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

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Rodgers and Sinclair reuinted for season opener at Tynecastle

Celtic have today confirmed Scott Sinclair as Brendan Rodgers’ third signing. The 27-year-old winger has worked with the Celtic manager in the past and there appears to have been some determination to obtain the services of the English winger.

From the little bit of research I have done on Sinclair, he comes with a lot of experience south of the border. That has been based mainly on playing for a long list of clubs, though only for short spells.

He began his career at Bristol Rovers where he came to the attention of Chelsea as a young boy. Having moved to Chelsea, it was there that Rodgers and Sinclair came together for the first time.

Rodgers was the head youth coach at the time and the two worked together for a number of years. Eventually Rodgers would move into first team management at Watford whilst for Sinclair half a dozen loan spells would begin.

Both mentor and pupil would be reunited once more at Swansea City in 2010 where they would enjoy very positives times in their careers. Because of the success enjoyed during their two seasons together, they would both move on.

Brendan went to Liverpool and Scott went to Manchester City. We all know about Brendan’s Liverpool tenure but for Scott his rare appearances in a Manchester City jersey led to further loan spells before a permanent move to Aston Villa.

Many have pointed out that Villa wasn’t a great success for Sinclair. Then gain, that could be said for Villa has a whole because after flirting with relegation for a long time, they now find themselves in the Championship.

Right now, I am keen to see Sinclair in the Hoops. Brendan has pursued him and looks to be one of his players.

That means he knows what he will get from him and when asked to do something, knows he will get a positive response. The only thing Sinclair needs to do is do what is asked of him.

We might get to see that today as Celtic take on Hearts at Tynecastle. With Patrick Roberts injured and Gary Mackay-Steven facing a loan spell, Celtic are light on wingers for once.

If Sinclair does play, it might just be as a substitute. Either way we are all looking forward to him help bring success to the club.

To play away from home and at Tynecastle in your first Premiership match is about as tough as it can get. Celtic will need to be at their best as I expect Hearts to have built upon last season.

There a fewer better places to play away in Scotland than Tynecastle in terms of intensity. Welcome to Scottish football, Scott.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Capital gains

Whilst Aberdeen showed real character in the second half of yesterday’s match at Pittodrie by fighting back for a draw, they passed up the chance to go top of the Scottish Premiership. Now the day has arrived for Celtic to respond to that missed opportunity by taking all three points at Tynecastle.

Yesterday I mentioned pressure and the ability to handle it. Aberdeen failed to deal with the pressure that awaited them before yesterday’s game kicked off and ended up putting themselves under further pressure, the result of which they overcame.

Now Celtic must rise to the task of beating Heart of Midlothian away. The Edinburgh club came back to the top flight this season (after learning a valuable financial lesson and going about recovery with professionalism) to give a very good account of themselves by keeping up with the best in the league.

Recent form has not been great for Hearts though. It is five games since they recorded their last victory back in early November againt Hamilton Academical.

Don’t be fooled by this spate of form though. Hearts pose a serious threat for Celtic and in an intimidating atmosphere as well.

Tynecastle is one of the few Scottish grounds that offers an atmosphere. The tight pitch and proximity of the fans to the action can make this a hostile environment.

Today it will add to the pressure Celtic are already facing. Supporter withdrawl, an under fire coaching team and below par performances from key individuals are the self made pressures at Celtic.

Winning the treble and winning all your games are the domestic pressures imposed by the fans, the media and the pundits. Not just this season, but every season.

Are they handling it? Well you’d have to say yes because they are still top of the league, still in the fight for the treble and this is all being done with some inconsistency.

Two losses is by no means a disaster for Celtic. Nor are the three draws they’ve picked up from eighteen games – the halfway mark of the season.

I’m more concerned by how unconvincing Celtic are at home. They look nervous in front of their own fans.

Do they feel supporter pressure? Well they should do because that’s your yard stick to how well you are doing.

Performing in front of them should be the motivator that drives you on. We’ve seen Celtic give more of a battling account of themselves away from home which is why I think they will win at Tynecastle this afternoon.

It’s a mouthwatering tie in Edinburgh and is a key marker in the current campaign. What better challenge than to overcome the pressure of Tynecastle and start putting some distance between you and your rivals?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Hearts broken, Livingston out.

Leigh Griffiths is surging into the scoring charts for Celtic. And it was two pieces of individual brilliance by the Scotland international that was enough to bring down Hearts at Tynecastle.

After a goalless seventy minutes, Celtic took the initiative and the lead. After a loose ball in midfield was played through to Griffiths, he rinsed three defenders before slotting a superb finish past Neil Alexander.

Make no mistake, had this goal been scored by Messi or Müller, it would be getting all kinds of praise. Even if it is the kind of goal you expect to see from top strikers, Griffiths demonstrated some fine footwork and finishing.

Despite being booked for celebrating in front of Hearts fans, it did little to curtail his presence in this match. He popped up ten minutes later with a similar piece of delightful skill to play in Tom Rogić who finished from close range with the deftest of touches.

This was good timing because two minutes into injury time, Hearts pulled one back. It was a free header right in front of the Celtic goal and whilst Craig Gordon was helpless to do much about it, I think the defence had switched off at this point in the game.

Although that goal didn’t effect the overall result, I would still be telling my defence to be focussing to the last second. Even if you think the game is won, it isn’t until that final whistle goes.

So Celtic are through to the semi-final of the League Cup. As current holders, the objective is to retain it and make it the first part of a treble.

This should be Ronny Deila’s primary goal. Europe is still salvageable but I think most have conceded being involved beyond Christmas.

I rarely mix football and politics in any debate as they are two different arenas but today signed the petition for the removal of Lord Ian Livingston from the board at Celtic. Having voted for the tax cuts imposed by the government, this guy goes against everything the club are supposed to stand for.

Politics are a personal choice and the club is open to all but his stance undermines the foundations of the club. Celtic can’t sack the guy on political grounds but in my opinion his position is untenable.

Please feel free to sign the petition and shake things up.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Pressure from above and below

Saturday afternoon coughed up a few surprises in the Scottish Premiership. One of these would result in the first managerial casualty of the season.

Jackie McNamara has had a difficult start to the season. Yesterday’s defeat at the hands of 10 man St Johnstone appears to have marked the end his tenure at Dundee United.

Take nothing away from Tommy Wright’s players because they have shown some grit and determination when you least expect it. For Jackie, it has not been so productive on the pitch.

If only he could have pulled off the kind of result John Hughes did over Derek McInnes’s Aberdeen. That may have only delayed the inevitable because after nine games, one win, two draws and six defeats his time is up.

For a team who have sold quite a few of their best players in the last couple of years, it isn’t hard to work out what has gone wrong. It is one thing to sell your best players to bigger clubs, but you have to replace them as well.

Celtic are no different when they’ve sold Hooper, Foster, Wanyama and more recently van Dijk. These guys made a bigger name for themselves in Europe with Celtic and that bought them a ticket to England, but it is Celtic’s responsibility to bring in guys of the same potential.

You’d be better placed to ask a Dundee United fan if their club have done that. Personally I don’t think they have, but the difference between Dundee United this season compared to last is a whopping 14 points who were also sat at the top of the Scottish Premiership this time last year.

Since then, Celtic took three of their best players off them. How much of that was reinvested?

John Hughes pulled off the result of the day with a 2-1 win over Aberdeen. His Inverness side have also suffered a bad start to the season compared to last but Saturday’s result was a real shot in the arm.

Beating the unbeaten moved them up into eighth place in the Scottish Premiership on 10 points. However, they are still 7 points worse off from the same stage last season.

Elsewhere, Martin Canning’s Hamilton side got a win over Gary Locke’s Kilmarnock, pulling them up into fourth in the league on equal points with Hearts. Having had a couple of spells at the top of the league last season, it is familiar territory for Hamilton.

They should make use of the early misfortunes of Dundee United and Inverness. These were the three teams occupying the top three positions for the first quarter of last season.

Jim McIntyre’s Ross County and Paul Hartley’s Dundee played out a high scoring 3-3 draw. That result allowed Hamilton to skip into fourth so Ross County move down one place to fifth whilst Dundee remain in sixth.

Motherwell notched up only their third win of the season at home to Partick Thistle. That enabled Stephen Craigan’s side to move up to ninth but for Partick it is yet another day of woe.

Alan Archibald has yet to win a match this season. Having earned only three points via three draws, will he be next on the managerial casualty list?

For Celtic, they had a hard time trying to break down Hearts at Celtic Park. With home advantage and umpteen chances at goal, Neil Alexander and his defenders did their job well in earning a point.

Given that Hearts had three straight defeats going into this game, you can forgive them for not coming out to play. A more deadly Celtic attack may have broken through the barrier the Edinburgh club put up though.

Efe Ambrose’s red card at the end of the match was necessary. Anyone who has played the game will know that was the correct thing to do and I have no beef with him about it.

Sam Nicholson may have been able to score, he might not have. In those dying minutes though, it was a red card that saved a potential mishap.

Ronny Deila might be frustrated but with Aberdeen losing, Celtic still moved a point closer to top spot. With results like these, this makes the Scottish Premiership much more entertaining.

Many will still assume that Celtic will win the league. Even so, there is pressure from above and below.

Who says Scottish football is boring?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The story so far…

After eight Premiership matches this season, Celtic find themselves five points better off than at the same stage last season. By contrast, Aberdeen are a staggering eleven points up from the same way point.

For both clubs, this is an improvement on last season, a huge one for Aberdeen. Celtic had a game at hand in their locker during that period last year but that was never a guaranteed three points.

And here’s the funny thing, neither team sat in the top four spots at that time. Celtic didn’t even break into third place until 1st November and finally first, eight days later after beating Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

Throughout the time Celtic had been trying to get to the top, Aberdeen had kept them company around fifth and sixth place in the Premiership. Celtic had ascended quicker, ousting Dundee United, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and even Hamilton Academical from the berths above them.

Aberdeen lay in wait that bit longer and came gushing into second spot as Christmas came upon us. The gap was narrow but Celtic would prevail.

The story so far this season is somewhat different. Aberdeen have the upper hand and that’s what makes it really interesting.

Celtic are playing catchup to the team that ran them close last season. Derek McInnes is trying to eradicate last year’s errors and so far so good.

Today it’s back to league duty for everyone after a midweek of League Cup ties. With Aberdeen dumped out of that competition at the hands of Hibernian, they’ll be fully focused on the Premiership.

They’ll still be included in the Scottish Cup when it comes along but you can Derek McInnes will be making a bid for glory here. For Celtic though, they’re battling things out in four competitions.

Ronny Deila isn’t expected to win the Europa League. He is expected to win the treble though.

No rest for the wicked. Ronny Deila has had his work cut out him.

Yes, he has the superior squad, finances etc, etc. He’s also trying to change things at Celtic for long-term.

If it were simply a case of winning the league, double or treble then you would assume that whoever takes the helm at Celtic could achieve one of those quests. Ronny Deila is changing the entire culture at Celtic though and as he pointed out to the media, even with a league and cup double success from last season, he hasn’t won over all of his players.

In comments made to the media he stated that not every player has responded to his methods and targets. So even though guys like Bitton and Griffiths are examples of those who have conformed, some have found themselves on the fringes of his plans.

That being the case, it is not simply about winning the league. He has still to achieve an influence on his entire squad.

It certainly doesn’t sound as if he has lost the dressing room. Merely that some players are simply not up to the task.

In our hearts and minds I think we can work out who those players are likely to be. So there is another arc in Celtic’s progress this season especially with new players establishing themselves as well.

At this point in the season, it is still very early but as the end of 2015 comes, we’ll see who has earned themselves a regular spot and who has not. There is also a prime importance for Ronny Deila to establish a back four.

With Virgil van Dijk sold to Southampton and Jason Denayer back at Manchester City, it is a whole new central defence. Dedryck Boyata I have yet to be convinced by and I don’t think he’s looked anywhere near as good as Jason Denayer but he still has time on his side.

Jozo Šimunović has come with a huge price tag and a lot to prove. Ronny Deila has outlined him as a very good player but with only one game under his belt it will be some time before we know if the £5.5M paid was worth it.

On loan from Manchester United is Tyler Blackett and after a few games is also still finding his feet. His ability to play at left back or left centre back makes him useful as there is little cover for that position but just how much of an impact he will have is hard to tell at this stage.

Saidy Janko also came in from Manchester United and has looked good to me. I think his signature could turn it to be one of Deila’s best.

Kieran Tierney has also thrown his hat into the defensive ring this season and the signs are encouraging. The youth player has been given a few outings at left back under Deila and played well so I expect to see more of him throughout the season.

As for our more established defenders, you have Mikael Lustig, Efe Ambrose, Emilio Izaguirre and Charlie Mulgrew. When fit, Lustig could easily play for any team in Europe and if he can stay injury free he will be a key player for Celtic this season.

Ambrose fell out of favour last season and despite naturally fit player, he can still be held back by his decision-making and ability. Izaguirre is still an important player for Celtic and the challenge of Tierney and Blackett will keep him on his toes.

Mulgrew has seen himself back in defence more recently and is always an option for left centre back or left back. That will always depend on the opponent but he is equally utilised in the midfield.

What needs to be pin pointed is the central pairing in defence. Once established, Deila can make that partnership stick and when the need comes to make a single change, it should not be so disruptive.

Who those two players will be we have yet to find out. It will be key to Ronny Deila’s success this season on the domestic and European front if he can find a pairing that works.

So to today and Celtic host Heart of Midlothian at Celtic Park. Last seasons runaway Championship winners sit four points behind Celtic in the Premiership.

Their last three league matches have all been defeats and will be hoping to avoid a fourth today at the hands of the current Champions. Celtic utilised fringe players midweek against Raith Rovers but you can expect a strong team for today’s game.

Celtic need to win this one to keep pressure on Aberdeen. The Don’s are away to Inverness Caledonian Thistle and if it were last season I know who I’d put my money.

As it is, Inverness have had a poor start to this campaign with only one win in eight games. Pitting that statistic against an unbeaten Aberdeen gives you a rough idea where your money should go but you just never know when a form team can hit the skids.

Midweek was a slip up for McInnes but not for John Hughes, Ronny Deila or Robbie Neilson. All eyes will be on these two fixtures.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Opportunity knocks

With Legia Warsaw’s vain attempt at being reinstated to the Champions League out of the way, thoughts are now firmly focussed on tonights first leg play-off match in Slovenia. The question many Celtic fans have been asking themselves the past week though is “how will we fair against Maribor?”
 
Celtic’s fortunes have had a significant change in the last fortnight. It began with UEFA’s investigation into Legia Warsaw’s fielding of an ineligible player and snowballed into two good wins for Ronny Deila in the SPFL and two expected decisions from UEFA and the CAS.
 
I’m not getting carried away with two SPFL results but the overall attitude displayed by the Celtic players has been much more positive. It’s fair to say that domestic football is not European football, but what I will say is that going into that away game against in Perth, I was not feeling confident.
 
After shipping six goals against the Polish Champions, I wondered how Deila and his players would respond. When I tuned into that first league match last week, it was a very dire first half.
 
The second half was much brighter and despite any rub of the green or ‘cheating’, the result was a positive one. I’ve seen Celtic teams in the past with their heads down and the opportunity to win on a platter for them only for it to be an opportunity missed.
 
Celtic scored three without reply against St Johnstone and never looked back. They took that win back to Celtic Park on Saturday for flag day.
 
It was Ronny Deila’s first match ever at Paradise. Despite playing twelve matches consisting of friendlies, Champions League qualifiers and one SPFL match, all of those fixtures were on the road.
 
Saturday’s lucntime game with Dundee United may have been about Fergus unfurling the league flag, but it was also about Celtic coming home and Deila making his home debut as head coach. The opposition were sittung top of the league having played one game more than Celtic and were certainly one of the main threats to Deila’s team but this was a match controlled by Celtic.
 
Celtic maintained possession, looked lively and gave United a lot to think about. If there were any doubts about how Celtic got a 3-0 win at McDiarmid park in midweek, they were laid to rest with a comprehensive 6-1 mauling of Dundee United.
 
To score nine and concede one after being beaten in Europe then being reinstated needed a response from the players and they did. By no means do I think that Celtic will walk it from this point on, in fact there is much still to do as Deila has stated, but the players have responded to the early warning signs.
 
You can have physical ability in abundance to play football but it takes mental strength to overcome the woe of defeat. Celtic were beaten fair and square in Europe over two legs by Legia Warsaw and it was hard to take.
 
I could argue that Ronny Deila did not have the preparation time or the influx of personnel to execute his game plan. Perhaps he didn’t, but it was enough to see the team past KR Reykjavik.
 
In the first leg against Legia Warsaw, Celtic started well enough, opening the scoring. What concerned me was how quickly things fell apart in the match and why.
 
Celtic lost their grip midway through that first half and was further compounded by the red card applied to Efe Ambrose. Ten men were never going to claw their way back into that match and they didn’t, though they were flattered by a 4-1 score line.
 
Back at Murrayfield there was an opportunity to turn things around with eleven players. Inatead what I saw that evening from my seat in the stadium was a flat lining performance.
 
It’s fair to say that Legia did their job in sitting in and hitting on the break. And why not, they had the advantage after all?

Still, there was a lack of heart and desire on Celtic’s part. It was as though we’d already given up.
 
Had it not been for the calamitous error made by Legia Warsaw backroom staff, I wonder how Celtic would have responded. The reprieve Ronny Deila’s players got was a shot in the arm not just because it kept Celtic in Europe, but in it is the competition.
 
Tomorrow night presents tough challenge for the Celtic Head Coach manager and his players. What has he learned and what have his players learned?

Before the last two league matches I might have been writing off Celtic but I don’t feel that right now. An opportunity has been presented to Celtic so lets make it count and take that Champions League spot.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie