Ibrox Blues, Paradise News

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This was a game that the home side needed to win. And for the opening 30 minutes they certainly gave it a go. 

Mark Warburton’s players went at Brendan Rodgers players with some purpose. They didn’t allow the visitors to get into their stride and drew first blood as well.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be the breaking point in Celtic’s season…if you were a fan of the home side. That their new Ibrox club were going to be the team to halt Celtic’s unbeaten run in domestic competition this season.

However, there was also a sense of inevitability about the match. That when Celtic did get into their stride that they would show their dominance.

So whilst Kenny Miller’s jubilation at the opening goal was still filtering through the home crowd, they were unable to follow-up with a second. Celtic were working themselves into the match slowly whilst Warburton hoped another goal would come his way.

It didn’t, and Celtic began to settle down. The truth is, that was all it was going to take.

To be fair to Warburton, things started well for his team. When Celtic eventually got a foothold though there was no looking back.

After half an hour of the home side throwing themselves at Celtic, the Bhoy’s eventually stepped in. Or rather, Moussa Dembele did.

A corner from Scott Sinclair found the French under-21 international behind a crowd of players who lashed home a fine effort. I didn’t think Celtic would go on to slaughter the home side but I was somewhat relieved at them finally getting on score sheet.

I say relieved because I had spent 5 hours wondering what the bloody score was and avoiding all forms of communication so I could watch the game several hours ‘live’ after I’d finished work. Not good for the soul, I tell you!

I wasn’t on my own though.  There were others in the same boat as me as we started our Hogmanay early in the evening rather than at lunchtime!

After a breather at the interval, we sat down to watch the second half. As the game wore on and chances came and went for Celtic I had the mindset that this was heading for a draw.

There was nothing wrong with how Celtic were playing. Despite the dominance the Hoops were now showing, it was just beginning to look as though it wasn’t going to come off on this occasion.

That was until my man-of-the-match, Stuart Armstrong slung in a direct pass across goal to find Scott Sinclair unmarked at the far post. Boom!

Celtic had come from behind at Ibrox to win the match and with time to spare. As narrow as the score may have been, there were a chances galore for Brendan Rodgers side.

The Bhoys showed their class by taking control of the game after a half-an-hour flutter by the home side. Now Celtic sit very comfortably on top of a 19 point lead in the Scottish Premiership.

Mark Warburton now has Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen breathing down his neck. The Dons are only 2 points behind second place and with one game at hand.

Meantime back at Fortress Paradise, it is exciting times. New contracts are going on the table for current players, new targets are mooted and some players will be moving on.

2017 will be a good year.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

New Year, New Rivals, Old Ibrox

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This afternoon Celtic will play their final match of 2016. The Bhoys will head over to Ibrox for the first time in over four years.

Back then it was their old rivals Rangers. This time it is their new rivals, The Rangers.

Putting the old and the new argument to one side, today’s match will be marked with a minute’s silence in memory of the Ibrox disaster and it’s victims. 66 people died and over 200 were injured from the events that occurred in s Rangers v Celtic match on 2 January 1971 at Ibrox.

For one minute, I would urge all Celtic supporters to be respectful and observe the 60 seconds of silence. After this there will be more than enough time to make plenty of noise.

The sad irony about this minutes silence is that it was a series of historic safety issues over a 70 year period at Ibrox that led to stadium improvements in the first place. Unfortunately, the stadium has been in the headlines recently for health and safety concerns which will leave many feeling uneasy.

What is important about today’s match is that it is completed with as little disruption as possible. I hope that all fans will observe the one minutes silence and go into the new year without causing havoc inside or outside the ground based upon the result.

Celtic go into this match as league leaders and with a very healthy 16 point gap over today’s opponents who lie in second place. However, with Aberdeen breathing down their necks a mere 2 points behind the heat is on for The Rangers.

This is a must win game for Mark Warburton’s side. He is under pressure not to win the league, but to close the gap on Celtic and keep ahead of the rest in second place.

That position is under serious theat now and even more so if Celtic win at Ibrox this afternoon. In fact, I don’t think many are in any doubt that Celtic will win this afternoon.

It may be Brendan Rodgers first visit to Ibrox as a manager but he is no stranger to big arenas or intense atmospheres. He has already hosted Mark Warburton’s team at Celtic Park  and wiped the floor with them.

Amongst that he has played many European heavyweight sides home and away as well as a whole host of others south of the border in the English Premier League. He and his players will not be phased by this fixture.

Today, all Brendan needs to do is pick his best side for the job. Mark Warburton and his players will do everything they can to disrupt that.

They are fighting for survival. Beating Celtic would be a huge boost for them.

Their club is in a mess financially, their stadium is falling apart but their existence continues to be unquestioned by the media. We all know what condition they are in right now despite not reading it anywhere in the SMSM.

So let’s help further their misery and give them a good thumping today. Celtic are on the crest of a wave, need not be overzealous in their approach.

The unbeaten run must continue at Ibrox today and into 2017. This will be a season to remember.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Sinclair breaks Hearts

Just when it was looking like a draw, up stepped debutant Scott Sinclair to send Celtic fans wild. Tynecastle is a hostile environment and it rarely produces a dull match when Celtic come to town.

Sunday’s opening league match away to Hearts was always going to be a tough start for Brendan Rodgers. Celtic took the lead though in just 8 minutes as James Forrest pounced onto the loose ball Callum McGregor had been relieved of inside the penalty box.

It looked like a penalty but play continued to allow Celtic their first goal of the domestic season. Hearts were up in arms about Stuart Armstrong interfering with play (though not at the time of the incident) but whether the rules say he was or wasn’t,  McGregor was fouled for a penalty that wasn’t given so let’s scratch that one shall we?

Talking of penalties, Hearts equaliser came courtesy of a Jamie Walker dive. There was no contact with Kieran Tierney and by his own admission the referee owned up to getting that one wrong. 

Will Jamie Walker face retrospective discipline for cheating? Not unless he changes his name to Derk Boerrigter.

One glaring opportunity that Hearts should have equalised with was the free header ex-Celt Tony Watt had. Not only was he unmarked by Mikael Lustig, the goal was wide open for him. 

Nae luck wee man. Thanks for missing though.

Later on there was another penalty shout for Hearts. At best it would have been very soft and not giving it was the correct decision, most likely aided by the Hearts spot kick awarded in error earlier in the match. 

Like Wednesday night against FC Astana though, this match produced a winning moment from the bench. I don’t know if ‘Mystic Mick’ McManus saw this in his crystal ball, but Scott Sinclair seized his opportunity to win the match for Celtic. 

Celtic broke down the left hand side after a Hearts move broke down. The ball was chased down by Leigh Griffiths who, after fending off his pursuers, squared the ball long and low to the onrushing Sinclair who finished neatly inside the box.

What a start for the English winger and what an end to a fiesty match. Celtic deserved their victory, even when you take into account all of the right and wrong decisions.

Robbie Neilson, a good young coach, sadly had a touch of the Jim Jeffries about himself post-match. Being a sore loser and not understanding the rules of the game only makes you look like a bit of a fanny, so only whinge when your facts are solid.

On the subject of fannies, Sportscene was back last night and in glorious er…SD. We were told of this new time slot and promised longer coverage.

What about the Scottish Championship coverage though? Why would they ever have dropped that segment for this season I wonder?

Still no post match interviews from Ibrokes for the BBC. I guess Sportscene will need to try even harder though I doubt their two bob mixture fund will stretch any further.

The Scottish Premiership’s first timers might have failed to speak to the grovelling BBC, but it wasn’t because they drew with Hamilton Accies at home. It’s all historical, though given their history only goes back to 2012, not that historical.

Elsewhere the Dons drew with St Johnstone in a 0-0 thriller. Having gone out of Europe to Celtic’s old foes Maribor midweek I thought Aberdeen would come out of the traps at the weekend.

So none of Celtic’s so called ‘contenders’ managed a winning start. I guess that’s because only Celtic have a £4M player on the bench eh Robbie?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Pitched Battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday. Night. Football.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac