Celtic not too far off the pace when you consider Spurs result

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It appears that the gap between Celtic and Borussia Mönchengladbach is not as big as we first thought. Celtic played at Borussia Park on Tuesday and earned a draw against the German side, but the Hoops almost won it.

After taking the lead through Lars Stindl on 32 minutes, it looked as though Celtic might be facing a second defeat by Gladbach. However, the performance either side of this opening goal by Celtic was far better than the one they put in at Celtic Park.

That wouldn’t be difficult of course because they never turned up at home two weeks ago anyway. What is more commendable though is that Celtic were vastly weakened going into this match, the odds were stacked against them (aren’t they always?) and going in at half-time a goal down you might just think another goal would finish the match.

Celtic had other ideas though and played some good football throughout the game. Scott Sinclair had already hit the upright before going a goal down to the Germans and there was still fight in Celtic.

Gladbach also hit the woodwork and both keepers were drawn into action, but it was Celtic who showed greater character in the second half. Away from home and a goal behind, Moussa Dembele won and scored a penalty with the resultant offender red carded.

Celtic smelled blood and were trying to win it as well. Nobody will be more disappointed than Callum McGregor at failing to hit the target after being one-on-one with the goalkeeper in the closing stages of the game.

On another day, I’m pretty sure McGregor would have tucked it away. It wasn’t to be and so the task remains tall with one win required at the very least to even have a chance of qualifying.

When the group was drawn, we all knew it would be tough and that the best we could hope for would be third place. After four roller coaster games Celtic are still in it, however unlikely it may seem that Brendan Rodgers will be playing European football after Christmas this season.

As I said at the beginning though, perhaps the gap isn’t as big as we thought. Rodgers mentioned ‘time’ in his post match interview as the requirement to make progress and not ‘investment’ as the BT Sport interviewer did.

I found that encouraging because it calmed the nonsense that usually arises from the post match analysis after these European fixtures. Speaking of which, look no further than Tottenham Hotspur as an example.

Last night they slumped to a 0-1 defeat at home to another mid-table Bundesliga side, Bayer Leverkusen. I’ve commented previously about the gulf in finance between Celtic and many other European clubs, but Spurs are not short of cash.

In fact like Celtic they are run pretty well financially. The difference is they can spend like most high-end European clubs can because of the income generated in English football.

Like Gladbach, Leverkusen sit mid-table but they showed away from home that they can get a result. So perhaps Celtic aren’t as far out of things as we think when you compare the Spurs v Leverkusen result.

If Brendan needs time to close that gap then he has it. I’m sure Celtic will invest what they can, but the response in Germany was very encouraging and the Bhoys were desperately unlucky not to get the win.

I guess all Celtic need to do is beat Manchester City or Barcelona (or both) and we’re in the Europe after Christmas eh? Sounds like a challenge.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Scotland the brave?

On Saturday night I sat down and watched the Scotland v Lithuania game on TV. Once again I put myself through the kind of torture that can only mirror what it’s like to follow a lower league club.

That hopeless desire that one day you might just experience something wonderful with that inevitability that you never will. In that respect, Scotland are a lower league international side. 

International football, of course, is a different beast to club football altogether. The analogy is pretty close though.

The qualifying campaigns are long, drawn out affairs and in Scotland’s case unfulfilling. Having failed to reach a finals since 1998, the national side remain way off the pace.

After Saturday’s lucky draw at Hampden there appears to be no sign of that changing. Scotland always seem to come up short when they need exactly the opposite.

Gordon Strachan was a good appointment for the national side. He’s a good coach and was an iconic player so he fits the bill in terms of an international leader in my view.

The trouble is, Scotland were lack some exciting players on Saturday night. They have a good variety of talent playing at a decent level in England but there weren’t many on the park that I would have considered as star players.

Robert Snodgrass was probably the only guy I’d put in that category that started the match at Hampden. There might be a few who have moved with rather large price tags or command larte salaries but nobody got my heart racing against the Lithuanians. 

Lithuania are ranked around 70 places below Scotland, but Strachan’s players struggled to create chances let alone score goals. There is the basis of a good Scotland squad,but you need players out there providing a bit of inspiriation.

There are plenty of guys out there who haven’t even been capped and could do a very good job. When their time will come remains to he seen.

I might be slightly biased in my analysis,but not one Celtic player started. Leigh Griffiths, James Forrest and Kieran Tierney were all on the bench.

Are we really saying none of these guys were good enough to start against Lithuania at Hampden? And what about the other Celtic players yet to get a sniff at a Scotland squad such as Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor?

Of the Celtic outfield trio, one, two or all three should have started given their form this season. Coming off the bench is all well and good but I think Gordon set up wrong for this match.

Scotland should have hammered out a solid home win at Hampden. With a more attack minded team, Scotland could have ended this game early.

Intead they were chasing an equaliser. Had they gone on the front foot sooner, Strachan could have switched things and rested players for the next game.

Away points will be hard to come by in England, Slovenia and in Slovakia on Tuesday. We can add Lithuania to that list if Saturday’s match is anything to go by.

Winning home games is essential. Scotland won’t win the group, but they should be doing everything to ensure they amass the highest amount of points possible to see them into a play off position.

Realistcally, that is Scotland’s best hope. Just managing a draw against Lithuania was lucky, but it was also damaging to our campaign.

You don’t get much of a chance to recover in qualification. There are few games in which to make your mark and Scotland always seem to be dragging their heels.

The qualification process is far from decided. At this stage though, it was a blip that Gordon Strachan could have done without.

There will be more dramas ahead. As a Scotland fan of many years, I know that all too well.

Stevie Mac

Tonight…

…is the biggest game of Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic career. So far anyway.

The negative scoreline that Celtic returned from Gibraltar with wasn’t just a bad result. This was an embarrassment that now requires complete exorcism.

Some said it was like England’s result against Iceland. It wasn’t, it was worse.

Iceland went through two qualifying groups before facing the English and were there on merit. Lincoln Red Imps are a semi-professional side formed the same year I was born.

Sure, they’ve won the last 14 league titles but Gibraltar only became a member of UEFA in 2014. Does this mean Celtic have met their match?

No it bloody well doesn’t. Yes they beat a better side (on paper) in the previous round, but Celtic should be able to dispose of the Gibraltarians at Celtic Park tonight with a strong scoreline.

That is what Celtic fans will be looking for Brendan Rodgers to ensure happens. We can accept that 1-0 away defeat so long as we are convinced by what is on show tonight and not just edging past the Imps.

We know that this Celtic team is still undergoing surgery. The fat is being sucked out of the torso in order to expose the muscle this squad does have so we can invest in the muscle that we do not currently possess.

It will be a process that requires our patience. Something we are not all blessed with as Celtic supporters.

There is pressure to reach the group stage of the Champions League but there is also the expectation to create a functioning football team at the same time. Both of these are working against each other because on the one hand we don’t have the luxury of time with qualifying for Europe’s premier club competition starting so early in the summer, but time is needed to develop a good team.

Could this have been prevented? To some degree yes, but we can’t dwell on that.

Now what we need is to start setting out our stall. Playing the players that are working and in the right position.

Lincoln Red Imps aren’t playing games. They fancy this with their opponents (us) not firing on all cylinders just yet.

This is no time for complacency. Rodgers needs goals, a clean sheet and a good performance.

We demand it. We need it.

Convince us.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Welcome to Paradise, Brendan

Back in May 2012 I began this blog as a personal pastime. I had contributed to a few other Celtic websites before and after this, but I decided to go it alone.

Celtic had won the SPL and the landscape of Scottish Football was in the middle of a saga. To escape said saga, I wrote about two football managers ascending in the game south of the border.

Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert had each taken ‘bigger’ jobs within a day of each other. Their stock was on the rise so Liverpool came swooping in to take Rodgers from Swansea and Villa took Lambert from Norwich.

They had both managed to survive their promotion seasons with their Championship clubs finishing. They even finished next to each other on the same points separated purely by goal difference.

Despite having a similar path and success with each of those Championship clubs, it was not so fortunate following their moves. Neither achieved the goal of winning trophies and both were sacked, albeit in different seasons.

One of those men I have retained my admiration for. The other, not so much.

And whad’ya know? That man, Brendan Rodgers, is now in the Celtic hot seat.

Now, play this down all you like. This is by no means a minor appointment – it’s a bit of a coup!

In the days and weeks leading up to this announcement, there have been a several favourites. Getting Rodgers was seen as impossible.

The fact that he has signed on speaks volumes about Celtic’s ambitions. It is also a credit to the new manager and his interest in this club.

Celtic and Rodgers are in a similar place right now. The club require upgrading for Europe, a voice in the dressing room and a plan on match days.

The new head coach needs a club to repair his managerial wounds and a platform to rebuild his reputation. This could be the beginning of something beautiful for both parties.

As I said to a couple of friends, Rodgers should be aiming for somewhere on the scale between Gordon Strachan (WGS) and Martin O’Neill (MON). That means bums on seats, Champions League football and entertaining the fans again.

Now before someone bashes me and points out the differences between the two previous Celtic managers, let me explain something. We had no idea what MON would do but it changed the club forever.

WGS took things one step further in the Champions League. What Rodgers needs to do is pin the tail on the donkey somewhere between those two men and make his own story.

I think he is the man to take Celtic forward right now and I’m confident in his ability. He may well emerge as a man we cannot retain the services of further down the line, but right now Rodgers can do a job at Celtic and that is why Dermot Desmond has made this happen.

Like him or loathe him, we’ve snared a guy who two seasons ago was out of our league. Since being sacked by Liverpool, he has become more attainable.

To ensure his signature though, Celtic have had to invest. That means settling financial terms, projecting expectations and demonstrating what you are offering to make that happen.

In Scotland, money will always be the Achilles heel of the game. There isn’t the customer base, stadia or media that can flog this league to the outside world nor is there a significant TV deal.

So for Celtic to draw in Rodgers is quite something. Whatever terms he is on, Brendan is here and I am hopeful he will bring success to Celtic Park.

The club need someone to man manage, lead, make effective decisions and with any luck get the best out of this group of players we have accrued over a few seasons. It isn’t an easy task, particularly with sort of attention this job comes with and the limited resources to do it with but that is why Celtic have had to aim higher.

Celtic have significantly more funding than the rest of Scottish clubs. It isn’t nearly as much as some of these clubs in Europe though.

Still, Celtic have exited Europe against teams with smaller finances recently so it isn’t just about the money. This is about motivation, tactics, team selection and recruitment.

It is worth mentioning that of all the men mentioned for this role, Rodgers is by far the outstanding candidate. Furthermore, he was the man fans felt least likely to accept an offer given his growth in the game.

There aren’t too many men out there to have managed two of the world’s greatest clubs. Whilst Liverpool wasn’t an overwhelming success, Brendan came very close to winning the Premier League.

Celtic have shown their intent here and the timing is perfect. It isn’t even June and we’ve installed a big name.

Roy Keane was said to have turned the job down two years ago due to lack of transfer funds. If there is more on offer this time it is evident that whilst he may have been more interested this time around, he wasn’t number one choice as he was in 2014.

Does Brendan have the qualities we desire? I think so.

Can he do great things? We’ll find out.

Was there a better, more viable candidate out there? Not in my opinion.

So we are in for an interesting journey. I’ll say it again, I think this could be the best appointment since MON.

Welcome to Paradise, Brendan.

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

Black Friday

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

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

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

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

Option 1. Sack Ronny Deila.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Option 2. Spend Better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Option 3. Stick With The Plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Defiant Deila, sheepish McInnes.

What negative Celtic headlines will we be reading in the coming days? After a convincing win over Aberdeen on Saturday lunchtime, will the media continue to chip away at Scotland’s best football club and their head coach, Ronny Deila?

I’ve mentioned to quite a few people over the years how the English press lay into their national football team in every way possible. They treat then almost as if they are the enemy and I just don’t get it.

The Scottish press are a similar bunch with one difference. They’re supportive of our national side (unless they are truly are honking!) but they stick the boot in to Celtic at any opportunity so long as it makes a headline – fact or fib.

This is part of the reason why many Celtic fans, including myself, despise the sporting media in Scotland. The other part stems from the protection and promotion of our deceased rivals across the city.

The Scottish media’s failure to report the truth about their demise was every bit as blatant as the decisions they received over the years from referees and the SFA’s agenda. Officials and the media are of course two totally different areas of the game though populated by people with similar leanings.

If you dare to report the truth about the dark side or even utter anything factually correct, they’ll take it as far as it needs to. Just ask former BBC journalist Jim Spence, the most recent victim of abuse from the tribute act.

However, I digress. The point is even now with our old rivals long gone, their phoenix club potentially meeting a similar fate, and rivals Aberdeen fading faster than Derek McInnes’s tan in December, Celtic remain the media target.

It doesn’t matter whether they are having a good season or not. The media will do everything and enlist anyone to push Celtic’s buttons.

David Tanner and Andy Walker were at it yesterday during the Sky Sports coverage apparently. I didn’t see the game live but Ronny “losing the plot” and “being lucky” were being banded about on Twitter.

Gordon Strachan did not jump on their bandwagon though. For a guy who played for Aberdeen, did a great job for Celtic and still never won over all the Celtic support fans, he’s never ever stuck the boot in on Celtic like some ex-Celts have.

When he resigned a rather large portion of fans were happy to see him go and his replacement, Tony Mowbray, walk in. And we all know how that turned out.

So let’s see how our media handle Celtic this week particularly with a home tie against Molde in the Europa League on Thursday. Criticism has been rife this season and not without good reason but I sense Celtic have unity among the ranks even if some fans have lost faith.

Aberdeen have slipped into third. Hearts are the new title challengers and we disposed of them in the League Cup last Wednesday.

Celtic are still the best team in Scotland by far. It’s a shame they aren’t given the credit they deserve particularly when they have earned it.

Top of the league. Mind the gap.

The only footage I’ve seen of the Aberdeen match so far contained the Leigh Griffiths header and James Forrest goal which were both sublime in the build up and the finish. I also caught the tackle by Graham Shinnie on Nir Bitton which was horrendous.

That was a red card in my opinion and in Europe he wouldn’t have been so lucky, not that Aberdeen know what Europe is like these days. I’ve seen players sent off for less and any attention Shinnie received from the Celtic players throughout the match was most definitely warranted.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac