Back on form

A year ago, Celtic signed Dundee United duo Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong during the January transfer window. They made their joint debut memorable by each scoring a goal in that game against St Johnstone on February 11th which the Hoops won a comfortable 3-0 in Perth.

Mackay-Steven finished that half-season having played 15 times and scoring 4 goals. Armstrong played 17 times and scored 2 goals, one of which was against Inter Milan on his Celtic Park and European debut.

Yesterday, Celtic fans were reminded of some of that form from last season as both players netted at Celtic Park. The Hoops ran out 3-1 winners, coincidently against St Johnstone, with a double from Mackay-Steven and a superb volley from Armstrong.

Neither player has been among the key performers this season despite both playing almost 30 games each. However, they are not alone as the first half of the season has been rather unremarkable for Ronny Deila’s side.

Now, there is a glimmer that Celtic have turned a corner and at the right time and once again have restored the lead to 6 points over Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership. Throughout the season there have been a few players doing a fine job whilst others have been less than impressive.

To win the treble this season I said that it would take the rest of the squad to get their finger out. Prove to themselves as well as the fans and coaching staff that they have what it takes to play for Celtic.

Stuart Armstrong has been in good form this month and involved in much of the build up play which has brought goals. Almost as if they were joined at the hip, in steps Gary Mackay-Steven to have his say and suddenly looks like he was making his debut all over again.

After the Zig and Zag show yesterday, Leigh Griffiths must have been thinking “this is my show”. Though the in form striker was not among the goals against St Johnstone, he’ll back on the trail again very soon.

This return to form is well-timed given recent omissions from the Celtic team. Stefan Johansen dropped recently and not before time was back in for this match and well whilst in-form Tom Rogić had an injury.

With Scott Brown out for some time now and the long-term absentee Charlie Mulgrew unavailable as a utility player, Celtic have struggled in the midfield this season. It is only since some players have come back onto the scene such as Callum McGregor, that we’ve seen a surge in form.

Nir Bitton and Tom Rogić have carried the midfield all season and Leigh Griffiths has been essential to Celtic’s attack. Hopefully now we are starting to see the squad as a whole weigh in as Celtic push for their first treble in fifteen years.

To remain in the hunt for that Celtic must complete a run of six games in January by winning next Sunday. They take on Ross County at Hampden Park in the Semi Final of the League Cup and will be looking to continue their good form and make the final for the second year running.

Welcome back to form Zig and Zag. Now all we need is for Nadir Çiftç to find his shooting boots, some players back from injury and we might just have a fully performing squad!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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The gauntlet

The international break offered Celtic a chance to regroup before facing the final run of games in 2015. Despite many of Ronny Deila’s players not actually being on international duty, namely the Scottish contingent, they were held to a 0-0 draw at Celtic Park by Kilmarnock when domestic matter got under way once more at the weekend.

Frustrating as that was, Celtic have still maintained their six point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership. Hearts and Aberdeen also drew their matches which allowed fourth placed St Johnstone to close the gap on Aberdeen to 3 points, 10 behind Celtic.

There is a more pressing matter for Celtic to to contend with though. It takes place tomorrow night at Celtic Park on the Europa League stage.

Ajax visit Glasgow for the penultimate Group A fixture. The result of this match will have a big say on whether Celtic still have a chance to progress or if the remaining fixture against Fenerbahçe is a dead rubber.

Celtic drew with Ajax in Amsterdam two months ago. Having succumbed to a late equaliser after leading the match twice, I think most would say that we reasonably upbeat about how the rest of the campaign would go.

How wrong we were. Another draw, this time at home to Fenerbahçe and two straight defeats against Molde have hurt our campaign and any morale we had left.

On Thursday win for Celtic is essential. Victory would put Celtic on 5 points and if Molde can muster another win, Ronny Deila would be in with a fighting chance of progressing.

Unfortunately for Celtic, this has been a lacklustre European campaign littered with defensive mishaps and tactical naivety. So called average clubs have been wiping the floor with Celtic for two years now and as yet we have still to see any progress from last season.

Having made the last 32 against Inter Milan earlier this year, the desire was to build upon that experience. That hasn’t happened this season and the best we can hope for is equalling that but it remains a a difficult task.

Two wins would put Celtic through for sure but having failed to notch up a single win so far, there are no guarantees the team will finally click now. They are 6 points short of earning the 8 points that got them through in second spot last season and in order to qualify it will likely take the same amount this time around.

There is a spark missing from this team right now but there are players in the squad who have the ability to deliver. We just haven’t seen it or at least not enough of it.

Among the bright sparks this season have been Griffiths, Bitton, Rogić, Tierney and at times Forrest. We need to see everyone else doing the same though and those who aren’t performing, dropped.

If Ronny Deila is to salvage any hopes of a dismal European campaign he will need to need motivate his squad, make the right selection of players and tactics and adapt within the game. It’s not too late but he to rectify a lot before we kick off tomorrow night.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Celtic in Europe: a trip down memory lane

With Celtic’s first Europa League tie coming up on Thursday away to Ajax, many of the club’s fans are hoping for the best but preparing the worst. The club’s Champions League exit and away defeat to ten man Aberdeen at the weekend has caused ill feeling to resurface against Ronny Deila and his back room staff.

‘Clueless’ and ‘naive’ are two of the kinder words expressed to characterise his squad selection and tactics of late. Criticism has, and not for the first time, also been levelled at the boardroom and more specifically Peter Lawwell on several matters including player purchases and finances.

As one fellow blogger wrote, this is exactly the kind of supporter reaction you tend to see when the chips are down. I’ve omitted some of the more absurd gestures and comments I’ve read as they don’t deserve an airing on here.

Little blame has been directed toward the playing squad. In fact many supporters have even chosen to lay off the referees.

Player and officials have not been completely overlooked though. They’ve just slid down the pecking order behind coaching staff and the men in suits.

Losing is part of the game. Without it, there would be no glory in winning.

Win all the time? Predictable.

Where would we be without the highs ‘n’ lows of football? Sitting in domestic bliss for an unchallenged eternity no doubt.

Celtic and their deceased rivals have done enough of that between themselves. With Celtic the key player in a leanly contested league, losing isn’t a disaster – it’s good for the game.

The Champions League was what we all craved this season and missing out on this is a different story altogether. Winning that competition is out of reach but that goal coupled with the revenue and media exposure is what motivates everyone and drives us forward.

So the disappointment at not being in the group phase is something we all share and suffer from – club, coach, player and boardroom member. Before the Champions League ship had even sailed for Celtic, some people asked the question that if Deila should fail at the second time of asking, would he deserve a third?

In answer to that I would say that all depends on how this season goes. I’m still opposed to ousting the Norwegian coach and more interested in seeing how Celtic respond between now and Christmas, particularly in the Europa League.

We should remember that despite two failed attempts at reaching the Champions League group phase we are still in Europe. It may not be the Champions League but we have now been in the Europa League for two years running now.

Every Celtic manager in the past has had mixed fortunes in Europe. For a look at those stuttered beginnings, lets take a trip down memory lane.

Martin O’Neill made it through to the second round of the UEFA Cup in his first season at Celtic having played three rounds in total. The following season he would fair better by taking the club into the Champions League group stage for the first time in their history.

A 3-1 win for O’Neill in Amsterdam took everyone by surprise. Losing the home leg 1-0 was of little consequence.

Despite winning all three group phase home matches that season, no points were picked up on the road. Celtic finished third and parachuted into the UEFA Cup where after an aggregate score of 1-1 with Valencia, lost 5-4 on penalties at Celtic Park, denying them a place in the fourth round.

Unlike today’s set-up, all of those fixtures took place before Christmas so Celtic were out of Europe by December. I can’t imagine cramming all of that in these days!

In the season that followed, O’Neill exited the Champions League qualification campaign at the hands of Basel. That twist of fate would set Celtic on the memorable UEFA Cup run taking the club to the final in Seville in 2003.

Like Lisbon and Milan before, these are memorable achievements which the club’s history is built upon, even if they were not all winning finals. Seville in particular helped put Celtic back on the European map and would be Martin’s legacy.

In the aftermath of that defeat at the hands of Mourinho’s cheating Porto, O’Neill would have another crack at the Champions League. Despite some thrilling encounters in the group phase of the 2003-2004 Champions League, Celtic came up short and parachuted into the UEFA Cup once more.

After successfully navigating two rounds of that competition, including an aggregate 1-0 win over Barcelona, Celtic faced Villarreal in the Quarter Final. Sadly, they lost out to the Spanish side who would then be ousted themselves by another Spanish team in the shape of Valencia who would eventually go on to win the tournament.

In Martin O’Neill’s final season, he would make the group phase of the Champions League one more time. With legend Henrik Larsson having said his farewells to the club, it was somewhat ironic and painful that he would face Celtic in a Barcelona jersey and score against us at Celtic Park.

That was the low point in what was a poor European campaign that saw Celtic finish fourth in the group with one win and five points. It was the end of an era for Celtic and for Martin O’Neill.

Then came Gordon Strachan and a new wave of European drama. At the first time of asking Gordon exited Europe in big style.

Losing 5-0 away to Artmedia Bratislava was a devastating blow to winning over the fans. A 4-0 home win wasn’t enough to level the playing field or keep Celtic in Europe.

Strachan had already caused ripples amongst large sections of the support just by being the new manager. Some had it in for him from the beginning.

Having still managed to win the league that season though, Celtic entered the Champions League group phase without any qualifying rounds. Not only did Strachan turn over some great results, he took Celtic to the last sixteen of the tournament for the first time in their history.

He had succeeded where O’Neill had failed. Results had conspired against O’Neill but not for Strachan it seemed.

Celtic would eventually lose out against AC Milan 1-0 on aggregate after extra time in the round of sixteen. However, the Italian’s would go on to win the tournament for the seventh time by beating Liverpool.

When you look at it that way, that’s a damn good effort by Celtic and Strachan. The two teams would come to meet again the following season.

A memorable Champions League qualifying round against Spartak Moscow saw Celtic into the group phase again. There they would face Milan and in the dying moments of the Celtic Park tie, they beat the European Champions 2-1.

That difficult win was key in securing second spot and a place in the last sixteen for the second successive season. Celtic would face Barcelona in the knock-out round, a team they had beaten and been beaten by in recent times.

The Catalan giants were beginning to emerge as one of the best teams in Europe. They beat Celtic home and away 4-2 on aggregate but they themselves would exit the tournament in the Semi Finals at the hands of eventual Champions League winners, Manchester United.

Gordon Strachan would finish his third Champions League campaign and final season just as Martin O’Neill had. Celtic secured just 5 points and one win finishing fourth in their group.

Despite that humbling season, Strachan had taken Celtic a step forward in Europe. Many had despaired at the quality of football and I would to agree to a certain extent.

However, we had some great European nights under Gordon and some very respectable victories. The last sixteen was now the benchmark for the next manager and would be his legacy.

Unfortunately the Celtic challenge would now fall to Tony Mowbray. He managed to take down Dinamo Moscow 2-1 on aggregate in their first qualifying round but they would be comprehensively disposed of by Arsenal 5-1 on aggregate the next.

That meant a first time experience for Celtic in the Europa League. Celtic finished third in the group phase in a season which saw Mowbray sacked after a poor domestic campaign.

Then came Neil Lennon, like Mowbray a fans favourite as a player, but less experience in the dug out. First he was appointed as caretaker, then given the reigns that summer.

In his first full season, Lennon would exit both the Champions League (to SC Braga) and Europa League (to FC Utrecht) tournaments in the qualifying rounds. It was rather humbling but not a total surprise given his lack of experience as a coach.

The following season FC Sion stood in the way of Lennon and the Europa League group phase. He would have failed once more had it not been for a breach of a UEFA ruling by the Swiss club.

Having fielded ineligible players during the ties with Celtic, FC Sion were excluded from the tournament and Celtic were reinstated despite being beaten by the Swiss club. This allowed Lennon a crack at the group phase of a European tournament as a head coach.

It was a pivotal season for Lennon on home soil as well as on foreign. Celtic would eventually finish third in their group.

Although a largely disappointing campaign, the 1-1 match against Rennes over in France was one of two games that season that marked a turning point for Lennon’s Celtic career. The other game was a domestic match away to Kilmarnock which finished 3-3, five days earlier.

These games turned the tide for Lennon. In both matches Celtic were away from home and had to come from behind to earn a draw.

Lennon later stated that after being 3-0 down to Kilmarnock at half-time he seriously though about chucking in the towel. Having gone down 1-0 to Rennes, thanks to an audacious Cha Du-Ri own goal, the same thoughts must have been going through his head.

Celtic fought back to claim a draw in both matches though. They would go on to win the league that season having gone on an unbeaten run in the league beginning with that draw against Kilmarnock.

What would follow in season 2012-2013 was an excellent campaign in the Champions League. Having qualified via two rounds, Celtic were paired once more with Barcelona and Benfica in the group phase of this tournament with recent knock out phase opponents Spartak Moscow completing the list of opponents.

Before the group phase got under way, Celtic were given little chance of finishing third, let alone second by the critics. As it was they would beat the odds and finish second behind Barcelona having beaten the Catalan giants 2-1 at Celtic Park in one of the most memorable matches for Celtic in the modern-day.

Lennon had achieved the impossible. After two previously disappointing seasons in Europe, it was a real turnaround.

Celtic made the last sixteen of the Champions League for only the third time. Even though they would go down in the knock-out round to Juventus, it was against all odds that Celtic got their in the first place.

It was a testimony to the perseverance of the Northern Irishman after a long period where trouble off the field would dominate the headlines and threaten the life of himself and his family. Lennon showed great character and with the backing of the fans and the club beat the evil that has plagued football.

The next season would be tough on the park though. Despite three rounds of qualifiers, Celtic made the Champions League group phase but this was the group of death.

Ajax, Barcelona and Milan were the opponents. Celtic won one match losing the other five.

This would be the club’s worst Champions League tournament in history. In fairness to Neil Lennon, the club had sold three of their best players before the group phase got under way and were not suitably equipped with replacements.

And so Lennon left after that season and in came Ronny Deila. We know his story and this season Europe has been similar to the last with the exception of the Legia Warsaw fiasco of course.

Having looked at O’Neill, Strachan, Mowbray and Lennon’s experiences in Europe I don’t think Deila deserves to be shown the door. O’Neill and Strachan didn’t have a blistering start to their Celtic careers in Europe.

Mowbray’s didn’t cover himself in glory or have much of a legacy to speak of. Lennon’s had a very poor start but he came good even if he came up short in the end.

For Ronny Deila, missing out on the Champions League two season in a row has overshadowed making the Europa League group two years running. When you also consider he got to the last sixteen at the first time if asking, only losing out narrowly to Inter Milan in the end, I think it is harsh to be calling for his head.

In times like this when morale is low we should be supporting the team. Not slaying it from boardroom to dressing room.

Unlike many bloggers and forum frolickers, I choose to support Ronny and his back room team. I give me backing to the squad as well, even if I do have some criticisms I would like to share.

Let the players and coaching staff rectify the Champions League exit by giving them a chance in the Europa League. Similarly, let the domestic season unfold as it should.

A defeat on Thursday would not be game over. A win is not a guarantee of qualification either.

It’s all about the bigger picture and we must remain positive. There’s more hard work to be done so let’s not throw in the towel just yet.

Let’s see how things play out. We’ll have a better idea of where we are by Christmas.

If we’re still going strong then we’ll see how the season has gone come May. Should people still want to ask about that third chance base it on the two seasons that will hopefully then be completed by Deila.

Keep the faith.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Back in training, back in Iceland.

Celtic will return to Iceland next month to face Stjarnan F.C. The draw for the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League has paired Ronny Deila with Icelandic opposition for the second year running.

With neither team having faced each other before, both will be doing their homework with European football at stake. Many will feel this is a tie Celtic are more than capable of winning comfortably but Stjarnan will be using last seasons Europa League qualifiers as a base to progress.

Stjarnan F.C. overcame Bangor City, Motherwell and Lech Poznań only to exit at the hands of Celtic’s Europa League victors Inter Milan in the play off round. However, Celtic swept aside KR Reykjavík at the same stage of Champions League qualifying last season and will feel confident they can do the same to the current Icelandic champions.

The Icelandic season runs from May to September and as a result, Stjarnan have already played 8 league matches. They are currently sitting in sixth place having won 3, drawn 2, lost 2 with 10 goals for 10 goals against.

Despite winning the Úrvalsdeild title for the first time in 2014 their league form won’t be of too much interest to Celtic. It is the fact that they will have better match fitness by the time they face Ronny Deila’s side.

As for Celtic, they will be looking to be more convincing in qualifying than they were last year. Despite winning by a 5-0 aggregate score over KR Reykjavík last summer, Celtic were beaten comfortably 6-1 by Legia Warsaw in the round that followed.

It was only the incompetence of the Polish champions fielding an ineligible player that bought Celtic another crack at qualifying for the Champions League. Even that wasn’t enough, as Ronny Deila’s side lost out in the second leg at home 0-1 after completing a respectable 1-1 draw in the first leg away to Maribor.

As disappointing as that was, there was still Europa League football to be had. This was also a much more suited tournament for Celtic at this point as much as it may have been hard to admit at the time.

With a change of manager and a serious modification to the way players trained, ate and slept, the Champions League could have been a total disaster. One year on, I think both Ronny and the players are now ready to field last seasons progress against the best.

I will highlight the fact that Celtic are not the finished article and still require a handful of players to make the team a solid force. These players now have a season under their belts though and have made some headway.

We’re all desperate to hear that music again. There can be no doubt it is what the Celtic family want to be involved in every season.

The challenge is to face the best and match them on the night. Special things can happen on the Champions League nights, especially at Paradise.

A solid qualifying campaign and a few extra signings before deadline day will be most welcome. As the players were back in training today they will be thinking about that.

Before that we will have the chance to see the Bhoy’s in action against FC Den Bosch, FK Dukla Prague and Real Sociedad de Fútbol. All ties are to played at St Mirren Park whilst Celtic Park has some stadium work carried out.

The most important thing is that Celtic will be back at Paradise for any of the home legs in the qualifying rounds. Although it wasn’t the reason behind last years dismal showing, I think many would agree that they’d rather have seen Celtic stage a revival at Celtic Park than Murrayfield.

So now it is down to the Bhoy’s to get stuck in at training and get some practice in these upcoming friendlies. There’s a pot of gold waiting for the club in September but they’ll have to work hard to get there.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Guidetti should be indebted to Celtic

Yes, that’s what I said. Indebted.

You might ask why that may be if you’re not of the Celtic persuasion. Well, I’ll explain.

John Guidetti came to Celtic on loan just as the summer 2014 transfer window came to a close. Up until then he had little other than a few loan spells under his belt which included IF Brommapojkarna (the club where he began his career), Burnley, Feyenoord and Stoke City.

That spell at Feyenoord was productive but he returned to parent club Manchester City after an incomplete season. Having never established himself in Sweden or England his career has not yet taken off.

Celtic offered him that opportunity and immediately hit the ground running. As I’ve said in the past, we all liked what we saw.

Frustratingly, he was ineligible for European competition but his domestic form was drawing praise from the support. He had charisma and we all sensed there was something about this guy.

What we soon discovered though was that he had his own agenda. The more Celtic were convinced by his form, the nearer a deal came to being ratified for a permanent signature.

It’s not too often Celtic make such a move. The club have let many a player slip through their fingers but to be fair to the board, they moved swiftly.

What they didn’t bargain for was Guidetti stalling. Not only did he stall, he decided to hawk himself to other clubs.

This public show of availability to clubs in Italy and the Netherlands drew a different sort of reaction. Celtic fans were no longer behind this guy, they were beginning to feel betrayed.

Guidetti isn’t the first player to do this to Celtic. In fact, you could say he’s now joined an elite bunch of former servants.

The difference is, I feel Celtic deserved a chance with this player. The club did all the right things and Guidetti threw it back in their faces.

For a talented player, he has yet to establish himself at any one club. He has the skill but the mindset is questionable.

Perhaps the signs were already there and we all failed to see them. At the end of his first contract with Manchester City, he apparently struck a deal to join FC Twente.

At this time, Manchester City offered him another contract and eventually stayed. FC Twente debated that their contract was legitimate but that would be the end of it.

Ironically, Guidetti moved on loan to Feyenoord not long after signing that first team contract with City. It was a productive time for him in Rotterdam but illness marred the remainder of that loan spell and he returned to Manchester.

After recovering from illness, he went out on loan again. This time it would be Premier League club, Stoke City.

There he would vent his frustration at lack of appearances. Most of which was levelled at manager Mark Hughes.

So what has Guidetti achieved then? Well, his only honours to date have come from one season at Celtic.

He threw away the opportunity to build upon that success. Even after scoring against Inter Milan on the European stage, he still had a chance to resurrect a permanent move but he would continue to flaunt himself to other clubs.

At the League Cup Final he would spit the dummy out on the field of play. His reluctance to celebrate winning his first ever club honour was the end of the affair.

In many respects Celtic may have got off lightly here though. Despite his talent, Guidetti clearly has some issues.

He has cited a lack of challenging games on the domestic front with Celtic being an issue for his international career. Domestic football isn’t always what we want it to be though.

It doesn’t matter which club you play for. Every league has its fair share of poor fixtures.

Real Madrid might be a big club but do you think they face a huge challenge week in week out? I mean, Celtic may be the best team in Scotland, but they haven’t exactly wiped the floor with teams this season particularly when Guidetti was starting games and it has been a challenging season.

In fact the Swede played in probably the toughest period of the season gone. When Guidetti lost his place, Celtic grew stronger though.

With that in mind, it actually makes his spate of form look less influential. Aside from that goal against Inter, his influence ended long before Christmas 2014.

If John Guidetti wants a decent club career, then he will need to do some serious self assessment. He appears to have a high opinion of himself but lacks the mental ability and dedication to conduct himself in a professional manner.

Like Feyenoord, Celtic gave this guy a solid chance. Once more, a club has helped him raise his profile.

Adjö John.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Progress and Silverware for Deila

Celtic kicked off a busy weekend of sport on Friday night. By Saturday, they had won the title without even kicking a ball.

After beating an uninspiring Dundee side 5-0 at Celtic Park, it was a case of sitting back and seeing how the Dundee United v Aberdeen match turned out. The Dons failed to keep the title challenge up by losing 1-0 to Jackie McNamara’s side and in doing so, gift wrapping the title for Celtic.

It would have been a huge match to have gone to Pittodrie next weekend and tried to seal the league there. Though I can’t imagine any Celtic player or official is too disappointed that the hard work put in this season has paid off whilst they were on a rest day.

Celtic are champions for the fourth successive season. For Ronny Deila, it could be the first of many.

The best thing about this seasons title is that it did not come easy. It has been a season of change and improvement under new leadership.

In the early days of Ronny Deila’s tenure it was about preparation for the long road to European qualification. Four friendlies in nine days before taking on KR Reykjavik in a Champions League qualifier was the initial task for Celtic’s new head coach.

He overcame that first hurdle home and away before falling at the next. We all know the story of the Legia Warsaw ties.

They left a scar on proceedings for the months that would follow. Any further slips by Deila would be referenced with the matches against Poland’s champions.

Even with a second bite at the cherry, Celtic came off the worst. They lost to NK Maribor at home after earning a draw away in the first leg.

For many Celtic fans this was unacceptable. It was a closer affair than the Warsaw results but the outcome was an unhappy one for the support.

The European story didn’t end there though. Another opportunity was secured by parachuting into the second tier of European club competition.

Far from the arena most football fans desire, the Europa League was probably the best option for a team in transition. This wasn’t the view shared by all Celtic fans but it was most definitely mine.

The Champions League is where it is at but in my opinion it was too early for Deila and his plans. It may have brought big cash, but it may also have delivered further humiliation.

On the domestic front Celtic had won their first two matches but would drop points in four of their next ten games. That and the games at hand scenario left Celtic in an unfamiliar position in the league table.

This also left many Celtic supporters in no doubt that Ronny Deila should be shown the door. Despite that opinion, Celtic stuck by Deila and showed no sign of disenchantment.

When Celtic players spoke of Deila in interviews, they too demonstrated support of his methods. A lot of tinkering was being done with the squad as the head coach was getting to know the personnel and their strength and weakness.

Again, this made Deila unpopular as he was leaving out guys like Kris Commons, a fans favourite. What many of the Celtic support were lacking though was patience and seeing the bigger picture.

It wasnt as though Celtic were in a drastic situation. They were still in four competitions.

What I had read about Deila and his methods was fascinating. I knew that there would be a lot of work going on in the background, even if the supporters weren’t seeing it.

That was why I was prepared to hold fire until Christmas and see what would come of the work being done behind the scenes. Whilst some of us waited patiently, the media attacked and mocked with some fans buying into what the media sell to them.

Enduring that has he did, only made me respect Ronny Deila more as he handled all who opposed without offering an opinion. I watched the media goad him and some fellow supporters call for his head but I was encouraged by his focus on raising standards even if it wasn’t on show just yet.

In Europe, Celtic were earning points in the Europa League and keeping in with a chance of making the last 32. Then came a game that would be pivotal in  Celtic’s domestic progress.

That twelfth game of the season up at Pittodrie was significant as Celtic rose to the task. A 2-1 away win over Aberdeen finally put Celtic at the summit of the Scottish Premiership.

It had taken a dozen games to get there but it was a breakthrough for Ronny Deila. Despite going into an international break after this, it would be a spring board for the rest of the campaign.

I knew there would be points dropped as the season continued but the hard graft was beginning to pay off. Changes began to take place in the team and there were positive signs that the players were beginning to tick.

The end to 2014 saw Celtic lose and draw their final two games of the year but things were still on the up. A last 32 spot against historical rivals Inter Milan awaited us in February and the league title was anything but the foregone conclusion it had been for the last two seasons.

At last Ronny Deila was beginning to see some of the hard work he had put in pay off. Positive player attitudes were now growing within the squad.

Kris Commons, Nir Bitton and Leigh Griffiths were three of the best examples of players who had knuckled down. Commons signed another contract after it looked as though he was on his way out, Griffiths made himself a serious contender for first choice striker admist former favourite Guidetti whoring himself to any club but Celtic and Bitton embossed himself as a regular starter for midfield.

The tide was turning and even though all were not aboard the Deila bus, the silence was deafening. Where were the Ronny haters now?

With a treble still on the cards and Europe still on the fixture list, 2015 was looking pretty good. The additions of Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven from Dundee United made Celtic an even stronger unit.

As the weeks rolled by and the results came in Celtic were purring along nicely. Exiting Europe at the hands of Inter Milan by a very narrow margin was tough to take but Celtic pursued that first trophy of the season.

Having disposed of Rangers in the semi final, Celtic took on Dundee United in the final of the League Cup. This came amongst a run of four straight fixtures against the Terrors and despite having to replay a Scottish Cup quarter final, Celtic emerged triumphant.

With the first of the silverware already residing at Celtic Park, Ronny Deila set about obtaining the remaining two. That required focus and determination which Celtic had plenty of by this stage in the season.

The league was taking care of itself but the Scottish Cup offered a different challenge altogether. The semi final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle would throw up one of the major talking points of the season.

As we are now aware, the farce that surrounded that ‘honest mistake’ cast a shadow over the reputation of Scottish footballs already deplorable standards. The fact that Celtic asked for clarification on the match referees actions demonstrated just how bad the media are in Scotland with their personal criticism of Peter Lawwell.

The negative press levelled at Celtic is nothing new but they should have focussed more on just how catastrophic an error it was. An error missed by not one but two match officials each with a clear line of sight.

No matter, for Celtic went about their business in a professional manner for the rest of the game. Despite that incident and Celtic’s own red card, I take nothing away from Inverness or their Scottish Manager of the Year, John Hughes.

The treble was not to be but the double is now in the hands of Celtic. With three games remaining it has been a challenging season across four competitions.

Celtic have emerged from early season trauma to cross the finish line with the most important of domestic silverware, the Premiership title. Ronny Deila, who was back in his homeland for a family celebration when the Aberdeen result came in must have been ecstatic.

He has proved the doubters wrong and the best thing? Ronny’s just got started.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

The wind of change

The significance of events between 2014-2015 at Celtic could turn out to be a pivotal time for the club. At the beginning of 2014, the league title looked destined for Celtic Park and fans were in for another anti-climatic finish for a second consecutive season.

There were many fixtures still to be played but Celtic would tie up the league the earliest it has been done since before World War II. Having exited Europe before Christmas 2013, Celtic had maintained an unbeaten run and record amount of shut-outs by Fraser Forster (setting a new record in the process), both of which would grind to a halt against Aberdeen, their closest rivals.

In the January transfer window, Celtic bought Leigh Griffiths, a player whose off-field antics did not resonate well among the fan base, mine in particular. The timing of the move seemed unnecessary given that the league looked to be coming Celtic’s way, but he was a relatively cheap acquisition for a proven goal scorer and Celtic had limited attacking options having already lost Gary Hooper the previous summer and still without an ample replacement.

He didn’t disappoint either and since then has proven himself valuable but I can’t change my disapproval of the time. In the same window, Stefan Johansen joined the ranks and displayed the kind of energy you expect from an attacking midfielder.

His ability was recognisable as soon as he set foot in the team but there would be more come from him in the season that followed. However, it was the announcement that Johan Mjallby would depart that summer that became the focal point of Celtic’s future.

This raised concern and speculation about Lennon’s situation. With his assistant coach eyeing the exit door some felt Lennon would follow Mjallby but I wasn’t totally convinced at the time.

Lennon later announced that he would also be leaving and I wondered how long this had been coming. He had endured the worst of times as a footballer and head coach whilst at Celtic.

Death threats, bomb threats and physical and verbal attacks by opposing fans surrounded the Northern Irishman because of his nationality, religion and club of choice. These acts remain a cancer in Scotland and also its greatest shame in the modern day.

It is therefore quite astounding that Lennon left having won the biggest of battle of all – over his oppressors. He overcame all of it but I am sure the pain inflicted upon him and his family will remain forever.

As it was Lennon departed on a high having secured the league title for a third consecutive season. In the wake of his exit, Celtic are said to have courted many names, but I saw most of them as pure speculation.

I don’t doubt that initial contact was made with some potential candidates but to what extent is anyone’s guess. The man they settled on in the end was supposedly not first choice.

Realistically, a club won’t always get their first choice so that never bothered me in the slightest. In fact, if Celtic’s first choice was Roy Keane, as many have said (including himself), then I think the club dodged a bullet.

Celtic cast a net knowing that they had limited funds to offer in terms of salary, as well as for purchases in the transfer market. Yet it is no surprise that so many names are banded about given the culture, history and fan base that Celtic Football Club possess.

I think most would agree that despite the lure of such a big name, Roy Keane could have been a disastrous choice. Outside of the “favourite”, Celtic were looking at young, up and coming coaches rather than older experienced ones.

Ex-Celts would top that list if course but the man they would go for was unknown to all. Ronny Deila was a young, up and coming coach for sure but nobody had heard of him.

Again, that didn’t concern me to be honest and I was intrigued and somewhat surprised by Celtic’s bold move. This was out of character for the club but the more I read about what Deila had done since he moved into coaching, the more interested I became in who he was and he could do.

As it turned out, it would be no easy ride as some Celtic managers have found out but I remained a supporter of Ronny and his plans. He came from left field and went about getting his plan up and running but he faced many challenges.

Despite losing one of the club’s best players in Fraser Forster, the club had acquired Craig Gordon as a replacement but having been out of the game for so long could he fill the shoes of his predecessor? Deila would seek further additions to aid his quest but he would largely be assessing the current squad including Stefan Johansen who had worked under him at Strømsgodset.

Now you can make your own deduction from this story but it was speculated that Deila had initially been earmarked as a coach to come in and work with Lennon. Whether there is any truth in that or not is immaterial because the one thing we can safely assume is that Celtic had done their homework on Deila.

With the first season not even over you just don’t know how far this relationship can go but so far he has weathered the storm and come out fighting. There is never any guarantee of success when you appoint a new head coach so there is always risk.

Celtic didn’t opt for this Norwegian coach as a stab in the dark, but because his methods were fresh and new. And having watched Deila endure a slow start with high expectations, disgruntled fans and a less than supportive media you would have to say the club have stuck by their man.

He has won over most of his opponents, if not all of them. Wth the possibility of a treble in one of the most competitive Scottish domestic seasons in recent years, it will put to bed all of those doubters should that dream come to fruition.

The expectations placed upon Deila have been huge but it is no different to any other manager before him. Europe was a steep learning curve and in reality, it turned out to be a fairly positive experience for himself and the players.

Despite missing out on the Champions League, a tournament Celtic were sure to have been slaughtered in, the Europa League was an opportunity for these players to bed in under a new regime on continental soil. Reaching the last 32 was a boost for Deila and the fans and it even served up an old Italian foe.

The tie with Inter Milan gave everyone a taste of what we could expect should Celtic reach the group stage of the Champions League next season. And that has to be a target for Deila and the club because a domestic treble this season would provide the kind of momentum required to lead the team into the early European qualification round in the summer.

That said this season isn’t over as it was by this time last year, despite Aberdeen losing their own momentum in recent weeks. A gap has opened up in the Scottish Premiership but Celtic are not at a safe distance just yet.

The last eight games for Celtic will be a test of their mental and physical strength at this stage of the season, continuing today at Inverness. The squad is extremely strong right now a competition for places remains tight.

Its a healthy situation for Celtic currently and when you cast your mind back to September and October, it serves as a reminder that success doesn’t come overnight. The efforts Ronny has put in this season can only blossom in the next.

He will want to ensure he is well equipped for a Champions League quest and there is no doubt he wants it as much as the board do for financial reasons and the fans do for entertainment value. Ronny himself knows the level each player must perform at to compete with the best in Europe and the world.

This is what he has spent all season trying to drill into the players he inherited and drafted in. The players have responded to him and will be ready to take the lessons from this season into the next one.

Keeping the squad together will be the priority but a few are certain to leave which is only natural. Four of the current crop at the club are on loan whilst seven of Celtic’s are also out on loan to other clubs so there will be some movement on that front for certain.

Deila would love to keep Jason Denayer and John Guidetti, both on loan from Manchester City, but they remain uncommitted. Denayer has put in a solid season and I’m sure another season long loan would be beneficial for all parties, but Denayer has not hidden his desire to return to City.

Guidetti on the other hand made a blistering start to his loan spell only to lose his way on the park amid speculation about a permanent move. Celtic brokered a deal with City but the Swede wasn’t on board and instead made umpteen references in the media about playing for other clubs in Europe.

This led to fans turning against him and gladly seeing him out of the team. He also spat the dummy out recently during the League Cup Final when after James Forrest won a penalty, he refused to hand Guidetti the ball.

At this level of football you don’t expect to see that kind of petulance but Guidetti capped it off by storming up the tunnel at full time only to be retrieved by Mikael Lustig. That memory is embedded in my mind and despite any desire Ronny still has of obtaining Guidetti’s signature, the Swede would have a lot of back pedalling to win over the fans once more.

The other two loanees, Mubarak Wakaso and Aleksandar Tonev are certain to return their parent clubs. Neither have held down a place this season.

Aside from Wakaso’s wonder goal against Red Bull Salzburg in the Europa League, his appearances have been limited. Tonev has made even fewer appearances and became an outsider after being accused and banned for alleged racial abuse of a fellow professional despite any hard evidence.

That seven match ban pretty much put an end to his playing chances as other players were beginning to find form. Celtic stuck by the player but he effectively lost his battle in the first team.

Celtic still have to decide on the futures of their own players out on loan as well. Amido Baldé was signed as a young prospect in 2013 but has rarely been given a chance so Celtic may cut there losses with him given that his loan spells with Waasland-Beveren and Hapoel Tel Aviv have not been prosperous.

Teemo Pukki and Hólmbert Friðjónsson are currently both playing at Brøndby IF with the former doing a decent job and likely to get a permanent move. Friðjónsson may also get a deal if Celtic end their interest in him though he is still on the fringes of success.

The four remaining players out on loan are could also move on with the exception of Liam Henderson. The young midfielder has put in some notable performances this season and has been loaned out for the rest of the season for experience only I would assume.

He looks as though he can do a job for Celtic but with competition for places high, he needs games to develop. Rosenberg should give him a decent level of experience to help him compete further next season.

The only other matter are the futures of Celtic’s contracted players. Commons finally sorted out his future and Van Dijk is now displaying signs of staying for a other season at the very least.

Another player back in the fold is young Tom Rogić. He went out on loan in January 2014 to Australia hoping to imprive his international chances but injury has been a thorn in his side.

There remains a glimmer of hope for the Australian midfielder. I’m sure we’d all love to see what he has to offer if he can shrug off injuries.

I read somewhere recently (possibly just a rumour) that the club may try and move Anthony Stokes on. I’m not totally against the idea to be honest but I think I’d rather see the back of guys like Derk Boerrigter first.

“Sicknote'” has been a disastrous signing for Celtic. Whilst the club have been known for unearthing gems, he certainly hasn’t been one of them.

The very fact he came with an injury tag was a risk the club must be held accountable for. There have been too many risks and I’d hate to think that the rumoured fees for these guys were all met in full given what they have failed to do for the club.

Baldé, Pukki and Boerrigter all signed four year deals and each has failed to cut it. One man on the brink of going down the same road is Stefan Šćepović.

He too signed a four year deal with Celtic, after an on/off transfer that cast a minor shadow over the deal. He hasn’t held down a regular spot in the team or provided the fire power he demonstrated at Sporting de Gijón but there remains the possibility he may still make it as a Celtic player.

Celtic have decisions to make on all of these players and cut back on waste. When I think about the players in years gone by that Celtic failed to stump up the cash for i.e. James McFadden and Steven Fletcher, it irks me that they have spent more on players at a higher risk of failure.

Time to move on the morons and motivate the worthy. Only the best will make it in Ronny’s squad.

Eight games left and a treble is in our sights. Inverness here we come.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie