Friday night lights

rugby-park-kilmarnock-general-view_3453658Celtic are back in action tonight in a rare live broadcast for Hoops fans on a Friday evening. However, it’s been another disappointing international break for Scotland fans like myself.

Gordon Strachan may have got a half-decent performance from of his players against England. That amounted to nothing though with three goals being conceded at Wembley.

Thankfully, I have Celtic to lift my spirits tonight. An away encounter with Kilmarnock to watch on a Friday evening is most welcome.

Mind you, there have been plenty of other football stories circulating to attract our attention this week. Aside from the Steven Gerrard rumour, the meltdown continues over at Snake Mountain.

With the strength and variety of damaging storylines coming out of Mordor these days, it has gone from tribute act comedy to a sporting embarrassment waiting to crumble die. I honestly cannot keep up with the plethora of threads that emanate from the other side of Glasgow not that the Scottish media report much of this.

On top of that shambles, the SFA are a hot topic once more. The Resolution 12 story is back in the fold after getting an airing at Celtic’s AGM during the week.

With FIFA already looking at the SFA (as well as the English FA) over Poppygate, UEFA are coming in at another angle. The latter is with thanks to the truth seekers who have fought hard for justice and transparency over rule breaches in Scottish and European football by the governing body of our game and their now deceased pet team.

There will be lots more to come from this. There will also be a lot more to come from Ibrox unless the establishment’s new puppy team implode before the shit really hits the fan.

Meanwhile back at the Rodgers Ranch, Brendan is tending to his flock of warriors. Tonight we can turn our minds back to the progress Celtic are making.

The league title is the theme for tonight and obtaining more goals and points to make that happen on the agenda. With 10 points between Celtic and Aberdeen, the Hoops are looking comfortable.

Hard work continues behind the scenes and that means fine tuning the talent currently at the club. There are still several fringe players whose futures will be decided throughout the remainder of this season, if not by January.

Might there be the possibility of one or two coming in? I’m not sure that is something Celtic are in desperate need of to see us through this campaign unless there are departures.

One player who has been mentioned as coming in is Steven Gerrard. Personally, I can’t see any advantage to bringing him to Celtic at this stage.

We have a midfield more than capable of winning the title, double and treble. Had European football been on the cards after Christmas I might have understood, but that remains an unlikely possibility.

Right now Celtic need to carry on the charge with the team we do have. As I said before, we have a lot of fringe players who will need to either need to get an opportunity or move on temporarily or permanently.

This size of squad is not sustainable particularly if you want youth to flourish. So expect some exits as this team continues to grow.

As for Rugby Park tonight? Three points please Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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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

 

Celtic, Scotland and Andy Murray

I dunno. You go away for a few weeks and all your sporting interests lay in tatters.

Having spent the grand majority of my holiday in the wilderness of Canada, I’m just getting round to processing all that I’ve ‘missed’ over the last three weeks. It seems like the bottom has fell out of my world of sport.

This misery I speak of has a pecking order of course. With all of this bad news stacked up it makes it a little bit harder to digest.

In the grand scheme of things Andy Murray’s early exit from the US Open pales in comparison to my interests primarily in Celtic and secondly Scotland. All put together though it’s one big pot of pish.

Celtic’s exit from the Champions League play-offs was a sore one. I missed the first leg whilst on a flight but managed to tune in live for the second leg on TSN the following week.

Despite the sunshine, heat and humidity of that afternoon whilst on holiday, it turned out to be a dark and dismal day as the Champions League door closed on Celtic once more. In many ways being so far away helped me avoid the aftermath even if those in my immediate vicinity attempted to trivialise my pain.

So I ended up losing myself in a work of fiction called Ready Player One (recommended to me by a good friend, fellow geek and Hoops fan). In doing so I locked myself away from wife, child and in-laws simultaneously.

It offered a little escapism but my soul was hurting and my mind kept wandering back to the result. My next visit to planet Celtic came via my sister in law’s weak mobile signal just so I could check our Europa League fate.

I couldn’t stand not knowing our opponents. Group A will be a stern test for Celtic but I guess that’s what you want from European football right?

Having exited one European competition and parachuted into another it was inevitable that Virgil van Dijk would depart. Champions League football was the only ticket to keep him at Celtic Park this season or at the very least until January and as Ronny has said, Virgil unsurprisingly wanted to go last year.

Having played in 114 matches for Celtic and scored 15 goals his presence in the Celtic defence was significant and will be sorely missed. £13M is a good return and he has served Celtic well so I wish him all the very best with the rest of his career.

Staying with transfer news I was surprised by the amount of additional movement made by Celtic. More players out on loan and more players coming in.

Firstly was the acquisition of Jozo Šimunović. For an under-21 international defender £5.5M makes him either a signing coup or a modern day Rafael Scheidt.

I’m not trying to pre – judge the guy. I don’t know anything about him.

The price vs age bells are ringing in my head though. On the other hand it is good to see Celtic reinvesting some of the dough made from the sale of the Dutch player.

It is a positive sign from the board so hopefully this is money well spent. The club have shown further backing by bringing in two more defenders in Tyler Blackett and Ryan Christie.

The on loan Blackett will provide support to the defence and challenge for a spot next to Dedryck Boyata. With Christie being loaned back to Inverness he will not have a say any time soon.

Although not a total surprise, I thought loaning of Stefan Šćepović was questionable. Despite misfiring for Celtic no replacement has been acquired.

With Anthony Stokes staying put for now, Celtic have three active forwards. My issue with Stokes is that he’s been frozen out and more importantly not an out and out striker.

I consider him more of a wide player or playing off the front man. Therefore Leigh Griffiths and Nadir Çiftçi must bear the responsibility as the club’s only strikers.

Young Eoghan O’Connell’s loan to Oldham will do him the world of good. A chance at regular football and still a very good prospect for Celtic.

I was a bit disappointed with Darnell Fisher going on loan to St Johnstone though. I rate the guy and he has done a good job when called upon so not to see him challenging for the first team this season is a bit of let down given the work he’s put in these last few years.

Dylan McGeouch’s permanent switch to Hibs was no surprise though. His loan spell was relatively successful and he will be pleased to be able to focus his career after not really getting an opportunity at Celtic.

He began his career at Celtic, left for Rangers then was brought back by Neil Lennon. You can decide whether he was barely given a chance or wasn’t good enough but I though the guy had talent.

So now Celtic are now set up for the next few months with a fairly solid squad. What of Scotland and their quest for France 2016?

Well that’s hit the skids hasn’t it? I haven’t seen any footage, just heard the backlash.

It was all going so well but that Georgia result was a shocker. The Germany game can be forgiven being that they are World Champions.

In order to remain in with chance of a play off spot, Scotland need to close a gap of four points. Republic of Ireland stand in their way and have the tougher games but this is an all too familiar scenario for Scotland fans.

We’ve been in this situation as far back as I watched the games with my dad. I still think Gordon Strachan is the man to get us to a finals but we shot ourselves in the foot with this campaign after doing so well.

It ain’t over till it’s over the say. Well, I won’t get my scants in a twist if we don’t make a play-off spot but I’ll be presently surprised if it does go wee Gordon’s way.

Back to the here and now though ad tomorrow’s game against Aberdeen. We’ll be able to see how far Derek McInnes and his squad have come from last season.

The Dons ran with Celtic most of the way in the Scottish Premiership which was good for the league. However, they failed to beat Ronny Deila’s side on four meetings, having lost all four to the Hoops.

We’ll see just how far they’ve come since then. Most of all, I’m looking forward to casting my eyes over our new players.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Çiftçi and McGeady?

I don’t know what I am more alarmed about. That Celtic have reportedly made a bid for Nadir Çiftçi or that Aiden McGeady is rumoured to be returning to Paradise.

Firsty, lets talk about Nadir Çiftçi. On the face of things it looks like a mediocre move for Celtic.

The Turkish striker has made a name for himself at Dundee United and in Scottish football, particularly against Celtic. I’d say he is a key player for McNamara’s team but is he really up to the job at Celtic or in Europe?

Well, lets go a wee bit deeper. At 23 years old, this is a young striker playing regular football in Scotland for the last two seasons.

Prior to his arrival in Scotland Çiftçi had spells with Portsmouth, Kayserispor and NAC Breda. He has also been capped at under-17 level by the Netherlands and under-19 level by Turkey, the latter being his actual place of birth.

Ironically, he was convinced to switch allegiances to Turkey by Guus Hiddink, a Dutchman. He was Turkey manager at the time and evidently liked what he saw.

In my total ignorance before today’s blog, I thought Çiftçi was an older player but that may just be the beard! That got me thinking – does Ronny see this guy with greater potential?

Well, it still sounds like another gamble, something Celtic have done a lot with strikers these last few years. However, he does have good experience playing in Scotland which is one less risk.

Does this guy have more to offer? Are Celtic going to raise the bid?

Elsewhere, rumours have begun to circulate about Aiden McGeady. He left Celtic five years ago for a whopping fee of £9.5M.

At the time I thought this was superb business by the club. Many saw it as Celtic cashing and I had no argument about that then or now.

For me McGeady was a one trick pony who had one amazing season at the club. Despite his flare, it rarely had an end product and his place in the team was always under scrutiny.

Crossing the ball was not his thing either despite it actually being his job on matchdays. In fact, I think his best position may have been playing off the front man but I didn’t see him given that role too often.

In the back of my mind, yes it would be interesting to see him play in the Hoops again. On the other hand, has he actually improved since leaving Celtic in 2010?

As I said in a forum thread last night, if his career had blossomed since leaving would we even be talking about a potential move back to Celtic? I doubt it because he would be priced out of such a move whereas now, people think he might have to lower his demands such is his career dip.

Now after a three-and-a-half year spell in Moscow and just over a year with Everton he has apparently put in a transfer request. Given that his appearances have been limited at Everton I’d say he’s done the right thing for himself but is Celtic really on the radar or is this pure speculation?

I think McGeady will have matured in his five years since leaving Celtic. I know many would like to see him back, but there’s an equal amount (if not more) who wouldn’t.

Fancy tricks aren’t everything in this game and it doesn’t win you matches. You need to be able to deliver and that is where my frustration with McGeady lies.

Throw in the fact that coming back is rarely, if ever, a good thing and I think you have your answer. The way forward for Aiden is not the way back so perhaps this should remain a rumour.

Tomorrow Celtic take on FC Den Bosch at St Mirren Park. I’m desperate to see the Hoops play again.

I’m also looking forward to seeing some fringe players getting a chance to shine. For some players, it may be the last or close to last time we see them don the Hoops as Ronny aims to trim the squad so I’ll be tuning in for sure.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Strachan v O’Neill: Round 2

When former Celtic managers Gordon Strachan and Martin O’Neill went head to head on their old stomping ground last November, it was Scotland who took all three points. Shaun Maloney, a player for both managers during his club career, scored a terrific goal in that game to keep Scotland on level points with Germany.

With half of the Group D fixtures now played, Scotland will be looking to increase that points total and retain 3rd place in the group to keep the pressure on 1st and 2nd. A victory is not out of the question this evening and personally I don’t think I’ve seen a more confident or competent Scotland team with potential in recent years.

What I find most encouraging though is that this Scotland squad have yet to peak. Generally you won’t get a passionate crescendo from Gordon Strachan but I do see his work ethic coming through.

Influencing the players at his disposal to flourish and flow is not far away. Who knows, we may even see something special in Dublin this evening.

Poland (1st) and Germany (2nd) are odds on to win their games against Georgia (5th) and Gibraltar (6th) respectively. So the importance of this match could not be clearer.

It doesn’t add any more pressure though. Results during group stage qualifying on the international scene can be unpredictable at the best of times.

I doubt many expected Germany to lose to Poland in October or even Wales to beat Belgium on Friday night. Strange things can and will happen as Strachan himself knows as a player and a manager.

The Republic of Ireland have home advantage and the shorter odds going into tonight’s tie. The spirit amongst the Scotland squad right now though is positive.

I have complete faith in Gordon Strachan and what he is trying to achieve. He knows what it is like to wear the Scotland Jersey and was a brilliant player for club and country.

His knowledge of the game goes beyond match day tactics and dressing room pep talks. Strachan’s analysis and perception of football comes across as simplistic and direct but it’s because of his in depth knowledge of fitness and discipline in the game.

The Scotland job is his fifth managerial role but not all jobs have been fortuitous for him. Players can go through a similar experience and sometimes you have to admit that certain relationships just aren’t meant to be.

For me, the Scotland job is ideal for Gordon as it allows him to impart a wide range of experience in a non-complicated manner during a small window of opportunity. International football doesn’t afford you the preparation time club football does so your approach must be effective and efficient.

This current European campaign is an important one for Scotland and so far I cannot complain about their efforts. The challenge of qualifying remains a tough one though and if achieved it would be the first tournament Scotland would have made since France 98 coincidentally.

Tonight’s game could go either way and I’m already on the edge. Let there be no doubt though, Scotland are more than capable of beating the odds and sealing the points.

A third place finish in Group D secures a play off place at the very least. A victory tonight would help Scotland on their way but they are still capable of finishing in the top two.

Poland have yet to lose a game with the only points dropped being against Scotland and Republic of Ireland. Both matches were draws though I’m sure Scotland will feel the happier given that they were away from home and it came off the back of the Pole’s beating Germany three days earlier.

Talking of the Germany, I expect a firm response from the World Champions now. They’ll only get stronger and having played them away early in qualifying, I’m glad the next time Scotland face them will be in Glasgow.

In fact, the same goes for Poland. When that tie comes around it will also be in Glasgow.

A good result tonight will set Gordon and his squad up for the final push in September and October. All eyes are on Dublin this evening!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Waiting for a decent match

During the international break, football fans find themselves divided. Some will tune in or travel to follow their country whilst others a dislike of the whole bout of fixtures.

As a Celtic fan, I’ve always followed Scotland. I’m not in the Tartan Army league but I always had time for Scotland (except when they’ve had really awful managers).

Last night Scotland played Northern Ireland but I wasn’t all that interested. International friendlies are,for the most part, tiresome.

I don’t mind meaningful qualifiers and of late Gordon Strachan has reignited the fires . So I’m happy to wait until Sunday’s encounter with Gibraltar to get on board.

If anything, I think friendlies could be played behind doors. They’re good for the players but not always for fans.

On the subject of meaningful matches, I tuned into El Clásico on Sunday. As far as huge fixtures go, this is one of the best and yet I always find the same disappointment.

Diving.

When I was growing up folk used to go on about the dirty South Americans and the divers from Italy, Spain etc etc. Whilst the former may be a distant memory (except maybe Honduras in last year’s World Cup Finals) the latter is still in full flow today.

El Clásico had plenty of antics going on last Sunday. I get that its part of a culture with some countries but its a negative one.

I tune into these matches hoping to be dazzled by the things that Scottish football cannot produce. So when I see guys billed to be the best in the world, falling over holding some part of their body Family Guy style is a little embarassing to watch.

If you’re not very good and you need all you can to get the game, fair enough. These guys earn a fortune though and have global exposure, yet collapse with all the drama of an injured ballerina.

Its a total disgrace to football and its crept into the game in the England. That may be to do with the influx of huge salaried foreign ‘stars’, in fact it is.

Lets hope it doesn’t become prevalent  in Scottish football. We need a helping hand now and again but this we can do without.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Light at the end of the tunnel

These past two months have been a hard slog for Ronny Deila. At the same time, its been tough for Celtic supporters to watch.

In August I decided that I wasn’t going to get worked up about Celtic’s early season form and I said as much in my Celtic circle. With the team being developed I wasn’t going to get too upset too soon so would just let Ronny Deila get on with it.

As October approaches I look back on the campaign so far and what Deila has had to endure. A new manager at a big club, new players, some uncertain futures to contend with, late arrivals and the weight of expectation firmly on his shoulders.

The Champions League, now forgotten for another season. The Europa League, our fall back (and probably better suited for now) competition now under way.

Throughout this early stage of the season, Deila has had injuries to contend with. On top of that, he hadn’t played a single match at Celtic Park until Celtic’s thirteenth fixture (friendly and competitive) which was a home tie against Dundee United, a 6-1 slaughtering of Jackie McNamara’s current league leaders.

Following those opening two league victories, the first being a 3-0 away win over St Johnstone, Celtic hit the skids. After the Legia Warsaw reprieve, a major distraction, Celtic received a further blow at the hands of Maribor and failed to reach the Champions League group stage.

League form suffered, with one defeat away to Inverness and a draw at Dundee. After the international break Celtic bounced back with a 2-1 win over Aberdeen at Celtic Park.

Then came the Europa League and with it, an away draw. Something I would have settled for before kick off.

Then Motherwell visited that weekend and earned a draw. It wasn’t pleasing for the home crowd as the boos rang around Celtic Park.

With fans questioning Deila’s rotation of players, frustration was beginning to emit from sections of the support. The game against Hearts was important for Deila’s treble chances and this game had been mooted as a make or break tie.

It was a convincing performance by Celtic and one that Ronny Deila must now build upon. Saturday’s early kick off against St Mirren is another vital one for Celtic for consistency purposes if nothing else .

As the season has progressed there appears to be less disruption for Deila. The transfer window has been closed several weeks, new players are bedding in, European fixtures confirmed etc etc.

What we need to be mindful of as ‘supporters’ is that Ronny Deila is trying to develop a team as he sees it. He’s had to do that with no end of disruption along with an expectation of instant success.

It’s not to say that Ronny, his coaches and the squad are out of the woods just yet. There is however, a calmness and focus now that Deila can see which players he has and what they are capable of.

Now all he needs is our support. He’s says he has done tinkering with the team and that’s fine, I had no problem with him doing that at this point in the campaign.

A lunch time victory on today would go down nicely along with the last two results. It would also give Deila a positive boost ahead of next Thursday’s Europa League match against Dinamo Zagreb at Celtic Park.

Lets take the fight to Paisley.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie