Title twists

When I was writing my preview for Tuesday’s game at Dens Park, I wondered if this would be another of those ‘turning points’. Well, it wasn’t and Ronny Deila ended up with the same result when Paul Hartley brought his team to Celtic Park in March.

I didn’t see the game and I’m glad I didn’t either. Otherwise my wife would have been as just disappointed with our anniversary celebrations as I would have been with a 0-0 draw!

Worse still, Celtic blew their game at hand by dropping two points. This was a good opportunity to put daylight between ourselves and Aberdeen.

Instead, Derek McInnes will be encouraged by this slip up. He knows that if Aberdeen beat Celtic after the split they could potentially be 2 points off top spot.

With other points likely to be dropped by both teams, this makes for a nervy finish to the current season. If you’re a neutral or even interested in Scottish football it makes for good viewing.

In fairness to Dundee though they’re trying to secure a top six place. On recent performances I’d say they are on course but the truth is there are four teams in total battling it out with St Johnstone, Partick Thistle and Ross County also in the mix.

Celtic play Motherwell at Fir Park for their final match before the split. Mark McGhee has hauled the Lanarkshire club up the table to a very respectable 4th and his team will remain in the top six.

That won’t deter Motherwell from upsetting Celtic’s title chances though. We’ve been there before and they’ve also been the ones to spoil the show in the past.

Before that challenge on Saturday though, all eyes will be on Tynecastle on Friday night. With Hearts hosting Aberdeen, all Celtic fans will be hoping the Dons will drop points un the capital.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d much prefer Celtic to be winning this fight on their own but it is clear that this team haven’t got it in them right now. Too many players aren’t turning up in matches and at this point in the season you need a concerted effort by everyone.

If someone hasn’t been injured, they’ve been off form. That isn’t an excuse, that’s just football.

I never expected Celtic to win all of their remaining matches. In fact I even said that if we dropped points it doesn’t mean we’ve lost the league.

What I am concerned about is the attitude and character of the players. We saw against a dominant Hearts side at Celtic Park what sort of result could be achieved even though we weren’t as good as the visitors for most of the game.

Don’t think for a second that the towel is being thrown in though. This will be a battle to the death despite how unconvincing our performances have been.

The Scottish media have rallied around the promotion of the Championship winners and the ‘boost’ it will give the top flight. Well from my perspective it seems to have been doing just fine judging by the title challenges of the last two seasons.

Of course we welcome all newcomers to the Scottish Premiership. Just don’t belittle the battle that has been going on in the last two seasons between Celtic and Aberdeen by suggesting the arrival of the new Ibrox club are here to solve all that is wrong with our game.

Scottish football suffers through the mismanagement by its authorities and a self-serving biased media. The pro-Ibrox revival is hard to miss given how many folk are licking their lips across Scottish football and the media.

As I say though, it’s nice to have newcomers to football. We’ll give them the proper treatment when the time comes.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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A game at hand

Aberdeen responded to Celtic’s victory over Hearts  on Saturday with a very convincing win over visitors, Hamilton Academical on Sunday. So now it is down to Celtic to finally utilise that game at hand against Dundee tomorrow night and ensure that 7 point gap between first and second place becomes a real thing.

Once Tuesday night’s three Scottish Premiership fixtures have been played, all clubs will have reached the 32 game mark. Matchday 33 is the final set of fixtures before the league split and the pick of these involves 3rd versus 2nd on Friday night.

Hearts host Aberdeen at Tynecastle on to kick off the weekend and this will be a game worth watching for two reasons. One will be that Hearts are aiming to close the gap on the Dons and the other will be the effect this result could have on Celtic’s title chances.

A win for the Jambos would put a severe dent in the Dons’ hopes of catching Celtic. Matches involving Aberdeen, Celtic and Hearts after the split will be very significant in this title race.

As for Celtic, well it’s all about dispensing of Dundee tomorrow night first. They will face a determined effort from the Dee who are battling for that sixth placed spot.

They ousted Ross County from the top half of the league after a 5-2 demolition on Saturday. Even a point at Celtic Park on Tuesday would be helpful enough to keep them as favourites for sixth place before the split.

So it is unlikely Celtic will get it easy at Celtic Park tomorrow night as it is just as important a match for both teams. Once more though, Celtic will be expected to display their title credentials.

They must respond to Aberdeen’s three goal dismantling of Hamilton in the first 33 minutes of Sunday’s match at Pittodrie. Celtic’s last meeting with Paul Hartley’s side ended in a 0-0 draw at Celtic Park and should serve as a reminder to Ronny Deila that his players will meet a stubborn side.

Celtic’s home and away stats are very similar and the same can be said for last season. Consistent yes but what we all want to see is more conviction in those displays, home or away.

We’ve fallen short in key areas this season, some being individual performances. So far we’ve conceded more goals than last season and have yet to score the same amount.

Our goals against can’t improve on last year but goals for can. And that’s what will win games, as Saturday’s win over Hearts proved.

An unsettled defence has not helped that scenario for Ronny Deila this season but there are signs that things are settling down at the back. That needs to be built upon right through the midfield to the front line.

Plans are already under way for next season already. One of those players not in the plans is Derk Boerrigter.

Finally, Celtic have ended their ‘relationship’ with the Dutch flop. ‘Sicknote’, as he is better known, is one of the worst signings ever made by the club.

Whoever scouted and sanctioned the money for this guy should be held accountable. Given his track record, this player should never have been touched with a barge pole.

Whilst I accept that not all signings will work out there were enough warning signs not to gamble with him. Celtic did though and it was an empty jersey for almost three years.

At least players like Pukki, Šćepović and Çiftçi gave more in a short space of time and have resale value. How do you sell a donkey though?

Simple, you don’t. Instead you take a financial hit and this is one error we would like to but are unlikely forget.

Thanks for the memories Derk. There’s been few.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Black Friday

One minute you’re lifted up and within moments you are dropped to the ground again. Celtic’s failure in Europe is a mental and physical drain on my energy levels.

In fact, I don’t even think I can discuss the mistakes, errors or bad luck today. Generally, its the same story as before – squandered chances, lack of concentration…etc…etc.

Each time I’ve watched Celtic in Europe this season my disappointment has stooped further. No improvement from last season and no sign of better things in the future either.

With those two facts stamped on Celtic’s passports what can we expect to change before next season? Coaching staff, players and boardroom have all been individually blamed for our current woes but what’s the next move?

Option 1. Sack Ronny Deila.

This is the obvious solution for many but it does seem unlikely right now. Peter Lawwell backed him at the AGM last week as you’d expect.

Europe alone has been poor. Worse than last season in fact.

Unable to maintain a lead, keep a clean sheet, concentrate for the whole match or find another gear to step things up. Things have gone backwards not forwards.

Ronny maintains his stance that things will improve. It’s rather bold considering the obvious factors in all of Celtic’s European results – tactical naivety, inability to adapt within the match, struggle in the face of adversity.

With a domestic treble still on the table I believe he will be allowed the opportunity to make that happen but it remains to be seen if he can. What I don’t know is if Celtic really are behind him for another European campaign or if they are just keeping the peace for now.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Neil Lennon was given a third shot at Europe. It turned out to be his best and this was where he peaked as the season that followed, Lennon’s fourth, was his last.

Unfortunately for Ronny, he has had two golden opportunities to get into the Champions League. The teams that stood in his way were average and totally beatable but those opponents carved Celtic up.

Ronny has a philosophy and I get that but sometimes you need to adapt rather than persist, particularly when your philosophy is not showing signs of working. If he totally believes that next season we’ll be in the Champions League, I would like to know how that is going to be achieved and what changes will be made because you can’t just convince people based on your say so.

I more than anyone else would love to see Ronny Deila succeed and at the same time would love to be wrong but I’m finding myself believing that he has his limitations. A coach with a philosophy seems to be why he was hired in the first place but to manage and take the team forward is a skill he may not possess.

Option 2. Spend Better.

The board have been criticised over the years about not spending when required. I’ve agreed and disagreed with some of these debates because lets face it football supporters just want to see good signings without any really idea about finances.

In recent years though, Celtic have been buying some real donkeys. I won’t go through any of these but a lot of money has been wasted.

Peter Lawwell stated at the AGM that the market they can afford to shop in is a hit or miss one. I argued that one superb player for more money would be better than cheaper gambles.

A friend pointed out that with a more expensive signing comes a higher salary. It’s a fair point and Celtic are unlikely to sustain high salaries, in fact it is the reason for moving on some of our rising stars I’m sure.

Having said that, Celtic do need to be more bold in transfer market. They also need to do better on the scouting front because it simply isn’t good enough.

As Chris Sutton said last night on BT Sport, whoever is buying the players needs to be doing a better job. If Celtic want to punch a hole in the Champions League again they’re going to need some influential players who can change the game at the highest level.

I’ve not had much time for Sutton’s comments in the past but I can’t argue with his passionate venting on TV last night. The difference with what he is saying now is more about timing than anything else and it is time for action at the club.

The club have regressed so far, we are a shadow of our former selves. The business may look great but the football is not.

Option 3. Stick With The Plan.

Even although we haven’t improved since last season the only other thing Celtic as a club can do is stick with the same formula. Coaching staff, players, philosophy, transfer policy……the whole shebang.

This seems the most likely thing to happen. If Deila was to go, of his own accord or getting pushed, I don’t know who’d replace him.

In terms of money we outspend any other club in Scotland already. That just gets Celtic into Europe and keeps a buffer between them and the rest of the SPFL.

If there is to be no shift in with the club in its current set up, then they will have to pray that this bears fruit next season. The tough part will be keeping the supporters on board because right now people are losing faith if they haven’t already.

Last night I discussed with some mates about which names would go into the hat if Ronny left. The usual suspects came up but in all honesty I can only see Celtic going lower down the market.

You can forget guys like David Moyes or the recently appointed at Blackburn Rovers, Paul Lambert. This job comes with financial limitations so candidate options are even more limited than the player market we are currently in.

Personally, I don’t think there is a coach in Scotland that could do a job at Celtic. Paul Hartley has been on the rumour mill before but that’s more by default than any ability he has if you ask me.

Another foreign coach would be the only way forward. Failing that, you are looking at a coach from the lower leagues in England which to be honest is not my cup of tea.

The names that cropped up last night though, aside from Paul Hartley were, Roy Keane, Neil Lennon and Jackie McNamara. The financial limitations were said to be the reason behind Keane turning down Celtic and also the reason for Lennon leaving so whether either would be interested in returning to the club is up for debate.

Jackie McNamara left Dundee United with a whimper after being relieved of his best players. You could argue that the club didn’t help replace those players but of the three that Celtic acquired, we’ve yet to see them do a convincing job under Ronny Deila.

The one name that didn’t come up in that brief conversation was John Collins. When he was hired I imagined he would be the back up guy should Deila fail.

In all honesty I don’t know if he would be deemed as culpable as Ronny. On the bench during games most of the activity is between Deila and John Kennedy.

Would Celtic offer Collins the head role if Ronny left or would he go with him? It would be interesting to see how that one would play out.

Whichever way you look at it, the market is narrow and when you consider that, it is understandable why Celtic opted for Ronny in the first place. He may not have been first choice but he was the best on the table I’m guessing.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Pressure from above and below

Saturday afternoon coughed up a few surprises in the Scottish Premiership. One of these would result in the first managerial casualty of the season.

Jackie McNamara has had a difficult start to the season. Yesterday’s defeat at the hands of 10 man St Johnstone appears to have marked the end his tenure at Dundee United.

Take nothing away from Tommy Wright’s players because they have shown some grit and determination when you least expect it. For Jackie, it has not been so productive on the pitch.

If only he could have pulled off the kind of result John Hughes did over Derek McInnes’s Aberdeen. That may have only delayed the inevitable because after nine games, one win, two draws and six defeats his time is up.

For a team who have sold quite a few of their best players in the last couple of years, it isn’t hard to work out what has gone wrong. It is one thing to sell your best players to bigger clubs, but you have to replace them as well.

Celtic are no different when they’ve sold Hooper, Foster, Wanyama and more recently van Dijk. These guys made a bigger name for themselves in Europe with Celtic and that bought them a ticket to England, but it is Celtic’s responsibility to bring in guys of the same potential.

You’d be better placed to ask a Dundee United fan if their club have done that. Personally I don’t think they have, but the difference between Dundee United this season compared to last is a whopping 14 points who were also sat at the top of the Scottish Premiership this time last year.

Since then, Celtic took three of their best players off them. How much of that was reinvested?

John Hughes pulled off the result of the day with a 2-1 win over Aberdeen. His Inverness side have also suffered a bad start to the season compared to last but Saturday’s result was a real shot in the arm.

Beating the unbeaten moved them up into eighth place in the Scottish Premiership on 10 points. However, they are still 7 points worse off from the same stage last season.

Elsewhere, Martin Canning’s Hamilton side got a win over Gary Locke’s Kilmarnock, pulling them up into fourth in the league on equal points with Hearts. Having had a couple of spells at the top of the league last season, it is familiar territory for Hamilton.

They should make use of the early misfortunes of Dundee United and Inverness. These were the three teams occupying the top three positions for the first quarter of last season.

Jim McIntyre’s Ross County and Paul Hartley’s Dundee played out a high scoring 3-3 draw. That result allowed Hamilton to skip into fourth so Ross County move down one place to fifth whilst Dundee remain in sixth.

Motherwell notched up only their third win of the season at home to Partick Thistle. That enabled Stephen Craigan’s side to move up to ninth but for Partick it is yet another day of woe.

Alan Archibald has yet to win a match this season. Having earned only three points via three draws, will he be next on the managerial casualty list?

For Celtic, they had a hard time trying to break down Hearts at Celtic Park. With home advantage and umpteen chances at goal, Neil Alexander and his defenders did their job well in earning a point.

Given that Hearts had three straight defeats going into this game, you can forgive them for not coming out to play. A more deadly Celtic attack may have broken through the barrier the Edinburgh club put up though.

Efe Ambrose’s red card at the end of the match was necessary. Anyone who has played the game will know that was the correct thing to do and I have no beef with him about it.

Sam Nicholson may have been able to score, he might not have. In those dying minutes though, it was a red card that saved a potential mishap.

Ronny Deila might be frustrated but with Aberdeen losing, Celtic still moved a point closer to top spot. With results like these, this makes the Scottish Premiership much more entertaining.

Many will still assume that Celtic will win the league. Even so, there is pressure from above and below.

Who says Scottish football is boring?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac