Forging ahead

20150921-mind-the-gapThere was nothing scintillating about Celtic’s win over Kilmarnock last night. A single goal decided the match, but this was no easy three points for Brendan Rodgers.

In the first half Celtic were dominant with good work rates from Callum McGregor and James Forrest in attack. Despite retaining the ball for long periods though, Celtic weren’t really penetrating the Kilmarnock defence.

In fairness to the Ayrshire side, they put up a solid formation, but they didn’t sit back too much either. They hit on the break and put Celtic under pressure at times and probably could have scored a goal or two had it not been from a lack of composure or better fortune, which in this game would have made things more interesting.

Celtic had several chances themselves, but composure and luck deserted them on all but one occasion. The second half was a little more feisty with several players becoming involved in mini-tussles.

Craig Gordon had a least one blip which could have been worse and Dedryck Boyata, starting his first game under the new manager, looked shaky on more than one occasion. Gordon did recover though but I’m still no more impressed with Boyata than I was when he played under Ronny Deila.

Stuart Armstrong also found himself under pressure in the first half a couple of times. He looked like he was wearing the wrong boots….until he scored.

Armstrong, a growing presence in the Celtic midfield these days, put away a tidy finish after a good run and some neat interplay in front of him. His all round game is becoming more prominent in the team with every passing game and he showed that even after a slip up earlier in the game he can retain his composure when required.

When you have a young talented player like this in your squad, why would you even bother with Steven Gerrard? We already have one senior midfielder in Scott Brown who is playing his best football in years.

And when you consider that Tom Rogic is adding goals, pace and skill in a midfield-attack role, our midfield is looking healthy. Nir Bitton will want to sort out is ailing game and get back in the program because he is slipping down the pecking order and rightly so.

So it is another 3 points for Celtic and the gap is widening. Another clean sheet takes Celtic step closer to obtaining another Scottish league record.

The rest of the Scottish Premiership are in action this afternoon and on Monday night. Four teams will be hoping to catchup with Brendan Rodgers runaway train.

Aberdeen (2nd) have a tricky one away to Inverness (6th), The Rangers (3rd) have and easy one at home to Dundee (11th),  St Johnstone (joint 5th) are at home to Ross County (12th) today and Hearts (joint 5th) are away to Hamilton (9th) on Monday night. With Celtic are 13 points clear at the top of the league, only a point separates second, third and fourth/fifth placed teams.

It is that tight and the pecking order could change very quickly. This is an interesting battle as four teams compete to be Celtic’s real contender though at this stage it is looking like the best of the rest.

Aberdeen have been that team for a while. Hearts showed their intentions last season.

We’ll know by the end of the season just how close The Rangers are to mounting a serious challenge. Right now they are sitting third, but no team is as near as Celtic as they would like to be.

In the meantime, Brendan Rodgers will prepare for Barcelona on Wednesday night in the Champions League. Can he beat the Catalan machine on home turf as his Northern Irish compatriot Neil Lennon did in 2012?

Well, let’s put it this way, one win from the last two games is the ONLY way Celtic have a chance of qualifying in third spot. Beating Manchester City away seems like a tough one so why not Barcelona at home eh?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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

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

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

Comfortably Thumb

Celtic turned in a comfortable performance yesterday at home to Ross County. After a spate of bad form, Ronny Deila got a decent response from his players.

Leigh Griffiths, a recent victim of social media abuse, notched up goal number 30 of the season. He’d been denied by the post earlier in the match which could easily have turned out to be the story of the game but it wasn’t.

Instead, the timing of Celtic’s opening goal was ideal with it coming in injury time in the first half. Kieran Tierney crossed the ball into the Ross County box which their defence failed to clear sufficiently thanks to pressure from Stefan Johansen.

The ball dropped to Griffiths who smashed it home from close range. This made him the fastest Celtic player to reach the 30 goal mark since Henrik Larsson.

Dedryck Boyata doubled Celtic’s lead in the 57th minute with a great header. With a deep cross coming in from Stuart Armstrong, Boyata leapt to nod it in at the back post.

It helped settle things down but results are rarely settled with a two goal lead. Craig Gordon demonstrated a fine save late in the game to deny County an equaliser.

He’s not been in his best form this season but that save showed he still has the ability and focus. This was a steady performance by Celtic who have now won their last two game’s 2-0.

Ronny Deila needs to rebuild the confidence that the team were displaying throughout January. The League Cup exit remains a scar on the season but the focus remains on the League and Scottish Cup.

Now it is over to Aberdeen who face Inverness tomorrow night at the Caledonian Stadium. Both sides have only lost 1 of their last five matches but with 26 points separating each side, Aberdeen are the favourites for this match.

Though it is worth remembering that Derek McInnes’ side have not beaten Inverness in their last two league meetings. They drew the last match 2-2 at Pittodrie on Boxing Day and Inverness won 2-1 at the Caledonian Stadium back in late September.

The Dons are on form though and in pursuit of Celtic who despite a difficult period, remain 3 points at the top of the league. Win, lose or draw tomorrow night, Celtic will still have a game at hand.

Congratulations to Leigh Griffiths this weekend for reaching that milestone. Even greater credit for enduring the internet trolls.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

EK OK but revenge is on the cards

If there is one area of the current Celtic team that has been of concern to me, it is motivation. That isn’t to say there aren’t other topics worth debating, but in my opinion this has been one subject that has had question mark over it this season.

Ronny Deila has been intent on improving physical capability, diet, lifetstyle etc. It has been apparent in some games though that matchday motivation is missing.

Sometime it’s the individual, sometimes the whole team. Even if you’re not the Ferguson haridryer type of head coach, perhaps you need a drill sergeant in your coaching staff.

I don’t know if that type of person exists at Celtic these days. I don’t know if it goes against Ronny’s philosophy, but in Scotland or even the UK, I’d say you need someone like that on your staff.

I wouldn’t say that you necessarily need that person to bark at you in each game but sometimes you need to be inspired and motivated by saying the right thing at the right time. That can come from within the individual, but I would almost certainly say that you need someone in ‘authority’ to do that one-to-one or to the whole team.

Maybe Ronny is the guy that plays that role, but then again maybe he isn’t the right kind of guy to utter those words. Does he need someone on board to assist in that area?

I’ve read a few tidbits recently about Collins and Kennedy. All rumours of course, but the general flavour is regarding their role at the club.

I don’t personally have any insight on how effective a role they perform at the Celtic these days. Should there be any issues then I think we’ll find out about it eventually.

Changing your coaching staff isn’t an unusual development. However the rumour that this may be on the cards at Celtic is likely to be just that – a rumour.

Some fans would prefer to see the entire coaching team sacked. I doubt we’ll see anyone from the current coaching team move before the end of the season.

Once the current campaign is dealt with we’ll have a better idea what lies ahead. Right now Celtic need to push hard for this domestic double.

That will require beating Ross County at Celtic Park this Saturday. I talked about motivation in this team – well this is one of those occasions when motivation comes from within.

The League Cup defeat to the Highland club was a bitter blow. County got the rub of the green in that match by playing against 10 man Celtic for the majority of the game and turning that into a victory.

Despite Celtic feeling hard done by, they will be looking for revenge against Ross County. Had Efe Ambrose stayed on the park at Hampden, we may have been looking at a more positive Celtic but instead the heads have been down since then.

The heads have been  down these last 7 days. A long 7 days I might add that were preceded by some excellent form in 2016.

To get out of this lull, beating Ross County would be the perfect tonic. That defeat at Hampden has much to answer for.

I have no doubt that with 11 players on the park, Celtic were going to wipe the floor with County that day. As it was they went a man down and lost the match, the treble and their confidence.

Aberdeen took full advantage of that three days later. With no disrespect to East Kilbride, it could have been another shaky game on Sunday had Celtic come up against a better opponent.

In fariness to EK they did a good job whilst Celtic paced themselves through the game with little effort. The goals came from Leigh Griffiths and Colin Kazim-Richards who started his first game for the club at the Excelsior Stadium.

Logan Bailly also got a rare start, but he was barely tested the entire match. This was a game which was all about the getting through to the next round after a tough week, even though many predicted a torrent of goals against the Lowland League club.

So it is perhaps fitting that Celtic get the chance to change inflict some damage upon the team that began their misery just over a week ago. Ross County will be pleased at their own League Cup progress but Celtic should have all the motivation they require to put one over them on when they visit Glasgow this weekend.

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