Pitched Battle

Celtic started off the month of February with a defeat away to Aberdeen. Since that blip against the title challengers, the Hoops have notched up 3 straight wins.

The title challenge continues tonight against Hamilton at New Douglas Park. The Accies’s playing surface is a topical subject given the recent outbreak of “pitch-gate”.

After Sevco boss Mark Warburton stated last week that artificial surfaces should be banned in the top flight, Ronny Deila was prompted to comment on the matter by the media. In direct opposition, though not aimed at Warburton, Deila stated that he welcomed artificial pitches, so long as they were of a good standard such as the ones used in his homeland.

This brought into question the playing surface at Hamilton which the Celtic head coach branded as “slippy”. If it is slippy and not properly maintained (whatever that amounts to) then obviously that isn’t ideal, particularly if you are trying to promote use of these artificial surfaces, but then grass gets slippy as well!

I’m no expert on playing surfaces but I know they vary depending on weather and treatment. Even though I agree that more artificial surfaces are likely to end up in stadiums, especially as the material improves, I don’t think it is a road Celtic will go down anytime soon.

Warburton wasn’t finished with the matter though and responded to the comments made by the Celtic boss. Deila apparently claimed that senior players playing on grass only was “very old-fashioned”.

Personally, I don’t really care if Ronny said that or not. Why Warburton is getting his knickers in a twist though is beyond me but he’s clearly taken the bait.

It’s a poor attempt by the media to create a war of words between the two managers. In fact if anything, Warburton comes off looking like a total idiot.

More importantly, old Warbs says that artificial surfaces should be banned in the top flight. Well, sorry to break it to you Warbs but you’re not in the top flight matey.

The fact that there are more artificial surfaces in the professional game only backs up Deila’s so-called comments that it is “very old-fashioned”. We’d all have the green, green grass any day of the week but even I can see the benefit of plastic pitches such are the adverse weather conditions encountered in certain environments.

Hamilton boss Martin Canning had his own say on the matter as well. Just to make the subject more interesting, he basically said Warburton and Deila were both wrong.

So as you can imagine, by the time Hamilton and Celtic take to the pitch tonight, every blade of artificial grass covered will be scrutinised by the onlookers. It’s a total storm in a teacup if you ask me and deflects from the real matter which is of course 3 points.

These playing surfaces aren’t an issue because they’re more readily available to Celtic players these days at Lennoxtown as well as throughout the course of the season at other grounds. Given some of the marsh-like pitches Celtic have played on over the years, at least we can rely upon the New Douglas Park surface.

I don’t care if Celtic are playing on red ash. Getting the right result is the only item on the agenda.

Ronny Deila only has Jozo Šimunović and long-term absentee Saidy Janko on the injury list. The rest of the squad are said to be available or working back to fitness.

With James Forrest turning down a contract offer, it is doubtful we’ll see much of him before now and the end of the season unless it is to generate interest for a potential sale. Ronny Deila has not ruled out the possibility of a turnaround on talks but you have to feel that this deal is dead, particularly with swollen squad numbers.

Once more, we’ll all be looking to see more of the seldom seen kids play tonight. In an away game, it is more likely to be a tried and tested line-up with the usual suspects but you can always hope to see one or two getting a run out.

Friday. Night. Football.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Match 5 of 6 in January: Celtic v St Johnstone

After Tuesday’s annihilation of Hamilton Accies, Ronny Deila must organise and prepare his players for the visit of St Johnstone today. After that 8-1 home win, the manager will be looking to make Celtic Park a difficult place for teams to visit.

It’s match 5 of 6 for the month of January where six victories would be a very positive marker for the domestic campaign. I think it is fair to say though that St Johnstone will be the toughest opponent Celtic will have faced this month.

So far the Hoops have overcome Partick Thistle (9th), Stranraer (8th in Scottish League One), Dundee United (12th) and Hamilton Accies (10th). St Johnstone on the other hand are a respectable 4th in the Scottish Premiership.

The fact that they are seeking their first victory since 5th December is something that should be met with caution though. You never know when that run of games without a win is going to end and you don’t want to end up being the team it happens against!

With that in mind, Celtic will set up differently against Tommy Wright’s side. St Johnstone caused Celtic one or two problems last season though Celtic have put three goals past them on both occasions in the current campaign, conceding only one.

Aberdeen remain on the coat tails of Celtic after winning 1-0 last night at Pittodrie. They beat Dundee to close the gap to 3 points.

Celtic can restore that 6 point gap by winning once more at Celtic Park this afternoon. There may be some personnel changes in the midfield but the back four is likely to remain unchanged as is our lone striker, Leigh Griffiths.

St Johnstone will be seeking that first win since December. Celtic will be looking to maintain momentum.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Taking stock at the international break

The weekend marked the current season as ten matches played in the Scottish Premiership. It’s also the beginning of a second international break.

For Celtic, this comes after a spell of played 7, won 3, drawn 3, lost 1 in all competitions. Before the previous international break it was played 12, won 9, drawn 2, lost 1.

So far this season it has been pretty challenging on all fronts. Europe has put Celtic under the microscope and in the league it has been a battle.

Ronny Deila has been under fire once more from fans and scrutinised by the media. The Champions League exit is in the past so it was the league position he was getting lynched for.

Now the wheels are beginning to come off Derek McInnes ‘title challengers’ and Celtic are closing a gap. Whilst the gap now stands at 1 point, I doubt there will be any praise for that because it is far too positive for the Scottish media.

The last three matches have been tough. At Celtic Park a 0-0 with Hearts (all credit to them) and a 2-2 draw with Fenerbahçe (all credit to Efe) was followed by a narrow 2-1 victory away to Hamilton yesterday. It wasn’t pretty but it was an important result none the less.

Two draws at Celtic Park are far from perfect though. Heart frustrated Celtic after they themselves had lost three games on the bounce – they needed to shore up.

Fenerbahçe came to Celtic Park in their own poor form and managed a draw. In truth, that was a game Celtic should have won.

We all know about Efe’s errors in that one. For close to 70 minutes though, Celtic were in control.

Sunday through up a stiff challenge from Hamilton and they even took the lead. Celtic fought back though and held off for the much needed win.

This has been a period of tough challenges on and off the park whilst Deila is under pressure to make his defence solid and provide a potent strike force. Neither of these have been achieved yet.

Injuries to Mulgrew and Šimunović have not helped him settle the central defence, nor has the departure of van Dijk. However, we knew Virgil was going if the Champions League was over.

Mulgrew would not be my long-term choice for centre half though he has done well in the past. Šimunović I have not seen enough of or even know much about but at the price paid for him, he will need to be the real deal.

With Efe probably close to suicide right now, the international break is has come at a good time. I don’t like to see players singled out for blame but his tendencies for costly errors are well known.

He was selected for defensive duties against Fenerbahçe because he was the most senior player available for that role. And as someone said to me after the match, you cannot account for individual errors.

Yes, Efe does make them and even Ronny said he has improved. Unfortunately just not enough.

Fenerbahçe made a tactical switch in that game last Thursday and it had the desired effect. The same error could have been made by Tyler Blackett had he been given the nod but we’ll never know.

I don’t have any issue with Ambrose being picked when we have little to choose from. You cannot consider him as a regular though because he doesn’t provide the decision making, focus and capability that is required despite being an international for Nigeria.

The other area struggling is attack. With only two strikers in the squad, one of which has still to settle in, Celtic are lightweight.

You can’t ask for much more than Leigh Griffiths is doing right now and he is on course to be even better than last season. Nadir Çiftçi on the other hand will need to start pushing himself because there is nobody else to step in when called upon and the Turk hasn’t exactly made an impact when used.

Ronny has had Carlton Cole training with the team and having a look at the former West Ham striker but any potential move is on hold for the free agent due to injury. Whether Cole is the answer I don’t know but the fact is even with a lack of form last season at Celtic Stefan Šćepović should not have been loaned out without securing a replacement.

Sure, Celtic may have been trying but we should not be embarking on European competition without sufficient players. It is short-sighted and unacceptable and that goes for the defence as much as the attack.

Any procurements made now are ineligible for Europe until the next phase. Even then, we would need to make that stage in the Europa League first.

Last season we obtained the services of John Guidetti who, before turning out to be a total knob, was on fire. He was signed too late for European deadline and so Celtic struggled up front in the Europa League.

This season we’ve got a similar issue. We’ve immediately put ourselves under pressure.

I don’t know if you blame the scouts, the board or the coaching staff. It appears nothing has been learned though.

That said, I am as ever 100% behind Ronny Deila. Yes, we can list selection or tactical errors but it is time to focus on the positives.

Celtic have played 19 competitive matches in 15 week spell. It’s more compact than that when you consider the international break in early September.

Starting in mid-July is gruelling but something are beginning to prepare for better. It is still a long road though when you consider players are still being recruited during this period.

They then have to be integrated and you might even lose some players during this spell. Then you have to face the reality of which European competition you actually made, if at all.

So when the domestic season starts, everyone else comes out of the blocks like greyhounds after the hare. Whilst Celtic are treading carefully with injuries and trying to survive in four competitions.

Consider ourselves lucky that we aren’t an English club with a multi-million pound budget and under-performing. Celtic may be more financially wealthy than all Scottish clubs but they are a lone force in Europe and against stronger teams at the best of times.

Managerial casualties south of the border are racking up. Brendan Rogers’s was long coming whilst Dick Advocaat’s was a case of jumping before pushed and Steve McLaren could be next but I don’t think Ronny is anywhere near those scenarios.

This international break, let’s take stock of the tough schedule we’ve had, the movement of players, the disappointments we’ve had and the ongoing negative press we’ve received. Then look at what is ahead and see that we’re in all three domestic competitions and still competing in Europe.

The season is only really just started. Keep the green flag flying high this international break.

As a foot note, I’d like to wish Gordon Strachan and the Scotland squad all the best this Thursday. I’ll be watching the game in an English pub which 24 hours later will be hoaching with England fans.

Once more Scotland find themselves in a difficult situation when trying to qualify for a major tournament. In all honesty Strachan should have been in a slightly better position but there is still a chance of making a play-off spot.

Part lies in Scotland’s hands, whilst other results play also play a factor. The bottom line for Scotland is to be aiming for maximum points and hoping that Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland falter.

We’ve been here before. I think we deserve a bit of luck.

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

The story so far…

After eight Premiership matches this season, Celtic find themselves five points better off than at the same stage last season. By contrast, Aberdeen are a staggering eleven points up from the same way point.

For both clubs, this is an improvement on last season, a huge one for Aberdeen. Celtic had a game at hand in their locker during that period last year but that was never a guaranteed three points.

And here’s the funny thing, neither team sat in the top four spots at that time. Celtic didn’t even break into third place until 1st November and finally first, eight days later after beating Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

Throughout the time Celtic had been trying to get to the top, Aberdeen had kept them company around fifth and sixth place in the Premiership. Celtic had ascended quicker, ousting Dundee United, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and even Hamilton Academical from the berths above them.

Aberdeen lay in wait that bit longer and came gushing into second spot as Christmas came upon us. The gap was narrow but Celtic would prevail.

The story so far this season is somewhat different. Aberdeen have the upper hand and that’s what makes it really interesting.

Celtic are playing catchup to the team that ran them close last season. Derek McInnes is trying to eradicate last year’s errors and so far so good.

Today it’s back to league duty for everyone after a midweek of League Cup ties. With Aberdeen dumped out of that competition at the hands of Hibernian, they’ll be fully focused on the Premiership.

They’ll still be included in the Scottish Cup when it comes along but you can Derek McInnes will be making a bid for glory here. For Celtic though, they’re battling things out in four competitions.

Ronny Deila isn’t expected to win the Europa League. He is expected to win the treble though.

No rest for the wicked. Ronny Deila has had his work cut out him.

Yes, he has the superior squad, finances etc, etc. He’s also trying to change things at Celtic for long-term.

If it were simply a case of winning the league, double or treble then you would assume that whoever takes the helm at Celtic could achieve one of those quests. Ronny Deila is changing the entire culture at Celtic though and as he pointed out to the media, even with a league and cup double success from last season, he hasn’t won over all of his players.

In comments made to the media he stated that not every player has responded to his methods and targets. So even though guys like Bitton and Griffiths are examples of those who have conformed, some have found themselves on the fringes of his plans.

That being the case, it is not simply about winning the league. He has still to achieve an influence on his entire squad.

It certainly doesn’t sound as if he has lost the dressing room. Merely that some players are simply not up to the task.

In our hearts and minds I think we can work out who those players are likely to be. So there is another arc in Celtic’s progress this season especially with new players establishing themselves as well.

At this point in the season, it is still very early but as the end of 2015 comes, we’ll see who has earned themselves a regular spot and who has not. There is also a prime importance for Ronny Deila to establish a back four.

With Virgil van Dijk sold to Southampton and Jason Denayer back at Manchester City, it is a whole new central defence. Dedryck Boyata I have yet to be convinced by and I don’t think he’s looked anywhere near as good as Jason Denayer but he still has time on his side.

Jozo Šimunović has come with a huge price tag and a lot to prove. Ronny Deila has outlined him as a very good player but with only one game under his belt it will be some time before we know if the £5.5M paid was worth it.

On loan from Manchester United is Tyler Blackett and after a few games is also still finding his feet. His ability to play at left back or left centre back makes him useful as there is little cover for that position but just how much of an impact he will have is hard to tell at this stage.

Saidy Janko also came in from Manchester United and has looked good to me. I think his signature could turn it to be one of Deila’s best.

Kieran Tierney has also thrown his hat into the defensive ring this season and the signs are encouraging. The youth player has been given a few outings at left back under Deila and played well so I expect to see more of him throughout the season.

As for our more established defenders, you have Mikael Lustig, Efe Ambrose, Emilio Izaguirre and Charlie Mulgrew. When fit, Lustig could easily play for any team in Europe and if he can stay injury free he will be a key player for Celtic this season.

Ambrose fell out of favour last season and despite naturally fit player, he can still be held back by his decision-making and ability. Izaguirre is still an important player for Celtic and the challenge of Tierney and Blackett will keep him on his toes.

Mulgrew has seen himself back in defence more recently and is always an option for left centre back or left back. That will always depend on the opponent but he is equally utilised in the midfield.

What needs to be pin pointed is the central pairing in defence. Once established, Deila can make that partnership stick and when the need comes to make a single change, it should not be so disruptive.

Who those two players will be we have yet to find out. It will be key to Ronny Deila’s success this season on the domestic and European front if he can find a pairing that works.

So to today and Celtic host Heart of Midlothian at Celtic Park. Last seasons runaway Championship winners sit four points behind Celtic in the Premiership.

Their last three league matches have all been defeats and will be hoping to avoid a fourth today at the hands of the current Champions. Celtic utilised fringe players midweek against Raith Rovers but you can expect a strong team for today’s game.

Celtic need to win this one to keep pressure on Aberdeen. The Don’s are away to Inverness Caledonian Thistle and if it were last season I know who I’d put my money.

As it is, Inverness have had a poor start to this campaign with only one win in eight games. Pitting that statistic against an unbeaten Aberdeen gives you a rough idea where your money should go but you just never know when a form team can hit the skids.

Midweek was a slip up for McInnes but not for John Hughes, Ronny Deila or Robbie Neilson. All eyes will be on these two fixtures.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Comfortable at the top?

I’ve noticed over the last week several comments about Celtic winning the league comfortably. To be honest, I was somewhat baffled by this general view.

We all know how the Scottish game is viewed by outsiders. I’ll put those football ‘experts’ to one side for now and talk to those who actually watch Scottish football.

This season has been anything but a foregone conclusion. Credit must go to the teams who have been a thorn in the side of Celtic.

Aberdeen have put in another fine season and although the gap has widened since the turn of the year, are still a mathematical threat to Celtic’s title chances. However likely or unlikely that threat is, this season is not finished.

Despite failing to take any points off Celtic on any of their three meetings this season, Aberdeen have mounted a challenge. Had Derek McInnes overcome Ronny Deila in any of the three previous fixtures, that gap would be much smaller.

In behind the Don’s are Inverness Caledonian Thistle. John Hughes has had a great season and despite ousting Celtic from the Scottish Cup in controversial circumstances, it has been a decent innings for the Highlanders.

So much so, they overtook Jackie McNamara’s Dundee United. With some of the best talent produced in recent years, there is no doubt they were weakened by Celtic when the double swoop for Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong happened.

That is football though and there is only one club in Scotland who can afford to buy the best players from other Scottish clubs. If Celtic don’t buy these guys then they leave the country and quite possibly journey into obscurity.

How many players have gone south and disappeared into the lower leagues just for a better pay day? I’d much rather they were improving the game in Scotland but then I suppose that makes me a hypocrite because I left Scotland for the south for a change in life as well!

Having said that, Dundee United, ike most Scottish clubs need that money. They don’t have the fan base or infrastructure that Celtic do and as Ronny Deila said yesterday, this money is beneficial to Scottish clubs because it won’t come from any other avenue in the game right now.

Producing young talent is the best hope for Scotland’s clubs. Retaining it is the hardest part, though I digress!

To suggest that Celtic have or will win the league comfortably is doing a disservice to the clubs who have all taken points of Celtic this season. Hamilton Acccies put in a good start to the season, sitting at the summit for a number of weeks if memory serves correctly.

They are one of only six clubs in the Scottish Premiership that have taken points off Celtic this season. Dundee, Dundee United, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Motherwell and St Johnstone make up the rest that pack.

Can you imagine if Aberdeen had managed to do the same? It might be a lot closer by now and to be fair they are already 6 points better off now than they were at the end of last season.

And that is the difference when you are aiming for glory. More often than not, you must be able to beat your biggest opponent to get in front of them.

That formula doesn’t always apply of course, particularly if you only play each other twice a season. In Scotland, losing all four matches against one opponent is technically a 12 point gap.

For that reason alone, I have always argued that playing each other twice in a larger league would raise competition in Scotland and improve the game as a whole. Unfortunately, the stewards of our game pander to a different audience as well as their own needs and in doing so drive our game into the ground.

Having said that, I am pleased with the challenge put in by some of the club’s this season in Scotland. There is still a need for investment though if anyone wishes to tackle Celtic season on season.

I’m hoping that with Hearts back in the top flight next season, they’ll make as good an effort in the Premiership as they did in the Championship.  Sure, it was a walk in the park for them, but they did so after learning a serious financial lesson and going about rectifying that with a positive approach.

So with four games left, 12 points up for grabs and an 8 point gap have Celtic ‘won’ this league as comfortably as the media have suggested? I don’t think so.

Celtic won last seasons league by a wapping 29 points to second placed Motherwell. Aberdeen came in third, 31 points behind Celtic – what a contrast for each of those clubs this season.

To win the league comfortably you have to be out in front with the kind of form that demonstrates you are in no danger of losing the title. Well I’m sorry but that was last season and I don’t think I’ve carried anywhere near a similar feeling in this campaign.

For starters Ronny Deila has battled hard to get his players up to the standards he believes in and by doing so lost some of our more fickle supporters. It took a while for Celtic to get to the top of the league due to some inconsistency and players fulfilling a different potential not to mention other teams starting the season well.

Eventually Celtic turned a corner in terms of team play and results, but there have been blips and poor performances since then. Right now, some players are beginning to look tired as well.

There is no guarantee Celtic won’t slip up in any of these last four matches and put their fourth-title-in-a-row chances in jeopardy. The question is, will Derek McInnes’s Aberdeen players stumble or will they aim to close that gap further?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Spicey encounter awaits at Hampden Park

This week saw Virgil van Dijk and Paul Paton’s red cards rescinded allowing both players to take part in today’s League Cup Final at Hampden, as will the unpunished Calum Butcher. However, it was Scott Brown who grabbed the media spot light for this one.

You may have noticed one or two articles being run about the Celtic skipper enjoying himself the night before his day off? Oooh the scandal!

For me this was a non-story to begin with. With pictures and quotes being printed and uploaded in abundance, I could just sense that people were hoping more was going to come from “Broony’s big night out”

And thats just it, there was nothing worth discussing except of course does he have garlic mayo and chilli sauce like me? With a day off to wake up to, a bit of a splurge is nothing when you’ve been working your nuts off all season.

Celtic made no comment about the matter and quite rightly so. The only thing that does matter is that Scott Brown turns up today with his game face on as he has done all season.

His presence in the team is important and blowing off some steam midweek will probably have done him some good. Even the currrent in-form-as-kisser Chris Sutton weighed in with some support to play matters down, but we don’t need your opinion Chris so thanks but no thanks.

Today’s match is huge and you can be sure Broony will be right in amongst it. I wonder what the bookies odds are for him scoring and celebrating with a reinactment of Wednesday night?

In all seriousness, this is built up to be a great game today. Dundee United have been in good form this season and always a great team to play against.

The downside for United is the missing Nadir Ciftci. He was rightly suspended after last weeks post match inquiry for his deliberate kick at Scott Brown.

Ciftci is a key danger man for United but I don’t expect his absence to hamper their chances in this match. Jackie McNamara, one of my favourite all time Celtic players, will have his players fired up for this.

I was always under the impression McNamara was a quiet, calm guy who focused on his game at Celtic. In truth, he did as much challenging behind the scenes as he did on the park.

He also walked away from Celtic when they were slow to offer him a new deal. It wasn’t the ideal way to leave after being such a great servant but he is his own man.

That is why its no surprise he is in management and making a good go of it. He’s the longest serving head coach in the Scottish Premiership at present and hopefully will continue that if Scottish football ever hopes to gain some momentum again.

Scottish football needs coaches like McNamara to reignite the game once more. Usually once a coach gets a better offer from down south they’re gone and yet the grass isn’t always greener so hopefully Jackie will stick around for a while.

This has been one of the best Scottish football seasons in the top flight for as far back as I can remember. Where it wasn’t just about Celtic and Rangers, as it was before the demise of the latter.

Since then its just been about Celtic but this season its been about Dundee United, Aberdeen, Inverness and even Hamilton’s early season form. Sure, Celtic may still be on for the treble but they are being challenged at long last.

So today will be no pushover for Ronny Deila, not after last weeks encounter at Tannadice. Finals can produce anything and will provide enough entertainment to keep us all perched on the edge of our seats.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the refereeing today as well. With Bobby Madden in charge you can only wonder how he’ll perform.

Is it nearly kick off yet? Make mine a Hampden kebab with everything on it.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie