Welcome to Paradise, Brendan

Back in May 2012 I began this blog as a personal pastime. I had contributed to a few other Celtic websites before and after this, but I decided to go it alone.

Celtic had won the SPL and the landscape of Scottish Football was in the middle of a saga. To escape said saga, I wrote about two football managers ascending in the game south of the border.

Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert had each taken ‘bigger’ jobs within a day of each other. Their stock was on the rise so Liverpool came swooping in to take Rodgers from Swansea and Villa took Lambert from Norwich.

They had both managed to survive their promotion seasons with their Championship clubs finishing. They even finished next to each other on the same points separated purely by goal difference.

Despite having a similar path and success with each of those Championship clubs, it was not so fortunate following their moves. Neither achieved the goal of winning trophies and both were sacked, albeit in different seasons.

One of those men I have retained my admiration for. The other, not so much.

And whad’ya know? That man, Brendan Rodgers, is now in the Celtic hot seat.

Now, play this down all you like. This is by no means a minor appointment – it’s a bit of a coup!

In the days and weeks leading up to this announcement, there have been a several favourites. Getting Rodgers was seen as impossible.

The fact that he has signed on speaks volumes about Celtic’s ambitions. It is also a credit to the new manager and his interest in this club.

Celtic and Rodgers are in a similar place right now. The club require upgrading for Europe, a voice in the dressing room and a plan on match days.

The new head coach needs a club to repair his managerial wounds and a platform to rebuild his reputation. This could be the beginning of something beautiful for both parties.

As I said to a couple of friends, Rodgers should be aiming for somewhere on the scale between Gordon Strachan (WGS) and Martin O’Neill (MON). That means bums on seats, Champions League football and entertaining the fans again.

Now before someone bashes me and points out the differences between the two previous Celtic managers, let me explain something. We had no idea what MON would do but it changed the club forever.

WGS took things one step further in the Champions League. What Rodgers needs to do is pin the tail on the donkey somewhere between those two men and make his own story.

I think he is the man to take Celtic forward right now and I’m confident in his ability. He may well emerge as a man we cannot retain the services of further down the line, but right now Rodgers can do a job at Celtic and that is why Dermot Desmond has made this happen.

Like him or loathe him, we’ve snared a guy who two seasons ago was out of our league. Since being sacked by Liverpool, he has become more attainable.

To ensure his signature though, Celtic have had to invest. That means settling financial terms, projecting expectations and demonstrating what you are offering to make that happen.

In Scotland, money will always be the Achilles heel of the game. There isn’t the customer base, stadia or media that can flog this league to the outside world nor is there a significant TV deal.

So for Celtic to draw in Rodgers is quite something. Whatever terms he is on, Brendan is here and I am hopeful he will bring success to Celtic Park.

The club need someone to man manage, lead, make effective decisions and with any luck get the best out of this group of players we have accrued over a few seasons. It isn’t an easy task, particularly with sort of attention this job comes with and the limited resources to do it with but that is why Celtic have had to aim higher.

Celtic have significantly more funding than the rest of Scottish clubs. It isn’t nearly as much as some of these clubs in Europe though.

Still, Celtic have exited Europe against teams with smaller finances recently so it isn’t just about the money. This is about motivation, tactics, team selection and recruitment.

It is worth mentioning that of all the men mentioned for this role, Rodgers is by far the outstanding candidate. Furthermore, he was the man fans felt least likely to accept an offer given his growth in the game.

There aren’t too many men out there to have managed two of the world’s greatest clubs. Whilst Liverpool wasn’t an overwhelming success, Brendan came very close to winning the Premier League.

Celtic have shown their intent here and the timing is perfect. It isn’t even June and we’ve installed a big name.

Roy Keane was said to have turned the job down two years ago due to lack of transfer funds. If there is more on offer this time it is evident that whilst he may have been more interested this time around, he wasn’t number one choice as he was in 2014.

Does Brendan have the qualities we desire? I think so.

Can he do great things? We’ll find out.

Was there a better, more viable candidate out there? Not in my opinion.

So we are in for an interesting journey. I’ll say it again, I think this could be the best appointment since MON.

Welcome to Paradise, Brendan.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Celtic v Inverness Caledonian Thistle

When it comes to giant killing, Caley Thistle have done their fair share. Unfortunately for us Celtic fans, we’ve been on the end of these killings in three cup competitions.

John Barnes was the first Celtic manager to suffer at the hands of Inverness in the Scottish Cup 16 years ago. That was later followed up in 2003 under Martin O’Neill’s tenure in the same competition.

On both of those occasions, Inverness were a First Division club (now the Scottish Championship). In the years that followed, Inverness showed that they were a team worth paying attention to having made the SPL (now Scottish Premiership) in 2004.

They certainly weren’t one season wonders either. After five seasons in the top flight, they were relegated but only for one season.

in 2010 they were back in the top flight and have remained there ever since. Last season they inflicted more pain on Celtic when they dumped the Hoops out of the Scottish Cup for the third time.

They went on to win the cup last year and also made their debut in Europe, exiting the Europa League in the second qualifying round. So far this season they’ve failed to duplicate last seasons form.

However, despite things being slow moving this season, they have still managed to keep Aberdeen at bay for almost a year. The Dons haven’t beaten them this season at all and credit to John Hughes, he has managed to haul his team up the league and into the top half.

In fact, Caley Thistle are only 1 point off 4th spot in the Scottish Premiership. They also have two games at hand over the current 4th placed club, Ross County.

So today will be no easy ride for Celtic I’m sure. There have been a handful of additions to the Ronny Deila’s team recently, some back from injury and some who have rarely featured at all.

Celtic supporters are talking about seeing more of Scott Allan, Ryan Christie and of course loanee Patrick Roberts. John Collins hinted that we may see the latter of the three today, but we’ve yet to see Allan and Christie in as regulars.

Their futures are long-term at the club and it is likely that because of that, they are not been thrown into the team just yet. It seems that with the growing number of midfielders at the club though, we’ll have to shed some of our load.

That is a no brainer of course. You don’t need a crystal ball, the media or John Collins to tell you that.

What fans are also talking about is “who is for the exit door?” At this stage you can only speculate.

Almost every Celtic midfielder right now, has a valid reason for wanting to go or for the club moving them on. It’s a lottery to be quite honest and its anyone’s guess who is for the chop.

After a dire season for him so far, Stefan Johansen is top of some lists. Come the summer he will have been at the club for two-and-a-half seasons and with only one of those seasons being poor (the current one), it would seem rather harsh to sell him based upon that.

Nir Bitton, one of Celtic’s best players has a long-term deal (not that, that stands for anything at Celtic) but he is probably our most profitable midfielder right now. For that reason, it would not surprise me if Celtic tried to cash in on that this summer.

Recently back from long-term injury is Charlie Mulgrew. Now I am a fan of Charlie, but because his deal is due to run out, questions have been raised over his future but with his versatility, relatively low salary and an influential Scottish player, I doubt Celtic would let him go.

Tom Rogić, a player I never thought would wear the Hoops ever again, has been a revelation this season. Even though Europe was a major let down for the club and the domestic scene has been a real slog, Tom has been a stand out performer for me and his Celtic future should be a priority.

Kris Commons has ben on the sidelines recently with injury and illness. He has weighed in with 9 goals overall this season but at the age of 32 and not always a first pick for Ronny Deila, he could be moved on.

It would be a great shame to part with such a gifted player. Last season he was well out of the picture at one point but he still massed 16 goals in all competitions.

I think his experience is undervalued at times, especially for big games. Personally, I would be looking to retain his services as one of the club’s most experienced players but with inflated numbers at the club, he could be on wrong end of the decision making.

Out on the wide areas there are a few players vying for similar positions. James Forrest, Callum McGregor and Gary Mackay-Steven have all seen action this season but Celtic cannot possibly sustain all three, particularly when they have just drafted in Patrick Roberts on loan until the end of next season.

When on his game, Forrest is a nightmare for defenders. He can add goals as much as an assist but he is often let down by injury.

McGregor got his chance under Ronny Deila last season and repaid him immediately with a goal on his debut in Europe. As that season wore on, he faded out of the picture and after getting injured has made it back into the fold this season.

He appears to be one of Ronny Deila’s favourites. In fairness to McGregor, he has made a fair contribution recently as well.

Mackay-Steven has also been out of the picture but he came back onto the scene recently as well. He too has goals in him and plays in a wide area but can support the front man as well.

In this area though, something has to give. And there are other players possibly looking at summer exits.

Efe Ambrose is far from having a CSC named after him (or does he have one already)t. With the defence already beginning to take shape without him, he could be on his way out.

Tyler Blackett is most likely going to return to Manchester United. He hasn’t impressed at all, though to be fair I think he was out of his depth to begin with.

Stefan Šćepović, currently out on loan at Getafe, may not even return to Celtic. Having signed on deadline day two summers ago, he has failed to hit the heights in Scotland.

I thought he had a good chance this season to prove himself but was sent out on loan instead. Whether that was his desire or Deila’s desire, I can’t see Celtic bringing him back again.

Also out on loan is Anthony Stokes. Despite what any fan thinks of his playing ability, good or bad, it would appear it is his off the field issues that are the problem.

There is not doubt that the player has talent but his time is almost certainly up. I am fairly certain Celtic will move him on this summer.

A question mark remains over Nadir Çiftçi though. He got the nod in Europe early on in the season mainly because he had a domestic ban and couldn’t play in the league.

In half a season he hasn’t looked anywhere near doing a job. Will he come back?

I think he probably will. Whether he ever makes it at Celtic though remains in doubt.

Last but not least is Derk Boerrigter. And that’s all I have to say about him.

Good luck to the Hoops today, whoever manages to get a game! Time to open up that lead at the of the Scottish Premiership.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Time to support Deila, not sack him.

Ronny Deila’s presence at Celtic Football Club continues to divide the Celtic fan base. Meantime in the dressing room, he has received vocal support once more from club captain Scott Brown and not for the first time.

He has also had backing from Leigh Griffiths and Charlie Mulgrew in his time at the club. How united that backing is throughout the dressing room is a topic of its own.

Elsewhere, the media and pundits continue to have their say on TV and in the newspapers. The comments which gained a reaction from Scott Brown recently came from the one and only Andy Walker.

Now 99% of the time you’ll find that 99% of the Celtic support don’t agree with what Walker says or thinks. In fact that goes for pretty much any pundit, particularly when they are ex-Celts bashing Celtic.

On this occasion Walker called for Deila to get the sack following two bad results against Ross County and Aberdeen. This is despite the fact Celtic still sit top of the league with a game at hand and also compete in the Scottish Cup today against East Kilbride.

It’s true that Ronny Deila has not taken Celtic to glorious heights in Europe. In fact it has been his least successful area since arriving at Celtic and progress has not been made over two seasons.

I say “least successful” but that still includes qualifying for two group phases of the Europa League. One which he qualified from and one which was completely underwhelming.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it once more. He isn’t the first Celtic manager to falter in Europe.

Deila himself has mentioned this on a couple of occasions himself. This still appears to fly in the face of what supporters expect – instant success.

Martin O’Neill, Celtic’s first modern-day manager to make inroads on the European scene, didn’t get past Bordeaux or Christmas in his first season. He had a formidable team as well with the UEFA Cup Final in 2003 the pinnacle of his era but he too experienced disappointment such as that season which ended trophyless.

For Gordon Strachan it was reaching the last 16 of the Champions League twice and trouncing the league by winning it in record time in 2006. Like O’Neill, he experienced disappointment though unlike his predecessor he was NOT the messiah to the supporters and found himself departing to the applause of many.

Tony Mowbray, a poor appointment from the beginning was widely supported by the fans, myself being one of the exceptions. If anyone dragged Celtic down it was him and he was shown the door for achieving nothing.

Then came Neil Lennon, a rookie, but also the only real option at the time, who did a fantastic job and probably should have stuck around beyond 2014 in my opinion. With one great Champions League campaign to his credit, a win over Barcelona being the standout, this was not achieved without experiencing two difficult first seasons and personal death threats.

His departure was a surprise but he’d endured a lot in his time. He had also lost some of his best players and bought some donkeys at the same time.

In step Ronny Deila, wins a double in his first season and reaches the last 32 of the Europa League. Not a bad start but two failed attempts at the Champions League in his 20 months in charge are at the forefront of most Celtic supporter’s thoughts.

Along with that, two treble opportunities gone, but with a second domestic double still very much on the cards. Is that enough for Celtic fans though?

Many don’t appear to think so and yet, Celtic are still the best team in Scotland. And that’s in a league which is more closely competed these days than in the recent past.

Isn’t that what we wanted? A competitive league that wasn’t a forgone conclusion every season?

Celtic have and always will make mistakes along the way. A flawless season is a rare thing, particularly when your current head coach is trying to execute a long-term plan.

Ronny Deila may never see his vision come to fruition especially if not given that time. I never expected great things immediately because greatness takes time.

I don’t think Ronny Deila is as clueless as people say he is. He’s making mistakes like any other coach does and working toward something we all want.

We didn’t recruit Pep Guardiola and land £50M to spend on players courtesy of the Kaiser. We plucked a young relatively unknown manager from Norway with a vision that suited Celtic’s situation.

Overnight success is not a realistic target, particularly in Europe. At Celtic, European success is a tall order even for the best manager available to us but it is still how we measure progress and success at the club.

What is being attempted under Deila is a different path but one that fits the club’s financial situation. I back the left field approach and how bold it has been but it remains to be seen if Ronny will be given another shot at Europe like Neil Lennon was.

Winning the league is essential and that remains within our grasp. So too does a domestic double.

Surely that is worth backing until we are in jeopardy of losing it? This is not the time for change, this is a time to stick by ans support Ronny Deila.

In my view we should not be hitting the panic button. You have to see it through the tough times, you don’t just throw in the towel.

I’m going to stick my neck out and continue back Ronny even if I am a minority. If he throws away the league this season or fails badly in Europe next season then we are looking at re-assessing the situation but only then.

I’m not 100% happy with the way things are, how some players are performing and have my own questions but I’m not calling time just yet. There is room and time for things to take shape.

Right now I think too many are being too fickle. Time to tough it out folks, because our support is required.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Focus on the treble

This afternoon Celtic entertain Hamilton at Celtic Park. They’ll be hoping to maintain a 7 point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

Before that, second placed Aberdeen will take on Dundee in a lunchtime kick off. A victory for Derek McInnes’ side would put pressure Celtic with the gap closed to four points.

As likely as that scenario may be, I doubt Celtic will be focussing on anything other than their own match. Distractions off the field have been headlines for the club in recent weeks so for Ronny Deila, he will feel relieved to have a match to concentrate on again.

Last week Anthony Stokes’ tweet before the game at Inverness landed himself in trouble. What followed was an apology from the player and then a suspension imposed by the club.

Many fans spoke out over the imbalance of justice drawing comparison to Kris Commons’ verbal tirade in the dugout in Norway. However, had anyone actually put their hatred for Ronny Deila to one side and thought clearly about Stokes’ overall behaviour at the club they would have seen Deila’s statement coming a mile away.

I don’t claim to know the entire story with Anthony Stokes or his absence from the team but it is clear he has been a bit of a naughty boy and isn’t doing the right things to get in the team. Ronny Deila is a pretty simple guy in that if you train well, act professional you’ll get your chance.

Stokes for one reason or another has failed to achieve that under Deila. The frustrating part is that we all know how gifted the guy is but he doesn’t appear to be the brightest either.

As Deila said to the media, the suspension isn’t just about a single incident. It is a culmination of events of a period of time which the club are no acting upon.

The fact that he had to come out and say that just goes to show how much Celtic have tried to contain the situation with Stokes. When you are attracting attention away from football it brings unwanted attention to the club.

I have no problem with the club suspending Stokes. I doubt they’d do it without real cause.

It is still a shame that Stokes has ended up in this situation but then again, perhaps it is the kick up the arse that he needs. He’s a talented boy who can still have a future at the club so perhaps a couple of weeks away will help him sort his head out.

Right now, the Celtic team need to be fully concentrated with on-the-field matters. There is a treble at stake and in Ronny Deila’s case, possibly his career ambitions.

For a club branded as being in chaos by our ever so friendly Scottish media, Celtic are still unbeaten at home this season in the league. In fact Celtic have dropped points in only four of their 16 games so far this season with 3 draws and 1 defeat.

Approaching the halfway point in season Celtic will be looking to rubberstamp their authority on the domestic scene. With Europe off the agenda until next summer, full attention must go the all three domestic trophies.

The treble has eluded Celtic since Martin O’Neill won it back in the 2000/2001 season. Before then all three trophies hadn’t resided at Celtic Park since the 60’s during the Jock Stein era.

In truth, Celtic should have won the treble more than this. The club’s record in the League Cup has been the biggest drawback in achieving that.

If Ronny Deila was to win the treble it would be just the fourth time in the club’s history making the Norwegian the third Celtic manager to do so. That has to be the key motivator for everyone at the club right now.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Time to move on

As a Celtic fan you have first hand knowledge of how it feels to support the club. So what sort of experience do you have when you’re a player at this moment at Celtic Football Club?

In previous blogs I’ve stated that the manager has criticised the players in the face of defeat(s). The players have backed that claim by stating they hadn’t performed well enough.

What’s going through my mind though is are all the players of the same opinion? I know the first season for Ronny Deila saw a few players dropped for varying reasons but now we’re in season two and I’d be interested to know what the real mood is currently.

The one thing I can say without a shadow of a doubt is that with the exception of Kris Commons’ dugout explosion in Norway, there is a sense of uniformity when talking to the media. As a squad, players have put their hands up to errors, missed opportunities and poor performances.

Not that I would expect a player revolt but I don’t get the sense that the players are unhappy with the coaching. In fact many players have spoken positively about Ronny Deila and the impact he has had on their careers.

Unless the Celtic PR machine are putting on a front, I’d say that European results aside, it’s a happy camp. Now that either means that our squad are so average they can’t see the bigger picture or they believe in the current set-up and we can’t see the bigger picture.

Ronny continues to speak positively and remains unshaken in his belief that he will lead Celtic to greener pastures. In basic terms of course that means the Champions League.

With two failed opportunities under his belt now, Ronny can at the very least look at both campaigns and compare and review. He also has two Europa League campaigns to analyse as well but that all depends on whether he’s prepared to look at his mistakes or just pursue each game with the same plan regardless.

You see for Ronny his philosophy is about playing the game in a certain way. All of the time.

In Scotland you might get away with that because you’re Celtic and generally untouchable. In Europe though, Celtic are much further down the food chain.

As supporters we know that, but we want to be in the respected hierarchy of the game. To do that sometimes you have to make sacrifices.

When you compare Martin O’Neill’s style to Gordon Strachan’s it is easy to spot the difference. Martin wanted Celtic to play the Celtic way (and he had some excellent talent) whilst Gordon would play the way which was most likely to get a result with less individual talent.

We all know which style of football we preferred out of the two. We also know who did better in the Champions League – and no I haven’t forgotten about Seville!

My point here is tactics, adaptation, personnel, resources, motivation and the big one – experience. Not just experience in the squad but on the coaching team.

Ronny has had a run in management for seven years so he isn’t new to the role but his assistants are. What he did with Strømsgodset didn’t happen overnight, it took time.

He imposed his philosophy over a period where it finally paid off after a few years. That was with a club who hadn’t lifted a title in over 40 years.

I’m not suggesting that we wait forever. However, what if that change of gear comes next season?

Many including myself have already debated whether Ronny should get another bite at the cherry. Or even if the board fancy taking another risk.

For the most part my personal view has been to review things at the end of the season. At the same time, I’ve sought assurances over what will change to improve our chances of getting into the Champions League from what we’ve seen these last two summers.

The financial situation is not going to change between now and then. Two seasons without Champions League cash has made certain of that.

Are we waiting on Ronny Deila suddenly changing direction with his philosophy? Well no because he is being given the opportunity to do at Celtic what he did with Strømsgodset because Celtic have few better options.

That is why I think he will be given longer. It’s not so much about the individual purchases.

For me it is about nurturing an entire set-up. Currently this grooming isn’t winning over fans or getting good European results.

All I can say is that if Ronny is here next season it isn’t just about improving from this season. Its about failing to improve in Europe from his first year in charge.

Yes, we’re not even halfway through the current season. We’ve dropped out of Europe earlier than the last season though and that’s a step back.

With the treble still available it has to be a priority to take all domestic honours. There will never be a better time to get it and let’s face it, this could be the turning point for Ronny Deila’s Celtic career and the kick-start required to see him into next season.

Yesterday, Hearts drew with Motherwell and Aberdeen beat Ross County. Celtic have a chance to widen the gap to 7 points with a victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the Caledonian Stadium.

John Hughes’ side aren’t in the same vein of form as they were last season. That doesn’t make a 12.15pm kick-off in Inverness any more pleasing though, particularly in light of Celtic’s Euro exit.

Now it’s time to forget about Europe and concentrate fully on the league and cups. Time to move on.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

In the moments after publishing this article, I discovered that Anthony Stokes vented his dissatisfaction on Twitter at being dragged up to Inverness only to discover he’ll be sitting in the stands. Being the most excluded senior player in the entire squad, I guess I can write him up as one player in opposition to Ronny Deila.

Celtic first, Scotland second

As a Scotsman I was totally disappointed with Scotland’s Euro exit last Thursday. Even with my Irish roots, I felt somewhat bitter and jealous toward the Republic of Ireland and their win over World Champions Germany.

Not all Celtic fan’s will be in the same boat, but that’s how it is for me. Celtic first, Scotland second and Ireland…..well if they’re in a competition I’ll back them over any other country but that’s another story for another time.

I’m a big fan of Gordon Strachan. Even before he came to Celtic, I liked the guy.

Despite our failure to reach France 2016 and yet another major competition, I would like Gordon to stay on. The job needs finishing and some progress has been made with these players under his management.

The result away to Georgia was the one that made things difficult for Scotland. Of course there were plenty of unlucky results against Poland and Germany but Georgia was a costly mistake.

I’m not going to hold that against Strachan though. He just has to move on and build for the next qualifying campaign.

And that won’t be an easy task either. In a group with England, Lithuania, Malta, Slovenia and Slovakia, Gordon Strachan has his work cut out already.

A betting man would put England through as group winners meaning Scotland’s best chance is that second spot. Eight of the best runners-up from the nine European qualifying groups will go into a play off with the eventual four winners going through.

That’s a bigger task than the one this most recent of campaigns. The question is will Strachan fancy it?

I don’t think there is a better manager out there right now to do the job. Given the amount of poor managers Scotland have had in place in the past, you need to know when you have a good one.

There’s a new breed of players still trying to get a Scotland cap. Let’s work on that and start a new wave for what will be a tough campaign with more pressure because by the time Moscow 2018 comes around it will have been 20 years since Scotland’s last tournament.

In the aftermath of this campaign, it has been suggested that Scott Brown may retire from international football. Personally I’d like to see him continue until the qualifiers begin and use it as an opportunity to ‘hand over the reigns’ as it were.

By the time the current season is over he will be approaching 31 years old. The other figure I would like to see him reach is 50 caps for Scotland.

I think he has earned it and using those four caps to welcome in the next captain would be fitting. Once he has done that, he can concentrate firmly on his club career at Celtic.

It’s not unusual for players to start hanging up their international boots around this age. The demands of players such as himself as captain of club and country and playing in four domestic competitions a season is quite demanding.

I’d like to see him play for another six years at Celtic. Quitting the international scene might be the only way to achieve that.

As I said before, Celtic first and Scotland second. Unlucky Gordon, but let’s focus on the future.

Fellow blogger, James Forrest, asked recently who was the better Celtic manager out of Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan. Like myself in previous articles, I’ve brought to the table all of the factors into my writings.

Personally, I can’t take one over the other for a variety of reasons as they both did equally good work for the club. James makes good points about both managers and there’s no doubt that Martin had a powerful impact that helped change the direction of the club but Gordon was charged with taking that further and he did.

Martin had the better players and spent a lot of money but also benefited from Larsson. Gordon built a team with less money whilst seeing most of Martin’s players disappear.

That was a tough job and he did it without the backing of many fans. Gordon had the tougher circumstances and Martin had greater control.

We ALL wanted Martin. Not everyone wanted Gordon.

They both served Celtic well in their time and put us where we are today. Time for Ronny to make an argument for himself.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Taking stock at the international break

The weekend marked the current season as ten matches played in the Scottish Premiership. It’s also the beginning of a second international break.

For Celtic, this comes after a spell of played 7, won 3, drawn 3, lost 1 in all competitions. Before the previous international break it was played 12, won 9, drawn 2, lost 1.

So far this season it has been pretty challenging on all fronts. Europe has put Celtic under the microscope and in the league it has been a battle.

Ronny Deila has been under fire once more from fans and scrutinised by the media. The Champions League exit is in the past so it was the league position he was getting lynched for.

Now the wheels are beginning to come off Derek McInnes ‘title challengers’ and Celtic are closing a gap. Whilst the gap now stands at 1 point, I doubt there will be any praise for that because it is far too positive for the Scottish media.

The last three matches have been tough. At Celtic Park a 0-0 with Hearts (all credit to them) and a 2-2 draw with Fenerbahçe (all credit to Efe) was followed by a narrow 2-1 victory away to Hamilton yesterday. It wasn’t pretty but it was an important result none the less.

Two draws at Celtic Park are far from perfect though. Heart frustrated Celtic after they themselves had lost three games on the bounce – they needed to shore up.

Fenerbahçe came to Celtic Park in their own poor form and managed a draw. In truth, that was a game Celtic should have won.

We all know about Efe’s errors in that one. For close to 70 minutes though, Celtic were in control.

Sunday through up a stiff challenge from Hamilton and they even took the lead. Celtic fought back though and held off for the much needed win.

This has been a period of tough challenges on and off the park whilst Deila is under pressure to make his defence solid and provide a potent strike force. Neither of these have been achieved yet.

Injuries to Mulgrew and Šimunović have not helped him settle the central defence, nor has the departure of van Dijk. However, we knew Virgil was going if the Champions League was over.

Mulgrew would not be my long-term choice for centre half though he has done well in the past. Šimunović I have not seen enough of or even know much about but at the price paid for him, he will need to be the real deal.

With Efe probably close to suicide right now, the international break is has come at a good time. I don’t like to see players singled out for blame but his tendencies for costly errors are well known.

He was selected for defensive duties against Fenerbahçe because he was the most senior player available for that role. And as someone said to me after the match, you cannot account for individual errors.

Yes, Efe does make them and even Ronny said he has improved. Unfortunately just not enough.

Fenerbahçe made a tactical switch in that game last Thursday and it had the desired effect. The same error could have been made by Tyler Blackett had he been given the nod but we’ll never know.

I don’t have any issue with Ambrose being picked when we have little to choose from. You cannot consider him as a regular though because he doesn’t provide the decision making, focus and capability that is required despite being an international for Nigeria.

The other area struggling is attack. With only two strikers in the squad, one of which has still to settle in, Celtic are lightweight.

You can’t ask for much more than Leigh Griffiths is doing right now and he is on course to be even better than last season. Nadir Çiftçi on the other hand will need to start pushing himself because there is nobody else to step in when called upon and the Turk hasn’t exactly made an impact when used.

Ronny has had Carlton Cole training with the team and having a look at the former West Ham striker but any potential move is on hold for the free agent due to injury. Whether Cole is the answer I don’t know but the fact is even with a lack of form last season at Celtic Stefan Šćepović should not have been loaned out without securing a replacement.

Sure, Celtic may have been trying but we should not be embarking on European competition without sufficient players. It is short-sighted and unacceptable and that goes for the defence as much as the attack.

Any procurements made now are ineligible for Europe until the next phase. Even then, we would need to make that stage in the Europa League first.

Last season we obtained the services of John Guidetti who, before turning out to be a total knob, was on fire. He was signed too late for European deadline and so Celtic struggled up front in the Europa League.

This season we’ve got a similar issue. We’ve immediately put ourselves under pressure.

I don’t know if you blame the scouts, the board or the coaching staff. It appears nothing has been learned though.

That said, I am as ever 100% behind Ronny Deila. Yes, we can list selection or tactical errors but it is time to focus on the positives.

Celtic have played 19 competitive matches in 15 week spell. It’s more compact than that when you consider the international break in early September.

Starting in mid-July is gruelling but something are beginning to prepare for better. It is still a long road though when you consider players are still being recruited during this period.

They then have to be integrated and you might even lose some players during this spell. Then you have to face the reality of which European competition you actually made, if at all.

So when the domestic season starts, everyone else comes out of the blocks like greyhounds after the hare. Whilst Celtic are treading carefully with injuries and trying to survive in four competitions.

Consider ourselves lucky that we aren’t an English club with a multi-million pound budget and under-performing. Celtic may be more financially wealthy than all Scottish clubs but they are a lone force in Europe and against stronger teams at the best of times.

Managerial casualties south of the border are racking up. Brendan Rogers’s was long coming whilst Dick Advocaat’s was a case of jumping before pushed and Steve McLaren could be next but I don’t think Ronny is anywhere near those scenarios.

This international break, let’s take stock of the tough schedule we’ve had, the movement of players, the disappointments we’ve had and the ongoing negative press we’ve received. Then look at what is ahead and see that we’re in all three domestic competitions and still competing in Europe.

The season is only really just started. Keep the green flag flying high this international break.

As a foot note, I’d like to wish Gordon Strachan and the Scotland squad all the best this Thursday. I’ll be watching the game in an English pub which 24 hours later will be hoaching with England fans.

Once more Scotland find themselves in a difficult situation when trying to qualify for a major tournament. In all honesty Strachan should have been in a slightly better position but there is still a chance of making a play-off spot.

Part lies in Scotland’s hands, whilst other results play also play a factor. The bottom line for Scotland is to be aiming for maximum points and hoping that Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland falter.

We’ve been here before. I think we deserve a bit of luck.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac