Top spot is the incentive (preview and line-up)

There is a huge incentive for Celtic to win today. Today they are in the north to play Aberdeen in a game which could see them head to the top of the league.

Celtic sit one point ahead of Aberdeen having played one game less but there is little between the two teams. Both clubs suffered defeats to Hamilton in October and now both have an opportunity to go above the Lanarkshire club.

This is a huge game and for Ronny Deila he will be looking for his players to maintain a winning streak. In their last three league games Celtic have beaten Ross County, Kilmarnock and current league leaders Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

League form has been patchy overall but recent weeks have seen improvement. Celtic are also unbeaten in the Europa League and remain in both domestic cups.

So there is a sense of stability within the team’s development. The good news for Celtic is that some players will be back in contention today.

John Guidetti is the form man for Celtic and will be the main danger man. Anthony Stokes, Kris Commons and James Forrest are also back in the fold so Ronny Deila has options.

With Callum McGregor having gone back into his shell, Forrest gets the nod and hopefully he is over these recurring injuries. Kris Commons’s absence of late has seen Stefan Johansen propelled into that attacking role so he will have to settle for the subs bench today.

Anthony Stokes will start on the left wing after missing out through illness in Europa League match against FC Astra on Thursday. He has found some form in that area of the field and has been very effective in creating opportunities.

It should be a highly competitive match today with the opportunity to move into a better league position the incentive for both teams.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

The Line-up: Zaluska, Matthews, Denayer, Van Dijk, Izaguirre, Brown, Johansen, Forrest, Mulgrew, Guidetti.

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The madness of WGS

Over the last week there have been some interesting football headlines. Top of my list has to be Gordon Strachan’s ‘manipulation’ comments.

Now not all Celtic fans appreciated him as a Celtic manager. I on the other hand was a firm supporter of his.

I enjoyed his dry, sarcastic character whilst others did not. His football style was equally as arid but also effective in getting results, particularly in the Champions League.

A friend of mine interviewed him not so long after he quit the Celtic job. He spoke relatively openly about Scottish football in general.

I wasn’t surprised to hear that his thoughts on the Scottish game were similar to those within my own circle. This was why when he was appointed Scotland manager I felt he could influence accordingly.

On the field of play, I was encouraged by the early efforts of his Scotland teams as the curtain came down on the World Cup qualifiers. The tournament was already beyond reach but Strachan went about each game with the future in mind.

Since the European Qualifiers have begun, its been a fairly positive start. With a touch of luck, perhaps Scotland could have done even better but I have to say I like what I’ve been watching.

When you consider that Strachan has put Scotland fixtures back in my diary it shows you the difference he has made. So why on Earth would he taint what he has done on the international scene by making such an ludicrous statement to propel three Scottish Championship clubs into the Scottish Premiership?

On first hearing, I was almost certain it was a joke. Strachan’s humour can be so dry it can leave you wondering.

Now I think we all realise what he’s getting at but this kind of talk can be your undoing. I personally wish he could take it back but he can’t.

Then I think about the interview he did with my friend. They talked about how poor Scottish football as a whole looked and that as a product it was difficult to sell.

Poor stadiums, low attendances, even amateur TV presenters and substandard coverage were amongst the debate. Scottish football looks bad so how can you promote something with such little appeal?

I agree to the extent that its good to have big teams playing in the top flight. Regardless of the crowds each of these three Championship clubs have, this is anything but a sane suggestion to solving Scottish footballs domestic issues.

There has been a lot of turmoil within the Scottish game in recent years. Though it remains a failure of those who govern our game that they didn’t take the opportunity to make the changes required to improve Scottish football.

I am still a firm believer in having a bigger league with more teams. More variety of competition where you play each team twice as seen everywhere else in world.

For me this is the first step to invoke change. I also believe that home and away fixtures would have more significance by playing each team twice.

The SFA are a dinosaur in the game. They have this old boys club mentality which think that a lick of paint is all that is required.

Re-branding seems to be the only solution they have in their locker at Hampden. What is really needed is a complete overhaul of league structure and negotiating sponsorship and TV revenue.

If Strachan’s suggestion was that the league should be bigger and create wider competition then I’d get where he was coming from. There was no mention of that in his ‘manipulation’ statement though.

Still, this season has witnessed a tighter competition in the Scottish Premiership. There are only six points separating seventh placed Kilmarnock and current league leaders Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

You could argue that this competitiveness is partly down to Celtic’s ‘transitional period’. At the same time though, clubs such as Hamilton and Inverness have both beaten Celtic this season and remain above them in the league.

Some may complain about Celtic ‘downsizing’ and not playing well enough, but don’t we want a competitive league? Of course I want Celtic to be a success, but Scottish football’s biggest problem is the lack of competition.

This seasons challenge is healthy and if it is in part due to Celtic’s inconsistency and rebuilding then so be it. However, I do still think that the league trophy will end up at Celtic Park.

What remains to be seen is how Celtic progress as a team as the season moves on. As the half way point in league campaign approaches seven teams are still in contention, but the question is how many will still be challenging for the title come May?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Four in a row?

After the midweek high of winning 6-0 in the League Cup it’s back to Premiership matters for Ronny Deila. He will be pleased with the way his players despatched of Partick Thistle on Wednesday night and now they must roll over that form to the match against Inverness Caledonian Thistle this afternoon.

The League Cup tie witnessed John Guidetti tear Partick Thistle apart. He was fouled continually by several players with one such opponent earning himself a red card.

Take nothing away from Guidetti, he harassed the visitors cleanly all night and bagging a hat-trick was the icing on the cake. The best bit about his goals though was the fact they were all dead ball scenarios, executed with precision.

If that wasn’t good enough, then Emilio Izaguirre scoring only his second goal for Celtic was. He’s worked hard this season and scoring with his weaker right foot will be one for the memory banks.

Then there is Leigh Griffiths, the forgotten man. Overlooked for much of this season, his appearance was as much of a surprise as it was welcome.

I’m no fan of his off the field lifestyle but he knows where the goal is. He got the nod to come off the bench ahead of Stefan Šćepović and didn’t disappoint either.

With a bullet header from a corner ball and a lucky deflection from an attacking challenge, two goals is a nice return for a substitute appearance. To be fair to him, Griffiths also did a lot of support work as well.

By the time Šćepović did appear, Griffiths was trying to help him get on the score sheet, a noble gesture from a player who rarely gets a game. Šćepović came close on a few occasions but it was not to be though the Serbian is looking more confident.

The question for Deila is who does he play and who does he drop? With form still firmly in focus, the manager will be looking to retain balance and consistency without the kind of tinkering witnessed earlier in the season.

He has so many options, particularly when everyone is fit. Its a real test for any team when they lose influential players through injury or suspension and Ronny Deila has had to contend with that from the beginning of his reign.

In early July club captain Scott Brown picked up a preseason injury in a friendly and subsequently sat out for three months. Adam Matthews and Mikael Lustig have both had injury woes an and barely been available for selection until now.

Long term doubt James Forrest, so good for Celtic when injury free, continues to battle constant injury. A fully fit version can do the damage in any match but Celtic must find a long term solution to his recurring injuries.

Kris Commons, one of Celtic’s best performers has been sidelined more recently. He will be back soon as well just to make that selection headache somewhat greater.

With less key players on the treatment table and new players finding their feet, it seems Celtic are beginning to flourish. This is just the start though and there is still work to be done as I’m sure Ronny Deila will tell you.

That work must continue today at Celtic Park when Inverness Caledonian Thistle provide the opposition. A victory will not only keep Celtic moving toward top spot but it would be the first time this season they’ve managed four consecutive competitive wins.

In terms of league position, a victory could put Celtic in first, second or third place depending on other Premiership results. The top six is tight right now with only four points separating sixth placed Aberdeen from joint top Hamilton and Inverness.

You can take nothing away from this group of teams because they are all there on merit. Celtic have lost to each of the top two so far and and it is those victories that separate the them in terms of points.

Whilst those defeats have yet to be exorcised, Celtic still have one game at hand. Inverness may come looking for a draw, perhaps they might feel they can get more but Celtic have to be clinical no matter what.

A strong crowd would be good today, particularly as the attendance’s have been so low of recent. With a 3pm kick off and no live TV coverage that may just be possible.

Top spot is now within reaching distance and a vein of good form is in flow so perhaps more fans who can afford the day out will go along to support that. No doubts, players and fans both compliment each other and hopefully we’ll see the stands filling up again and the team’s consistency growing.

Nothing less than three points will do today. Be it win pretty or win ugly.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie