A treble of chances

Today Celtic must bounce back from yet another European disappointment. Once again, capitulation at the hands of Molde means another response on the domestic scene.

Both Aberdeen and Hearts won on Saturday, so Ronny Deila will be looking to reestablish the six spoint gap achieved after Aberdeen’s recent slump. He’ll need to win at Dingwall though, despite the current gap of three points, just to ease the pressure on him.

The fans are not happy with what is happening on the European scene. That, we are all agreed on.

In response, Ronny spoke of his disappointment in his players. The players also spoke about how they didn’t do well enough on the night.

So the coaching staff and playing staff appear to be of the same opinion here. I’d love to know what the general consensus is on the board of directors.

As I said recently, there is no sense Deila leaving before the end of the season if at all. This is his second season in charge and it isn’t even half way yet.

There is a treble on the table, which if managed would put Ronny in the history books. Whether that happens remains to be seen but there are still two Europa League matches to be played out as well.

Even though Celtic are still in with a chance, we haven’t seen enough to convince us that we will qualify. Away to Fenerbahçe will be tough in the final game so winning at home against Ajax would be essential.

Talking of chances, Ronny finally mentioned something that I’ve been talking about for months now. That his predecessor was given three cracks at Europe before they finally got to the Champions League.

It’s a fair point, hence the reason for me bringing it up again. Despite this, it isn’t changing peoples minds about him but I think it is something we should keep in mind and assess matters at the end of the current season.

The focus is on today and getting all three points. At this point in the season it is vital to stay ahead.

Fans will be making the long journey north for today. They will not want to be let down.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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The Deila Quandary

Celtic may as well burn their passports because right now they simply aren’t good enough to compete in Europe. Last night offered an opportunity to improve on a stuttering start in Group A of the Europa League but that failed to materialise.

Putting to one side any bad decisions we’ve had or unlucky moments, Celtic have not progressed this season. Last season we started badly then steadily things picked up.

Before this current campaign began I felt Ronny Deila could build upon that learning curve. A league and cup double as well as a last 32 place in the Europa League wasn’t bad for a first season in charge.

Considering how things started for Ronny, it was a reasonable finish to the season. He won over some fans and even put some critics on mute but they’ve merely been on standby until now.

As it turns out Celtic haven’t really made the progress we expected or wanted. We’re top of the league earlier than last season but we have regressed in Europe.

The funny thing is, there are actually some great individual positives in the team right now. Tierney, Bitton, Rogić and Griffiths are all in excellent form and ironically we’re still not out of the Europa League.

On the downside, our defence is weaker than ever and some players are playing well below the standard right now. We are also lightweight in attack with only one form striker in Griffiths.

However, it is our performances in Europe that concern us. We’ve missed out on the Champions League two years running and parachuted into the Europa League, which in all fairness isn’t any worse than Neil Lennon’s first two seasons in charge.

However, the chances Celtic have had to enter the Champions League and the opposition that have stood in our way were totally beatable. That is one of the biggest issues about those opportunities.

This season we might not make it to the last 32. For that reason alone, the numbers of Celtic fans calling time on Ronny Deila is on the rise.

I understand the opinions of those fans. However, I don’t see Deila being shown the door.

We all agree that in Europe it isn’t working. With a treble still on the table though, the club aren’t going to axe Ronny.

If he was getting pummelled by Aberdeen or Hearts then he might be seeking other employment. However he isn’t and he’s not.

Fan’s identify different areas to our current situation. For some it’s the coaching team, for others it’s the players but the board and Lawwell are also getting it in the neck.

Yet we’ve out spent some of the teams who have overcome us with ease. That raises questions about the coaching and players.

To solve the problem you have to identify what the issues are. In the league we’re doing okay but it could be a lot better.

In Europe we’re devoid of ideas and lackadaisical in defence. The passion and desire are not there.

Ronny’s methods appear to be fresh forward thinking. Are they getting Celtic the results the need or will they ever?

He could continue winning the league year after year in the current climate. Unless another club really can push Celtic or the tribute act survive long enough to make it to the Premiership and mount a challenge, there isn’t really much danger of losing the league.

It is in Europe that most if not all Celtic fans want to see progress though. We live for these occasions but Ronny is coming up short.

Playing Inter Milan last season had me foaming at the mouth about Europe given how unlucky we were. I’ve been brought crashing down to Earth on that matter given our current continental performances.

Europe is difficult territory. It can take money to get to the pinnacle but to compete it merely takes guile and tactical nous.

The latter comes from the coaching team but we appear to be suffering in that department. Sure, the players are making mistakes but is it all down to them or are the instructions and tactics flawed for Europe?

Getting rid of Deila will not change anything in my opinion. Unless Celtic are recruiting someone who can improve things in Europe then it’s a pointless exercise.

I like Ronny and would like to see him succeed but in Europe he is tactically naive. It was a very similar story for Neil Lennon in his first two seasons as well.

We can discuss player errors and individual performances but putting the defensive predicament to one side for a moment, this squad of players should be performing much better as a team than they currently are. I don’t think there is much wrong with the overall quality, but there is a question mark over motivation, game plan and leadership.

Something has to change. We can start with hearing some honesty from Celtic Park.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Breaking the Molde

Celtic’s season in Europe is not over. Tonight though, they will need to jolt it into life against Molde.

Confidence has improved recently but the 3-1 away defeat to Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side is a result Celtic need to overturn. That opportunity awaits Ronny Deila and his players at Celtic Park tonight.

Despite injuries Celtic have momentum. The errors against Molde must be exorcised this evening in front of the home fans.

It will go a long way to gaining some support and belief. It can also keep the club’s Europa League hopes alive.

A lot of fans threw in the towel after the game in Norway. They also decided enough was enough and Ronny Deila should move on.

Since then Celtic have responded with a good run of games. They need to carry that onto the European scene though.

I’ll be looking to our current star performers Griffiths, Rogić, Bitton and young Tierney to lift this team. Equally, it is time everyone else stepped up.

I’ve got nothing more to say on the matter for now. The task is simple – win.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Defiant Deila, sheepish McInnes.

What negative Celtic headlines will we be reading in the coming days? After a convincing win over Aberdeen on Saturday lunchtime, will the media continue to chip away at Scotland’s best football club and their head coach, Ronny Deila?

I’ve mentioned to quite a few people over the years how the English press lay into their national football team in every way possible. They treat then almost as if they are the enemy and I just don’t get it.

The Scottish press are a similar bunch with one difference. They’re supportive of our national side (unless they are truly are honking!) but they stick the boot in to Celtic at any opportunity so long as it makes a headline – fact or fib.

This is part of the reason why many Celtic fans, including myself, despise the sporting media in Scotland. The other part stems from the protection and promotion of our deceased rivals across the city.

The Scottish media’s failure to report the truth about their demise was every bit as blatant as the decisions they received over the years from referees and the SFA’s agenda. Officials and the media are of course two totally different areas of the game though populated by people with similar leanings.

If you dare to report the truth about the dark side or even utter anything factually correct, they’ll take it as far as it needs to. Just ask former BBC journalist Jim Spence, the most recent victim of abuse from the tribute act.

However, I digress. The point is even now with our old rivals long gone, their phoenix club potentially meeting a similar fate, and rivals Aberdeen fading faster than Derek McInnes’s tan in December, Celtic remain the media target.

It doesn’t matter whether they are having a good season or not. The media will do everything and enlist anyone to push Celtic’s buttons.

David Tanner and Andy Walker were at it yesterday during the Sky Sports coverage apparently. I didn’t see the game live but Ronny “losing the plot” and “being lucky” were being banded about on Twitter.

Gordon Strachan did not jump on their bandwagon though. For a guy who played for Aberdeen, did a great job for Celtic and still never won over all the Celtic support fans, he’s never ever stuck the boot in on Celtic like some ex-Celts have.

When he resigned a rather large portion of fans were happy to see him go and his replacement, Tony Mowbray, walk in. And we all know how that turned out.

So let’s see how our media handle Celtic this week particularly with a home tie against Molde in the Europa League on Thursday. Criticism has been rife this season and not without good reason but I sense Celtic have unity among the ranks even if some fans have lost faith.

Aberdeen have slipped into third. Hearts are the new title challengers and we disposed of them in the League Cup last Wednesday.

Celtic are still the best team in Scotland by far. It’s a shame they aren’t given the credit they deserve particularly when they have earned it.

Top of the league. Mind the gap.

The only footage I’ve seen of the Aberdeen match so far contained the Leigh Griffiths header and James Forrest goal which were both sublime in the build up and the finish. I also caught the tackle by Graham Shinnie on Nir Bitton which was horrendous.

That was a red card in my opinion and in Europe he wouldn’t have been so lucky, not that Aberdeen know what Europe is like these days. I’ve seen players sent off for less and any attention Shinnie received from the Celtic players throughout the match was most definitely warranted.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Succeeding in the face of adversity

Isn’t it funny that in the days leading up to a top of the table clash in the Scottish Premiership, the Scottish media focus the pressure on Ronny Deila and not Derek McInnes? Well not really because this is exactly the kind of bollocks we were used to back in the days when we played the dark side of Glasgow.

Since the painful defeat to Molde, Celtic have bounced back with two domestic wins. They’ve endured the Commons meltdown, a training ground incident and a couple of fresh injuries.

That’s a lot to contend with. So credit where it is due particularly when faced with a such adverse conditions.

In the last few days we’ve heard Alex McLeish and Jimmy Calderwood both give their tuppence worth about what Ronny Deila should be doing at Celtic. It’s easy for the media to enlist the belly rumblings of out of work managers these days but these ex-managers should focus on their own career issues and let the young guys get on with it.

Nobody mentioned how Ronny handled the past few weeks and still remains in four competitions. I guess that positive spin doesn’t sell papers though.

Celtic might be under pressure but Celtic are always under pressure. Supporters expect the team to win and perform well.

Europe is the eternal dream so when it doesn’t quite go to plan, we rightly get upset. We’ve seen our players show discontent as well but in opposition to this there have been plenty of players supporting the manager.

Today Celtic go into a home fixture unbeaten in their last seven domestic matches. That kind of consistency has gone without any praise and when you add the European fixtures to that, Celtic have only lost one of their last ten games.

In that same period Aberdeen have won two, lost four and drawn two. That loss in form wasn’t deemed a crisis though.

Instead Aberdeen are happy going into today’s game as ‘underdogs’. That kind of humbling statement might be true but the media, so taken by the early season form of the Don’s, have chose not to put any pressure upon Derek McInnes.

So I’m pleased Ronny Deila has hit out at his detractors. It doesn’t mean he isn’t thick skinned, but it did highlight the imbalance in Scottish journalism once again.

Once more I’ll nail my colours to the mast and maintain my support of Ronny Deila. I won’t hide my criticism or opinion when something is wrong because that was why I started my blog in the first place and no Celtic manager has had unfair criticism from me in my writings.

If I don’t like what I see, I’ll tell you why. Overall I want Deila to succeed and back him to get through another tough period.

Celtic won’t improve unless the players and coaching staff sticking together. They must also be supported by the board and both points appeae to be the case.

When something isn’t working, then it should be tackled. There has been visible evidence that some things aren’t working.

So change it ir bin it. Don’t persist because it obviously isn’t having the desired effect.

Celtic have every right to go out today and beat Aberdeen. McInnes’s players may have had a slump but they remain Deila’s prime threat though.

Sadly I won’t see today’s match live but I’m putting my faith in our form players and predicting a convincing win. Let’s hope I don’t have to eat those words.

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

Getting back to where we belong

After winning “ugly” at the weekend, Celtic are back at the summit of the Scottish Premiership. Aberdeen’s early season form took everyone by storm but straight defeats in their last four matches has brought a wave of reality crashing down on their title challenge.

Considering the Hoops were said to be in crisis not so long ago by our friends in the media, I’d say that the club are doing better than the football we’re actually seeing suggests. After a 1-0 victory over Motherwell at Fir Park, Celtic are back where they belong.

Regardless of how good or bad things appear to fans or the media, Celtic are the best team in Scotland. I’m not getting carried away with myself or even delusional, it’s just a modern day fact.

Even with a reduction in fortunes, Celtic can still bully themselves into a strong position. For Ronny Deila there is still a lot of hard work to be done though and he knows it.

As well as ensuring Celtic stay top of the league, there are four more games in the Europa League group phase. At this point in the season I’d like to see all of the squad players begin to show their worth, even those who find themselves on the periphery of first team matters.

Some players come out of the traps at the beginning of the season whilst others take longer to find their feet or wait their turn. Now though the honeymoon period is over and there are games to be won and won convincingly.

It’s a marathon not a sprint comes to mind when approaching a football season. The idea behind having a squad is to keep momentum throughout.

With some key players missing for the Molde game this evening, Ronny Deila needs those players who are stepping in, to step up. I’m confident things will improve in this squad and there is more than enough capability in the team, but so far this season Deila has yet to find balance and flow.

There’s a mixture of youth and experience in the squad, but there are fewer stand out players than before. I think we’d all agree in saying that Kris Commons is probably the only guy capable of pulling something special off in a match.

His experience is not to be sniffed at but he is also the wrong side of 30 and not always selected. Of the more youthful breed, one has yet to emerge as ‘special’ but James Forrest has given us a few moments in matches recently so it’s a loss to be without his services this evening.

There are other contenders in the team but they must first find some form and maintain it in order to make a significant impact in the team week in week out. Stefan Johansen looked good when he came to the club in January 2014 and last season he was fantastic.

This season though has been a slow start for him and he puts that down to a back problem. Whether that is true or not, he is not alone in failing to hit the ground running so far.

Gary Mackay-Steven looked good pre-season but as the competitive matches came thick and fast he fell out of the picture. Stuart Armstrong, is another who has yet to emboss himself in the team properly, certainly in the way that many have expected he would.

Still, it is still very early in both ex-Dundee United players Celtic careers having only signed in January this year. The pursuit of both players in that transfer window was most likely to settle them for this season so it is time for them to start demonstrating their worth on the park.

I’d still rather have Celtic investing in proven Scottish players such like Zig and Zag than spending £2M+ on garbage like Pukki and co. Guys like him were ill-advised gambles who we have had a history of under several managers.

The money wasted on these players is bad for business. When you’re stuck with these jokers on three or four year contracts the club end up having to loan them out, flog them for cut prices or just cut their losses.

Whatever claims the club has or had of a good scouting network, it has been tarnished by some atrocious purchases. Fair enough, you don’t always get your buys right and there are occasions when you cannot account for certain areas of a player’s characteristics, psyche etc.

However, some of Celtic’s acquisitions over the last few seasons have been so bad that heads should have rolled. I’d much rather see the club spend over £4-5M on one cracking player than buy some misfiring striker or injury prone winger for £2M.

We have youth in abundance, and can fill our squad with players just as good as some of these punts. Is Callum McGregor more effective in a Celtic jersey than Derk Boerrigter?

No question. That’s just one example though.

In fact I’d rather go out and buy a free scoring Scottish Championship striker than pay for a guy like Teemu Pukki. I mean, what would possess you to buy a player who did little up front in any of his previous clubs when we were crying out for a goalscorer to replace Gary Hooper?

Currently, there is a lot of potential in this squad but they need good motivation and solid tactics. Young managers and players deserve time though and I remain, as ever, faithful through and through.

One player who has had a long wait to show his worth is Tom Rogić. The Australian international’s injuries hampered his opportunities to make the first team but now he is emerging as a key player alongside Nir Bitton and Johansen having been given that chance this season.

It’s encouraging to see a player like him take his opportunity with both hands having had to wait so long. That should be an example to others when addressing their own Celtic careers, particularly tonight in Norway.

Molde will be a familiar foe for Ronny Deila and Stefan Johansen but it won’t be an easy game. Celtic need to get off to the right start and more importantly, take their chances.

The Hoops can keep the ball and move it around. The issue at the moment though has been concentration and focus for the entire match and more importantly, taking those chances when they come along.

Leigh Griffiths is doing a grand job up front but he’s doing it alone. I get that most teams play a lone striker these days but I’m old fashioned.

Two up front might not suit every game but there are times when it will and we need to establish that quicker in games. Play the channels by all means but do it effectively or don’t do it at all.

Molde are now under new, yet familiar management in Ole Gunnar Solskjær. He managed the club a for a few years before his brief stint at Cardiff and now he and Deila will go toe-to-toe once more albeit in a different competition.

Fenerbahçe were stunned in Turkey by Molde after being beaten 3-1 on home turf. That wee surprise has been the only victory in Group A so far.

If Molde were to notch up their second win this evening it would put them in a good position at the half way stage. On the other hand, if Celtic were to surprise us and win in Norway, they would be on level points with Molde.

A draw would not be a disaster but a defeat would allow Ajax or Fenerbahçe the chance to leapfrog Celtic. In terms of luck, Celtic have not had much this season so it would be a welcome boost to get that tonight.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac