Sinclair breaks Hearts

Just when it was looking like a draw, up stepped debutant Scott Sinclair to send Celtic fans wild. Tynecastle is a hostile environment and it rarely produces a dull match when Celtic come to town.

Sunday’s opening league match away to Hearts was always going to be a tough start for Brendan Rodgers. Celtic took the lead though in just 8 minutes as James Forrest pounced onto the loose ball Callum McGregor had been relieved of inside the penalty box.

It looked like a penalty but play continued to allow Celtic their first goal of the domestic season. Hearts were up in arms about Stuart Armstrong interfering with play (though not at the time of the incident) but whether the rules say he was or wasn’t,  McGregor was fouled for a penalty that wasn’t given so let’s scratch that one shall we?

Talking of penalties, Hearts equaliser came courtesy of a Jamie Walker dive. There was no contact with Kieran Tierney and by his own admission the referee owned up to getting that one wrong. 

Will Jamie Walker face retrospective discipline for cheating? Not unless he changes his name to Derk Boerrigter.

One glaring opportunity that Hearts should have equalised with was the free header ex-Celt Tony Watt had. Not only was he unmarked by Mikael Lustig, the goal was wide open for him. 

Nae luck wee man. Thanks for missing though.

Later on there was another penalty shout for Hearts. At best it would have been very soft and not giving it was the correct decision, most likely aided by the Hearts spot kick awarded in error earlier in the match. 

Like Wednesday night against FC Astana though, this match produced a winning moment from the bench. I don’t know if ‘Mystic Mick’ McManus saw this in his crystal ball, but Scott Sinclair seized his opportunity to win the match for Celtic. 

Celtic broke down the left hand side after a Hearts move broke down. The ball was chased down by Leigh Griffiths who, after fending off his pursuers, squared the ball long and low to the onrushing Sinclair who finished neatly inside the box.

What a start for the English winger and what an end to a fiesty match. Celtic deserved their victory, even when you take into account all of the right and wrong decisions.

Robbie Neilson, a good young coach, sadly had a touch of the Jim Jeffries about himself post-match. Being a sore loser and not understanding the rules of the game only makes you look like a bit of a fanny, so only whinge when your facts are solid.

On the subject of fannies, Sportscene was back last night and in glorious er…SD. We were told of this new time slot and promised longer coverage.

What about the Scottish Championship coverage though? Why would they ever have dropped that segment for this season I wonder?

Still no post match interviews from Ibrokes for the BBC. I guess Sportscene will need to try even harder though I doubt their two bob mixture fund will stretch any further.

The Scottish Premiership’s first timers might have failed to speak to the grovelling BBC, but it wasn’t because they drew with Hamilton Accies at home. It’s all historical, though given their history only goes back to 2012, not that historical.

Elsewhere the Dons drew with St Johnstone in a 0-0 thriller. Having gone out of Europe to Celtic’s old foes Maribor midweek I thought Aberdeen would come out of the traps at the weekend.

So none of Celtic’s so called ‘contenders’ managed a winning start. I guess that’s because only Celtic have a £4M player on the bench eh Robbie?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The sum of Ronny’s tenure, but we are the Champions!

Celtic officially claimed their fifth title in a row against contenders Aberdeen in Glasgow on Sunday. It was billed as a title decider long before yesterday, but in truth it would have taken a miracle for the Dons to claw it back.

For Celtic to lose their last three games and Aberdeen win all of theirs wouldn’t have got you favourable odds. The Dons would also needed to have overcome a 30+ goal deficit and thatbwould have been some feat indeed.

Regardless, the Hoops took the initiative and raced into a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes at Celtic Park. It wasn’t one way traffic though, Aberdeen had come close themselves and weren’t going away quietly.

Nonetheless, Patrick Roberts, a shining light for Celtic since arriving on loan, helped himself to a double. Two sublime left foot finishes put Celtic in a comfortable position going in at half time.

By the looks of things, Celtic were in the mood. The title was theirs and the team, missing both Brown and Johansen in the midfield, were actually passing to each other.

Vice Captain Charlie Mulgrew went off injured at half time leaving Efe Ambrose to fill in alongside Erik Sviatchenko. At 2-0 the game was far from over but when Mikael Lustig, deputising once more as captain, slotted home number three I was thinking maybe 4-0 or 5-0?

But no, if there was ever a game that summed up Ronny Deila’s tenure as a Celtic manager this was it. After a decent first half which produced two fine goals, the team virtually capitulated after the interval.

Despite netting a third goal (thankfully), the good work was slowly being undone by a variety of issues. Leigh Griffiths, a goal machine, couldn’t find the net.

With no real backup for his role, it is one of the many achillies heels with Celtic today. Another comes in the form of Efe Ambrose.

There was a time when we just thought his errors were random acts. They are in fact a key part of his blundering game play and he will have to leave this summer.

Over all, Celtic seem unable to kill off an opponent or stay the course for 90 minutes these days. I smelled blood on Sunday, but Celtic didn’t and in the end walked a tight rope to edge over the finish line.

I don’t think any Celtic fan would disagree that Sunday’s game is typical of what we’ve seen far too often under Ronny. In fact, it is the games where we have started well and thrown it away that have prevented us from making progress this season.

Last season we saw things turn around and this season we were looking to build on that. Of course that hasn’t happened and for that reason, Ronny is going.

So if we needed any reminder of why things have to change we got it today. Albeit, we got off lightly on this occasion.

All that is left are two games but at least we’re being saved the pain of waiting two weeks. Celtic will visit St Johnstone on Wednesday evening and then lift the Scottish Premeirship trophy for the fifth consecutive time on Saturday against Motherwell to wrap up the season.

Ronny will lift the trophy for a second and final time then say his farewells to the Celtic faithful and Scottish football. We may find out this week or the next who his successor is but we are no further forward than just rumours at the moment.

Between the bookies, the media, social media and taxi drivers, its a pretty long shortlist with no real accuracy. Everyone reckons they know something about who it will be and when it will be announced.

That being the case, Celtic’s dugout is going to be a busy place next season. Perhaps some of the safe standing area will be needed to house all these new appointments that folk seem to know about.

For now, my top three men to take over remain David Moyes, Brendan Rodgers and Michael O’Neill and in no particular order. So long as it’s the right choice and they are given what they need, I’d take whoever can help Celtic get back on the European map once more.

Hail! Hail!

The Champions of 2016.

Stevie Mac

Title twists

When I was writing my preview for Tuesday’s game at Dens Park, I wondered if this would be another of those ‘turning points’. Well, it wasn’t and Ronny Deila ended up with the same result when Paul Hartley brought his team to Celtic Park in March.

I didn’t see the game and I’m glad I didn’t either. Otherwise my wife would have been as just disappointed with our anniversary celebrations as I would have been with a 0-0 draw!

Worse still, Celtic blew their game at hand by dropping two points. This was a good opportunity to put daylight between ourselves and Aberdeen.

Instead, Derek McInnes will be encouraged by this slip up. He knows that if Aberdeen beat Celtic after the split they could potentially be 2 points off top spot.

With other points likely to be dropped by both teams, this makes for a nervy finish to the current season. If you’re a neutral or even interested in Scottish football it makes for good viewing.

In fairness to Dundee though they’re trying to secure a top six place. On recent performances I’d say they are on course but the truth is there are four teams in total battling it out with St Johnstone, Partick Thistle and Ross County also in the mix.

Celtic play Motherwell at Fir Park for their final match before the split. Mark McGhee has hauled the Lanarkshire club up the table to a very respectable 4th and his team will remain in the top six.

That won’t deter Motherwell from upsetting Celtic’s title chances though. We’ve been there before and they’ve also been the ones to spoil the show in the past.

Before that challenge on Saturday though, all eyes will be on Tynecastle on Friday night. With Hearts hosting Aberdeen, all Celtic fans will be hoping the Dons will drop points un the capital.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d much prefer Celtic to be winning this fight on their own but it is clear that this team haven’t got it in them right now. Too many players aren’t turning up in matches and at this point in the season you need a concerted effort by everyone.

If someone hasn’t been injured, they’ve been off form. That isn’t an excuse, that’s just football.

I never expected Celtic to win all of their remaining matches. In fact I even said that if we dropped points it doesn’t mean we’ve lost the league.

What I am concerned about is the attitude and character of the players. We saw against a dominant Hearts side at Celtic Park what sort of result could be achieved even though we weren’t as good as the visitors for most of the game.

Don’t think for a second that the towel is being thrown in though. This will be a battle to the death despite how unconvincing our performances have been.

The Scottish media have rallied around the promotion of the Championship winners and the ‘boost’ it will give the top flight. Well from my perspective it seems to have been doing just fine judging by the title challenges of the last two seasons.

Of course we welcome all newcomers to the Scottish Premiership. Just don’t belittle the battle that has been going on in the last two seasons between Celtic and Aberdeen by suggesting the arrival of the new Ibrox club are here to solve all that is wrong with our game.

Scottish football suffers through the mismanagement by its authorities and a self-serving biased media. The pro-Ibrox revival is hard to miss given how many folk are licking their lips across Scottish football and the media.

As I say though, it’s nice to have newcomers to football. We’ll give them the proper treatment when the time comes.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

After the international break

Who’d have thought it eh? Scotland record back to back wins over higher ranking teams.

We know international friendlies are meaningless but it was a bit of a surprise to see 2 wins out of 2 for the Scottish national side. Gordon Strachan remains focussed on the next qualifying campaign and he has a decent team but Scotland still lack that standout player for me.

There are some important individuals but they aren’t always available or on form. In the past there has been at least one player you might look to change your fortunes or influence the team.

Right now I’d say we benefit more from a stronger squad. The door remains open for someone to make a name for themselves on the international scene and there is nothing to suggest one of the current crop make stake that claim.

With no European Championships for Scotland though, we Scots will have to look on as all other “home nations” take part in this summer’s tournament. It is yet another opportunity missed for Scotland.

I’m pretty sure that if Strachan can’t get Scotland to Russia in 2018 he’ll move on. If he succeeds, he might just stay beyond that tournament.

There’s no doubting Strachan’s managerial ability. We saw that with Celtic.

Even though Scotland won’t be in France this summer, it will be a motivator that England, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Wales are. We’re used to not being at tournaments since missing out at Euro 2000 but to be the only country on these isles to be staying on these isles is already a disappointment so god knows what it’s going to be like when the coverage begins.

So with that in mind, I’m glad to be getting back to club football this weekend with Celtic. The internationals have merely been a distraction this week.

On the subject of club v country interest I thought it was interesting to hear Scott Brown defend Liam Bridcutt’s tackle on Celtic team-mate, Erik Sviatchenko.

I realise that Broony is taking a Scotland captain stance and defending his international team-mate. However, the challenge was reckless and in a competitive game Bridcutt would have walked.

Sviatchenko played down the debate which was pretty decent of him. To be honest though, Bridcutt and Brown were both in the wrong.

As long as Brown and Sviatchenko are on the same page this Saturday at Celtic Park, that’s all that matters. Celtic host 3rd placed Hearts who are only 9 points behind 2nd placed Aberdeen.

Both the Hoops and the Jambos have a game at hand over the Dons. There is every chance the pecking order could change in these last 8 games (7 for Aberdeen).

Ronny Deila will be targeting maximum points. The same can be said of Derek McInnes and Robbie Neilson.

You can be sure points will be dropped by all three clubs before the end of the season though. History tells you as much.

So Celtic fans beware. We may draw or lose in these last eight games but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll lose the league.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Backtracking

From time to time we humans get things wrong. The weather forecasters, politicians, bookies and even referees.

On Friday night, Craig Thomson got it wrong at New Douglas Park on quite a few occasions. One of those particular errors was the red card on Dedryck Boyata.

Despite the risk of the tackle, he got the ball fairly. In fact, it was a superb tackle.

The only thing that took the shine off it was that he was sent off. Had he stayed on the park we would have been talking about how good a tackle it was.

In fact if had it been Virgil van Dijk or Jason Denayer making that challenge we would have been singing their praises and admiring the sheer quality. Instead it was Dedryck Boyata who has yet to reach that level of respect among the Celtic support but it was a good tackle all the same.

As a result of that red card, Celtic lost control of the game for more than half of the match and not for the first time this season either. This is something we must be more careful of in future which in fairness to Ronny Deila, is most likely what upset him on the night.

A draw was acceptable under the circumstances even though Celtic were leading 1-0 at the time of the incident. In the aftermath of the game, Ronny Deila refused to lay the blame at the door of Craig Thomson.

Instead, Ronny was critical of Boyata not staying on his feet as I said earlier. Whilst I get what he was saying and the risk that Boyata took, you cannot argue that he won the ball cleanly.

I made the point in the last blog that I disagreed with Ronny on this. Yesterday, in complete u-turn, Celtic officially announced their intention to appeal Boyata’s red card.

There has obviously been a discussion about this within the club. Now Ronny’s opinion has changed whether it his own or someone else at the club.

The bottom line here is that Celtic are correct to appeal. It is also very likely that they will win this one as well.

What won’t change is the result against Hamilton. Fortunately for Celtic, Aberdeen threw away the chance to close the gap after drawing with St Johnstone.

The Dons were 1-0 up after 35 minutes and it stayed that way for some time. St Johnstone were then awarded a penalty in the 88th minute.

Like the Dedryck Boyata challenge at New Douglas Park, there was a similar case at Pittodrie for Aberdeen’s Ryan Jack. Derek McInnes said that the penalty claim was no excuse for the result, almost like he’d been taken a leaf out of Ronny Deila’s post match book.

I think it was a harsh penalty though. Just as Boyata’s red was badly judged.

At least the gap at the top remains in tact and the title challenge continues. Tomorrow night Celtic host mis-table Dundee whilst Aberdeen travel to Tannadice.

The two Dundee clubs are almost poles apart this season. Dundee are in a respectable 6th position whilst Dundee United achored at the foot of the table, fighting for Scottish Premiership survival.

It couldn’t be more different for Celtic and Aberdeen as they slug it out for the title. All eyes on tomorrow night.

On another backtracking moment, Tom Rogić has made it known he wishes to stay at the club. Surprise, surprise, the Scottish media reporting lies.

Whatever next? A Sevco warchest?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Comfortably Thumb

Celtic turned in a comfortable performance yesterday at home to Ross County. After a spate of bad form, Ronny Deila got a decent response from his players.

Leigh Griffiths, a recent victim of social media abuse, notched up goal number 30 of the season. He’d been denied by the post earlier in the match which could easily have turned out to be the story of the game but it wasn’t.

Instead, the timing of Celtic’s opening goal was ideal with it coming in injury time in the first half. Kieran Tierney crossed the ball into the Ross County box which their defence failed to clear sufficiently thanks to pressure from Stefan Johansen.

The ball dropped to Griffiths who smashed it home from close range. This made him the fastest Celtic player to reach the 30 goal mark since Henrik Larsson.

Dedryck Boyata doubled Celtic’s lead in the 57th minute with a great header. With a deep cross coming in from Stuart Armstrong, Boyata leapt to nod it in at the back post.

It helped settle things down but results are rarely settled with a two goal lead. Craig Gordon demonstrated a fine save late in the game to deny County an equaliser.

He’s not been in his best form this season but that save showed he still has the ability and focus. This was a steady performance by Celtic who have now won their last two game’s 2-0.

Ronny Deila needs to rebuild the confidence that the team were displaying throughout January. The League Cup exit remains a scar on the season but the focus remains on the League and Scottish Cup.

Now it is over to Aberdeen who face Inverness tomorrow night at the Caledonian Stadium. Both sides have only lost 1 of their last five matches but with 26 points separating each side, Aberdeen are the favourites for this match.

Though it is worth remembering that Derek McInnes’ side have not beaten Inverness in their last two league meetings. They drew the last match 2-2 at Pittodrie on Boxing Day and Inverness won 2-1 at the Caledonian Stadium back in late September.

The Dons are on form though and in pursuit of Celtic who despite a difficult period, remain 3 points at the top of the league. Win, lose or draw tomorrow night, Celtic will still have a game at hand.

Congratulations to Leigh Griffiths this weekend for reaching that milestone. Even greater credit for enduring the internet trolls.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Not ideal, but not over.

After 30 minutes of near one-way-traffic from Celtic, they received a double blow from their hosts, Aberdeen. In the space of six minutes, Derek McInnes side did to Celtic twice what Ronny Deila’s players failed to do once in 90 minutes to Aberdeen – put the ball in the back of the net.

Up until those two goals went in, it was all Celtic. Craig Gordon barely had a thing to do then found himself picking the ball out of the net twice.

The veteran goalkeeper was culpable for letting a goal in at his near post. It isn’t the first time we’ve seen Gordon concede at his near post either.

It was a very good strike by Jonny Hayes, I take nothing away from that. At that distance though a keeper should at least be palming it away.

Then came the second strike for the Dons. A corner was whipped into the Celtic box and Simon Church latched onto a free header and bundled past several bodies.

Celtic tried desperately to claw themselves back into the match but it wasn’t happening. The longer the game went on the more hopeless it looked.

A late strike from an out-of-sorts Leigh Griffiths was too late in the game. A draw was looking like the best chance but by the time Griffiths found the net, the game was done and was a mere consolation for travelling all the way up to Aberdeen on a cold February evening.

What many Celtic fans would have been thinking in the aftermath was ‘surely this is the end for Ronny now?’ If that was what we were wakening up to this morning, Deila would have been the first Celtic manager to lose his job whilst sitting on top of the league.

Not only that, but he’d be the only manager in Scotland to get the bullet when a league and cup double was on the cards. As it is, Ronny remains defiant which is exactly as he should.

Last night’s result was not the response we were hoping to see after Sunday. The opening half hour was positive but the Aberdeen goals soon changed all that.

At the end of the day it is all about character and picking yourself up. It wasn’t a poor game by Celtic, but the players did come up short when being asked to turn things around last night.

Up until Ambrose got sent off on Sunday, Celtic were in a good vein of form. That game changing moment released the hordes from their shackles once more and the replacement manager shortlist was doing the rounds again.

It may well be that looking back on this period in Celtic’s history one day, that Ronny was indeed a good coach but not a decision maker or a manager. Still, at this moment in time he sits 3 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

Last night I watched Celtic dominate a match but create very little in the last third. Aberdeen got two goals out of nothing.

Is it time for Ronny to go? No, because changing now would be more disruptive than helpful.

We need to tough this one out until the end of the season. For now, the title remains in our own hands as does the Scottish Cup.

Until that changes, Celtic will stick with Ronny. It’s not what many fans want to hear but that’s how it is.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac