Staying the course

Celtic bounced back from midweek Champions League disappointment with an….er….2-2 draw in Inverness on Sunday afternoon. Okay, so not exactly what we were all hoping for, but dropping points against Caley Thistle on their own patch is not uncommon for the Hoops.

Yes, I thought Celtic might turn Thistle over, but they didn’t. I never saw the game (some of us have to work some weekends you know!) though from what I’ve heard, read and viewed there were plenty of chances to go several goals ahead.

I take nothing away from Caley Thistle, they’re trying to pull their season together after a poor start. Celtic have for the first time in the Premiership seen just how their defensive frailties can cost themby dropping points.

There are plenty of positives about Celtic right now though. Attacking play appears to be one of them.

Brendan Rodgers weakest area is conceding goals. Whether that comes from the defensive set up or the goalkeeping position it must be rectified pronto.

I don’t think we’ve got a top drawer keeper right now. Just able, experienced keepers.

Dorus de Vries has replaced Craig Gordon and if I’m being honest, I’m not seeing any improvement with this move so far. Among our thirty something trio of keepers (including the injured Logan Bailly) we don’t seem to have the quality of a Fraser Forster or an Artur Boruc.

We don’t even know if young Leonardo Fasan can do a job. Knowing Celtic’s history we’ll probably punt the Italian and he’ll end up having a highly successful career in England.

It’s not all goalkeeping of course. The defence must do their job as well.

We have healthy individuals in defence, but the organisation must be better and more decisive. Kolo Toure, Erik Sviatchenko, Mikael Lustig and Jozo Simunovic are all more than capable of fulfilling the centre back role so the correct partnership needs to be established so that others can follow.

Players like Eoghan O’Connell can’t be expected to step in when guys much older than him can’t show him how it’s done. Brendan must establish a solid line of defence especially with so many tough European matches coming up.

Sunday was a blip but Celtic remain unbeaten. Tonight they face Alloa Athletic in the League Cup at Celtic Park.

A clean sheet should be targeted here and decent amount of goals for the Hoops as well. The course hasn’t changed – full speed ahead.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Celtic board draw the line

I didn’t follow Celtic’s AGM today as I have done in the past. Instead, I just read the aftermath of events.

With the same board of directors in place, an intolerance to working class values will remain. The message from the board was clear: we’re not listening to you.

I wasn’t one to abuse Lord Livingston though I did sign and promote the petition to oust him. I do think that his obvious political association does undermine everything the club is supposed to stand for.

The values that I speak of don’t seem to resonate with the board though – these are financial guys. I get that football is a business and that as a club we must cut our cloth accordingly but as fans our opinion appears to count less and less.

For the most part, I can’t argue with the business end of things. Having said that, I don’t exactly have the know how to challenge it either.

I have a passion for the club though and learnt the history and became a natural follower without being pushed. I’ve seen almost four decades of the club before my every eyes and as a business I don’t think we’ve ever been operated as well.

That’s it though. We’re a business.

In and ideal world the living wage would be an attraction of talent and a PR gold nugget. The board don’t see it that way and who am I to argue?

Well, you don’t have to be Sir Alan Sugar to know that a living wage would have some impact on the club finances. I don’t think this is the last we’ve heard of this one though so I’ll say no more.

On the park, Ronny Deila has been given a vote of confidence. In the old Championship Manager (long before I got married) that used to be the writing on the wall.

Ronny has had it from most angles of the support. What he gets though is time and I think that’s right.

Celtic are shopping in a tight market. Though I’d still rather see two or three £1-2M players sacrificed for one player at £4-6M who is of sufficient quality.

I would still go out and look for the Wanyama’s, Hooper’s, Forster’s and van Dijk’s in this world. Sometimes though, Celtic will only break through with an outstanding player to influence the team.

We have some great players in the team. There is something missing at times though.

Leadership, influence, motivation particularly when the heads are down. Where does that come from?

Bar one or two players, I love this team. They should be doing much better though.

Bitton, Tierney, Rogić, Griffiths (and at times Forrest) have all been great this season. That’s all individual performance though and is entertaining the fans but it isn’t carrying use forward with others in the team sitting back.

Does Ronny need to step up or is it the players? The players blame themselves and Ronny blames the players.

I recall Lennon bashing his players and rarely taking the blame. It isn’t uncommon in management I guess but it doesn’t solve matters either.

I’m not for Ronny getting the chop. I’d like to see him succeed. Equally, as a young manager almost halfway through his second season at his second club, it is time to think beyond now and take us there.

The board have drawn a line regarding everyone from the fans to the coaching team. Right now we’ll just have to get on with it and see where we are come May but the club as a whole must also realise that mistakes have been made and we expect accountability for that, not flippant and paltry excuses.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Pressure from above and below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who says Scottish football is boring?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

A season gone and a season to come

On Sunday afternoon, Celtic put Inverness Caledonian Thistle to the sword. It was a fine way to bring the curtain down on a season which has seen Ronny Deila’s team bond and progress.

At first, most people were open minded about Deila and the swiftness of his appointment. Then a failed Champions League campaign changed that.

Some unconvincing domestic displays in the early part of the season added to the Deila doubter’s list of dissatisfaction. If that wasn’t enough, you had the media, including ex-Celtic players, weighing in with their own tuppence worth of bile.

The breakthrough for Ronny was of course the Europa League. It was an ideal competition for a team in transition and kept both the club’s and the fan’s interests in the European scene.

Good performances home and away were encouraging, even if all results weren’t perfect. It was enough to build confidence though and there were signs that some players were beginning to respond to Ronny Deila’s methods.

That kind of positivity started to populate and by November, Celtic finally reached the summit of the Scottish Premiership. Having endured several months of negative media and a portion of the team not performing well enough, the tide was beginning to turn.

There was still a lot of work to be done though. Celtic were under pressure from a few teams and that kept them on their toes throughout the winter.

It was in this period that Celtic really started to gather momentum. Finally, the team was beginning to play like a unit.

Those players who had been out of sorts were emerging from the shadows. Griffith’s, Commons and Bitton were staking a claim and it was a real shot in the arm.

The arrival of Mackay-Steven and Armstrong not only boosted Celtic’s campaign, it ended Dundee United’s. They both slotted into the squad like it was meant to be.

For some Celtic players though, their own personal situations were beginning to look bleak. Guidetti, Tonev, Wakaso and Boerrigter were all fading with varying degrees.

Šćepović was also well out of the picture but his case was somewhat isolated from the rest. He may still have a chance as Sunday’s finale demonstrated.

Later on in the season Forrest emerged from the shadows and made a good contribution to the second half of the season. His injury problems are his only hindrance and only time will tell if he has overcome these.

Another player with injury hell is Lustig. A fine player if ever there is one.

His cameo appearance against Motherwell in January where he scored an amazing double after coming off the bench remains his primary contribution to the season. Deila knows as we all do just how good a player Lustig is and he will want him available for the early Champions League campaign, particularly if he is looking to bolster the back line.

There is still cover there with Ambrose, Matthews, Fisher and Izaguirre. The central defence is the main area of concern though.

If Celtic were to lose both Denayer and van Dijk, they also lose the meanest defence in Scottish Premiership history. Having conceded only 17 goals, that is a huge void to fill.

Part of that defensive success comes down to Gordon’s amazing return to the game as well. If he was considered a gamble when drafted in after years out injured then the pay out has been massive.

Despite the ability to get a bit lonely as a Celtic goalkeeper in some domestic games, like Foster before him, he has pulled off some magnificent saves to keep the Hoops in the game. That ability was on display Europe as well as in the domestic game and it has been a fine season for the big man.

Long-term injured Mulgrew made a late return this season and despite links with clubs in the south, I doubt he’ll be heading for the exit door. He may not be a first pick, but he is a good utility player.

It will be hard to break up the current midfield but he is a big enough character to stay on. Even if Johansen and Brown are the mainstay’s of the midfield there will always be opportunities for Mulgrew to step in there or in the back line.

So where do Celtic need to strengthen? Well that all depends on movements in the current squad.

Should Zaluska go as expected, a backup will be needed. Fasan is as yet untested and it remains to be seen if Deila would be prepared to rely upon the Italian as a suitable stand in.

Central defence is top of the list. If one or both of the current pairing go, the standards will slip so rebuilding that wall and the understanding they created will be a priority, particularly in Europe.

The midfield has a wealth of options. The choices are vast and if anything, Ronny may look at the wide men.

Mackay-Steven is terrific as is Forrest so long as the latter avoids injury. If you are relying upon Forrest as a regular and then gets a bad one, you need a similar outlet.

McGregor was one of Deila’s best players at the beginning of the season and filled the Forrest void for a short time. However, he burned out before Christmas and is currently on the injury list but I don’t know if his purple patch was a flash in the pan.

Stokes, who featured on the left flank and forged a good partnership with Izaguirre earlier in the season is a potential leaver. His off the field story has kept him in the sidelines and his time could be up.

Up front Griffith’s is hit man number one. When he arrived over a year ago, I questioned the validity of his signature.

Despite one or two infractions in his time at the club, he has made me eat my words. His prowess in front of goal has earned him the right to start every game but Ronny will need someone to put pressure on him as well as being able to step in and do the same job.

Šćepović may or may not be that guy but I can’t see the summer passing by without the procurement of another striker. Be that on loan or a permanent deal, you need options in Europe.

The clear out list for Celtic is pretty big and I expect the transfer window to be a busy one. At a glance I expect to see Zaluska, Pukki, Baldé, Boerrigter, Stokes and Friðjónsson to leave.

On loan we’ve had Tonev, Wakaso, Guidetti and Denayer. All four will be gone though I wish Denayer was staying on for another season.

Loaned players McGeouch, Irvine, Henderson, Herron and Findlay are certain to be assessed as the team moves forward. McGeouch is still young but at 22 will want more games and that may only happen away from Celtic.

He has ability, no arguments there but a decision is sure to come over Celtic career. Personally, I can’t see him forcing his way into Ronny’s plans though.

As for the others on that list, I can imagine them on further loan deals. Henderson may be the only one who is retained for squad duty back at Celtic.

One player I’m keen to see more of is Rogić. The Australian joined just over two years ago and showed a lot of promise in those rare appearances.

His loan spell back in his homeland in 2014 did not offer the expected aim. He has had injury to contend with as well but there is every chance he will wear the Hoops next season.

So for Ronny Deila and his back room team, there is further assessment and decision making to be done with the current squad. Some of those decision will already have been made whilst some await the transfer window to open to have their futures decided.

After a short break, it will be back to pre season training for the Hoops. With the Champions League qualifying just seven weeks away the team will be back before your know it.

For now its been a fantastic season for Ronny and the Bhoys. Looking forward to the next one already.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

The wind of change

The significance of events between 2014-2015 at Celtic could turn out to be a pivotal time for the club. At the beginning of 2014, the league title looked destined for Celtic Park and fans were in for another anti-climatic finish for a second consecutive season.

There were many fixtures still to be played but Celtic would tie up the league the earliest it has been done since before World War II. Having exited Europe before Christmas 2013, Celtic had maintained an unbeaten run and record amount of shut-outs by Fraser Forster (setting a new record in the process), both of which would grind to a halt against Aberdeen, their closest rivals.

In the January transfer window, Celtic bought Leigh Griffiths, a player whose off-field antics did not resonate well among the fan base, mine in particular. The timing of the move seemed unnecessary given that the league looked to be coming Celtic’s way, but he was a relatively cheap acquisition for a proven goal scorer and Celtic had limited attacking options having already lost Gary Hooper the previous summer and still without an ample replacement.

He didn’t disappoint either and since then has proven himself valuable but I can’t change my disapproval of the time. In the same window, Stefan Johansen joined the ranks and displayed the kind of energy you expect from an attacking midfielder.

His ability was recognisable as soon as he set foot in the team but there would be more come from him in the season that followed. However, it was the announcement that Johan Mjallby would depart that summer that became the focal point of Celtic’s future.

This raised concern and speculation about Lennon’s situation. With his assistant coach eyeing the exit door some felt Lennon would follow Mjallby but I wasn’t totally convinced at the time.

Lennon later announced that he would also be leaving and I wondered how long this had been coming. He had endured the worst of times as a footballer and head coach whilst at Celtic.

Death threats, bomb threats and physical and verbal attacks by opposing fans surrounded the Northern Irishman because of his nationality, religion and club of choice. These acts remain a cancer in Scotland and also its greatest shame in the modern day.

It is therefore quite astounding that Lennon left having won the biggest of battle of all – over his oppressors. He overcame all of it but I am sure the pain inflicted upon him and his family will remain forever.

As it was Lennon departed on a high having secured the league title for a third consecutive season. In the wake of his exit, Celtic are said to have courted many names, but I saw most of them as pure speculation.

I don’t doubt that initial contact was made with some potential candidates but to what extent is anyone’s guess. The man they settled on in the end was supposedly not first choice.

Realistically, a club won’t always get their first choice so that never bothered me in the slightest. In fact, if Celtic’s first choice was Roy Keane, as many have said (including himself), then I think the club dodged a bullet.

Celtic cast a net knowing that they had limited funds to offer in terms of salary, as well as for purchases in the transfer market. Yet it is no surprise that so many names are banded about given the culture, history and fan base that Celtic Football Club possess.

I think most would agree that despite the lure of such a big name, Roy Keane could have been a disastrous choice. Outside of the “favourite”, Celtic were looking at young, up and coming coaches rather than older experienced ones.

Ex-Celts would top that list if course but the man they would go for was unknown to all. Ronny Deila was a young, up and coming coach for sure but nobody had heard of him.

Again, that didn’t concern me to be honest and I was intrigued and somewhat surprised by Celtic’s bold move. This was out of character for the club but the more I read about what Deila had done since he moved into coaching, the more interested I became in who he was and he could do.

As it turned out, it would be no easy ride as some Celtic managers have found out but I remained a supporter of Ronny and his plans. He came from left field and went about getting his plan up and running but he faced many challenges.

Despite losing one of the club’s best players in Fraser Forster, the club had acquired Craig Gordon as a replacement but having been out of the game for so long could he fill the shoes of his predecessor? Deila would seek further additions to aid his quest but he would largely be assessing the current squad including Stefan Johansen who had worked under him at Strømsgodset.

Now you can make your own deduction from this story but it was speculated that Deila had initially been earmarked as a coach to come in and work with Lennon. Whether there is any truth in that or not is immaterial because the one thing we can safely assume is that Celtic had done their homework on Deila.

With the first season not even over you just don’t know how far this relationship can go but so far he has weathered the storm and come out fighting. There is never any guarantee of success when you appoint a new head coach so there is always risk.

Celtic didn’t opt for this Norwegian coach as a stab in the dark, but because his methods were fresh and new. And having watched Deila endure a slow start with high expectations, disgruntled fans and a less than supportive media you would have to say the club have stuck by their man.

He has won over most of his opponents, if not all of them. Wth the possibility of a treble in one of the most competitive Scottish domestic seasons in recent years, it will put to bed all of those doubters should that dream come to fruition.

The expectations placed upon Deila have been huge but it is no different to any other manager before him. Europe was a steep learning curve and in reality, it turned out to be a fairly positive experience for himself and the players.

Despite missing out on the Champions League, a tournament Celtic were sure to have been slaughtered in, the Europa League was an opportunity for these players to bed in under a new regime on continental soil. Reaching the last 32 was a boost for Deila and the fans and it even served up an old Italian foe.

The tie with Inter Milan gave everyone a taste of what we could expect should Celtic reach the group stage of the Champions League next season. And that has to be a target for Deila and the club because a domestic treble this season would provide the kind of momentum required to lead the team into the early European qualification round in the summer.

That said this season isn’t over as it was by this time last year, despite Aberdeen losing their own momentum in recent weeks. A gap has opened up in the Scottish Premiership but Celtic are not at a safe distance just yet.

The last eight games for Celtic will be a test of their mental and physical strength at this stage of the season, continuing today at Inverness. The squad is extremely strong right now a competition for places remains tight.

Its a healthy situation for Celtic currently and when you cast your mind back to September and October, it serves as a reminder that success doesn’t come overnight. The efforts Ronny has put in this season can only blossom in the next.

He will want to ensure he is well equipped for a Champions League quest and there is no doubt he wants it as much as the board do for financial reasons and the fans do for entertainment value. Ronny himself knows the level each player must perform at to compete with the best in Europe and the world.

This is what he has spent all season trying to drill into the players he inherited and drafted in. The players have responded to him and will be ready to take the lessons from this season into the next one.

Keeping the squad together will be the priority but a few are certain to leave which is only natural. Four of the current crop at the club are on loan whilst seven of Celtic’s are also out on loan to other clubs so there will be some movement on that front for certain.

Deila would love to keep Jason Denayer and John Guidetti, both on loan from Manchester City, but they remain uncommitted. Denayer has put in a solid season and I’m sure another season long loan would be beneficial for all parties, but Denayer has not hidden his desire to return to City.

Guidetti on the other hand made a blistering start to his loan spell only to lose his way on the park amid speculation about a permanent move. Celtic brokered a deal with City but the Swede wasn’t on board and instead made umpteen references in the media about playing for other clubs in Europe.

This led to fans turning against him and gladly seeing him out of the team. He also spat the dummy out recently during the League Cup Final when after James Forrest won a penalty, he refused to hand Guidetti the ball.

At this level of football you don’t expect to see that kind of petulance but Guidetti capped it off by storming up the tunnel at full time only to be retrieved by Mikael Lustig. That memory is embedded in my mind and despite any desire Ronny still has of obtaining Guidetti’s signature, the Swede would have a lot of back pedalling to win over the fans once more.

The other two loanees, Mubarak Wakaso and Aleksandar Tonev are certain to return their parent clubs. Neither have held down a place this season.

Aside from Wakaso’s wonder goal against Red Bull Salzburg in the Europa League, his appearances have been limited. Tonev has made even fewer appearances and became an outsider after being accused and banned for alleged racial abuse of a fellow professional despite any hard evidence.

That seven match ban pretty much put an end to his playing chances as other players were beginning to find form. Celtic stuck by the player but he effectively lost his battle in the first team.

Celtic still have to decide on the futures of their own players out on loan as well. Amido Baldé was signed as a young prospect in 2013 but has rarely been given a chance so Celtic may cut there losses with him given that his loan spells with Waasland-Beveren and Hapoel Tel Aviv have not been prosperous.

Teemo Pukki and Hólmbert Friðjónsson are currently both playing at Brøndby IF with the former doing a decent job and likely to get a permanent move. Friðjónsson may also get a deal if Celtic end their interest in him though he is still on the fringes of success.

The four remaining players out on loan are could also move on with the exception of Liam Henderson. The young midfielder has put in some notable performances this season and has been loaned out for the rest of the season for experience only I would assume.

He looks as though he can do a job for Celtic but with competition for places high, he needs games to develop. Rosenberg should give him a decent level of experience to help him compete further next season.

The only other matter are the futures of Celtic’s contracted players. Commons finally sorted out his future and Van Dijk is now displaying signs of staying for a other season at the very least.

Another player back in the fold is young Tom Rogić. He went out on loan in January 2014 to Australia hoping to imprive his international chances but injury has been a thorn in his side.

There remains a glimmer of hope for the Australian midfielder. I’m sure we’d all love to see what he has to offer if he can shrug off injuries.

I read somewhere recently (possibly just a rumour) that the club may try and move Anthony Stokes on. I’m not totally against the idea to be honest but I think I’d rather see the back of guys like Derk Boerrigter first.

“Sicknote'” has been a disastrous signing for Celtic. Whilst the club have been known for unearthing gems, he certainly hasn’t been one of them.

The very fact he came with an injury tag was a risk the club must be held accountable for. There have been too many risks and I’d hate to think that the rumoured fees for these guys were all met in full given what they have failed to do for the club.

Baldé, Pukki and Boerrigter all signed four year deals and each has failed to cut it. One man on the brink of going down the same road is Stefan Šćepović.

He too signed a four year deal with Celtic, after an on/off transfer that cast a minor shadow over the deal. He hasn’t held down a regular spot in the team or provided the fire power he demonstrated at Sporting de Gijón but there remains the possibility he may still make it as a Celtic player.

Celtic have decisions to make on all of these players and cut back on waste. When I think about the players in years gone by that Celtic failed to stump up the cash for i.e. James McFadden and Steven Fletcher, it irks me that they have spent more on players at a higher risk of failure.

Time to move on the morons and motivate the worthy. Only the best will make it in Ronny’s squad.

Eight games left and a treble is in our sights. Inverness here we come.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

A good start

Ronny Deila’s players kicked off their Europa League campaign with a positive result. Despite leading twice, Celtic had to settle for a draw but it was a fair result.

Celtic started the stronger and looked good for the first goal. That came true after some nice one touch passing in the final third of the field involving captain Scott Brown, Kris Commons and finally debutant Wakaso Mubarak, curling a low drive into the far corner.

Salzburg would respond some twenty-two minutes later courtesy of a deflection. That goal came during a period when Celtic were sitting back and were duly punished, albeit cruelly.

Celtic took the lead once more in the second half through Scott Brown after he latched onto a loose ball outside the box. With space and time to breathe, Brown smacked the ball home calmly, though took a touch of a Salzburg players boot en route to goal.

Later in the second half, Celtic made attacking changes. It was inevitable given that some players, young Callum McGregor in particular, were surprisingly quiet and ineffective, though he himself would remain on the park throughout the game.

Anthony Stokes and Aleksandr Tonev replaced Stefan Šćepović and Kris Commons respectively. Whilst Commons can always conjure something out of nothing, Šćepović has yet to settle into the team though he did come extremely close to scoring a long-range effort shortly before going off.

However, Salzburg came back into the match with twelve minutes remaining. A free kick conceded by Celtic was sublimely placed into the goal by Salzburg striker Soriano.

Chances came and went toward the end of the game but it finished a stalemate. The main talking points were positive in my view, though I still question Efe Ambrose’s placement at right back.

With injuries to Lustig and Matthews, Ambrose’s experience has won over Ronny Deila. For me though, it is Darnell Fisher who should filling that position for now given Ambrose’s lackadaisical performances.

On a positive note Scott Brown’s return to the midfield was warmly welcomed in European competition. His influence and determination is important amongst these other midfield players who do not possess ability but perhaps not that same aggression and spirit.

For Callum McGregor it was not such a fortuitous night but Ronny Delia has a great deal of belief in him. I wouldn’t disagree with him either as McGregor is easily one of Celtic’s best players right now.

I save my main praise for goalkeeper Craig Gordon though. Celtic’s decision to bring him to the club (not Ronny’s) left me with mixed feelings, particularly as it meant a certain exit for “La Gran Muralla”, Fraser Forster.

Delia has given Gordon the nod and he has not let the team down. In fact, Delia said that Gordon’s influence in the dressing has been substantial.

On the field of play he evidently more vocal than Forster was and has a few years more experience as well, even though he has been out of the game for so long. He himself has indicated that he needs to improve more which is welcome, though for now he his doing a fine job.

His efforts last night kept Celtic in the game when they could quite easily have conceded. Disappointment was visible on his face at both goals but knowing that he does has room to sharpen up those reflexes and that decision-making is heartening given that he is also one of Celtic’s best players right now.

As far as the result goes I would have taken a draw before kick off. This competition may not be the Champions League but it doesn’t mean Celtic will walk it.

Ronny Deila has only obtained key players at the eleventh hour of the transfer window. Only now can he carve his vision onto the field of play with the squad he has.

That will take time and patience so in Europe particularly Celtic will need to tread carefully. Its as much a learning curve for Deila as it is for this squad.

It can be a platform to better things but should also be approached with greatest respect to the opponents in Group D. Nobody will be a pushover in this tournament but for me it is an excellent opportunity for Celtic to make a run.

The sad thing is that John Guidetti is one player we will not see in the group stage. If Celtic make it beyond Christmas in the Europa League, we might just get that wish.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Forster among equals

Fraser Forster came to Celtic in August 2010. Although a Newcastle United player, he had been plying his trade on the road.

Two loan spells at Stockport County and Bristol Rovers got his career under way. A third loan deal took him to Norwich where his performances drew praise after a fine season under Paul Lambert.

It was there that he caught Celtic’s eye. He also came highly recommended by Lambert and so Celtic took him on loan for a season.

Although still a young keeper, he maintained his position in goal throughout that first season with Celtic. He was growing in stature, as was Neil Lennon’s team but he would return to Newcastle United at the end of that season.

A further year long loan spell was negotiated and he was back in the Celtic goal once more. After another steady season under Neil Lennon, Celtic were ready to do business.

Sadly, Newcastle United wanted to play hardball. Despite being a third choice keeper Alan Pardew insisted that Forster was still a key player.

At the time I wasn’t totally convinced that Celtic should be pursuing Forster with such determination. Newcastle weren’t easy to deal with and although Forster had had two decent season’s under his belt, my feeling was that Celtic shouldn’t be held to ransom for someone Newcastle had never played in a competitive match.

Both clubs eventually agreed fee of £2M and he was a finally a Celtic player. Any doubts I may have had over the protracted negotiation were laid to rest in his third season for Celtic.

Despite showing good shot stopping ability in the past, he saved his best for Europe that season. Saving penalties, pulling off wonder saves from world class opponents and being a stand out performer drew praise across Europe.

In Barcelona, the media named him “La Gran Muralla” – The Great Wall. This was a testimony to his size and ability in defying the Catalan side.

There is no doubt he was at his best in Europe. When you consider he was rarely called into action during domestic matches, this was some feat.

His fourth season was equally as good as his third even if Celtic’s luck wasn’t as fortuitous in Europe. Forster continued to earn praise from the media and fellow professionals and rumours of his departure were almost daily.

England eventually took notice and the mild mannered giant was named in several squads. To date he has earned two England caps and was included in 2014 World Cup squad, though never featured in what was a disappointing tournament for the England team.

So it was only a matter time before the big man would leave. The rumours that have surrounded his Celtic career have now been laid to rest following his move to Southampton.

I will miss Forster for several reasons. His application, dedication and professionalism as a player are as great as his presence in goal.

He broke and set records whilst a Celtic player as well as winning trophies and plaudits. Most of all, he had his finest hours in goal for Celtic and provided fans with some breathtaking and chest beating moments.

Leaving Celtic for the fee agreed is a testimony to his growth, stature and achievements as a Celtic player. Hopefully playing in the Premier League in England will further his international ambitions.

He has earned it and he will be missed. Good luck and all the best to the future, Fraser.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie