Ibrox Blues, Paradise News

brendan-rodgers-celtic_3756629

This was a game that the home side needed to win. And for the opening 30 minutes they certainly gave it a go. 

Mark Warburton’s players went at Brendan Rodgers players with some purpose. They didn’t allow the visitors to get into their stride and drew first blood as well.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be the breaking point in Celtic’s season…if you were a fan of the home side. That their new Ibrox club were going to be the team to halt Celtic’s unbeaten run in domestic competition this season.

However, there was also a sense of inevitability about the match. That when Celtic did get into their stride that they would show their dominance.

So whilst Kenny Miller’s jubilation at the opening goal was still filtering through the home crowd, they were unable to follow-up with a second. Celtic were working themselves into the match slowly whilst Warburton hoped another goal would come his way.

It didn’t, and Celtic began to settle down. The truth is, that was all it was going to take.

To be fair to Warburton, things started well for his team. When Celtic eventually got a foothold though there was no looking back.

After half an hour of the home side throwing themselves at Celtic, the Bhoy’s eventually stepped in. Or rather, Moussa Dembele did.

A corner from Scott Sinclair found the French under-21 international behind a crowd of players who lashed home a fine effort. I didn’t think Celtic would go on to slaughter the home side but I was somewhat relieved at them finally getting on score sheet.

I say relieved because I had spent 5 hours wondering what the bloody score was and avoiding all forms of communication so I could watch the game several hours ‘live’ after I’d finished work. Not good for the soul, I tell you!

I wasn’t on my own though.  There were others in the same boat as me as we started our Hogmanay early in the evening rather than at lunchtime!

After a breather at the interval, we sat down to watch the second half. As the game wore on and chances came and went for Celtic I had the mindset that this was heading for a draw.

There was nothing wrong with how Celtic were playing. Despite the dominance the Hoops were now showing, it was just beginning to look as though it wasn’t going to come off on this occasion.

That was until my man-of-the-match, Stuart Armstrong slung in a direct pass across goal to find Scott Sinclair unmarked at the far post. Boom!

Celtic had come from behind at Ibrox to win the match and with time to spare. As narrow as the score may have been, there were a chances galore for Brendan Rodgers side.

The Bhoys showed their class by taking control of the game after a half-an-hour flutter by the home side. Now Celtic sit very comfortably on top of a 19 point lead in the Scottish Premiership.

Mark Warburton now has Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen breathing down his neck. The Dons are only 2 points behind second place and with one game at hand.

Meantime back at Fortress Paradise, it is exciting times. New contracts are going on the table for current players, new targets are mooted and some players will be moving on.

2017 will be a good year.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Advertisements

New Year, New Rivals, Old Ibrox

brendan-rodgers-and-mark-warburton

 

This afternoon Celtic will play their final match of 2016. The Bhoys will head over to Ibrox for the first time in over four years.

Back then it was their old rivals Rangers. This time it is their new rivals, The Rangers.

Putting the old and the new argument to one side, today’s match will be marked with a minute’s silence in memory of the Ibrox disaster and it’s victims. 66 people died and over 200 were injured from the events that occurred in s Rangers v Celtic match on 2 January 1971 at Ibrox.

For one minute, I would urge all Celtic supporters to be respectful and observe the 60 seconds of silence. After this there will be more than enough time to make plenty of noise.

The sad irony about this minutes silence is that it was a series of historic safety issues over a 70 year period at Ibrox that led to stadium improvements in the first place. Unfortunately, the stadium has been in the headlines recently for health and safety concerns which will leave many feeling uneasy.

What is important about today’s match is that it is completed with as little disruption as possible. I hope that all fans will observe the one minutes silence and go into the new year without causing havoc inside or outside the ground based upon the result.

Celtic go into this match as league leaders and with a very healthy 16 point gap over today’s opponents who lie in second place. However, with Aberdeen breathing down their necks a mere 2 points behind the heat is on for The Rangers.

This is a must win game for Mark Warburton’s side. He is under pressure not to win the league, but to close the gap on Celtic and keep ahead of the rest in second place.

That position is under serious theat now and even more so if Celtic win at Ibrox this afternoon. In fact, I don’t think many are in any doubt that Celtic will win this afternoon.

It may be Brendan Rodgers first visit to Ibrox as a manager but he is no stranger to big arenas or intense atmospheres. He has already hosted Mark Warburton’s team at Celtic Park  and wiped the floor with them.

Amongst that he has played many European heavyweight sides home and away as well as a whole host of others south of the border in the English Premier League. He and his players will not be phased by this fixture.

Today, all Brendan needs to do is pick his best side for the job. Mark Warburton and his players will do everything they can to disrupt that.

They are fighting for survival. Beating Celtic would be a huge boost for them.

Their club is in a mess financially, their stadium is falling apart but their existence continues to be unquestioned by the media. We all know what condition they are in right now despite not reading it anywhere in the SMSM.

So let’s help further their misery and give them a good thumping today. Celtic are on the crest of a wave, need not be overzealous in their approach.

The unbeaten run must continue at Ibrox today and into 2017. This will be a season to remember.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

A chance for fringe players but Commons won’t be one of them

screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-172908Since Celtic last played Partick Thistle, they have seen off Hamilton Academical and Dundee at Celtic Park as well as the Jags themselves on a 4-1 victory at Firhill. Tonight that unbeaten could continue, but with Brendan Rodgers hinting about personnel changes for tonight’s visit by Thistle, are Celtic jeopardising their winning streak?

Brendan Rodgers has a huge squad and not everyone has seen the light of day since he came on board. Aside from those sent out on loan he still has many fringe players who need game time as proper assessment.

It will give Brendan a chance to run the rule over some of the players without sufficient game time. In recent weeks we’ve seen one or two ease their way into the squad such as Gary Mackay-Steven, Emilio Izaguirre and Patrick Roberts.

There have been cameo appearances from Cristian Gamboa and Ryan Christie and some becoming forgotten figures such as Kolo Toure, Dedryck Boyata, Nadir Ciftci and of course Efe Ambrose. Deeper down the ranks though we haven’t seen much of Eoghan O’Connell, Jamie McCart, Anthon Ralston, Liam Henderson, Kristofer Ajer or Jack Aitchison.

Tonight some of these guys might get a nod, but I don’t see Brendan making too many changes. As comfortable as Celtic are right now, you don’t want to appear to be cocky.

A win tonight would put Celtic 14 points in the clear and still with a game at hand over second place. The long-term aim is an unbeaten run, even if it isn’t being discussed openly.

It currently sits at all 20 domestic games unbeaten, 19 of which were wins with the last 14 being straight wins. To ensure that continues, players will be champing at the bit to be part of it and keep this momentum.

One player who isn’t part of things right nowh though is Kris Commons. He has gone out on loan to Hibernian until mid-January.

The happy recipient is of course the man who brought him to Celtic in the first place. Neil Lennon will utilise the services of Commons to see Hibs through a tough spell with personnel in the Scottish Championship battle.

The Leith club are neck-a-neck with Dundee United right now, but Commons has answered the call by his former manager. Brendan Rodgers has stated that it is good for both parties, but with Commons out of contract in the summer and having never kicked a ball under Rodgers he is very unlikely to be at Celtic beyond this season.

For a player with such great talent, he has managed to find himself out of the picture with all three Celtic managers he has played under. Despite making a huge impact in January 2010 under Lennon, Commons would lose his place in the first team the following season amid rumours and speculation of a fall out, ignoring any other facts in the process.

He would later return to form and the first team which was good news for the club and the fans. Commons was a key player and had been missed by the fans.

Next came the Ronny Deila era and it wasn’t too long before he fell out of favour with the Norwegian. Deila was becoming well-known for fitness and it was almost certainly the reason behind his decision to leave Commons out of his team selections.

Although a gifted player, Commons isn’t the fastest or leanest. When a manager is focussed on certain attributes that you are lacking then they are going against their own plans to make an exception for you.

Even although Lennon and Deila would make that exception, Rodgers doesn’t appear to be of the same mind. You have to be consistent with your decisions and this loan spell may offer Kris Commons a lifeline to see out the rest of the season with Celtic, but after that I don’t see a way back for the 33-year-old.

There is no question of his affinity for the club and the admiration the fans have for him. If he is not fitting the mould of the Brendan Rodgers type player he is almost certainly a goner this summer.

I hope he does well at Hibs and we do get to see him wear the Hoops again. Tonight though, the opportunities are there for those with a longer future at the club.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Thistle get stung by Celtic

soccer-pa-45Celtic tucked away a 4-1 victory on Friday night at Firhill. Partick Thistle missed opportunities but they didn’t really trouble Celtic enough to alter the destination of the game.

Brendan Rodgers made some personnel changes and the football wasn’t as fluid over the 90 minutes as we’ve seen of late. However, after going out of Europe with a spirited display on Tuesday night you could forgive the squad for displaying some fatigue.

There weren’t too many talking points from this game apart from the goals which were all of good quality. Stuart Armstrong sent home his first goal six minutes from the interval thanks to a great square ball by a hard-working Leigh Griffiths.

Armstrong was front and centre once more in the second half as he received yet another assist from Griffiths in the 49th minute. A free kick from the right hand side of the Thistle box was knocked low into Armstrong who controlled and finished calmly.

Griffiths then turned from provider to opportunist a minute later. It was a reminder of what he is great at when capitalising on hesitant opponents by notching up his first and Celtic’s third, after some quick-wittedness in the danger zone.

Thistle then pulled one back after a solid header from a free-kick beat Craig Gordon. Celtic were sloppy on this occasion but the a Jags weren’t.

The Firhill players then sensed another opportunity and almost did the same again with a near identical free kick and header. Thistle weren’t as fortunate with offside given on this occasion, but if they had been the game may have looked very different from this point on.

With Thistle not giving up, Callum McGregor had come off the bench to secure the win for Celtic. A delightful ball in from cut back on the touch-line by Emilio Izaguirre found McGregor who slotted it ball home from close range.

There has been criticism on Callum McGregor and his finishing. Yet, he’s scored twice in his last two games and as Brendan Rodgers says, he’s always good for a goal.

I think he is a magic wee player who has a role to play. Goals and guile he has in abundance and is a good squad player.

The one key talking point for me in this match was the foul/penalty claim by Ade Azeez. I didn’t see much contact when it happened in real-time and when the replay was shown, I couldn’t see much more either.

Chris Sutton was keen to see the replay and the different camera angles but he along with the rest of the pundits were convinced Gordon had taken Azeez out of the game. Well, I’ve looked at it several times and I still can’t see any contact in or outside the box and I am by no means in denial.

I don’t think any of the replays show contact and for once I’m not hearing too much from the media suggesting that Celtic got away with murder. Despite this not being a polished display, there were some very good performances at Firhill though.

I thought the Partick Thistle keeper Tomas Cerny was great to stop Leigh Griffiths from helping himself to more goals. In turn, Leigh Griffiths was instrumental in practically every forward move.

He demonstrated his full skill set in this match. His footwork is unbelievable at times and has proven time and time again that he can provide assists as well as goals.

That was certainly on display at Firhill. He did so much in this game which at times even includes tracking back which isn’t something you get from a player like him very often.

And….that’s the difference between Leigh and Moussa Demeble. The French forward has been fantastic for Celtic but there are significant differences between himself and his Scottish counterpart.

They both offer something different to Brendan Rodgers and equally as effective. That is the kind of headache you want as a manager but it remains to be seen if he will ever play them together.

Out on the wings, it was a pretty quiet night for Celtic. Patrick Roberts looked decent early on but like his fellow winger, Gary Mackay-Steven over on the left, they were both having a largely unproductive match.

The same could be said for Tom Rogic but to be fair, I felt the majority of the play was coming from Cristian Gamboa and Emilio Izaguirre. Some Celtic fans have been quick to judge Gamboa but he came onto a game at Firhill.

It should be remembered that he has barely kicked a ball for Celtic this season and needs time to establish himself before we sound the horn of disapproval. On the other hand, I though Izzy was great down the left and provided a lot of support to the front men.

Armstrong was good throughout as was captain Scott Brown who continues to have a fantastic season. The Celtic defence was steady enough to see off Thistle but in terms of future proofing, Brendan Rodgers will need to establish interchangeable players for central defence.

Whilst Mikael Lustig can play in there, I still think he is better at right back or in a back three. Erik Sviatchenko is a key figure in this squad and will play there week-in, week-out but I am sure he would like to know who his partners are going to be in the long-term.

Jozo Simunovic is being used sparingly for fitness reasons which is fine but I’d like to think we can bring in one more suitable defender to do the same job. Kolo Toure brought steadiness and experience at the beginning of the season but even he is looking short of confidence right now and almost certainly won’t be here next season.

As for Dedryck Boyata, I am not sure what will happen with him. I’ve never really been convinced by him and I’m not sure if Brendan Rodgers is either.

Efe Ambrose has become a spectator and his time at the club will end in the summer if not before. So unless Eoghan O’Connell is deemed to be an option in the long-term, central defence needs another player.

However, a good win for Celtic and good to see some players getting a run out. I’m sure as the season progresses and January looms, availability for places will grow with injuries, suspensions and exits.

Eleven points clear at the top of the league, two games at hand and the rest of the Scottish Premiership in action today. The question remains, will Celtic go the distance unbeaten?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Brendan’s turn

When Neil Lennon took charge of Celtic in 2010, it was a gamble for the club. The former Celtic player and captain was hugely popular, maybe even a legend, but off the back of a disastrous period under Tony Mowbray he was also a risk. 

Neil didn’t have any managerial experience to speak of. Yes, he had done some coaching and knew the club, the history, the supporters and the city very well.

That said, Celtic were in a state of flux and needed to improve and soon. After a caretakers stint, Neil was given the job permanently . 

He promised to bring back the thunder and he did manage that even if it was only briefly. He also made moves in the transfer market which were warmly welcomed initially.

Success would come his way, but not without enduring one of the most turbulent times in Scottish football history. That period should always be applied when looking at Lennon’s time in charge and what he was subjected to.

Neil was held to his word about bringing the thunder back and he did. That peaked after beating Barcelona 2-1 at Celtic Park to reach the last 16 of the Champions League.

It came at a time when Celtic were celebrating 125 years of history. In contrast, their rivals across the city had just collapsed in every way possible.

There was a poetic feel to this given the personal abuse Lennon received during his time at Celtic as player, coach and manger. That he reigned at Celtic during the demise of a rival club whose supporters had done everything in their power to make his life a misery in every way imaginable.

And so, bringing Celtic back to the top once more and into the European light in such a stunning way was fitting for such a guy. He did so with a threadbare squad as well as his bench on that evening showed.

And yet, it was from the bench that victory was secured. With Gary Hooper and James Forrest both sidelined Miku played up front with Georgios Samaras playing just of him.

Tony Watt’s will be hailed forever. Victor Wanyama’s with equal importance if not the same level of celebration on the night!

Celtic maybe without Leigh Griffiths but we have Moussa Dembele who is enjoying his Celtic career as much as we are right now. Rodgers also has a stronger squad in terms of numbers. 

Now, we hope that he might mark the first of many moments in his Celtic career by getting a result against Barcelona at Celtic Park as well. It c as n happen.

The circumstances are different of course. It isn’t Brendan’s first European tournament as a manager and he has more experience than his predecessor.

He is at the beginning of his Celtic tenure. There are also greater things ahead I’m sure.

Still, if he could get a victory on Wednesday night at Paradise, he’d be well on his way to greater things. Borussia Mönchengladbach are still capable of upsetting the apple cart, but Celtic won’t achieve anything if they don’t have a go.

Exiting Europe would not be the end of the dream. This is only the beginning of the Rodgers era.

There is more to come, you can be sure of that. Bring on Wednesday and our old friends, Barcelona.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac 

Forging ahead

20150921-mind-the-gapThere was nothing scintillating about Celtic’s win over Kilmarnock last night. A single goal decided the match, but this was no easy three points for Brendan Rodgers.

In the first half Celtic were dominant with good work rates from Callum McGregor and James Forrest in attack. Despite retaining the ball for long periods though, Celtic weren’t really penetrating the Kilmarnock defence.

In fairness to the Ayrshire side, they put up a solid formation, but they didn’t sit back too much either. They hit on the break and put Celtic under pressure at times and probably could have scored a goal or two had it not been from a lack of composure or better fortune, which in this game would have made things more interesting.

Celtic had several chances themselves, but composure and luck deserted them on all but one occasion. The second half was a little more feisty with several players becoming involved in mini-tussles.

Craig Gordon had a least one blip which could have been worse and Dedryck Boyata, starting his first game under the new manager, looked shaky on more than one occasion. Gordon did recover though but I’m still no more impressed with Boyata than I was when he played under Ronny Deila.

Stuart Armstrong also found himself under pressure in the first half a couple of times. He looked like he was wearing the wrong boots….until he scored.

Armstrong, a growing presence in the Celtic midfield these days, put away a tidy finish after a good run and some neat interplay in front of him. His all round game is becoming more prominent in the team with every passing game and he showed that even after a slip up earlier in the game he can retain his composure when required.

When you have a young talented player like this in your squad, why would you even bother with Steven Gerrard? We already have one senior midfielder in Scott Brown who is playing his best football in years.

And when you consider that Tom Rogic is adding goals, pace and skill in a midfield-attack role, our midfield is looking healthy. Nir Bitton will want to sort out is ailing game and get back in the program because he is slipping down the pecking order and rightly so.

So it is another 3 points for Celtic and the gap is widening. Another clean sheet takes Celtic step closer to obtaining another Scottish league record.

The rest of the Scottish Premiership are in action this afternoon and on Monday night. Four teams will be hoping to catchup with Brendan Rodgers runaway train.

Aberdeen (2nd) have a tricky one away to Inverness (6th), The Rangers (3rd) have and easy one at home to Dundee (11th),  St Johnstone (joint 5th) are at home to Ross County (12th) today and Hearts (joint 5th) are away to Hamilton (9th) on Monday night. With Celtic are 13 points clear at the top of the league, only a point separates second, third and fourth/fifth placed teams.

It is that tight and the pecking order could change very quickly. This is an interesting battle as four teams compete to be Celtic’s real contender though at this stage it is looking like the best of the rest.

Aberdeen have been that team for a while. Hearts showed their intentions last season.

We’ll know by the end of the season just how close The Rangers are to mounting a serious challenge. Right now they are sitting third, but no team is as near as Celtic as they would like to be.

In the meantime, Brendan Rodgers will prepare for Barcelona on Wednesday night in the Champions League. Can he beat the Catalan machine on home turf as his Northern Irish compatriot Neil Lennon did in 2012?

Well, let’s put it this way, one win from the last two games is the ONLY way Celtic have a chance of qualifying in third spot. Beating Manchester City away seems like a tough one so why not Barcelona at home eh?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Friday night lights

rugby-park-kilmarnock-general-view_3453658Celtic are back in action tonight in a rare live broadcast for Hoops fans on a Friday evening. However, it’s been another disappointing international break for Scotland fans like myself.

Gordon Strachan may have got a half-decent performance from of his players against England. That amounted to nothing though with three goals being conceded at Wembley.

Thankfully, I have Celtic to lift my spirits tonight. An away encounter with Kilmarnock to watch on a Friday evening is most welcome.

Mind you, there have been plenty of other football stories circulating to attract our attention this week. Aside from the Steven Gerrard rumour, the meltdown continues over at Snake Mountain.

With the strength and variety of damaging storylines coming out of Mordor these days, it has gone from tribute act comedy to a sporting embarrassment waiting to crumble die. I honestly cannot keep up with the plethora of threads that emanate from the other side of Glasgow not that the Scottish media report much of this.

On top of that shambles, the SFA are a hot topic once more. The Resolution 12 story is back in the fold after getting an airing at Celtic’s AGM during the week.

With FIFA already looking at the SFA (as well as the English FA) over Poppygate, UEFA are coming in at another angle. The latter is with thanks to the truth seekers who have fought hard for justice and transparency over rule breaches in Scottish and European football by the governing body of our game and their now deceased pet team.

There will be lots more to come from this. There will also be a lot more to come from Ibrox unless the establishment’s new puppy team implode before the shit really hits the fan.

Meanwhile back at the Rodgers Ranch, Brendan is tending to his flock of warriors. Tonight we can turn our minds back to the progress Celtic are making.

The league title is the theme for tonight and obtaining more goals and points to make that happen on the agenda. With 10 points between Celtic and Aberdeen, the Hoops are looking comfortable.

Hard work continues behind the scenes and that means fine tuning the talent currently at the club. There are still several fringe players whose futures will be decided throughout the remainder of this season, if not by January.

Might there be the possibility of one or two coming in? I’m not sure that is something Celtic are in desperate need of to see us through this campaign unless there are departures.

One player who has been mentioned as coming in is Steven Gerrard. Personally, I can’t see any advantage to bringing him to Celtic at this stage.

We have a midfield more than capable of winning the title, double and treble. Had European football been on the cards after Christmas I might have understood, but that remains an unlikely possibility.

Right now Celtic need to carry on the charge with the team we do have. As I said before, we have a lot of fringe players who will need to either need to get an opportunity or move on temporarily or permanently.

This size of squad is not sustainable particularly if you want youth to flourish. So expect some exits as this team continues to grow.

As for Rugby Park tonight? Three points please Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac