Goalfest Friendly

Celtic were outgunned in their second preseason friendly at St Mirren Park on Saturday lunch time. Ronny Deila fielded a stronger side for this game which meant that criticism for losing the match 3-5 to Dukla Prague was more likely.

I won’t make excuses for mistakes that caused any of the goals. I won’t even chastise the players involved.

These matches are about fitness and sharpening up. I take nothing away from Dukla Prague, they won fair and square but this is a warm up match.

And yet some fans are up in arms about the performance of certain players. I mean for the love of god, really?

The fact is nobody remembers preseason friendlies in the context of the season that lies ahead. If we’d won 5-3 sure everyone would be happy but in reality it means hee-haw.

It’s a testing bed for the new season. A chance to warm up, iron out the kinks, give an opportunity to others etc etc.

Haven’t we been over this before? Of course we have but still fans get their scants in a twist.

Get over yourselves. If we have a worse season than last, then you are entitled to whinge.

From what I saw of the game, Dukla Prague were up for it. They played some nice stuff as well.

Do they have a Champions League qualifier coming up they are saving themsevles for? No, they don’t even have a competitive European game coming up but we do.

You might recall last year that Scott Brown got injured during a friendly against Rapid Vienna? That cost Celtic a lot so I’m fairly certain with that in mind, several first team players were treading carefully yesterday.

We need as many first team players available during the summer as possible. If that comes at the expense of losing a friendly in Paisley then I’ll take it.

Dry your eyes. All I want is the Champions League.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Advertisements

All the best Adam…

For a young talented player with only two years senior experience under his belt, Adam Matthews turned out to be a good acquisition for Celtic. Having signed him for nothing, retained his services for four years and sold him on for over £2M with a sell on clause, it is good business for the club.

Adam proved himself at right back, left back and on the right wing for Celtic. He played in some huge matches, scored goals, provided assists and even had a great pair of lungs!

The one thing holding him back was in proneness to injury. He isn’t the only Celtic player in the present day to be held back by such an issue but it was an issue.

It has been said that it was his desire to move on and not Celtic’s that brought about his transfer request and subsequent move to Sunderland. I see no reason to doubt that given that he has served us well and despite his injuries.

And it is was his injuries that were the only issue for me. His ability was more than enough to hold down a regular place.

If you are a manager and looking to make strides in Europe as Celtic always are then you need to be able to rely on your best players. The unfortunate thing for Celtic is that they haven’t always been able to rely upon Matthews, Lustig or even Forrest because of niggling injuries.

For Ronny Deila to even try to achieve his goal at Celtic, he needs to know the players he has at his disposal will be available for him. If there is a ‘cure’ for Lustig and Forrest then I see no reason for them to leave the club.

At the same time, the club are under no obligation to hold on to players who cannot fulfill their contract. I’m sure given maturity Matthews will overcome his injuries but he has been granted a transfer request and Celtic get something in return.

The young Welsh international has done his job for Celtic these last four years. 150 appearances and 5 goals later, he goes south with my blessing.

Good luck Adam in the rest of your career. You have a bright one ahead of you.

His departure makes more room on the right hand side for Darnell Fisher and new Bhoy Saidy Janko to compete for a place. Mikael Lustig will also compete for a place in the right back berth but as mentioned before, a solution to the Swede’s recurring injuries will make or break his Celtic career.

In the meantime, we have two young lads battling it out for a starting spot. With any luck, neither will have the injury issues either of their predecessors have had.

Celtic have also shipped out Paul McMullan (to St Mirren) and Michael Duffy (to Alloa Athletic) on loan. Both forwards will get invaluable experience playing in the Scottish Championship against Hibernian and Rangers as well as each other.

There is lots of movement for Celtic right now and things are shaping up nicely as Ronny Deila begins to make this team look more and more like his own. I expect more changes in the days and weeks ahead but today, it is back to the preseason schedule with the second of three matches at St Mirren Park.

FK Dukla Prague are today’s visitors and it’s another opportunity to see how preparations for the Champions League qualifiers are going. Today I hope to see new Bhoy Janko in at right back and those who never featured midweek to get some game time.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Competition for places in Paisley

Celtic got their preseason underway at St Mirren Park last night. The result is often not an immediate concern in these games but it was still good to end the match with a clean sheet and two goals in the bag.

Paisley was the location for these first of three warm up matches, with FC Den Bosch the first opponent. The Dutch second division club were overawed by Celtic dominance in the first half which featured both goals for the Hoops.

The first came from Gary Mackay-Steven in the early minutes of the match. The second also came via the former Dundee United player though the Den Bosch keeper saved the effort only for it to be bundled into the net by his own player.

Cruel, but fair because it was one way traffic by Celtic. In truth it could have been much more in that first half alone.

Gary Mackay-Steven was at the heart of most moves showing great energy with every run. There were plenty of other notable performances into the bargain.

Boyata looked comfortable to the point he van Dijk were mainly just feeding the ball forward whilst Lustig (C) and youngster Kieran Tierney filled the full back berths. They were rarely called into to defend much but a valuable run out in the Hoops for Boyata, a development squad player in Tierney and of course a very much missed Lustig.

Young Luke Donnelly took up the midfield attack role between Mackay-Steven and Armstrong. He turned in a good performance and looked comfortable in the role.

Tom Rogić was among a midfield holding two along with Liam Henderson. Both were close to matching energy of Mackay-Steven and is encouraging news for Ronny Deila that they both looked so capable together.

Many fans have been keen to see Rogić back in the Hoops, myself included. With Henderson back from a brief, but worth while loan spell at Rosenberg its like having two new players.

That can only be good news for Celtic. Knowing that Scott Brown and Nir Bitton have back up means there is cover as well pressure.

In fact Celtic have an abundance of wealth in the midfield. The question is who will be shed by the club to trim down to Ronny Deila’s ideal squad size?

So far Celtic have moved on four players and acquired two. Over the next two months I would expect to see more exits.

I was surprised to see Dylan McGeouch and Jackson Irvine (you have to check out his squad picture on the official website) among the recently updated squad list. Both have been on the books for a while and out on loan recently so what of their futures?

McGeouch has had a good season with Hibs and Alan Stubbs looked keen to have him stay but I believe Celtic activated an extra year on his contract. As for Irvine, he’s had good run in the Ross County side.

Despite both having a good season I was a little surprised to see them back. Not because I don’t rate them but because Ronny is trying to trim the squad.

Perhaps it is part of some bigger plan. Pool all of your talent throughout this summer and have them all competing for a place to stay?

Well I’m not sure but Ronny is intent in blooding youngsters as part of using the talent the club rear. With that in mind these friendlies are as much of a shop window as they are a warm up for the Champions League qualifiers.

Then second half of last night’s match saw the manager throw on eight players on for the last 30 mins. Though mostly players from the academy, one of those was the not so young Derk Boerrigter.

He turned in a decent 30 mins to be fair and even recovered from an injury during play. If there was one player who is on that list to exit though it is Boerrigter and he did his chances no harm if any prospective buyers were watching.

One player keen to ensure he stays will be Stefan Šćepović. After a season of woe, he will be aiming to up his game this summer.

Recently he openly admitted to struggling to adapt to the Scottish game. This season the gauntlet has been thrown down for him to perform because I doubt he will be on the snip list.

Next up is Dukla Prague where we’ll see further outings by from the whole squad. One of those could be new signing Saidy Janko from Manchester United.

His role has yet to be established but it could spell the end for someone in that right side of the park. The club cannot sustain Lustig, Fisher, Matthews, Ambrose and Saidy for that right back/wing back role so something will have to give.

It’s interesting times with competition for places are fierce. With the young talent that took to the field last night the future looks bright for Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Ronny kicks off with a victory

Celtic’s preseason training under Ronny Deila and John Collins has been up and running for just over a week now. Yesterday at their training camp in Austria, the new management team notched up their first victory.

Celtic beat Russian side FK Krasnodar 3-1 in a preseason friendly in the Hofmaninger-Stadion. Ronny Deila utilised two different teams to play each half, both groups of eleven showing hunger and determination.

Anthony Stokes opened his preseason account in less than two minutes with a nice touch but the Russians equalised in the 19th minute. On 42 minutes Stefan Johansen put Celtic ahead again from a tight angle and after a full cha he at half time it was young Callum McGregor who sealed the victory,having spent last season on loan to Notts County.

Given the timescale the new coaching staff have to prepare before that first Champions League qualifier, it is unsurprising that they used 90 minutes to run the rule over 22 players. That trend may continue for the next game against Rapid Vienna as well.

By the time the LSK Linz and Dukla Prague matches come around Ronny and John should have a better idea of a starting eleven. That first competitive match against KR Reykjavik is now only 11 days away.

The management team have already underlined the room for improvement but they will be encouraged by the start made in Austria. The most important thing from this was that Ronny got to cast is eye over so many of his players in one match.

Celtic are of course without a handful of players such as Forrest, through injury. They are also without their World Cup contingent of Izaguirre, Forster and Ambrose.

The latter three are unlikely to feature in the first competitive match over in Iceland. Though there is the chance that they could be included in the squad for the return leg at Murrayfield a week later.

That will all depend on whether Ronny feels they have each has had sufficient rest after the World Cup. It will also depend on whether he deems it necessary to call upon their services.

All are important players for the club but Celtic have sufficient cover. What is encouraging is that Ronny is already talking about how different things will look a year from now.

For the time being, its a positive start for Ronny and John and they will be keen to influence and improve the team further. The next friendly match is on Sunday against Rapid Vienna where we will hopefully see another advance in preseason preparations.

New signing Craig Gordon has joined up with the squad now. With four keepers now involved with the first team matters, it is likely one will be shipped out on loan or sold.

Fraser Forster is the prime candidate tipped for a big move away from the club. It has also been mooted that Lukasz Zaluska could depart but it even young keeper Leonardo Fasan could find himself on a loan move if he requires experience.

This story will unravel itself over the coming weeks but for now we know there is no shortage of keepers. The same can be said throughout the squad, unless of course Celtic move anyone on or accept bids for players in key positions.

For now, Ronny Deila must assess what he has in experience and what he has coming through the ranks. Youth finally looks like it will be given a chance and for me that’s encouraging and long over due.

Ronny seems determined to make that happen. With that in mind there may be no rush for new signings.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

The Celtic Roadshow

Celtic will face KR Reykjavik in the Second Qualifying round of the Champions League. After today’s draw in Nyon, Ronny Deila discovered who he will be up against in first competitive game in charge of Celtic.

In between now and then, he and assistant John Collins will be preparing the squad for that first of six possible matches that they would need to overcome in order to emulate those achievements of Celtic’s past two seasons in Europe. The Champions League group phase is undoubtedly the aim for the club but it will be a stern test for the management team at their first attempt.

The Icelandic champions aren’t the worst selection but also not to be taken lightly. KR Reykjavik have been involved in the qualifying rounds for European competition consecutively the for the past five seasons.

However, they have never made it past the Second qualifying round of the Champions League or Third qualifying round of the Europa League. Their conqueror’s in those last five attempts coming in the form of FC Basel, FC Karpaty Lviv, FC Dinamo Tbilisi, HJK Helsinki (who Celtic later beat) and last season Standard Liege.

These losses should not be overlooked or underestimated. Even though Celtic are deemed a bigger club by history, experience and size its all about doing your home work and getting it right on the day.

Last season was by no means a convincing path to the group phase for Neil Lennon. There is nothing to suggest this will be any easier particularly that Deila will be using the same group of players as Neil Lennon did, minus Joe Ledley, Georgios Samaras and Kelvin Wilson.

On the subject players, one man Celtic will face is former youth hopeful, Kjartan Finnbogason. He was recruited by Celtic as a highly rated 18 year old but in his time at the club he never featured in a first team game.

He endured injury and loan spells during a three year spell before seeking opportunities away from Celtic. Having scored 31 goals in 67 matches for KR Reykjavik, he’ll be looking to prove a point against Celtic.

Preparations will be begin on the training ground for Celtic and decisions will be made on who take up key roles in defence, midfield and attack. There will be friendlies against Russian team FK Krasnodar, Rapid Vienna and LSK Linz of Austria and Dukla Prague of the Czech Republic to help make those decisions as well as a friendly against Dynamo Dresden in between first and second leg of the Second Qualifying round.

Although Celtic will play these friendlies on away or neutral territory, they will not play their first competitive match at Celtic Park, despite the home tie being first. With Paradise being used for the Commonwealth Games, Murrayfield will be home for Celtic’s first Champions League qualifying match.

Should Celtic advance from that round, it is likely that the home leg of the Third Qualifying round will also be played at Murrayfield. The closing ceremony for the Commonwealth Games is on Saturday 3rd August and it will take a while to prepare it for football once again.

So Celtic will remain nomadic until mid-August. With European football on the menu, it may even work in the Ronny and Johnny’s favour.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie