Anfield envy

After watching last nights highlights of the match at Anfield, I was left feeling somewhat envious this morning. Liverpool’s spectacular comeback brought back some pleasant memories of better times in Europe for Celtic.

I have no personal connection or affinity with Liverpool, even though one exists between our two clubs, but I can appreciate the impact this turnaround would have had on everyone. What a buzz that must have been to be at Anfield to witness this performance.

Jürgen Klopp must have had mixed emotions going up against the club he managed for seven years only ending last season. To go from staring at defeat in the face to dumping your old team out of Europe with virtually the last touch of the ball, it must have been quite a roller coaster for him.

I yearn for those days when I can sit and watch Celtic take me from tension on the edge of my seat to leaping into the air with joy once more. Being in Europe simply isn’t enough, you have to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

That was what Klopp instilled in his players last night. This is what Ronny Deila needs to do to his own players.

Do that and you’re heading in the right direction. It might not last forever and you might not win the prize, but if you can take your players there and inspire them then they’ll have tasted what real victory is.

Celtic have been there before and I know we’ll go there again some day. I’d like to think that’ll be sooner rather than later.

Congratulations Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool for giving the game this rare moment. It’s what football is all about.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Everything out in the open

At a time in the season when trophies are the paramount of importance, another discussion is in circulation on planet Celtic. Discontent is high on the agenda right now and the future of this Celtic team, their coaching staff and those who wear the suits, surrounds everything.

If you consider Celtic to be the best team in Scotland, which they still are at the moment, an outsider might say “well what’s the problem then?” The simple answer would be “for how much longer?”

That of course is based partly on the current sequence of events which is largely seeing Celtic struggle to secure a fifth successive league title. It doesn’t end there though because the situation is bigger than that.

What’s bigger than the league? The Champions League of course.

One does not exist without the other though. To get to the latter you must first win the former.

Having missed out last season, but having a relatively decent innings in the Europa League, we all expected more in the current campaign. What happened turned out to be worse though.

It’s hard to ignore the regression of this season. Celtic’s faltering attempt to remain a European force has taken us down a peg or two.

Nobody likes it and it has hit the supporters hard. In truth we threw away a superb opportunity to make it this season and ultimately failed the European test.

By comparison we failed even more in this season’s Europa League campaign than the last. Statistically, there isn’t much between this season and the last in the Scottish Premiership and at the same stage.

Yet this time last year this squad were finding their feet. They were looking sharper than what we had seen earlier in the campaign and there was a sign that things were coming together.

Where did it all go wrong then? Was it Champions League failure that crucified our season or was it something else?

Are Ronny Deila’s efforts exhausted or is something amiss? It’s hard to define exactly what the problem is when you have players coming out to back the manager and taking the blame themselves.

Then Ronny calls it as he sees fit. The “players didn’t do well enough” or “we’re improving all the time”.

At times I feel he is just telling the media whatever he needs to protect himself and his players. You can’t ignore a really dire performance but he has done so on occasion.

Ronny is a highly intelligent and likeable man. I get the distinct feeling we don’t see the real Ronny enough.

As for the current set of problems, I don’t know where the issue lies precisely. The only thing I can say is that we’re not seeing a good product on the park for this club or its fans.

Is it the coaches or is it the players? Are the players not receiving the right motivation and tactics or are the players simply not good enough or influential enough to lead this club?

On their game, I would say all of the current Celtic squad are capable of remaining Celtic players with one or two exceptions. So why aren’t they performing individually or as a team?

What do the men upstairs think about all of this? Are they already looking at alternatives or are they sticking by ‘their’ man?

I’m not sure that the addition of more players is the answer either. It’s about how we are playing on the day.

I’d happily take a couple more players to ensure that next season we have the correct quantity and quality for each position. That would also mean moving some deadwood out, but I think there is more at play here.

I think there are some players in this team that really want to play for this coaching team and some that don’t. This is where I think the problem might be and if I am being honest something or someone will have to give.

If I am right about this then there is a stalemate within the club. Even if you have most players playing for the head coach, there will be an atmosphere which upsets the harmony.

You know what though, I could be completely wrong but I think there is something in that. And perhaps this is where these “clear the air” talks have stemmed from.

This time last year we were on the up and now we’re not. If it is simply that Ronny Deila is out of his depth then we’ll soon know.

If there is more to it and Celtic have been trying to contain the matter then I’m sure it’ll all come out in the wash eventually. The club do not appear to be pushing Ronny out the door and whilst that may suggest they are not taking action, perhaps we as supporters don’t have all of the facts.

Only the players and coaching staff know what the problem is. It’s up to them to sort it out if they are to win this double.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

 

Time to support Deila, not sack him.

Ronny Deila’s presence at Celtic Football Club continues to divide the Celtic fan base. Meantime in the dressing room, he has received vocal support once more from club captain Scott Brown and not for the first time.

He has also had backing from Leigh Griffiths and Charlie Mulgrew in his time at the club. How united that backing is throughout the dressing room is a topic of its own.

Elsewhere, the media and pundits continue to have their say on TV and in the newspapers. The comments which gained a reaction from Scott Brown recently came from the one and only Andy Walker.

Now 99% of the time you’ll find that 99% of the Celtic support don’t agree with what Walker says or thinks. In fact that goes for pretty much any pundit, particularly when they are ex-Celts bashing Celtic.

On this occasion Walker called for Deila to get the sack following two bad results against Ross County and Aberdeen. This is despite the fact Celtic still sit top of the league with a game at hand and also compete in the Scottish Cup today against East Kilbride.

It’s true that Ronny Deila has not taken Celtic to glorious heights in Europe. In fact it has been his least successful area since arriving at Celtic and progress has not been made over two seasons.

I say “least successful” but that still includes qualifying for two group phases of the Europa League. One which he qualified from and one which was completely underwhelming.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it once more. He isn’t the first Celtic manager to falter in Europe.

Deila himself has mentioned this on a couple of occasions himself. This still appears to fly in the face of what supporters expect – instant success.

Martin O’Neill, Celtic’s first modern-day manager to make inroads on the European scene, didn’t get past Bordeaux or Christmas in his first season. He had a formidable team as well with the UEFA Cup Final in 2003 the pinnacle of his era but he too experienced disappointment such as that season which ended trophyless.

For Gordon Strachan it was reaching the last 16 of the Champions League twice and trouncing the league by winning it in record time in 2006. Like O’Neill, he experienced disappointment though unlike his predecessor he was NOT the messiah to the supporters and found himself departing to the applause of many.

Tony Mowbray, a poor appointment from the beginning was widely supported by the fans, myself being one of the exceptions. If anyone dragged Celtic down it was him and he was shown the door for achieving nothing.

Then came Neil Lennon, a rookie, but also the only real option at the time, who did a fantastic job and probably should have stuck around beyond 2014 in my opinion. With one great Champions League campaign to his credit, a win over Barcelona being the standout, this was not achieved without experiencing two difficult first seasons and personal death threats.

His departure was a surprise but he’d endured a lot in his time. He had also lost some of his best players and bought some donkeys at the same time.

In step Ronny Deila, wins a double in his first season and reaches the last 32 of the Europa League. Not a bad start but two failed attempts at the Champions League in his 20 months in charge are at the forefront of most Celtic supporter’s thoughts.

Along with that, two treble opportunities gone, but with a second domestic double still very much on the cards. Is that enough for Celtic fans though?

Many don’t appear to think so and yet, Celtic are still the best team in Scotland. And that’s in a league which is more closely competed these days than in the recent past.

Isn’t that what we wanted? A competitive league that wasn’t a forgone conclusion every season?

Celtic have and always will make mistakes along the way. A flawless season is a rare thing, particularly when your current head coach is trying to execute a long-term plan.

Ronny Deila may never see his vision come to fruition especially if not given that time. I never expected great things immediately because greatness takes time.

I don’t think Ronny Deila is as clueless as people say he is. He’s making mistakes like any other coach does and working toward something we all want.

We didn’t recruit Pep Guardiola and land £50M to spend on players courtesy of the Kaiser. We plucked a young relatively unknown manager from Norway with a vision that suited Celtic’s situation.

Overnight success is not a realistic target, particularly in Europe. At Celtic, European success is a tall order even for the best manager available to us but it is still how we measure progress and success at the club.

What is being attempted under Deila is a different path but one that fits the club’s financial situation. I back the left field approach and how bold it has been but it remains to be seen if Ronny will be given another shot at Europe like Neil Lennon was.

Winning the league is essential and that remains within our grasp. So too does a domestic double.

Surely that is worth backing until we are in jeopardy of losing it? This is not the time for change, this is a time to stick by ans support Ronny Deila.

In my view we should not be hitting the panic button. You have to see it through the tough times, you don’t just throw in the towel.

I’m going to stick my neck out and continue back Ronny even if I am a minority. If he throws away the league this season or fails badly in Europe next season then we are looking at re-assessing the situation but only then.

I’m not 100% happy with the way things are, how some players are performing and have my own questions but I’m not calling time just yet. There is room and time for things to take shape.

Right now I think too many are being too fickle. Time to tough it out folks, because our support is required.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Time to move on

As a Celtic fan you have first hand knowledge of how it feels to support the club. So what sort of experience do you have when you’re a player at this moment at Celtic Football Club?

In previous blogs I’ve stated that the manager has criticised the players in the face of defeat(s). The players have backed that claim by stating they hadn’t performed well enough.

What’s going through my mind though is are all the players of the same opinion? I know the first season for Ronny Deila saw a few players dropped for varying reasons but now we’re in season two and I’d be interested to know what the real mood is currently.

The one thing I can say without a shadow of a doubt is that with the exception of Kris Commons’ dugout explosion in Norway, there is a sense of uniformity when talking to the media. As a squad, players have put their hands up to errors, missed opportunities and poor performances.

Not that I would expect a player revolt but I don’t get the sense that the players are unhappy with the coaching. In fact many players have spoken positively about Ronny Deila and the impact he has had on their careers.

Unless the Celtic PR machine are putting on a front, I’d say that European results aside, it’s a happy camp. Now that either means that our squad are so average they can’t see the bigger picture or they believe in the current set-up and we can’t see the bigger picture.

Ronny continues to speak positively and remains unshaken in his belief that he will lead Celtic to greener pastures. In basic terms of course that means the Champions League.

With two failed opportunities under his belt now, Ronny can at the very least look at both campaigns and compare and review. He also has two Europa League campaigns to analyse as well but that all depends on whether he’s prepared to look at his mistakes or just pursue each game with the same plan regardless.

You see for Ronny his philosophy is about playing the game in a certain way. All of the time.

In Scotland you might get away with that because you’re Celtic and generally untouchable. In Europe though, Celtic are much further down the food chain.

As supporters we know that, but we want to be in the respected hierarchy of the game. To do that sometimes you have to make sacrifices.

When you compare Martin O’Neill’s style to Gordon Strachan’s it is easy to spot the difference. Martin wanted Celtic to play the Celtic way (and he had some excellent talent) whilst Gordon would play the way which was most likely to get a result with less individual talent.

We all know which style of football we preferred out of the two. We also know who did better in the Champions League – and no I haven’t forgotten about Seville!

My point here is tactics, adaptation, personnel, resources, motivation and the big one – experience. Not just experience in the squad but on the coaching team.

Ronny has had a run in management for seven years so he isn’t new to the role but his assistants are. What he did with Strømsgodset didn’t happen overnight, it took time.

He imposed his philosophy over a period where it finally paid off after a few years. That was with a club who hadn’t lifted a title in over 40 years.

I’m not suggesting that we wait forever. However, what if that change of gear comes next season?

Many including myself have already debated whether Ronny should get another bite at the cherry. Or even if the board fancy taking another risk.

For the most part my personal view has been to review things at the end of the season. At the same time, I’ve sought assurances over what will change to improve our chances of getting into the Champions League from what we’ve seen these last two summers.

The financial situation is not going to change between now and then. Two seasons without Champions League cash has made certain of that.

Are we waiting on Ronny Deila suddenly changing direction with his philosophy? Well no because he is being given the opportunity to do at Celtic what he did with Strømsgodset because Celtic have few better options.

That is why I think he will be given longer. It’s not so much about the individual purchases.

For me it is about nurturing an entire set-up. Currently this grooming isn’t winning over fans or getting good European results.

All I can say is that if Ronny is here next season it isn’t just about improving from this season. Its about failing to improve in Europe from his first year in charge.

Yes, we’re not even halfway through the current season. We’ve dropped out of Europe earlier than the last season though and that’s a step back.

With the treble still available it has to be a priority to take all domestic honours. There will never be a better time to get it and let’s face it, this could be the turning point for Ronny Deila’s Celtic career and the kick-start required to see him into next season.

Yesterday, Hearts drew with Motherwell and Aberdeen beat Ross County. Celtic have a chance to widen the gap to 7 points with a victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the Caledonian Stadium.

John Hughes’ side aren’t in the same vein of form as they were last season. That doesn’t make a 12.15pm kick-off in Inverness any more pleasing though, particularly in light of Celtic’s Euro exit.

Now it’s time to forget about Europe and concentrate fully on the league and cups. Time to move on.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

In the moments after publishing this article, I discovered that Anthony Stokes vented his dissatisfaction on Twitter at being dragged up to Inverness only to discover he’ll be sitting in the stands. Being the most excluded senior player in the entire squad, I guess I can write him up as one player in opposition to Ronny Deila.

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

Celtic in crisis: we’re doomed!

The Celtic crisis continued on Sunday as Ronny Deila’s player’s could only manage a 6-0 win over Dundee. Failure to take the scoreline into double figures must be a concern for all concerned at Celtic?

Emilio Izaguirre, fresh from his red card on Thursday in Amsterdam, scored two goals against Paul Hartley’s side. After failing to convert a penalty to secure his hat-trick in Sunday’s match, he is sure to be transfer listed asap.

Nadir Çiftçi scored his first goal for the club after coming on as a sub. The pressure must surely be on him now after only managing to score one league goal in two league appearances.

James Forrest skelped the upright after a route one run on the Dundee goal. He can expect to be left out of the next match after that disappointment.

Scott Brown looked very disappointed after his goal as well. His demonstration to the Celtic Park crowd is surely a sign that he is unhappy with the way things are going at the club.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Leigh Griffiths is demonstratimg just how bad things are. 7 goals in 8 league appearances is well short of what is required to successful and he is mistaken if he thinks 3 goals in 5 European appearances will help him.

Tom Rogić has not helped his career or Celtic this season either. After a long spell on the sidelines and on loan back in Australia, 3 goals in 6 appearances in the league, this is a sure sign of what under-performing in a Hoops jersey is like.

There is some good news though. Ronny Deila turns 40 today which is great because that makes him marginally older than me.

I don’t know where Celtic go from here but the signs are not good. If only we could change our attitude and get some good results.

Maybe Carlton Cole will help Celtic deal with all the negative press they get within Scotland. Handling the club’s Twitter enquiries could be right up is street.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Celtic in Europe: a trip down memory lane

With Celtic’s first Europa League tie coming up on Thursday away to Ajax, many of the club’s fans are hoping for the best but preparing the worst. The club’s Champions League exit and away defeat to ten man Aberdeen at the weekend has caused ill feeling to resurface against Ronny Deila and his back room staff.

‘Clueless’ and ‘naive’ are two of the kinder words expressed to characterise his squad selection and tactics of late. Criticism has, and not for the first time, also been levelled at the boardroom and more specifically Peter Lawwell on several matters including player purchases and finances.

As one fellow blogger wrote, this is exactly the kind of supporter reaction you tend to see when the chips are down. I’ve omitted some of the more absurd gestures and comments I’ve read as they don’t deserve an airing on here.

Little blame has been directed toward the playing squad. In fact many supporters have even chosen to lay off the referees.

Player and officials have not been completely overlooked though. They’ve just slid down the pecking order behind coaching staff and the men in suits.

Losing is part of the game. Without it, there would be no glory in winning.

Win all the time? Predictable.

Where would we be without the highs ‘n’ lows of football? Sitting in domestic bliss for an unchallenged eternity no doubt.

Celtic and their deceased rivals have done enough of that between themselves. With Celtic the key player in a leanly contested league, losing isn’t a disaster – it’s good for the game.

The Champions League was what we all craved this season and missing out on this is a different story altogether. Winning that competition is out of reach but that goal coupled with the revenue and media exposure is what motivates everyone and drives us forward.

So the disappointment at not being in the group phase is something we all share and suffer from – club, coach, player and boardroom member. Before the Champions League ship had even sailed for Celtic, some people asked the question that if Deila should fail at the second time of asking, would he deserve a third?

In answer to that I would say that all depends on how this season goes. I’m still opposed to ousting the Norwegian coach and more interested in seeing how Celtic respond between now and Christmas, particularly in the Europa League.

We should remember that despite two failed attempts at reaching the Champions League group phase we are still in Europe. It may not be the Champions League but we have now been in the Europa League for two years running now.

Every Celtic manager in the past has had mixed fortunes in Europe. For a look at those stuttered beginnings, lets take a trip down memory lane.

Martin O’Neill made it through to the second round of the UEFA Cup in his first season at Celtic having played three rounds in total. The following season he would fair better by taking the club into the Champions League group stage for the first time in their history.

A 3-1 win for O’Neill in Amsterdam took everyone by surprise. Losing the home leg 1-0 was of little consequence.

Despite winning all three group phase home matches that season, no points were picked up on the road. Celtic finished third and parachuted into the UEFA Cup where after an aggregate score of 1-1 with Valencia, lost 5-4 on penalties at Celtic Park, denying them a place in the fourth round.

Unlike today’s set-up, all of those fixtures took place before Christmas so Celtic were out of Europe by December. I can’t imagine cramming all of that in these days!

In the season that followed, O’Neill exited the Champions League qualification campaign at the hands of Basel. That twist of fate would set Celtic on the memorable UEFA Cup run taking the club to the final in Seville in 2003.

Like Lisbon and Milan before, these are memorable achievements which the club’s history is built upon, even if they were not all winning finals. Seville in particular helped put Celtic back on the European map and would be Martin’s legacy.

In the aftermath of that defeat at the hands of Mourinho’s cheating Porto, O’Neill would have another crack at the Champions League. Despite some thrilling encounters in the group phase of the 2003-2004 Champions League, Celtic came up short and parachuted into the UEFA Cup once more.

After successfully navigating two rounds of that competition, including an aggregate 1-0 win over Barcelona, Celtic faced Villarreal in the Quarter Final. Sadly, they lost out to the Spanish side who would then be ousted themselves by another Spanish team in the shape of Valencia who would eventually go on to win the tournament.

In Martin O’Neill’s final season, he would make the group phase of the Champions League one more time. With legend Henrik Larsson having said his farewells to the club, it was somewhat ironic and painful that he would face Celtic in a Barcelona jersey and score against us at Celtic Park.

That was the low point in what was a poor European campaign that saw Celtic finish fourth in the group with one win and five points. It was the end of an era for Celtic and for Martin O’Neill.

Then came Gordon Strachan and a new wave of European drama. At the first time of asking Gordon exited Europe in big style.

Losing 5-0 away to Artmedia Bratislava was a devastating blow to winning over the fans. A 4-0 home win wasn’t enough to level the playing field or keep Celtic in Europe.

Strachan had already caused ripples amongst large sections of the support just by being the new manager. Some had it in for him from the beginning.

Having still managed to win the league that season though, Celtic entered the Champions League group phase without any qualifying rounds. Not only did Strachan turn over some great results, he took Celtic to the last sixteen of the tournament for the first time in their history.

He had succeeded where O’Neill had failed. Results had conspired against O’Neill but not for Strachan it seemed.

Celtic would eventually lose out against AC Milan 1-0 on aggregate after extra time in the round of sixteen. However, the Italian’s would go on to win the tournament for the seventh time by beating Liverpool.

When you look at it that way, that’s a damn good effort by Celtic and Strachan. The two teams would come to meet again the following season.

A memorable Champions League qualifying round against Spartak Moscow saw Celtic into the group phase again. There they would face Milan and in the dying moments of the Celtic Park tie, they beat the European Champions 2-1.

That difficult win was key in securing second spot and a place in the last sixteen for the second successive season. Celtic would face Barcelona in the knock-out round, a team they had beaten and been beaten by in recent times.

The Catalan giants were beginning to emerge as one of the best teams in Europe. They beat Celtic home and away 4-2 on aggregate but they themselves would exit the tournament in the Semi Finals at the hands of eventual Champions League winners, Manchester United.

Gordon Strachan would finish his third Champions League campaign and final season just as Martin O’Neill had. Celtic secured just 5 points and one win finishing fourth in their group.

Despite that humbling season, Strachan had taken Celtic a step forward in Europe. Many had despaired at the quality of football and I would to agree to a certain extent.

However, we had some great European nights under Gordon and some very respectable victories. The last sixteen was now the benchmark for the next manager and would be his legacy.

Unfortunately the Celtic challenge would now fall to Tony Mowbray. He managed to take down Dinamo Moscow 2-1 on aggregate in their first qualifying round but they would be comprehensively disposed of by Arsenal 5-1 on aggregate the next.

That meant a first time experience for Celtic in the Europa League. Celtic finished third in the group phase in a season which saw Mowbray sacked after a poor domestic campaign.

Then came Neil Lennon, like Mowbray a fans favourite as a player, but less experience in the dug out. First he was appointed as caretaker, then given the reigns that summer.

In his first full season, Lennon would exit both the Champions League (to SC Braga) and Europa League (to FC Utrecht) tournaments in the qualifying rounds. It was rather humbling but not a total surprise given his lack of experience as a coach.

The following season FC Sion stood in the way of Lennon and the Europa League group phase. He would have failed once more had it not been for a breach of a UEFA ruling by the Swiss club.

Having fielded ineligible players during the ties with Celtic, FC Sion were excluded from the tournament and Celtic were reinstated despite being beaten by the Swiss club. This allowed Lennon a crack at the group phase of a European tournament as a head coach.

It was a pivotal season for Lennon on home soil as well as on foreign. Celtic would eventually finish third in their group.

Although a largely disappointing campaign, the 1-1 match against Rennes over in France was one of two games that season that marked a turning point for Lennon’s Celtic career. The other game was a domestic match away to Kilmarnock which finished 3-3, five days earlier.

These games turned the tide for Lennon. In both matches Celtic were away from home and had to come from behind to earn a draw.

Lennon later stated that after being 3-0 down to Kilmarnock at half-time he seriously though about chucking in the towel. Having gone down 1-0 to Rennes, thanks to an audacious Cha Du-Ri own goal, the same thoughts must have been going through his head.

Celtic fought back to claim a draw in both matches though. They would go on to win the league that season having gone on an unbeaten run in the league beginning with that draw against Kilmarnock.

What would follow in season 2012-2013 was an excellent campaign in the Champions League. Having qualified via two rounds, Celtic were paired once more with Barcelona and Benfica in the group phase of this tournament with recent knock out phase opponents Spartak Moscow completing the list of opponents.

Before the group phase got under way, Celtic were given little chance of finishing third, let alone second by the critics. As it was they would beat the odds and finish second behind Barcelona having beaten the Catalan giants 2-1 at Celtic Park in one of the most memorable matches for Celtic in the modern-day.

Lennon had achieved the impossible. After two previously disappointing seasons in Europe, it was a real turnaround.

Celtic made the last sixteen of the Champions League for only the third time. Even though they would go down in the knock-out round to Juventus, it was against all odds that Celtic got their in the first place.

It was a testimony to the perseverance of the Northern Irishman after a long period where trouble off the field would dominate the headlines and threaten the life of himself and his family. Lennon showed great character and with the backing of the fans and the club beat the evil that has plagued football.

The next season would be tough on the park though. Despite three rounds of qualifiers, Celtic made the Champions League group phase but this was the group of death.

Ajax, Barcelona and Milan were the opponents. Celtic won one match losing the other five.

This would be the club’s worst Champions League tournament in history. In fairness to Neil Lennon, the club had sold three of their best players before the group phase got under way and were not suitably equipped with replacements.

And so Lennon left after that season and in came Ronny Deila. We know his story and this season Europe has been similar to the last with the exception of the Legia Warsaw fiasco of course.

Having looked at O’Neill, Strachan, Mowbray and Lennon’s experiences in Europe I don’t think Deila deserves to be shown the door. O’Neill and Strachan didn’t have a blistering start to their Celtic careers in Europe.

Mowbray’s didn’t cover himself in glory or have much of a legacy to speak of. Lennon’s had a very poor start but he came good even if he came up short in the end.

For Ronny Deila, missing out on the Champions League two season in a row has overshadowed making the Europa League group two years running. When you also consider he got to the last sixteen at the first time if asking, only losing out narrowly to Inter Milan in the end, I think it is harsh to be calling for his head.

In times like this when morale is low we should be supporting the team. Not slaying it from boardroom to dressing room.

Unlike many bloggers and forum frolickers, I choose to support Ronny and his back room team. I give me backing to the squad as well, even if I do have some criticisms I would like to share.

Let the players and coaching staff rectify the Champions League exit by giving them a chance in the Europa League. Similarly, let the domestic season unfold as it should.

A defeat on Thursday would not be game over. A win is not a guarantee of qualification either.

It’s all about the bigger picture and we must remain positive. There’s more hard work to be done so let’s not throw in the towel just yet.

Let’s see how things play out. We’ll have a better idea of where we are by Christmas.

If we’re still going strong then we’ll see how the season has gone come May. Should people still want to ask about that third chance base it on the two seasons that will hopefully then be completed by Deila.

Keep the faith.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac