Up in the air…

The transfer window is now shut thankfully! And with it, any player speculation for the remainder of the current season.

Nothing major or unexpected has occurred in January. With Eboue Kouassi the only player drafted in by Celtic, I was more pleased to see some players heading out.

Eoghan O’Connell (Walsall), Jamie McCart (Inverness), Theo Archibald (Albion Rovers), Joe Thomson (Queen of the South), Ryan Christie (Aberdeen), Aidan McIlduf (Queens Park), Kristofer Ajer (Kilmarnock) and Leonardo Fasan (Port Vale) have all gone out on loan until the end of the season. Aidan Nesbitt (Morton) has extended his loan spell, whilst Saidy Janko (Barnsley), Paul McMullan (Dunfermline) Colin McCabe (Stenhousemuir) and Jamie Lindsay (Morton) continue their season long loans.

Moving on is Irish youngster, Michael Duffy who has returned to Ireland to play for Dundalk. For those with Celtic contracts ending in the summer, it is almost certainly the end of their careers at the club as well.

Not going out on loan spells are Kris Commons, Nadir Ciftci or Efe Ambrose…or is he? Commons will leave in the summer when his contract expires and Ciftci still has two-and-a-half years left to run on his deal but he is almost certain to have that cancelled if he fails to find a suitor.

For Efe it looked as though the transfer window had slammed shut on his fingers. Apparently the deal is not yet dead though so we may be bidding farewell to him before the summer.

Even then, I’m sure the club will be sweeping up Efe’s debris long after he’s gone. He’ll be haunting people in the corridors of Celtic Park for years to come!

Slowly, but surely the squad size will be coming down because. This needed to happen, but in turn the quality needs to remain high.

With Moussa Dembele and Craig Gordon linked with Chelsea in the window, it was reassuring to hear they were both staying put. There’s nothing to say that, that might change in the summer, but for now they are both still Celtic players.

The lure of London, the Premier League, Antonio Conte’s aftershave and a lot of Sky Sports money must be hard to ignore. On planet Celtic though there is a treble at stake and dare I say it a chance to go the whole season unbeaten?

Something special is happening at Celtic right now. We’ve seen that in almost every game this season so far.

You’d be a fool not to want to be part of it if you are being given the chance. There are some who don’t feature in the long-term plans though.

For many of the squad, the season is just beginning as they earn their first minutes on the park under Rodgers. The pack will become tighter as the squad downsizes.

We’re not losing quality, just quantity. Some guys will come back and have another crack, some will remain gone forever.

The key thing here is that Rodgers has run the rule over this squad. He’s been patient, given many a chance and remained even-handed with his fitness policy.

He made it clear that Leigh Griffiths, although a talented player, isn’t doing it right in other areas to be considered his first choice striker. I get Brendan’s stance on this and we saw something similar with Ronny Deila, though it failed to obtain respect and support from some of the dressing room and supporters.

Deila imposed a similar regime of health, fitness and lifestyle but his tactics and squad selection would be his undoing. Most of the current squad endured that but it ironically has paved the way for Brendan Rodgers.

Griffiths was one of those players, Commons was another. Only one of them still has a shot at a Celtic career.

I feel for both guys having both served the club so well. It is obvious though that under modern management at a club like Celtic it is becoming a club standard to shape up or be shipped out.

Leigh has a chance and he did seem to take Deila’s advice, eventually earning his place after being out of the picture. Under Rodgers the bar has gone up again though.

Whatever Leigh isn’t doing right he needs to change. He is a fine player who has already shown what he can do on a Tunnock’s diet.

I hope he continues to work hard and demonstrates his willingness to comply. If he does he’ll be unstoppable and Rodgers will have a pleasant headache.

Right now though it seems to be Dembele all the way. Until the summer at least.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Three and easy, but it’s time to trim the numbers

Celtic won their Scottish Cup quarter-final match against Greenock Morton on Sunday in just 35 mins. The Hoops went in 3-0 at the interval after goals from Leigh Griffiths (14), Gary Mackay-Steven (25) and a superb finish from Callum McGregor (35).

Despite the meagre attendance of under 15,000 at Celtic Park and the opposition lying 6th the Championship, Ronny Deila needed a response from his players. He got one as well with Celtic pressing Jim Duffy’s side from the beginning.

There was certainly more conviction with Celtic’s play on Sunday, something which has been missing in quite a few games recently. If it came from these so-called clear the air talks then it looks as though it had the desired effect.

To say that Morton weren’t any trouble though would be disrespectful. They drew two great saves, one either half, from Craig Gordon which the keepers deserves full credit for.

The truth though is that Celtic were pummeling Morton and should have finished more than 3-0 especially with the foothold they had in the game. Second half substitute Patrick Roberts hit the foot of the post after some fine work and Mackay-Steven rattled the crossbar.

Another substitute, Colin Kazim-Richards, came close as well but to his frustration hit the side netting. This was better from Celtic over all but as I said, the game was already won in the first half.

Speaking of which, Stefan Johansen’s game came to a halt at half time. A dangerous challenge by Mike Miller left the Norwegian’s writhing in pain.

Referee Willie Collum took no action on the incident. Instead he blew his whistle for half-time and trotted off, leaving a Johansen sprawled out on the Celtic Park surface like nothing had occurred.

Miller had just been booked moments before and given the nature of this challenge, should probably have received a second yellow. Instead, he walked in at half-time a lucky man but he was substituted 7 minutes into the second half which was probably a smart move by Jim Duffy.

Johansen was subsequently replaced by Kazim-Richards for the start of the second half. Later on, Patrick Roberts would replace an unhappy Griffiths and Stuart Armstrong came for Kris Commons.

So 3 goals, a clean sheet and a bit more conviction was a welcome boost. Then came the draw and a pairing with Rangers at Hampden for the semi-final.

This will be the second time Celtic have faced the Championship club. They met for the first time in their history last February in the semi-final of the League Cup at Hampden.

Ronny Deila’s players ran out 2-0 winners that day without the Ibrox club managing a single shot on target. Griffiths and Commons were both on target that day to book Celtic a place in the final which they would go on and win.

This season it’s the Scottish Cup and with Rangers looking very likely to get promoted to the Scottish Premiership, they will fancy their chances this time around. They beat Dundee 4-0 at Ibrox on Saturday to secure a spot in Sunday’s draw and already comparisons have been made by the media.

Dundee drew 0-0 with Celtic in the days before that game at Ibrox and as you can imagine, media mouths are watering already. The build up to this one is going to be unbearable.

The match itself is many weeks away and a lot can happen between then and now. It’s a must win game for Ronny Deila for many reasons though.

Firstly, a win means a place in the Scottish Cup Final and secondly, it keeps the dream of a double alive. There is also the small matter of Deila’s place among the fans which is a debate of its own.

Then there is the ‘rivalry’ between the two sets of fans. This Rangers is supported by the same fans as the old Rangers even if these same fans fail to admit they are two different clubs.

As someone who deals in fairness and justice in their working life, I will never accept this Rangers as the same club. After the old club cheated Scottish football as well as the taxpayers, I only see this current incarnation as a new club wearing the same colours as the one that no longer exists.

A new rivalry will be built and this fixture next month at Hampden is another part of that. Whatever came before is now confined to the history books.

No person in the media will ever say that right enough. After all, this is Scotland we’re talking about.

Let’s talk a bit more about Celtic though. Sunday was a solid performance but we need to see more of this kind of effort for the remainder of the campaign.

The debate continues as to whether Ronny Deila will be here next season or not. Right now, I think that idea needs to be shelved.

Celtic are in a winning a position and the focus must be upon winning. Recent displays have cast doubt over this team and the coaching staff as to whether they can secure a league and cup double.

There is certainly more ability in this squad than we have seen. There are a lot of players at Ronny Deila’s disposal compared to any other Scottish club.

Too many options in fact. From now until the end of the season, injuries aside, Deila must narrow those options.

We’ve seen too many changes. Some have been obvious alterations through injury or suspension but there are other issues that affect the choices made and I am not just talking about form.

James Forrest is a yo-yo and with his contract talks hitting the skids his appearances are now tainted. Tom Rogić suffered a similar story though he himself rubbished that.

Callum McGregor’s focus looked to be a factor when he was absent for a while following his drink driving case. This is all over and above the guys who, whilst have had their illnesses and injuries, never seem to get a proper run.

Kris Commons is a fans favourite and rarely gets a look in. Scott Allan has been waiting in the wings and after a short run of games has found himself out of the picture again.

You see all these guys, and even the ones I haven’t mentioned, must make selecting a Celtic team a total nightmare. There is no excuse though because this is one of Ronny’s own making.

He said a long time ago he wanted to trim this squad down. Well, it just keeps getting bigger.

I’m all for options but if someone is out for one reason or another we have more than enough options. The problem right now is that we have a first, second and third choice for virtually each midfield/attack position and can’t please everyone.

That’s without even considering the young players who in your worst case scenario would probably get a chance. You can’t even begin to imagine a youth player getting into the team right now.

If making the squad bloated is an indirect way of trying to push certain players out then its a strange business we’re running. Whether it is Ronny that gets to do it or someone else, this squad needs some breathing space to allow youth to develop as first team players.

For now, the best thing Ronny can do is channel the first team squad into a smaller group and stick with it. If a place becomes vacant then pick from his backup group.

There are too many fighting for the one spot and that would make me miserable as a player. If Ronny doesn’t know what his best team is then perhaps he should look at the numbers he is working with.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Th Scottish League Cup winners and losers

With most cup competitions, you can expect some “shocks” along the way to the final. It’s by no means the most prestigious of domestic silverware but it is essential to winning the treble.

These days, many feel Celtic should win the treble more often. This season we would like to see this happen given how close Ronny Deila came to achieving that last year.

In total, Celtic have been in 30 finals,15 as winners and 15 as runners up. I’m sure this is a statistic Celtic would like to improve.

Last night Celtic took a step closer to reaching this seasons final. However, it was all rosy in the garden for Premiership teams.

Motherwell and the unbeaten Aberdeen were both bombed out hy Championship sides, Greenock Morton and Hibernian respectively. Kilmarnock exited the competition too but at the hands of Premiership rivals, Heart of Midlothian.

Of the nine Premiership clubs to make it to the third round, six have the quarterfinals. If Celtic had been one of the three to drop out I’m pretty certain the Scottish media would by crying “crisis”.

So when is a crisis a crisis exactly? When the unbeaten league leaders Aberdeen get pumped by third place Championship Hibernian?

Or maybe when they exit Europe? No, not at all.

What about when unbeaten Championship leaders Rangers are getting mauled 3-0 by the 46th minute by 7th placed Premiership team St Johnstone? No that’s just a learning curve for a tribute act.

Partick Thistle are without a single win this season in nine domestic games. When will their situation be a crisis?

Even Dundee United and Inverness Caledonian Thistle are struggling down at the bottom of the league with Motherwell with a combination of four wins in 24 games. It’s not been a great start for any of them this season in the league.

And yet Celtic, the only club that remain in the driving seat, involved in all four competitions, are deemed to be a club in crisis. Whilst I point the finger at the media, I can wag the same digit at some of the Celtic fans for a bile that spills from their mouths.

Last night wasn’t a pretty or polished performance. It didn’t need to be either.

Ronny Deila made many changes and Celtic did more than enough to win the game without breaking a sweat. In truth, Raith Rovers had to work harder despite Celtic’s dominance.

Notable performances from Kieran Tierney and Saidy Janko were encouraging. They ruled their respective areas of the park.

Kris Commons and Stefan Johansen grabbed the goals. This was not a tough game but it was an important win.

Next up are Heart of Midlothian at Celtic Park on Saturday. We’ll see what stage our club crisis is at after that match.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac