Exclusions aside, a win is essential.

If you thought Ronny Deila had a tough job ahead of him tonight already, it just got harder. Injuries and suspensions have excluded several Celtic players ahead of tonight’s must win game at home against Ajax.

Craig Gordon will be in goal as expected. The back four are likely to be Mikael Lustig, Dedryck Boyata, Jozo Šimunović and Emilio Izaguirre.

As we already know, captain Scott Brown is out with a lengthy injury. Add to that star performer Nir Bitton and Stefan Johansen who are both suspended.

Kris Commons is also said to be unlikely to make it due to injury and illness. That leaves Celtic extremely lightweight in the one area of the field they’ve had sufficient numbers for several years now.

Charlie Mulgrew is said to be back in the fold after a long time out. There is also the availability of Scott Allan but like Mulgrew, he has rarely been seen in a Celtic jersey this season so it isn’t just about availability, it’s about match fitness.

Another player who can possibly play a holding midfield role would be Efe Ambrose. When he arrived it was mooted that he would play in that role but he has been predominantly a defender in his Celtic career, much to our disappointment.

As desperate as we are, there is also the possibility that Stuart Armstrong could play a central role. He’s been played out wide since he joined this year but I’d like to see him play in the middle of the park.

He has ability but I do question him being played in a wide role but tonight could be a defining moment for him. What I’d like to see from him tonight is him spreading his wings because he’s looks like he’s holding back a little at times and I think there is more to this player than we’ve seen.

Thankfully, Tom Rogić will be in from the start. This is one player I am pleased to say isn’t missing out tonight because he has been a breath of fresh air.

He’s been so good this season, he has overtaken a less than impressive Johansen who was king of the attacking midfield last season. Rogić’s form has been immense and has been loving every moment on the park.

So Ronny has got some decisions to make for the midfield. On the wings it is bound to be a combination of Gary Mackay-Steven and James Forrest.

There is also the option of playing Callum McGregor. Kieran Tierney has found himself getting forward in games as well so if he doesn’t start the match he is another in with a shout.

Leigh Griffiths a certainty to spearhead the attack, so the the focus is on the midfield blend. Get that right and we might just have a game on our hands.

Ajax believe that they are a better team than Celtic but they can stutter just as much. In truth I think both teams are about the same.

This will be an edge of the seat affair. Our Europa League campaign rests on this evenings result.

Hail! Hail!


A positive response

There’s a couple of ways to look at last nights 2-2 draw at the Amsterdam ArenA. The positives and negatives about the whole game.

On the positive side, this was a good response from Celtic. Under pressure from recent results and disgruntled fans this was a good performance and a well earned European point.

Also, Celtic took the lead twice on foreign soil. Both of these goals were deserved and well taken.

From a negative perspective, there was Emilio Izaguirre’s red card. You can also underline the defending/goalkeeping around the two goals that Celtic lost.

Even when you put the two together, this was a positive result. A point away from home in Europe is not to be sniffed at.

The thing about Celtic and Ajax is that they are roughly on a par with one another. That makes these ties interesting.

Celtic probably should have won but I am not necessarily disappointed that we did not. I’d view it more as a motivator to push on do something in this group and last night Celtic showed great character.

The aim should be, as always in Europe, to win your home games. This is not impossible but Celtic Park needs to become a stadium where home wins are a given.

Too much ground has been conceded to visiting teams in recent years. We talk about the atmosphere of Paradise on European nights but our results have not always reflected that.

Celtic need to learn from their mistakes quick. In Amsterdam they showed what they are capable of.

Some of that comes down to player attitude. Some comes down to the way the coaching staff prepare and deploy the team.

Celtic appeared to be set up well enough for this game. There were still weaknesses though.

Izaguirre’s red card was stupid. He had been given ample warning even if the tackle that finally got him sent off was partly down to the antics of Anwar El Ghazi.

That was a game changer. All the hard work put in received a blow in the form of a Lasse Schone free kick, not the first time he’s scored against Celtic either.

The ball floated in from outside the box beat every player and drifted into the net. You have to question the defending and goalkeeping for that.

Craig Gordon has made some blips of late. For a player who I had every confidence in last season he’s looking a little shaky.

That could be down to an unsettled defence or his own confidence. If there is one thing Deila must do now, it is to calm things down at the back and establish an defensive understanding that allows players to be interchangeable without loss of consistency.

When you consider the competition, the venue and the opposition there is only one thing to remember about last night. This was a game that Ajax were expected to win.

They didn’t. They weren’t any closer winning than Celtic were either.

Many of the media have claimed that this isn’t the same Ajax side that we used to see. Well, Celtic’s prolific European stature is even more historical than Ajax’s so to downgrade this credible draw is shallow.

Very few in the media have given credit to Celtic for silencing motor-mouth Frank de Boer. Not much of a surprise when you consider which side of the Glaswegian divide he represented.

There are some people out there hurting at Celtic’s failure to capitulate last night. I can live with Izaguirre’s red card and losing a late goal because on the whole the result was a positive one.

If you were waiting for Celtic to crumble last night, I am truly sorry to rain on your parade. Still in Europe and still moving forward.

This season is just beginning. Deal with it.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The season starts tonight…

Tonight Celtic are in Amsterdam once more to face Ajax. The last time these two met it was the Champions League almost two years ago.

Ajax won that night 1-0. Two weeks earlier Celtic had beaten them 2-1 at Celtic Park.

The attitude coming out of Ajax now is as arrogant as it was two years ago. Put simply, they don’t rate Celtic.

If that isn’t motivation for you then I don’t know what is. Whichever way you look at it, both clubs failed in their attempt to get into the Champions League and now find themselves in the same boxing ring.

For me, Celtic have a chance to lay down a marker tonight. It doesn’t need to be a win tonight.

In fact, I don’t think there is a single Celtic fan that believes the team are capable of winning tonight. Martin O’Neill and co pulled that off in 2001 with a 3-1 win at the Amsterdam ArenA.

We were all taken by surprise that night. I recall coming home from band practice, sitting down with the boys and being left disbelief at what I was watching as we ripped apart Ajax.

Other than a couple of poor games this season, there is nothing to suggest that Celtic cannot hurt Ajax tonight. With the arrogance that they and their manager Frank de Boer have shown, it would give me great pleasureif we did.

You’ll think I’m mad, but sometimes it’s after been dealt a blow that you bounce back. Nothing is guaranteed, but Celtic have an opportunity to make up for recent let downs.

Everyone is culpable for where Celtic are so far this season. Equally, they are responsible for getting us out of this low point – players and coaches.

Celtic must emerge as a team tonight and hit the ground running. Win, lose or draw I will be keen to see how we have performed and how we have been deployed.

The past is the past. The time is now.

Mon the Hoops!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac