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

 

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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 

129 years, injuries and that gap

skysports-mikael-lustig-ankle-injury-celtic-v-inverness_3824676Celtic restored their lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership on Saturday to 10 points with a 3-0 victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Despite the Hoops consistency in the league this season, Thistle have been the only team to take points off them, a 2-2 draw in September.

Under Brendan Rodgers, Celtic continue to make progress whilst dominating their domestic opponents. And at the current rate of improvement, Celtic could be looking at huge gap between first and second come the end of this season.

When Caley Thistle are in the other corner, you can expect a tough challenge though. They punch well above their weight for the size of club and they never seem impaired by their own league position when playing the Champions.

Thistle weren’t exactly oozing class at Celtic Park right enough. They were certainly playing a physical game though.

You can argue that they went about playing that way to disrupt Celtic’s flow, but that’s when you rely on the referee doing his job. However, this is Scottish football and you could turn blue holding your breath waiting for that to happen.

It took a long time for the match official to book Greg Tansey who had been at it all game. In the end he would see red and deservedly so.

Celtic continued to make strides, adjusting their personnel when required. Leigh Griffiths got a rare start and scored into the bargain, but not before Scott Sinclair scored his 9th league goal of the season.

Tom Rogic capped off a victory with the third after coming off the bench. All of the goals came in the second half with Rodgers’ game plan being disrupted by the injury to Mikael Lustig.

The Swedish defender went off early in the first half after taking a knock on the ankle. On came Emilio Izaguirre to left back and Stuart Armstrong dropped into right back with the Bhoys shifting from three to four in defence.

As unconventional as this was, Armstrong didn’t shirk his duties. In fact he imposed himself in attack as much as defence, playing a wing back role which drew a comparison from his manager to the ex-Brazilian star, Cafu.

I’m not so sure I’d have gone as far to say that, but Armstrong was brilliant against Thistle and he continues to make a steady impact for Rodgers. Despite being faced with an early injury, a forced tactical change, a player out of position and a tough tackling opponent, Celtic brought home a solid victory.

Going into the international break on a high is always good, but with injuries to Scott Brown and Mikael Lustig there was immediate concern. Brown is said to be fine and still in contention for Scotland duty but Lustig is out for Sweden.

The Swede has dealt with injuries well this last year so Rodgers will be hoping to have him back for the next match against Kilmarnock. At the very least, back in time for face Barcelona.

walfrid_brotherbOn Sunday, Celtic celebrated 129 years since they were founded. The date relates to the meeting that took place in St Mary’s church hall in Calton, Glasgow on that day in 1887.

This was the beginning of Celtic Football Club and as far back as I can remember, I have always created my own mental image of that meeting. So important was this meeting that when at school, some friends would speak proudly of their ties to the church, the school, the street or even the area.

My parents were both from Calton, went to St Mary’s school and regularly attended the church in their youth, but they rarely talked about this moment in Celtic’s history. I guess when you’ve grown up there, you don’t have to talk about it because you are already part of it.

Still, for me this was always a proud association with the area and still is today. Calton may be a different place these days, but my routes from both sides of the family are steeped in this area just as they are for many other families in the Celtic community.

All Celtic families though, regardless of where they are from originally, can ponder about that meeting all those years ago in that church hall and what effect it has had on their lives today. It has changed all of our lives for sure.

Happy Birthday Celtic Football Club.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Focus on the positives

Tonight Celtic face Manchester City in the Champions League at Celtic Park. After a 7-0 mauling away to Barcelona, Brendan Rodgers will be aiming to limit any damage this unbeaten City side can inflict under Pep Guardiola’s management. 

Let’s face it, this is a tough group for Celtic. They have a few things going their favour tonight though.

Leigh Griffiths

The Scottish international has returned from injury after missing four matches including the match in Barcelona. Despite Celtic not suffering too much in front of goal though, the return of Griffiths is a positive selection headache for Brendan Rodgers. If Dembele isn’t on his game it is good to know that Griffiths is available.

No Kevin de Bruyne

Manchester City may be laden with Premier League superstars such as Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling amongst plenty others, but they will be without one key player at Celtic Park. Kevin de Bruyne (along with Vincent Kompany) is in Barcelona being medically assessed by Pep Guardiola’s favoured doctor. This doesn’t mean City will struggle because they have so many good players but de Bruyne has been so influential for the Premier League table toppers and Celtic must take confidence from that.

The Paradise atmosphere

You don’t have to be Celtic supporter to know about European nights at Paradise. Just ask anyone who has visited Celtic Park as a player, pundit or away supporter on a Champions League evening. You don’t always get the result you want, especially when a good team comes to visit. What you can be sure of is that the Celtic players will have the vocal backing of the entire Celtic supporter and they will all sing their lungs out until they can sing no more. There’s no other atmosphere quite like it.

Craig Gordon

Brendan Rodgers has already stated that Gordon will play in goal against City. He dropped the former Hearts and Sunderland keeper for Dorus de Vries in the game against Aberdeen several weeks ago. Since then, Gordon has made one appearance against Alloa Athletic, where he was lucky not to see red, then at the weekend when he replaced de Vries at half time against Kilmarnock. Although Gordon has been collating faults following a highly commendable first season, he is still number one for me. De Vries has shown me nothing to suggest Gordon is finished. The fact that Rodgers has chosen him ahead of de Vries for the game against City tells you all you need to know. Overall it remains a position of weakness for Celtic, but right now Gordon is our best man.

Celtic’s goal threat

Whist Celtic have been seen to haemorrhage goals in all but three competitive matches this season, going forward and scoring goals has been very productive. In all competitions the stats look something like this:

P 15     W 10     D 2     L 3     F 41     A 22     GD +19

Take away the Barcelona anomaly and it looks even better! Celtic should be aiming to utilise their firepower on Manchester City particularly with home advantage. City might have the marquee players, but if any of our free scoring players such as Scott Sinclair, James Forrest, Moussa Dembele or Leigh Griffiths take the initiative there is every chance Celtic can get their first goal(s) and first point(s) in Group C tonight.

Brendan Rodgers

The Northern Irishman has already shaken things up at Celtic. Of the few additions he has made, Scott Sinclair, Moussa Dembele and Kolo Toure have made a huge difference to this team. However, you only have to look at Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, Tom Rogic and James Forrest to see the influence Rodgers has had on them. They look fresher than ever before and with many players still on the fringe of the team and still to get back up to full fitness, it’s safe to say I have faith in Brendan’s ability particularly with his experience in the English Premier League.

Celtic may not qualify from Group C, but I would not criticise the effort that has gone in so far from everyone. This is season one under Rodgers and the club have fallen behind in development these past two or three seasons.

Now we are seeing Celtic getting back to where they should be after a lull in progression. This experience is invaluable for Rodgers and his players and the Champions League is just hotting up so let’s keep the faith.

On nights like these anything can happen. Believe.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Start as you mean to go on

Brendan Rodgers and Celtic got off to a flyer against their new Glasgow rivals on Saturday. Celtic Park was bouncing as the Premiership Champions smashed the Premiership newcomers 5-1.

The Ibrox oufit were assembled predominantly behind the ball throughout the match. However, they did put together a few decent moves with some neat passing as well.

It has to be said though, at no point did this ever overshadow what Celtic were doing. The five goals scored by the Hoops were spread out over the last sixty minutes of the match.

The goal scored by Mark Warburton’s side was merely an interruption to what Celtic were doing. In fact as was better put by my buddy, this goal sharpened the Hoops up for the second half.

Having drawn first blood thanks to Moussa Dembele on 33 minutes, closely followed by the second on 42 minutes,the Ibrox side must have been thinking they were still in with a chance when they pulled back a goal on 44 minutes thanks to Joe Garner. With no disrespect, Dorus de Vries was culpable for poor positioning.

2-1 at half time was no big issue but it kept us all on our toes regardless. The early stages of the second half saw more impetus from the away side and changes were made by Brendan Rodgers to address this.

Tom Rogic made way for Stuart Armstrong whose impact in the centre of midfield was beginning to look effective. How I have longed to see him play in that position. 

He would be involved in much of what happened since he came onto the field on 54 minutes and 7 minutes later was involved in Celtic restroring their two goal lead. Armstrong slipped the ball across to Dembele who played a neat touch through the opposition defence that found a preying Scott Sinclair to score in all of Celtic’s league games so far this season.

In high profile games, players can lose the plot unnecessarily and for Phillipe Senderos he found himself on a secod yellow card for handball,thus reducing his team to ten men. That allowed Celtic to turn the screw further on their Glasgow rivals.

Celtic weren’t finished with this game and more importantly, neither was Dembele. Having scored his first goal with his head andthe second with his right foot, he completed his hatrick in the 83rd minute with a left foot finish.

To wrap things up and demonstrate Celtic’s dominance in this fixture, Armstrong helped himself to goal number five for the Hoops in injury time. I was pleased to see him get a goal given his return to the team and impact since coming on.

This was a game with so many positive talking points for Celtic. Even the post match interviews were a good viewing thanks largely to Scott Brown’s banter and Brenda Rodgers’ respectful assessment of the game.

All the fighting talk from Joey Barton since he dismissed his claims as a Celtic supporter and joined the zombies, didnt help the fact that he was posted missing in this match. His assistant manager’s red card drew more attention than Barton’s derby performance. 

Now Celtic sit two points clear at the top of Premiership ahead of Hearts who have now moved up to second place. Celtic still have a game at hand and a 100% record in the league so they are in good form going into Tuesday’s game against Barcelona. 

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac 

The Champions League: a dream ticket

For two seasons, Celtic have been bereft of Europe’s most prestigious tournament. The UEFA Champions League is by far the most lucrative offering available to Scotland’s top club.

When the head was finally severed from the Ibrox club in 2012, Celtic flew the flag in Europe for Scottish clubs. It has been a lonely journey but one which continues to be solo.

Finance is the setback for clubs such as Aberdeen or Hearts. Celtic may have trimmed their own margins in recent times but they should still have been comepeting in Europe’s premier club competition rather than operating in the Europa League. 

Wherever you place your blame, Ronny Deila, the Celtic board, the scouting network, the transfer policy, we haven’t reinvested since the peak of 2012-2013. Well, not until now.

The demise of Celtic’s old rivals wasn’t just the comeuppance that they deserved for financial fraud and mismanagement. This was a signal that the immediate face of Scottish football was going to change.

Scotland has not seen top flight winner other than Glasgow’s oldest rivals for 30 years. With one of those rivals now a defunct club, how long will it be before Celtic’s reign will be broken?

With no other Scottish club able to finance a team the strength of Celtic’s (without spending money that wasn’t their own) Celtic put the brakes on.With little pressure from other teams on the domestic front, investment was reduced and certain gambles were taken.

A modern day, up and coming Norwegian manager was appointed. It was a left field approach which I backed fully but given the lack of domestic pressure, was less of a risk.

Although Celtic’s 4th and 5th title in row was achieved, it was Europe that became a declining feature of each season. Two failed attempts at the Champions League led to dropping into the Europa League twice.

The team wasn’t performing as well as they could and tactically the head coach appeared naive. I fought his corner but we saw last season that things needed to be shaken up.

As I said at the beginning, Europe is lucrative for Celtic. In fact it is essential for the club’s finances.

Dismal displays on the continent did little to woo season ticket holders and any other sales that generate revenue for Celtic. Now the club have brought in someone who can take us back to the Champions League.

Tomorrow night Celtic must hold their nerve in Israel. They have a three goal lead but that doesnt mean I’m okay with the two goals Hapoel Be’er Sheva scored at Celtic Park.

They can score again but so can Celtic. Brendan Rodgers and his players must get across the line tomorrow night.

So far I’ve been impressed with the incremental improvements. New players making an impact and established players rediscovering old form.

The UEFA Champions League is there for tomorrow night’s winners. Let’s get back to where we belong.

A dream ticket awaits those who show willing.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Rodgers and Sinclair reuinted for season opener at Tynecastle

Celtic have today confirmed Scott Sinclair as Brendan Rodgers’ third signing. The 27-year-old winger has worked with the Celtic manager in the past and there appears to have been some determination to obtain the services of the English winger.

From the little bit of research I have done on Sinclair, he comes with a lot of experience south of the border. That has been based mainly on playing for a long list of clubs, though only for short spells.

He began his career at Bristol Rovers where he came to the attention of Chelsea as a young boy. Having moved to Chelsea, it was there that Rodgers and Sinclair came together for the first time.

Rodgers was the head youth coach at the time and the two worked together for a number of years. Eventually Rodgers would move into first team management at Watford whilst for Sinclair half a dozen loan spells would begin.

Both mentor and pupil would be reunited once more at Swansea City in 2010 where they would enjoy very positives times in their careers. Because of the success enjoyed during their two seasons together, they would both move on.

Brendan went to Liverpool and Scott went to Manchester City. We all know about Brendan’s Liverpool tenure but for Scott his rare appearances in a Manchester City jersey led to further loan spells before a permanent move to Aston Villa.

Many have pointed out that Villa wasn’t a great success for Sinclair. Then gain, that could be said for Villa has a whole because after flirting with relegation for a long time, they now find themselves in the Championship.

Right now, I am keen to see Sinclair in the Hoops. Brendan has pursued him and looks to be one of his players.

That means he knows what he will get from him and when asked to do something, knows he will get a positive response. The only thing Sinclair needs to do is do what is asked of him.

We might get to see that today as Celtic take on Hearts at Tynecastle. With Patrick Roberts injured and Gary Mackay-Steven facing a loan spell, Celtic are light on wingers for once.

If Sinclair does play, it might just be as a substitute. Either way we are all looking forward to him help bring success to the club.

To play away from home and at Tynecastle in your first Premiership match is about as tough as it can get. Celtic will need to be at their best as I expect Hearts to have built upon last season.

There a fewer better places to play away in Scotland than Tynecastle in terms of intensity. Welcome to Scottish football, Scott.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac