No capital gain for Celtic

The true position of Celtic Football Club was abundantly clear last night. What was on display at Murrayfield was not just devoid of passion and determination, but simple football and basic communication.

Prior to kick off there remained a chance and an opportunity to repair the damage from a week ago in Warsaw. What I saw in Edinburgh turned out to be worse than the first leg.

I’ll set aside the issue that the squad has not been strengthened for now (in fact it’s a likely to get weaker fairly soon). What I will discuss is Ronny Deila, his coaching team and the players he does have at his disposal.

Last week we witnessed a disaster. The bright start made by Celtic eventually slid in presence and quality as the match continued.

A red card and a capitulation could have and probably should have seen Celtic fighting a bigger deficit at Murrayfield last night. As it turns out the deficit was three goals with an way goal in the bag as a boost – not impossible to turn around.

Whilst others went off at the deep end, I gave Deila the benefit of the doubt. The chance to redeem himself with eleven players rather than the ten he was left with for last week’s second half was enough for me to remain optimistic but all involved would have to step it up.

What I watched last night lacked everything you need in European football. In terms of level of performance, it was a shadow of a Celtic side.

With Efe Ambrose suspended, Deila selected Mikael Lustig to partner Virgil van Dijk in central defence. That seemed like the sensible choice given vice captain Charlie Mulgrew’s surprisingly woeful stand-in (or should that be stand-up?) contribution last week, a role he won plaudits for not so long ago.

Emilio Izaguirre was back in the starting line up in his usual left back role. Adam Matthews, who deputised for Izaguirre last week (though why I still don’t know) returned to his more familiar position at right back. With Fraser Forster in goal, this is the defence most of us would have chosen and certainly one I didn’t disagree with.

Then there’s the midfield. Weakened by the injured club captain Scott Brown and lacking the kind of personnel not just to win over fans but to actually win the battle in the middle of the park.

Alongside captain Mulgrew was Stefan Johansen and the young but wilful Callum McGregor. Also in the mix was Nir Biton who if memory serves correctly has barely seen any action this summer.

In front of them was Kris Commons and Anthony Stokes. Commons is a first pick at all times but Stokes’s (unplayed last week) inclusion left me wondering once more why Leigh Griffith’s or even the ‘in form’ Teemu Pukki didn’t get the nod.

Even with this starting lineup I gave the manager the benefit of the doubt. As the match got underway it transpired that the wheels had come off, the teeth had fell out and the game was a bogey.

I’ve seen Celtic teams of the past at least show the determination and effort required to try and overcome a first leg humbling. As an example, Strachan came up short against Artmedia Bratislava away but returned to Celtic Park getting a good win only to come up short in goals scored.

Just last season saw Neil Lennon take virtually the same group of players and overturn a poor away result against Shakhter Karagandy. Lennon did manage to overturn that result, but last seasons unconvincing entry into the Champions League was a warning to the club.

Despite making the group stage last season it was a poor offering and should have been confirmation that this season would yield little more without change. Now that Celtic are out of the Champions League competition shows you that the warning signs were ignored or at the very least, accepted by the board.

You could argue that it wasn’t Celtic Park and therefore didn’t feel like a home game. We weren’t screaming about that when we put minnows KR Reykjavik to bed two weeks earlier though.

What fans are seeing is the club downsizing to the point where they are happy to do just enough to win the league. Given that grim outlook, Europe won’t be a happy hunting ground, as this Champions League “campaign” has shown as well as the one prior to this have demonstrated.

We know that Celtic are not able to compete at the top in terms of transfer fees and wages. I’m not entirely sure where we are competing though.

Lennon said after last weeks game in Warsaw that this result was coming. That the club had to spend but wouldn’t.

As much as it saddened me to hear Lennon say this so soon after leaving, left me feeling unhappy with him. To a degree he is right though, and certainly knows more than I or any other fan.

What now awaits Celtic is a two leg play off match for the Europa League. As much as I hate to say it, this might be a better competition for Ronny Deila if he is to succeed in creating his own team.

If Celtic had somehow overturned the deficit last night the next opponent would surely have wiped the floor with us. The thought of not playing in the Champions League makes my heart sink but at least I won’t have to watch Celtic get slaughtered.

Europa League football isn’t guaranteed, nor am I convinced that Celtic will qualify. If they continue to play as they are at the moment and come up against a basic team like Legia Warsaw then the club can kiss goodbye to any additional income from Europe.

Instead, Ronny Deila will spend a whole season trying to make sure he doesn’t get a hiding from Aberdeen, Dundee United, Motherwell and Inverness. When you consider that Forster, Van Dijk and possibly others might depart, I fear for the direction Celtic are heading in.

It is evident that Deila cannot just wave a wand and make things happen. He’s young, just in the door and getting to know this group of players.

It may well be that these players aren’t good enough. They might not be of sufficient quality to adjust to a new format.

Yet I still feel Deila made some poor choices as many Celtic managers before him have. Also, I can’t imagine John Collins sitting in a TV studio watching as a pundit agreeing with some of those choices either.

Would he not advise against some of Deila’s choices? Would he not moot a similar setup to Lennon’s until they had the right personnel in place?

I was also baffled by the decision to throw on Forrest when the game was already dead and buried. I mean why throw on a guy with injury problems when the match is lost?

It was stupid and put the player at risk. Even Deila himself admitted a few weeks ago that he would not rush Forrest back until he was 100%.

I can’t put my finger on the issue or the decisions. I can only endure what is to come and hope that in the long term Deila’s vision will bear fruit.

It must be said though, Europe is not the theatre to perform new tricks in. In the Champions League there is too much at stake, particularly for Celtic.

I bought into the Deila appointment and avoiding total calamity, I am still prepared to give him a season to make things happen. The question is, what are the board prepared to do to help him get there?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Until Tuesday then…

There’s nothing better than playing at a stadium with bit of noise. Sadly, there aren’t many to choose from in Scottish football anymore, but from my sofa Easter Road sounded decent enough for the viewer.

Celtic travelled to Edinburgh for the lunchtime kick off against Hibs. It wasn’t an eyecatching first half but at least the atmosphere generated was one more deserving of TV coverage.

Hibs took a disputable lead on 18 minutes much to the distaste of Neil Lennon. Celtic were closed down quickly and hassled off the ball during that first 45 minutes but it didn’t prevent them making attacking moves.

The second half saw a better performance from Celtic but it took until the 77th minute to draw level. As is often the case, they had the lions share of possession but still had to contend with some rough tackling from Hibs.

There was ample time and opportunity for Celtic to do something about the scoreline though. Neil Lennon had deployed a whole host of attackers but it was second half substitute James Forrest who scored for Celtic.

He’s often received criticism for disappearing in games but he showed the fans and his teammates where the goal was. It was a superb finish to the far post from the outside of the boot which is right up there with the best of this seasons goals so far.

Forrest almost grabbed another later on had it not been for an excellent one handed save from the Hibs keeper. The winger looked a little dejected at the end having come so close to getting all three points but he singlehandedly got one point for his club.

With a starting lineup including Commons, Pukki, Stokes and Samaras I suggest Lennon was trying to put this match to bed early. Had any of these players been as clinical as Forrest then the manager would have got his wish.

Instead Commons had to come off early with an injury. If it weren’t for the fact Celtic face Ajax on Tuesday he may even have walked that one off.

My feeling is that it was more a precautionary measure than a conclusive inury. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway.

One refreshing feature from yesterday’s match was the performance of Darnell Fisher. I first saw him turn in a good display against Liverpool, albeit it in a friendly.

It was always going to be a bit of a step up for him given the void left by Lustig and Matthews. On yesterdays contribution alone I would say he stood up to task well.

Fisher bore the brunt of the hefty tackling from Hibs but he also took it in his stride. His progress up the right channel often led to the exchange of passing moves rather than just a defending role.

Champions League duty may prove a daunting task for him should Lustig fail to be fit. I don’t think it will come to that but he seems capable for a young player.

From what I saw on TV, there is no doubt the Celtic players had their minds on the Ajax match yesterday but they can now give Tuesday their full attention. Decisions will be made in the next couple of days on the fitness of Commons, Lustig and Izaguirre.

Players who haven’t featured much recently such as Ledley will be considered for starting places as well. Though it is more likely that Kayal will be first pick in midfield along with Mulgrew.

There is also the option of new boy Nir Biton. He hasn’t looked out of place on early viewing and with the absence of Scott Brown for the next three Champions League games, Neil Lennon will need as many options as possible.

On the attacking front, things need to settle down. Stokes has started the season on spectacular form but he isn’t an out-and-out striker.

Despite some goals, Pukki hasn’t settled in yet but his role is in the striking department and hopefully there will be more to come from him very soon. Samaras looks confident right now but a goal from him and a victory on Tuesday night would supercharge the Greek for sure.

In the Champions League he has been fantastic for Lennon. Two narrow defeats against Milan and Barcelona haven’t prevented him from putting in good performances either so Lennon will be counting on him big time.

Celtic’s first Champions League points must be taken against Ajax. In the stands the fans will be right behind the players and I’ll be in travelling north to be there.

I can’t wait. Until Tuesday, Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie