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

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A game at hand

Aberdeen responded to Celtic’s victory over Hearts  on Saturday with a very convincing win over visitors, Hamilton Academical on Sunday. So now it is down to Celtic to finally utilise that game at hand against Dundee tomorrow night and ensure that 7 point gap between first and second place becomes a real thing.

Once Tuesday night’s three Scottish Premiership fixtures have been played, all clubs will have reached the 32 game mark. Matchday 33 is the final set of fixtures before the league split and the pick of these involves 3rd versus 2nd on Friday night.

Hearts host Aberdeen at Tynecastle on to kick off the weekend and this will be a game worth watching for two reasons. One will be that Hearts are aiming to close the gap on the Dons and the other will be the effect this result could have on Celtic’s title chances.

A win for the Jambos would put a severe dent in the Dons’ hopes of catching Celtic. Matches involving Aberdeen, Celtic and Hearts after the split will be very significant in this title race.

As for Celtic, well it’s all about dispensing of Dundee tomorrow night first. They will face a determined effort from the Dee who are battling for that sixth placed spot.

They ousted Ross County from the top half of the league after a 5-2 demolition on Saturday. Even a point at Celtic Park on Tuesday would be helpful enough to keep them as favourites for sixth place before the split.

So it is unlikely Celtic will get it easy at Celtic Park tomorrow night as it is just as important a match for both teams. Once more though, Celtic will be expected to display their title credentials.

They must respond to Aberdeen’s three goal dismantling of Hamilton in the first 33 minutes of Sunday’s match at Pittodrie. Celtic’s last meeting with Paul Hartley’s side ended in a 0-0 draw at Celtic Park and should serve as a reminder to Ronny Deila that his players will meet a stubborn side.

Celtic’s home and away stats are very similar and the same can be said for last season. Consistent yes but what we all want to see is more conviction in those displays, home or away.

We’ve fallen short in key areas this season, some being individual performances. So far we’ve conceded more goals than last season and have yet to score the same amount.

Our goals against can’t improve on last year but goals for can. And that’s what will win games, as Saturday’s win over Hearts proved.

An unsettled defence has not helped that scenario for Ronny Deila this season but there are signs that things are settling down at the back. That needs to be built upon right through the midfield to the front line.

Plans are already under way for next season already. One of those players not in the plans is Derk Boerrigter.

Finally, Celtic have ended their ‘relationship’ with the Dutch flop. ‘Sicknote’, as he is better known, is one of the worst signings ever made by the club.

Whoever scouted and sanctioned the money for this guy should be held accountable. Given his track record, this player should never have been touched with a barge pole.

Whilst I accept that not all signings will work out there were enough warning signs not to gamble with him. Celtic did though and it was an empty jersey for almost three years.

At least players like Pukki, Šćepović and Çiftçi gave more in a short space of time and have resale value. How do you sell a donkey though?

Simple, you don’t. Instead you take a financial hit and this is one error we would like to but are unlikely forget.

Thanks for the memories Derk. There’s been few.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Three and easy, but it’s time to trim the numbers

Celtic won their Scottish Cup quarter-final match against Greenock Morton on Sunday in just 35 mins. The Hoops went in 3-0 at the interval after goals from Leigh Griffiths (14), Gary Mackay-Steven (25) and a superb finish from Callum McGregor (35).

Despite the meagre attendance of under 15,000 at Celtic Park and the opposition lying 6th the Championship, Ronny Deila needed a response from his players. He got one as well with Celtic pressing Jim Duffy’s side from the beginning.

There was certainly more conviction with Celtic’s play on Sunday, something which has been missing in quite a few games recently. If it came from these so-called clear the air talks then it looks as though it had the desired effect.

To say that Morton weren’t any trouble though would be disrespectful. They drew two great saves, one either half, from Craig Gordon which the keepers deserves full credit for.

The truth though is that Celtic were pummeling Morton and should have finished more than 3-0 especially with the foothold they had in the game. Second half substitute Patrick Roberts hit the foot of the post after some fine work and Mackay-Steven rattled the crossbar.

Another substitute, Colin Kazim-Richards, came close as well but to his frustration hit the side netting. This was better from Celtic over all but as I said, the game was already won in the first half.

Speaking of which, Stefan Johansen’s game came to a halt at half time. A dangerous challenge by Mike Miller left the Norwegian’s writhing in pain.

Referee Willie Collum took no action on the incident. Instead he blew his whistle for half-time and trotted off, leaving a Johansen sprawled out on the Celtic Park surface like nothing had occurred.

Miller had just been booked moments before and given the nature of this challenge, should probably have received a second yellow. Instead, he walked in at half-time a lucky man but he was substituted 7 minutes into the second half which was probably a smart move by Jim Duffy.

Johansen was subsequently replaced by Kazim-Richards for the start of the second half. Later on, Patrick Roberts would replace an unhappy Griffiths and Stuart Armstrong came for Kris Commons.

So 3 goals, a clean sheet and a bit more conviction was a welcome boost. Then came the draw and a pairing with Rangers at Hampden for the semi-final.

This will be the second time Celtic have faced the Championship club. They met for the first time in their history last February in the semi-final of the League Cup at Hampden.

Ronny Deila’s players ran out 2-0 winners that day without the Ibrox club managing a single shot on target. Griffiths and Commons were both on target that day to book Celtic a place in the final which they would go on and win.

This season it’s the Scottish Cup and with Rangers looking very likely to get promoted to the Scottish Premiership, they will fancy their chances this time around. They beat Dundee 4-0 at Ibrox on Saturday to secure a spot in Sunday’s draw and already comparisons have been made by the media.

Dundee drew 0-0 with Celtic in the days before that game at Ibrox and as you can imagine, media mouths are watering already. The build up to this one is going to be unbearable.

The match itself is many weeks away and a lot can happen between then and now. It’s a must win game for Ronny Deila for many reasons though.

Firstly, a win means a place in the Scottish Cup Final and secondly, it keeps the dream of a double alive. There is also the small matter of Deila’s place among the fans which is a debate of its own.

Then there is the ‘rivalry’ between the two sets of fans. This Rangers is supported by the same fans as the old Rangers even if these same fans fail to admit they are two different clubs.

As someone who deals in fairness and justice in their working life, I will never accept this Rangers as the same club. After the old club cheated Scottish football as well as the taxpayers, I only see this current incarnation as a new club wearing the same colours as the one that no longer exists.

A new rivalry will be built and this fixture next month at Hampden is another part of that. Whatever came before is now confined to the history books.

No person in the media will ever say that right enough. After all, this is Scotland we’re talking about.

Let’s talk a bit more about Celtic though. Sunday was a solid performance but we need to see more of this kind of effort for the remainder of the campaign.

The debate continues as to whether Ronny Deila will be here next season or not. Right now, I think that idea needs to be shelved.

Celtic are in a winning a position and the focus must be upon winning. Recent displays have cast doubt over this team and the coaching staff as to whether they can secure a league and cup double.

There is certainly more ability in this squad than we have seen. There are a lot of players at Ronny Deila’s disposal compared to any other Scottish club.

Too many options in fact. From now until the end of the season, injuries aside, Deila must narrow those options.

We’ve seen too many changes. Some have been obvious alterations through injury or suspension but there are other issues that affect the choices made and I am not just talking about form.

James Forrest is a yo-yo and with his contract talks hitting the skids his appearances are now tainted. Tom Rogić suffered a similar story though he himself rubbished that.

Callum McGregor’s focus looked to be a factor when he was absent for a while following his drink driving case. This is all over and above the guys who, whilst have had their illnesses and injuries, never seem to get a proper run.

Kris Commons is a fans favourite and rarely gets a look in. Scott Allan has been waiting in the wings and after a short run of games has found himself out of the picture again.

You see all these guys, and even the ones I haven’t mentioned, must make selecting a Celtic team a total nightmare. There is no excuse though because this is one of Ronny’s own making.

He said a long time ago he wanted to trim this squad down. Well, it just keeps getting bigger.

I’m all for options but if someone is out for one reason or another we have more than enough options. The problem right now is that we have a first, second and third choice for virtually each midfield/attack position and can’t please everyone.

That’s without even considering the young players who in your worst case scenario would probably get a chance. You can’t even begin to imagine a youth player getting into the team right now.

If making the squad bloated is an indirect way of trying to push certain players out then its a strange business we’re running. Whether it is Ronny that gets to do it or someone else, this squad needs some breathing space to allow youth to develop as first team players.

For now, the best thing Ronny can do is channel the first team squad into a smaller group and stick with it. If a place becomes vacant then pick from his backup group.

There are too many fighting for the one spot and that would make me miserable as a player. If Ronny doesn’t know what his best team is then perhaps he should look at the numbers he is working with.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Hard to defend…

For a long time now, many Celtic fans have been of the opinion that Ronny Deila is not the man for Celtic. Since his tenure began on June 6th 2014, I looked forward to seeing how this left field and bold appointment by Celtic Football Club turned out.

Differences among the supporters remain on several matters. Some of these I have defended in my blog for almost two years now.

In season one the club experienced mediocrity in Europe but found domestic success in the second half of the same season. That led many, if not all, to believe that the following season, the one we are currently in, would see progress.

Unfortunately we have seen Celtic regress in Europe. Another opportunity at the Champions League gone and an even more disappointing Europa League campaign in its place.

To compound that misery further, Celtic have failed to make an impact in the second half of the current domestic season. Last season a belief was found among the ranks and it was a relatively positive finish to bring home a domestic double, only narrowly missing out on a treble.

When preparations were under way for the current season we expected to see that little bit more but we haven’t. What we have seen is a lack of belief, conviction, motivation, commitment, impetus and more importantly a squad not playing anywhere near their best.

Europe was a disaster this season and given the lesser of two European tournaments, should have seen Celtic do much better. As it was it was an abysmal exhibition.

Throughout the season, I like to think I call things as I see them. I generally apply some perspective, the conditions at that moment in time and make a judgement based upon that.

Be it injuries, suspensions, poor decisions or just bad luck, I say what I see. I wouldn’t say I have gone out of my way to defend Ronny Deila or the club, just how I see it and without the knee-jerk reaction that I find appalling.

What we have all been seeing recently in this key stage of the current season has been far from convincing. Some will say “I told you so” or “this is what I’ve been saying all along”.

I like to think I’m a patient guy though and that Ronny has deserved time. From the beginning I saw Deila’s appointment as a brave move but I liked that.

As a character I liked his approach, grasp of the language and calm demeanour. Over time that has become eroded by performances, results, supporter opinion and of course the Scottish media.

Celtic had a bit of a purple patch in January. That came to a halt in the League Cup against Ross County in the last game of that month.

That was followed by a defeat away to title challengers Aberdeen a few days later. Since then performances have been well below par.

Three victories and two draws might not seem that bad, but when their is much at stake (and there is), Celtic must be doing better. At the very least, they need to be doing it in a more convincing fashion.

Of course, that is where the problem lies. It has been far from convincing by the Hoops this season.

Fan pressure aside, we haven’t seen the correct response from the players. When the chips are down and you get a bad result you want to see a reaction but it hasn’t happened this season at all.

Even if Celtic have cut their cloth to suit the environment they operate in, it hasn’t been impressive. In contrast, I was actually quite pleased with the activity in the January transfer window.

Erik Sviatchencko may turn out to be a decent acquisition. Colin Kazim-Richards could well be a diamond in the rough.

Something tells me though that Ronny Deila may never get to see that come to fruition under his management. The season is far from over and a domestic double remains in Celtic’s hands.

At Celtic Park last night though, it was a bitter blow to the club’s current campaign and far from what the fans expect. You can only defend matters so long and with matches like this becoming the norm, it becomes increasingly hard to defend the current set up.

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

Match 5 of 6 in January: Celtic v St Johnstone

After Tuesday’s annihilation of Hamilton Accies, Ronny Deila must organise and prepare his players for the visit of St Johnstone today. After that 8-1 home win, the manager will be looking to make Celtic Park a difficult place for teams to visit.

It’s match 5 of 6 for the month of January where six victories would be a very positive marker for the domestic campaign. I think it is fair to say though that St Johnstone will be the toughest opponent Celtic will have faced this month.

So far the Hoops have overcome Partick Thistle (9th), Stranraer (8th in Scottish League One), Dundee United (12th) and Hamilton Accies (10th). St Johnstone on the other hand are a respectable 4th in the Scottish Premiership.

The fact that they are seeking their first victory since 5th December is something that should be met with caution though. You never know when that run of games without a win is going to end and you don’t want to end up being the team it happens against!

With that in mind, Celtic will set up differently against Tommy Wright’s side. St Johnstone caused Celtic one or two problems last season though Celtic have put three goals past them on both occasions in the current campaign, conceding only one.

Aberdeen remain on the coat tails of Celtic after winning 1-0 last night at Pittodrie. They beat Dundee to close the gap to 3 points.

Celtic can restore that 6 point gap by winning once more at Celtic Park this afternoon. There may be some personnel changes in the midfield but the back four is likely to remain unchanged as is our lone striker, Leigh Griffiths.

St Johnstone will be seeking that first win since December. Celtic will be looking to maintain momentum.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Step it up

Celtic missed out on three points on Sunday. Instead they had to settle for one point but this wasn’t a game without entertainment.

Excitement may be missing from many of this season’s matches. It wasn’t elusive from the game at Tynecastle though.

This was a match anyone could tune into and enjoy. Good goals, good on-field battles and some good saves.

Am I disappointed with the result? No not really because it was a good contest.

That’s a seldom seen thing in Ronny Deila’s players this season. In the end the result was probably fair.

Personally, and I mean personally,  I genuinely thought this was a great game. I’m not judging the entire season on this match, just this match so we’re clear.

It was a good advert for the game in Scotland. Fine, if you’re sticking to your guns on Deila getting the sack, so be it.

You want a good game of football? You got it.

You want Celtic to win the league by a huge margin? No thanks, too boring.

It’s time to get real about the situation. I enjoyed this game and so did the punters I was watching it with, who by the way weren’t Scottish football followers at all.

Once more, I found myself doing a bit of educating and preaching about our game north if the border. It’s a huge void to fill but as a Scotsman living in the south I feel it’s my job.

Let’s not mock what both sets of players put into this game. It was a very good match.

We often talk about Celtic’s downgrading. Financial restraints that hinder club growth.

Celtic have downsized but it has probably brought back competivity to the league. The gap that needs to be filled lies in Europe but I’ve talked about that before.

We’re watching football in Scotland on a reduced budget. Winning margins are smaller.

People used to crave an early league title. Now I can’t imagine anything more unappealing.

Times have changed and we want better for the game. Or at least, I think that’s what we want?

Do we want to win the league with a huge gap? Or do we want to experience the highs and lows of a real domestic battle?

That’s where I think we’re at now. We can still improve our game but we need to recognise our level, respect it and grow from there.

Yes, we blew the chance to make the gap three points. I also think that it was a good spectacle.

I don’t think the pressure got to Celtic. Both teams went at each other.

No I don’t agree with all of Ronny’s decisions and we would all set up a Celtic team of our own differently. Right now that’s Ronny’s job and we’re still top of the league.

I’m not blind to the individuals who aren’t performing or where I think things need freshening up. In the grand scheme of things, that draw had more positives than negatives.

Tonight Celtic have another tough match away to Dundee. I say tough because of injuries currently plaguing our squad.

We can’t complain though. It’s just time to get on with it.

Regardless of any downsizing at Celtic Football Club, we are still superior in strength to any other Scottish club. Key players are missing yes, so it is time for those on the periphery to step in and for the whole squad to step up.

Aberdeen are at home to Partick Thistle which I’m betting they’ll win. So given the circumstances, I’ll take any kind of victory at Dens Park this evening for Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac