraphed blurb entitled “Menacing Griffiths must maintain discipline” has all the hallmarks of Tom English. Throw in a compliment or two before taking the subject down.

It’s a totally unnecessary piece from the establishment. Once again, our club and it’s players receive some absolute nonsense reporting by the Scottish media.

Scotland’s media are an law unto themselves and a total embarrassment to our country.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Let’s get rocking!

As we approach the mid-way point in the January transfer window, Celtic have completed their first key signing. Polish striker Patryk Klimala has signed a four-and-a-half year deal in Glasgow following his move from Ekstraklasa side Jagiellonia Białystok.

At 21 years old, he may be seen by some in the Celtic support as a work in progress. However, it is worth mentioning that Klimala has started this season in good form back in his homeland.

He has produced 7 goals and 2 assists from 12 starts in the league. The other 5 league appearances were from the bench where he provided 1 assist and also played a brief part in a Polish Cup match.

So far he has only missed three games in the current season over all. With rare and short sightings of Leigh Griffiths and Vakoun Bayo, Klimala could be playing sooner than you think.

By all accounts he is ready to play. So as his hoodie suggests it very well could be a case of Let’s Get Rocking.

I can understand why some fans might be a bit lukewarm about this signing. Celtic have purchased many young players in recent years who never quite made the grade.

Some of those barely saw any first team action. Instead they were farmed out on loan, never managed to hold down a first team place or simply didn’t make the first team at all.

Neil Lennon’s first stint as Celtic manager saw players such as Bangura, Rabiu, Kapo, Blackman, Nouioui, Gershon, Mouyokolo, Fridjonson, Amido Balde and Pukki all fail to live up to expectations. On the other hand, he also had some good signings in Mulgrew, Ledley, Izaguirre, Forster, Kayal, Hooper, Juarez, Wilson, Matthews, Lustig, Wanyama, Bitton, Rogic and van Djik.

You can’t expect all of your signings to turn out to be what you wanted, but I think many Celtic fans would like to see our most recent young signings turn in to first team players, if this is to be our market, rather than being surplus to requirements after years of zero game time. I’d like to think that this time around Lennon has better back room staff to facilitate that.

Whether it is is the coaching staff, recruitment team or just the board or  directors, I have more faith with the set-up we have behind the scenes. The transfer market is a difficult place for a club like Celtic, but so far I think we’ve done not too badly since the summer.

Given the striker situation at the club right now, I don’t think we’ll have to wait to long to see our new Bhoy. He will be eager to maintain the form he left Poland with.

We don’t know what sort of player Klimala is, but if we are judge him before he’s kicked a ball for us then it isn’t exactly giving the guy a fair chance to prove himself. He will need time to adjust and bed in as all players do, but I am confident he can play now.

Odsonne Edouard remains Celtic’s number one striker, but with back up being thin on the ground this season, I fancy Klimala will be in the first team sooner than many think. I don’t think he is a work in progress at all.

We are building for the future and some of those guys, such as Jeremie Frimpong, are already getting their chance now. Personally, I don’t think Klimala falls into that category, but let’s see what the coming weeks and months bring.

I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what he’s got to offer. It’s good to know that in the event Eddy gets a knock we can call upon someone who has been in good form this season albeit in a different league.

The other thing fans may be thinking is what does this mean for Griffiths and Bayo? Game time has been limited for both players with neither really challenging our current number one striker.

When you consider there are now four strikers on the books, five if you count the yet-to-appear Jonathan Afolabi, something has to give. Be it on loan or a permanent move away, there is a chance one player may head out if not now then at the end of the season.

It has been suggested in the media that Bayo is interested or has requested in a loan move. There’s also been reaction to Griffiths’ social media activity, suggesting that he is unhappy with our most recent signing.

He posted a GIF of himself putting his fingers in his ears on Twitter only to then deactivate his account. However, the same post can be seen on his Instagram account even now.

There might be something in it, there might be nothing in it. The club have looked after Leigh during his off the field matters but we have yet to see him recapture the form which proved people like myself wrong, when Neil Lennon first signed him back in 2014.

We’re all keen to see him back playing the football we know him best for. I’d love to see him back in contention and banging in the goals.

In the meantime, I am sure Klimala will add to our fire power. That is the important thing for the club right now.

Lewis Morgan‘s move to the MLS appears to be nearing completion. His departure is amongst the kind I was to referring to earlier.

As a fringe player rarely getting game time, this was a good move for him and the club. With squad trimming on Neil Lennon’s mind, it will be interesting to see if any others will follow.

Eboue Kouassi looked to be a viable midfield option for the future, but injury has been his enemy for the most part. So far this season he has yet to even see any game time.

Jack Hendry doesn’t appear to be any closer to first team action or an exit. The transfer window opened with rumours that he could head out on loan, but since then it has gone a bit quiet on the player who has played just 11 minutes of first team football this season.

Marian Shved signed a year ago, but went back on loan to his old club for the remainder of that season. When he finally arrived in the summer, I expected to see him challenging James Forrest, but has played a total of 35 minutes in two outings, though he did manage one goal in that time.

Whilst very unlikely to be going anywhere, Greg Taylor has not been given a run in the Celtic side. Much was made about his signature following Kieran Tierney’s departure but has only made five appearances in the Hoops.

I think we’d all agree that he has looked the part from what we have seen. Hopefully we will see more of him as the season progresses.

As for now, we will have to see what the second half of January produces for Celtic. The Bhoys are back in action this Saturday against Partick Thistle in the Scottish Cup in a rare evening kick off

The break in Dubai will hopefully see the team come back refreshed and ready to go. Every game is a cup final from this point on.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Christie, Eddy and Sinky

There’s rarely a dull moment at Celtic Park. Positive or negative.

With the January transfer window open and the media amping up matters between Celtic and Rangers, unsurprisingly much of the talk involving Celtic is negative. Whether you’re a believer that Operation Stop Celtic is a real thing or not, we are currently taking a hit from a few different angles.

It was bad enough that we lost our first ever game to the current incarnation of the Ibrox club last month at Celtic Park. Now the SFA have taken swift action on the apparent unseen behaviour of Ryan Christie on Alfredo Morelos.

You know the story, so I don’t need to repeat it for you. What we are dealing with once again is the SFA judicial process and the lack of consistency.

Celtic’s statement on the matter was welcomed by some fans whilst others felt it was weak. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what the statement says, it’s what Celtic intend to do about it.

The club are under scrutiny from their own support. Scott Brown made a statement in the media that Christie’s punishment was deemed as “laughable” and we know where he is coming from.

If that is the general take by the club then I’ll be interested to see how they approach this. We all know the SFA are grossly incompetent and even complicit in piling the misery on Celtic too.

Am I hopeful something positive will transpire from the farcical episode? Not a chance.

If Rangers players’ can walk away from the shame game of last season in the way that they did then the game’s a bogey. THIS is Operation Stop Celtic in full flow.

The only thing Celtic can do about it is on the park. That means, keeping the head, playing your football and always assume you’re playing against the officials as well as the opposition.

Christie will miss three games. The only fortunate thing perhaps is that it’s against Partick Thistle, Kilmarnock and Ross County.

Celtic have to get back on their game and this break in Dubai will hopefully heal the wounds of the defeat at Celtic Park and their end of year form. There is also the need to bring in some fresh blood, but so far there has been nothing for the first team.

Rumours surfaced yesterday that Scott Sinclair was set for talks with Preston North End. If the move goes ahead it will be best for all parties as he clearly is not in Neil Lennon’s plans.

It’s a poor way to go for a guy who gave so much, especially in his first season. Whilst his stats were always good his game play did begin to suffer in his second season, but these last six months have been a waste of his career as he failed to get a summer move.

Other exit news began to surface yesterday that Odsonne Edouard was interested in moving south of the border. Now, if you’re at Celtic and you’re any good, this type story is very common.

We’ve had to endure this type of story for as long as I can remember now. When the stories surfaced yesterday ,it was the usual suspects Eddy was linked with, but this morning it has been Leicester City.

Perhaps linking him with the big clubs wasn’t enough to make Celtic fans bite. Now they’ve put the former Celtic manager in the mix to make it appear more credible along with a nice price tag and that he won’t make a move until the summer.

So just enough to unsettle everyone, but not enough to take him now. As I said, Operation Stop Celtic is in full flow.

One lesser known signing that has been made is that of youngster Bruno Davidson on a three year deal. He is yet another young player signed by Celtic since Neil Lennon has taken up the post on a permanent basis.

It is clear that with the amount of young players he has signed, he is planning for the future. This is a positive sign for Celtic as it will add to the contingent of talent already in our own youth ranks.

We’ve already seen one of our young acquisitions break into the team in Jeremie Frimpong. His early emergence has kept Moritz Bauer out of first team matters in the absence Hatem Abd Elhamed.

At 15 years old, it is unlikely we will seen Davidson for a while yet. It does appear we are building the next wave of players at the club by bringing them in early though.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Celtic squad need to click once again

In a couple of weeks, Celtic will be back in competitive action after a three week lay off. Before that happens they’re in Dubai once again for their winter retreat and will prepare for the second half of another busy season.

Despite all Celtic’s success, it’s still hard to believe that for two years running, the end of year meet with Rangers has ended in defeat. In 2018 the unthinkable happened and if that had been forgotten, as well losing last season’s second Ibrox encounter too, there was the small matter of stealing the League Cup from our opponents who were by far the better side, just weeks before their victory at Celtic Park.

The psychological boost for Gerrard’s players must be massive, especially having won at Celtic Park for the first time in their current existence. You could say it avenged their undeserved loss at Hampden because as you know leagues aren’t won in December, even if it came across like they had.

Celtic of course still won the title last season after losing the end of year derby in 2018. Even with the departure of our then manager less than two months later, another treble was sealed having won the Scottish Cup in May.

To be fair this has not been a bad season so far. Neil Lennon has made some good acquisitions, the football has been better and even though we failed to reach the Champions League group stage, our top spot finish in the Europa League group stage was an impressive first for the club.

As 2019 has come to a close though, our displays have been beginning to look drab. We went on an unbeaten run after losing to Livingston, but it has been win ugly in the latter stages of 2019.

In a long campaign you may need to do that from time to time, but you cannot lean on that too heavily. Injuries have meant some of our best players are on the sidelines without the same quality stepping in to provide that same spark.

We have three strikers on our books. Edouard has been missed when out and in those periods we haven’t been able to rely upon Griffiths or Bayo for one reason or another.

That’s a problem and only one of them. We have similar issues elsewhere.

Forrest, one of our key players up until recently, hasn’t been at his best despite being free of injury. That’s when you might expect to see someone like Shved come in or even push Frimpong forward and allow Bauer to slot in at right back.

Johnston started the season well before picking up an injury and thankfully Elyounoussi seized his opportunity before succumbing to injury himself. The question is that in the absence of these guys at any given time, Sinclair has barely seen match time and has been frozen out despite his stats making him a prime candidate.

The middle of the park hasn’t had too many issues other than the right combination. Brown has been great, especially in games when the team have been poor, but sometimes the dynamic hasn’t yielded anything.

As much as I love seeing Christie in that pivotal number ten role, I miss the forward play of McGregor. Then there’s the question of when do you play and not play Ntcham because he gives you something all of those guys don’t and we haven’t really seen Rogic since coming back from injury.

At the back we haven’t been too bad either, even after losing Tierney. Bolingoli has sort of emerged from those unimpressive early days to become a bit of a hit, but I think many fans would like to have seen more of Taylor.

The Scot hasn’t featured a great deal, but when he has, he has looked the part, but still hasn’t seen as much action as Hayes. On the right, Elhamed was looking like a brilliant signing before injury, but with Bauer and Frimpong we’ve been solid in the Israeli’s absence.

At centre half we’ve seen a steady partnership between Jullien and Ajer, but at times feel tardiness has crept in to the Norwegian’s game whilst the Frenchman continues to emerge as a great player.

With Simunovic only just back in light training following a lomg lay off, we’ve only had Bitton as backup. Hendry hasn’t features and shows non signs of doing so either is so this could be an area, along with a striker, that deserves attention.

We have three competitions to battle for over the next five months. Edouard needs some available back up and as much as we’re all desperate to see Griffiths back on his game again, thus far has been seldom used .

Bayo remains an unknown quantity right now. He may come good, but we’ve rarely seen him to know whst his quality is like.

Bitton is more than able to play centre half and midfield, but it is clear we need to invest in at least two players. If guys these guys on the fringes of the team are going to remain in the fringes without any clear explanation then they need move on.

Lennon knows who he wants and who he doesn’t want. Judging by lack of appearances by some so far this season, we should expect exits in this window and the next.

We’ve got some guys in the final six months of their contracts. With so much at stake it is likely most will stay until the end of the season at the very least unless they’re exit has little impact.

The one possible exit might be Sinclair as a small fee could be involved. He’s so far out of the picture it’s hard to see any further input from him befor his contract expires.

Hendry is another mentioned and with no real impact on the first team a move might be best for everyone. Whether that’s a loan or permanent deal he has a decision to make.

I’ve read all sorts about Griffiths going out loan, but I can’t see it. There’s hope he’ll make it back into the team and resurrect his career.

On his day he is prolific and I’m not ready to say he’s finished. This guy needs football and our backing.

We’ve got every reason to be optimistic. We haven’t seen our best football for a wee while, but knowing what we’re capable of, we just need to get back on track.

That’s what I’m looking forward to. Seeing a reaction after a good break.

This squad is highly capable. They just need to click again.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac