Mystic Mick

He called it, I wasn’t buying it. In the end big Mick was right though. 

Moussa Dembele’s name wasn’t all over this match in terms of minutes on the park. He was the orchestrator of the move which brought about Celtic’s second penalty though which he slotted home nicely to score his first ever goal for the club. 

The big fella came at a small price, but the expectation was high. To date, and bearing in mind it’s only 3rd August, he hasn’t produced anything of note.

Co-commentator on Celtic TV, Stephen McManus, said this match had Dembele’s name written all over it. Just as he said that my mate and I exchanged puzzled glances. 

Throughout the match Big Mick was cramming so many euphemisms into his commentary we were barely holding it together as it was. To come out with this superlative about Dembele just about finished us off.

And so to the game. Celtic looked alive from the start and were making inroads. 

They lost the services of Patrick Roberts midway through the first half. For me this match had his name written all over it, but that all changed when he went off injured.

Celtic’s first goal came courtesy of a stonewall penalty. Kieran Tierney  was chopped down just inside the box and the rookie ref made no hesitation. 

The penalty from Leigh Griffiths was perfect. Not just the finish but the timing of it on the stroke of half-time.

We expected Celtic to come out and finish off the job in second half. Instead we made heavy weather of it and allowed Astana into the game. 

The warning signs were there for Celtic. So when Craig Gordon rushed out of his box to head the ball clear it was no surprise when Agim Ibraimi, one of Celtic’s Maribor tormentors from last season, would pounce upon the gaping goalmouth. 

This equaliser meant the aggregate score was also level on away goals. I was in disbelief that had Celtic found themselves in this position. 

The tie could have and should have been tied up earlier in the game. But no, no Celtic have to do it the hard way!

So the opportunity then arose for someone to step up and be the hero. The thought of extra time and penalties filled me with dread. 

When Moussa Dembele came on in the 75th minute I was so consumed with the unthinkable that I’d dismissed Mystic Mick’s prediction. Then it came like it was written on some stone tablet in Big Mick’s hometown of Lanark.

After some tidy footwork out wide and a neat interchange with Griffiths, Dembele was taken out by enemy number one Igor Shittov. For the second time in the game Astana had given away another cast iron penalty. 

Shittov walked, and not before time either. Dembele stood over the penalty spot in the second minute of injury time and tucked home a brilliant penalty.

If someone had told me before kick off that Celtic would score two penalties I wouldn’t have believed them. As it is I’m still processing Mystic Mick’s prediction!

Now Celtic are in the pot for Friday’s Champions League Playoff draw. The opponents for that round could be Dinamo Zagreb, Ludogorets, FC Copenhagen, Dundalk or Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

Hapoel replaced Legia Warsaw on that list following Olympiakos’ exit at the hands of the Israeli Champions. You could say a bullet dodged but the gun is still very much loaded.

The most important thing is Celtic are through. Now it’s time to open the cheque book and draft in players to play in European competition and move on the rest. 

Hail! Hail! 

Stevie Mac

Stick or twist?

Ronny Deila’s job just got that little bit harder. In the wake of this season’s first Europa League defeat he is now under full scrutiny as Celtic manager.

Having weathered last season’s storm he and his players got into rhythm and looked to have turned a corner. This season we haven’t seen an improvement and are being worn down by the team’s own shortcomings.

I’ll nail my colours to the mast, I’m supporter of Ronny Deila and I want his plan to come to fruition. We’re not seeing evidence of it though.

There are many talking points on this. It doesn’t all come down to one person though.

Celtic have brought in and moved on some very good players in the last few years. That is where the club are at these days and I have no problem with that.

The most recent example is Virgil van Dijk. Rumours are not unfamiliar with Celtic but his departure was certified if the Champions League failed to materialise.

So with that eventually being te case and the on-loan Jason Denayer back at parent club Manchester City, Celtic no longer had a central defence. At best, Efe Ambrose was back up and certainly not a player to build your team around.

Mikael Lustig is a player whose skills and abilities have at times been hampered by injury. We’ve seen more of him recently and whilst that has been pleasing, he cannot carry the defence.

On the opposite berth, Emilio Izaguirre has had flashes in his debut season form. He is still often been found out defensively though which is why seeing young Kieran Tierney emerge has been encouraging.

With Adam Matthews departing for Sunderland and Darnell Fisher going out on loan to St Johnstone, Celtic were further weakened defensively. The arrival of Dedryck Boyata appeared to be swift and many would have though we were getting a maturer Denayer but I’ve yet to be convinced.

Celtic’s bold move for Jozo Šimunović at the supposed fee of £5.5M took be by surprise. For a player of his age there is a lot of pressure on him to match the valuation and with injury being his great contribution to the team, we’re still waiting to see what he can do.

Saidy Janko signed a four contract and fellow Manchester United colleague Tyler Blackett signed on loan to bolster the depleted ranks. Neither had a vast amount of first team experience though.

As yet, we have yet to see this current crop of defenders form an understanding. Many factors have played a part in this but it is alarming that Celtic are so vulnerable at the back.

Even the fine first season Craig Gordon had under Ronny Deila is beginning to look like a one off. So far he has escaped criticism from most but he has been as culpable as any Celtic defender this season.

So where do we go from here? Is it it just a failed defence that blights the Celtic cause or is there a bigger issue in play?

Celtic aren’t exactly prolific up front either these days or well endowed and despite the acquisition of Carlton Cole, he can’t play in Europe. That short sightedeness hurt Celtic last season and it appears we haven’t learned from that issue.

Like him or not, Stefan Šćepović should not have left the club without a suitable replacement.Nadir Çiftçi is not an out and out striker and we’ve entered this campaign without sufficient strikers.

The midfield on the other hand has a good supply of players. Even with the dip in form of Stefan Johansen, the performances of Nir Bitton and Tom Rogić have given us hope.

Even still, Kris Commons made his feelings known for all the world to see when he was substituted on Thursday evening. That was followed by a humble apology on Friday in front of the media.

As much as venting his spleen was unprofessional and underminding of the management, it did add weight to the fans argument that Ronny might be losing the fight. Many want him out and have done since last season.

Whist it is difficult to defend such appalling Celtic performances, I don’t wish to see Ronny Deila fail. I like the guy, I like that Celtic opted for a coach like him but this turn of events has made me wonder whether he has his reached limitations or simply requires more time to make things work.

Despite the Commons protest, the players have still come out and backed Deila. If the club are to get through this period it will only be done by standing together.

There needs to be a positive reaction to this bout of negativity. The Europa League is still salvageable and the Scottish Premiership remains on course but the one burning question for many is would Ronny Deila be given another crack at the Champions League?

Neil Lennon had two cracks at Europe before reaching the Champions League and one of those attempts was at the expense of FC Sion. Similarly, Ronny got another crack at Europe at expense of Legia Warsaw, albeit a different competition and different set of circumstance but as someone pointed out to me yesterday, Ronny has had better chances to get into the Champions League.

To ensure a third season happens, everyone at Celtic will have to step up there game. Not just Ronny Deila, but the players, the coaching staff and the scouts.

Today Celtic host Dundee United. With Aberdeen being held to a draw by Motherwell, Celtic have the chance to widen the gap at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

This team needs and enema.

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

The stage is set

With all the presesaon dress rehearsals out of the way and the first step on the Champions League staircase done, the next task awaits Ronny Deila. Having seen off Stjarnan on their 4G pitch last week and dealt with a feisty Rennes side at Celtic Park on Saturday, the Hoops are ready for tonight’s third round of qualifying round.

Stjarnan offered Celtic their first and second competitive test of the summer but Qarabağ FK will be a different prospect altogether. With tonight’s first leg at home, Celtic will be aiming to stamp their authority on the tie before they have to travel to Baku for the second leg next week.

It’s a long trip with a time difference of four hours and whilst not nearly as daunting a trip as Karagandy was two years ago, the task is still a tough one. In the meantime Celtic must do their best to suppress Qarabağ FK’s knack of scoring and winning away in Europe.

Over the last three seasons (including the current one) their European stats read as:

HOME: Played 11 Won 5 Drawn 3 Lost 3

AWAY: Played 11 Won 5 Drawn 4 Lost 2

Having lost less than a quarter of all matches, suggests they might be stubborn and hard to break down. I’ve yet to see whether Ronny Deila is prepared to alter his approach with such teams to draw them out or continue to play the pressing game.

By comparison the last three seasons (including the current one) for Celtic are as follows:

HOME: Played 14 Won 9 Drawn 1 Lost 4 (or W8 L5 if you count the original Legia Warsaw score)

AWAY: Played 14 Won 3 Drawn 4 Lost 7

At some stage in European competition, you have to know when your challenger is more capable than you and adapt. Celtic’s UEFA coefficient ranking is 46th whilst Qarabağ’s is 139th but that still didn’t prevent the Hoops being trumped by Legia Warsaw (76th) and NK Maribor (83rd) last season.

Whilst a club ranked 139th by UEFA may not seem like a threat, Qarabağ could frustrate or even surprise Celtic particulary at this stage of the season. The last thing Celtic want this evening is to lose an away goal and I’m fairly certain that will be one of Qarabağ’s objectives.

It’s fair to say that this time last year Celtic were in a state of transition and playing home ties at Murrayfield but this year everyone will be expecting better from them.That could all come down to sqiad selection and it is anyones guess how Ronny will go.

Çiftçi or Griffiths? Or both?

Janko or Lustig? Forrest or Mackay-Steven?

Mulgrew or Izaguirre? Only Ronny knows.

The stage is set and it is home advantage Bhoy’s. Take it.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Third qualifying round in the Qarabağ

Celtic marched into the third qualifying round of the Champions League last night with 4-1 victory. There was an initial scare for Ronny Deila though as the Hoops conceded a sloppy goal in the 7th minute.

I’m sure there were a few fans out there last night who had a bad feeling at the moment that ball pinged past Craig Gordon. It is easy to be drawn into doom when error is made and lets face it this was an ‘error’.

Celtic were dominant throughout the match though. The first half was a little sloppy as Celtic strived to control the ball on the artificial surface.

Stjarnan didn’t really make better use of it to be honest. The ball didn’t zip along the surface as quickly as we are used to seeing on grass.

Equally, the ball appeared to require extra touches to control and move it around. This all contributed to the tacky play we saw last night.

Aside from that 7th minute opener, Celtic were still the team with all the possession though. Then came the equaliser courtesy of a Nir Bitton header.

The corner from Stefan Johansen found the head of Bitton who finished from close range. Stjarnan’s goalkeeper Gunnar Nielsen came for it but was impeded by his own team mate who had fallen right in front of him but Bitton was too far in front of him to be beaten anyway.

The timing was good for Celtic who despite going a goal behind continued to press. After half-time Celtic were beginning to look even more in control and it wasn’t long before they took the lead.

Before the match, I think a few fans were questioning the selection of Charlie Mulgrew. Was he a better choice to play the defensive role rather Emilio Izaguirre for this game?

He certainly wasn’t think defensively in the 48th minute when he latched on to a square ball. As the ball arrived at his feet he drilled it low and hard to the goalkeepers far post to give Celtic a 2-1 lead with a superb finish.

The next goal came from Leigh Griffiths who had come on as a substitute in the 62nd minute for Stuart Armstrong who had been having a fine game himself. Johansen slipped the ball through to Gary Mackay-Steven in the box who squared for Griffiths and finished unchallenged from close range

That goal was a first for Griffiths in the European stage. To retain a place he will want to be doing that a lot more.

I had expected him to start last night but Nadir Çiftçi was given the nod. The Turk offers a different style of play to Griffiths but was largely unsuccessful in this match.

For once I actually agree with what Chris Sutton said in the studio. That Çiftçi has more body strength and can be more involved but for me this was a game Griffiths was better suited to.

There was an element to Çiftçi’s game last night that I didn’t enjoy. A series of lightweight dives were visible and even if the referee didn’t see them as I did, I’d prefer that he cuts out the diving or does it more convincingly.

I do think he will be a good player for Celtic, but that will take a bit of time. I can understand Deila utilising him now because of his domestic ban but Griffiths is in the mood right now and should be given that chance.

To wrap things up, Johansen got his name on the score sheet as well. A through ball from substitute Tom Rogić found Mackay-Steven who laid it on for Mulgrew and squared for Johansen who had made a run into the box and a good finish.

The final whistle cam shortly after that and it was job done. That 7th minute scare was a distant memory though I am sure Ronny Deila will bring that up to Dedryck Boyata who was the main offender in that incident.

Celtic have one more friendly before they face their challengers in the next round of the Champions League. French Ligue 1 outfit Rennes come to Celtic Park on Saturday and it will be another opportunity for some players to sharpen up.

Come Wednesday, Qarabağ visit Glasgow in the first leg of the third qualifying round at Celtic Park. I don’t think anyone is under any illusions that this encounter will offer a more spirited opponent.

For starters, the Azerbaijani team have far more experience in European competition that the Icelanders did. Only last season, they competed in the Europa League group phase.

They were pipped to second place by eventual finalists Dnipro in group F. Unlike Celtic, that would be the end of their season in Europe.

However, like Celtic they had also gone through qualifying rounds for the Champions League that year beating Valletta 5-0  on aggregate then succumbing to Salzburg 3-2, who would eventually go on to face Celtic in group D of the Europa League.

Both teams will be determined to make the play off round and hopefully the Champions League group stage. Celtic made the play off last year having been handed a second chance thanks to Legia Warsaw’s error.

Despite that they still lost and parachuted into the Europa League. With both Celtic and Qarabağ missing out on the Champions League last season, this will be a hotly contested two legged affair.

Qarabağ appear to have the ability to score away from home though not always convincing at home. Their group F stats from last year are W1 D3 L2 having qualified for the group stage on away goals 1-1 against FC Twente.

There is a stubbornness and unpredictability about this team. They do have good experience in European competition though.

Their squad is mainly composed of Azerbaijani players but they also have three Brazilian’s amongst a few other nationalities. The most significant of these appears to be Reynaldo who scored in last nights away win over FK Rudar.

He will be the one to watch but there are plenty of other candidates in that team willing to make a name for themselves. That is why Celtic will need to be at their best on Wednesday night and take full advantage of playing at home.

It will be a totally different type of game I am sure and certainly a more physical encounter. Not something Celtic are unfamiliar with.

For now it is job done and on with the preparations. Let’s hope to see some other players get a chance against Rennes.

It was good to see Stiliyan Petrov on the studio panel for last nights game. He was one of my favourite Celtic players of the modern day.

Although I was deeply disappointed in him and his decision to leave Celtic in 2006 it is very good to see him in good health and talking about Celtic.

There was also a nice message from Stjarnan about the good experience against against Celtic and the people of Scotland. They excluded the Daily Record from that thank you which is always nice to hear.

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

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