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’s City Pride

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 06: Patrick Roberts of Celtic (L) fouls Ilkay Gundogan of Manchester City (R) during the UEFA Champions League Group C match between Manchester City FC and Celtic FC at Etihad Stadium on December 6, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Celtic bowed out of the Champions League last night with a 1-1 draw. Brendan Rodgers took his squad to the Etihad Stadium in Manchester to face Pep Guardiola’s side one more time before bringing down their European curtain for this season.

The game itself had no impact on qualification places. With Barcelona qualifying in first, City in second and ‘Gladbach in third there was nothing to play for but pride for the Hoops.

And Celtic did just that with City loanee Patrick Roberts opening the scoring within 4 minutes. City equalised on 8 minutes courtesy of Kelechi Iheanacho.

Despite no more goals for the remainder of the game, there were plenty of talking points. Top of that was Celtic’s performance.

You could argue that with the group placings already decided there was nothing to contest. When Scottish and English teams collide there is everything to play for though.

With Guardiola’s players fresh from some weekend controversy and already qualified for the next round, he made some changes. It was mentioned throughout the match on BT Sport that this was a second string Manchester City side but I will come to that later.

In all fairness to Chris Sutton, as much as he is quick to criticise Celtic players for not doing something right, he was equally adamant to point out the talent that was on the park for City, not who wasn’t. I must say, Sutton is growing on me as a pundit and what spot on when stating the facts.

I wouldn’t say he is biased, he will tell you when things aren’t right in his opinion. I will disagree with him from time-to-time, but he ironed out the facts promptly on BT Sport which is more than could be said for the commentators .

Ian Darke and Robbie Savage weren’t offering too much in the way of praise about Celtic’s goal. Their focus appeared to be more on the constant changes Guardiola makes, this game being no exception, rather than the complimenting the impact one of City’s own players had made on them.

In contrast, when City equalised the Darke and Savage were a little more buoyant. They weren’t too critical of a lapse in Celtic’s defending or that Craig Gordon should probably have made a better effort to save thea shot which was pretty much at him.

Still, by this point in the game it was looking like it could be another 3-3 affair and was developing into a great match. What a way to end our European run that would have been to have won it.

Celtic were in fine form in Manchester. To go down there with no European progression is a tough motivator but the Bhoys gave it their all regardless.

As I said before, playing an English side is generally all the motivation Celtic need. Ironically, the only English Manchester City player on the park was actually playing for Celtic.

Speaking of which, all the talent that was supposedly left of the sidelines by City were replaced by younger players. They may have been up against Celtic’s close to strongest team, but leaving value aside for one moment, the age and experience of the Celtic team wasn’t given the credit it deserved.

The average age of the Celtic starting line-up was 25 years old. City’s average player age in their starting line-up came in at 26 years old.

Yet all I kept hearing was City’s young side getting to know each other and Pep’s system. Is Brendan Rodgers in any better position at Celtic given he has been in his job the same length of time?

They failed to mention how much some of these City players are on or how much was paid to acquire their services as well. The ‘young’ lad Leroy Sané cost more than the whole Celtic team alone when you add all the fees up.

However , I digress from what was an entertaining match. For Celtic fans this was a very positive nights entertainment.

From back to front I thought Celtic were great. The passing and movement were impressive.

The team looked sharp and fluid. This was a good sign for the future.

My key men on the night were Jozo Simunovic, Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, Tom Rogic and James Forrest. I thought Emilio Izaguirre had a busy night, but he dealt with the pressure well considering.

Erik Sviatchenko looked a little off the pace once or twice, but he too made some timely interventions. Mikael Lustig was steady, but also tested by the young Sané at times meaning he couldn’t get forward to support or serve Roberts.

Roberts himself was in and out of the game. Despite scoring, his impact was not consistent but still a valuable contribution without a doubt.

Coming off the bench was Gary Mackay-Steven and Leigh Griffiths. Both players could have won the game for Celtic but City had their chances to do the same.

One thing is for certain about each players performance. Had they been playing more recently rather than on the sidelines, both of those strikes could have been in the back of the net.

All in all it was a fair result where either team could have nicked it. That’s despite the match officials having a poor game.

Celtic should have had penalty when Roberts was manhandled on the edge and inside the box. Worst still were the handful of offsides at either end of the park that never were.

Lots of positives for Brendan Rodgers to think about. A good crack at the top flight which he could have been luckier with but this was a tough group.

Take what we have learned from this campaign into the next. A fine effort Bhoys.

A final note to the commentary team. Despite the blatant focus on Manchester City, Ian Darke found time to mention not just the 50th anniversary of Celtic’s success in the European Cup in Lisbon, but the proximity of that home-grown squad to Celtic Park and the fact that they were the first British side to win the competition.

Credit where it is due.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Time to support Deila, not sack him.

Ronny Deila’s presence at Celtic Football Club continues to divide the Celtic fan base. Meantime in the dressing room, he has received vocal support once more from club captain Scott Brown and not for the first time.

He has also had backing from Leigh Griffiths and Charlie Mulgrew in his time at the club. How united that backing is throughout the dressing room is a topic of its own.

Elsewhere, the media and pundits continue to have their say on TV and in the newspapers. The comments which gained a reaction from Scott Brown recently came from the one and only Andy Walker.

Now 99% of the time you’ll find that 99% of the Celtic support don’t agree with what Walker says or thinks. In fact that goes for pretty much any pundit, particularly when they are ex-Celts bashing Celtic.

On this occasion Walker called for Deila to get the sack following two bad results against Ross County and Aberdeen. This is despite the fact Celtic still sit top of the league with a game at hand and also compete in the Scottish Cup today against East Kilbride.

It’s true that Ronny Deila has not taken Celtic to glorious heights in Europe. In fact it has been his least successful area since arriving at Celtic and progress has not been made over two seasons.

I say “least successful” but that still includes qualifying for two group phases of the Europa League. One which he qualified from and one which was completely underwhelming.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it once more. He isn’t the first Celtic manager to falter in Europe.

Deila himself has mentioned this on a couple of occasions himself. This still appears to fly in the face of what supporters expect – instant success.

Martin O’Neill, Celtic’s first modern-day manager to make inroads on the European scene, didn’t get past Bordeaux or Christmas in his first season. He had a formidable team as well with the UEFA Cup Final in 2003 the pinnacle of his era but he too experienced disappointment such as that season which ended trophyless.

For Gordon Strachan it was reaching the last 16 of the Champions League twice and trouncing the league by winning it in record time in 2006. Like O’Neill, he experienced disappointment though unlike his predecessor he was NOT the messiah to the supporters and found himself departing to the applause of many.

Tony Mowbray, a poor appointment from the beginning was widely supported by the fans, myself being one of the exceptions. If anyone dragged Celtic down it was him and he was shown the door for achieving nothing.

Then came Neil Lennon, a rookie, but also the only real option at the time, who did a fantastic job and probably should have stuck around beyond 2014 in my opinion. With one great Champions League campaign to his credit, a win over Barcelona being the standout, this was not achieved without experiencing two difficult first seasons and personal death threats.

His departure was a surprise but he’d endured a lot in his time. He had also lost some of his best players and bought some donkeys at the same time.

In step Ronny Deila, wins a double in his first season and reaches the last 32 of the Europa League. Not a bad start but two failed attempts at the Champions League in his 20 months in charge are at the forefront of most Celtic supporter’s thoughts.

Along with that, two treble opportunities gone, but with a second domestic double still very much on the cards. Is that enough for Celtic fans though?

Many don’t appear to think so and yet, Celtic are still the best team in Scotland. And that’s in a league which is more closely competed these days than in the recent past.

Isn’t that what we wanted? A competitive league that wasn’t a forgone conclusion every season?

Celtic have and always will make mistakes along the way. A flawless season is a rare thing, particularly when your current head coach is trying to execute a long-term plan.

Ronny Deila may never see his vision come to fruition especially if not given that time. I never expected great things immediately because greatness takes time.

I don’t think Ronny Deila is as clueless as people say he is. He’s making mistakes like any other coach does and working toward something we all want.

We didn’t recruit Pep Guardiola and land £50M to spend on players courtesy of the Kaiser. We plucked a young relatively unknown manager from Norway with a vision that suited Celtic’s situation.

Overnight success is not a realistic target, particularly in Europe. At Celtic, European success is a tall order even for the best manager available to us but it is still how we measure progress and success at the club.

What is being attempted under Deila is a different path but one that fits the club’s financial situation. I back the left field approach and how bold it has been but it remains to be seen if Ronny will be given another shot at Europe like Neil Lennon was.

Winning the league is essential and that remains within our grasp. So too does a domestic double.

Surely that is worth backing until we are in jeopardy of losing it? This is not the time for change, this is a time to stick by ans support Ronny Deila.

In my view we should not be hitting the panic button. You have to see it through the tough times, you don’t just throw in the towel.

I’m going to stick my neck out and continue back Ronny even if I am a minority. If he throws away the league this season or fails badly in Europe next season then we are looking at re-assessing the situation but only then.

I’m not 100% happy with the way things are, how some players are performing and have my own questions but I’m not calling time just yet. There is room and time for things to take shape.

Right now I think too many are being too fickle. Time to tough it out folks, because our support is required.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Black Friday

One minute you’re lifted up and within moments you are dropped to the ground again. Celtic’s failure in Europe is a mental and physical drain on my energy levels.

In fact, I don’t even think I can discuss the mistakes, errors or bad luck today. Generally, its the same story as before – squandered chances, lack of concentration…etc…etc.

Each time I’ve watched Celtic in Europe this season my disappointment has stooped further. No improvement from last season and no sign of better things in the future either.

With those two facts stamped on Celtic’s passports what can we expect to change before next season? Coaching staff, players and boardroom have all been individually blamed for our current woes but what’s the next move?

Option 1. Sack Ronny Deila.

This is the obvious solution for many but it does seem unlikely right now. Peter Lawwell backed him at the AGM last week as you’d expect.

Europe alone has been poor. Worse than last season in fact.

Unable to maintain a lead, keep a clean sheet, concentrate for the whole match or find another gear to step things up. Things have gone backwards not forwards.

Ronny maintains his stance that things will improve. It’s rather bold considering the obvious factors in all of Celtic’s European results – tactical naivety, inability to adapt within the match, struggle in the face of adversity.

With a domestic treble still on the table I believe he will be allowed the opportunity to make that happen but it remains to be seen if he can. What I don’t know is if Celtic really are behind him for another European campaign or if they are just keeping the peace for now.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Neil Lennon was given a third shot at Europe. It turned out to be his best and this was where he peaked as the season that followed, Lennon’s fourth, was his last.

Unfortunately for Ronny, he has had two golden opportunities to get into the Champions League. The teams that stood in his way were average and totally beatable but those opponents carved Celtic up.

Ronny has a philosophy and I get that but sometimes you need to adapt rather than persist, particularly when your philosophy is not showing signs of working. If he totally believes that next season we’ll be in the Champions League, I would like to know how that is going to be achieved and what changes will be made because you can’t just convince people based on your say so.

I more than anyone else would love to see Ronny Deila succeed and at the same time would love to be wrong but I’m finding myself believing that he has his limitations. A coach with a philosophy seems to be why he was hired in the first place but to manage and take the team forward is a skill he may not possess.

Option 2. Spend Better.

The board have been criticised over the years about not spending when required. I’ve agreed and disagreed with some of these debates because lets face it football supporters just want to see good signings without any really idea about finances.

In recent years though, Celtic have been buying some real donkeys. I won’t go through any of these but a lot of money has been wasted.

Peter Lawwell stated at the AGM that the market they can afford to shop in is a hit or miss one. I argued that one superb player for more money would be better than cheaper gambles.

A friend pointed out that with a more expensive signing comes a higher salary. It’s a fair point and Celtic are unlikely to sustain high salaries, in fact it is the reason for moving on some of our rising stars I’m sure.

Having said that, Celtic do need to be more bold in transfer market. They also need to do better on the scouting front because it simply isn’t good enough.

As Chris Sutton said last night on BT Sport, whoever is buying the players needs to be doing a better job. If Celtic want to punch a hole in the Champions League again they’re going to need some influential players who can change the game at the highest level.

I’ve not had much time for Sutton’s comments in the past but I can’t argue with his passionate venting on TV last night. The difference with what he is saying now is more about timing than anything else and it is time for action at the club.

The club have regressed so far, we are a shadow of our former selves. The business may look great but the football is not.

Option 3. Stick With The Plan.

Even although we haven’t improved since last season the only other thing Celtic as a club can do is stick with the same formula. Coaching staff, players, philosophy, transfer policy……the whole shebang.

This seems the most likely thing to happen. If Deila was to go, of his own accord or getting pushed, I don’t know who’d replace him.

In terms of money we outspend any other club in Scotland already. That just gets Celtic into Europe and keeps a buffer between them and the rest of the SPFL.

If there is to be no shift in with the club in its current set up, then they will have to pray that this bears fruit next season. The tough part will be keeping the supporters on board because right now people are losing faith if they haven’t already.

Last night I discussed with some mates about which names would go into the hat if Ronny left. The usual suspects came up but in all honesty I can only see Celtic going lower down the market.

You can forget guys like David Moyes or the recently appointed at Blackburn Rovers, Paul Lambert. This job comes with financial limitations so candidate options are even more limited than the player market we are currently in.

Personally, I don’t think there is a coach in Scotland that could do a job at Celtic. Paul Hartley has been on the rumour mill before but that’s more by default than any ability he has if you ask me.

Another foreign coach would be the only way forward. Failing that, you are looking at a coach from the lower leagues in England which to be honest is not my cup of tea.

The names that cropped up last night though, aside from Paul Hartley were, Roy Keane, Neil Lennon and Jackie McNamara. The financial limitations were said to be the reason behind Keane turning down Celtic and also the reason for Lennon leaving so whether either would be interested in returning to the club is up for debate.

Jackie McNamara left Dundee United with a whimper after being relieved of his best players. You could argue that the club didn’t help replace those players but of the three that Celtic acquired, we’ve yet to see them do a convincing job under Ronny Deila.

The one name that didn’t come up in that brief conversation was John Collins. When he was hired I imagined he would be the back up guy should Deila fail.

In all honesty I don’t know if he would be deemed as culpable as Ronny. On the bench during games most of the activity is between Deila and John Kennedy.

Would Celtic offer Collins the head role if Ronny left or would he go with him? It would be interesting to see how that one would play out.

Whichever way you look at it, the market is narrow and when you consider that, it is understandable why Celtic opted for Ronny in the first place. He may not have been first choice but he was the best on the table I’m guessing.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Third qualifying round in the Qarabağ

Celtic marched into the third qualifying round of the Champions League last night with 4-1 victory. There was an initial scare for Ronny Deila though as the Hoops conceded a sloppy goal in the 7th minute.

I’m sure there were a few fans out there last night who had a bad feeling at the moment that ball pinged past Craig Gordon. It is easy to be drawn into doom when error is made and lets face it this was an ‘error’.

Celtic were dominant throughout the match though. The first half was a little sloppy as Celtic strived to control the ball on the artificial surface.

Stjarnan didn’t really make better use of it to be honest. The ball didn’t zip along the surface as quickly as we are used to seeing on grass.

Equally, the ball appeared to require extra touches to control and move it around. This all contributed to the tacky play we saw last night.

Aside from that 7th minute opener, Celtic were still the team with all the possession though. Then came the equaliser courtesy of a Nir Bitton header.

The corner from Stefan Johansen found the head of Bitton who finished from close range. Stjarnan’s goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen came for it but was impeded by his own team mate who had fallen right in front of him but Bitton was too far in front of him to be beaten anyway.

The timing was good for Celtic who despite going a goal behind continued to press. After half-time Celtic were beginning to look even more in control and it wasn’t long before they took the lead.

Before the match, I think a few fans were questioning the selection of Charlie Mulgrew. Was he a better choice to play the defensive role rather Emilio Izaguirre for this game?

He certainly wasn’t think defensively in the 48th minute when he latched on to a square ball. As the ball arrived at his feet he drilled it low and hard to the goalkeepers far post to give Celtic a 2-1 lead with a superb finish.

The next goal came from Leigh Griffiths who had come on as a substitute in the 62nd minute for Stuart Armstrong who had been having a fine game himself. Johansen slipped the ball through to Gary Mackay-Steven in the box who squared for Griffiths and finished unchallenged from close range

That goal was a first for Griffiths in the European stage. To retain a place he will want to be doing that a lot more.

I had expected him to start last night but Nadir Çiftçi was given the nod. The Turk offers a different style of play to Griffiths but was largely unsuccessful in this match.

For once I actually agree with what Chris Sutton said in the studio. That Çiftçi has more body strength and can be more involved but for me this was a game Griffiths was better suited to.

There was an element to Çiftçi’s game last night that I didn’t enjoy. A series of lightweight dives were visible and even if the referee didn’t see them as I did, I’d prefer that he cuts out the diving or does it more convincingly.

I do think he will be a good player for Celtic, but that will take a bit of time. I can understand Deila utilising him now because of his domestic ban but Griffiths is in the mood right now and should be given that chance.

To wrap things up, Johansen got his name on the score sheet as well. A through ball from substitute Tom Rogić found Mackay-Steven who laid it on for Mulgrew and squared for Johansen who had made a run into the box and a good finish.

The final whistle cam shortly after that and it was job done. That 7th minute scare was a distant memory though I am sure Ronny Deila will bring that up to Dedryck Boyata who was the main offender in that incident.

Celtic have one more friendly before they face their challengers in the next round of the Champions League. French Ligue 1 outfit Rennes come to Celtic Park on Saturday and it will be another opportunity for some players to sharpen up.

Come Wednesday, Qarabağ visit Glasgow in the first leg of the third qualifying round at Celtic Park. I don’t think anyone is under any illusions that this encounter will offer a more spirited opponent.

For starters, the Azerbaijani team have far more experience in European competition that the Icelanders did. Only last season, they competed in the Europa League group phase.

They were pipped to second place by eventual finalists Dnipro in group F. Unlike Celtic, that would be the end of their season in Europe.

However, like Celtic they had also gone through qualifying rounds for the Champions League that year beating Valletta 5-0  on aggregate then succumbing to Salzburg 3-2, who would eventually go on to face Celtic in group D of the Europa League.

Both teams will be determined to make the play off round and hopefully the Champions League group stage. Celtic made the play off last year having been handed a second chance thanks to Legia Warsaw’s error.

Despite that they still lost and parachuted into the Europa League. With both Celtic and Qarabağ missing out on the Champions League last season, this will be a hotly contested two legged affair.

Qarabağ appear to have the ability to score away from home though not always convincing at home. Their group F stats from last year are W1 D3 L2 having qualified for the group stage on away goals 1-1 against FC Twente.

There is a stubbornness and unpredictability about this team. They do have good experience in European competition though.

Their squad is mainly composed of Azerbaijani players but they also have three Brazilian’s amongst a few other nationalities. The most significant of these appears to be Reynaldo who scored in last nights away win over FK Rudar.

He will be the one to watch but there are plenty of other candidates in that team willing to make a name for themselves. That is why Celtic will need to be at their best on Wednesday night and take full advantage of playing at home.

It will be a totally different type of game I am sure and certainly a more physical encounter. Not something Celtic are unfamiliar with.

For now it is job done and on with the preparations. Let’s hope to see some other players get a chance against Rennes.

It was good to see Stiliyan Petrov on the studio panel for last nights game. He was one of my favourite Celtic players of the modern day.

Although I was deeply disappointed in him and his decision to leave Celtic in 2006 it is very good to see him in good health and talking about Celtic.

There was also a nice message from Stjarnan about the good experience against against Celtic and the people of Scotland. They excluded the Daily Record from that thank you which is always nice to hear.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The Celtic shirt does not shrink to fit inferior players

With the signing of Nadir Çiftçi from Dundee United many fans, including myself, have been asking can he do a job in Europe? That isn’t the only question though as many consider can he do a job at all?

As far as Scotland goes, Çiftçi has shown his capabilities at Dundee United. However, he will still need to fit into the Celtic team, the training set up and style of play, something you cannot expect of every new player.

There is also the question of his aggressive nature. We’ve seen it on display and he should know, it will not be tolerated by Celtic or the fans nevermind the football authorities.

On the matter of Europe though, is it essential for a striker to be able to score goals? Of course it is but in Europe, goal scoring chances are few and far between even for the best strikers but it is about being able to make or take opportunities when they come along.

Whether it’s the Champions League or Europa League, being able to put the ball in the net is crucial because it is a small amount of games over a season. Celtic are looking at around 12 matches in total, or more if the group phase works out.

That’s six qualifying games and six group matches. In high profile games though you need your whole team to weigh in with the goals, not just the strikers.

Over the last ten seasons for Celtic, it has been hard to find a prolific goal scorer in European competition. Nothing comes close to filling the shoes of Henrik, but then you knew that.

Striker StatsTaking the number 7 shirt as he has, Çiftçi has a lot to live up to. Like any new recruit he will get his chance and my backing.

I was happy to be proven wrong about Leigh Griffiths when I questioned his arrival 18 months ago. Although he has yet to hit the mark in Europe he has demonstrated his domestic prowess.

Now he has been rewarded with the number 9 shirt. He’s changed his attitude for the club, the fans and the coaching team.

Meantime, Stefan Šćepović will be fighting to earn a place nevermind a number. He admitted to adapting to life at Celtic being hard and that’s fine.

What he needs to do now is get his head down, put the last year behind him and play the way that is expected of him because “the Celtic jersey not shrink to fit inferior players”. You can see from the table adjacent (my apologies if it is slightly inaccurate) that he is currently only one of four strikers at the club with any European goals.

Anthony Stokes has the same amount, having played far more games. You can debate whether guys like him and Maloney are actually strikers, just don’t debate it with me.

The list has most if not all of our strikers involved in European competition with Celtic these past ten seasons. It includes their appearances and goals though some such as Sutton, Hartson (who both played in the first of these last ten seasons) and Larsson stem back beyond the ten year mark obviously.

I had to include Larsson even though its more than ten years since he wore the jersey. I felt it important to include his record as a modern day player though.

Çiftçi has yet to appear on that list and it will be interesting to see where he will slot in. Griffiths and Šćepović have their work cut out for them as well.

Tonight Deila goes head to head former Bhoy, David Moyes. Ronny will be looking to prepare for the forthcoming Champions League qualifier against FC Stjarnan.

It’s unclear what kind of lineup we can expect but the coaching team will be hoping to avoid any injuries. Remember, it’s just a friendly.

So welcome to Nadir Çiftçi and of course, Belgian goalkeeper, Logan Bailly. Logan will be a welcome addition to the squad and will keep Craig Gordon on his toes and hopefully help push Leo Fasan on as well.

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