Friday night lights

rugby-park-kilmarnock-general-view_3453658Celtic are back in action tonight in a rare live broadcast for Hoops fans on a Friday evening. However, it’s been another disappointing international break for Scotland fans like myself.

Gordon Strachan may have got a half-decent performance from of his players against England. That amounted to nothing though with three goals being conceded at Wembley.

Thankfully, I have Celtic to lift my spirits tonight. An away encounter with Kilmarnock to watch on a Friday evening is most welcome.

Mind you, there have been plenty of other football stories circulating to attract our attention this week. Aside from the Steven Gerrard rumour, the meltdown continues over at Snake Mountain.

With the strength and variety of damaging storylines coming out of Mordor these days, it has gone from tribute act comedy to a sporting embarrassment waiting to crumble die. I honestly cannot keep up with the plethora of threads that emanate from the other side of Glasgow not that the Scottish media report much of this.

On top of that shambles, the SFA are a hot topic once more. The Resolution 12 story is back in the fold after getting an airing at Celtic’s AGM during the week.

With FIFA already looking at the SFA (as well as the English FA) over Poppygate, UEFA are coming in at another angle. The latter is with thanks to the truth seekers who have fought hard for justice and transparency over rule breaches in Scottish and European football by the governing body of our game and their now deceased pet team.

There will be lots more to come from this. There will also be a lot more to come from Ibrox unless the establishment’s new puppy team implode before the shit really hits the fan.

Meanwhile back at the Rodgers Ranch, Brendan is tending to his flock of warriors. Tonight we can turn our minds back to the progress Celtic are making.

The league title is the theme for tonight and obtaining more goals and points to make that happen on the agenda. With 10 points between Celtic and Aberdeen, the Hoops are looking comfortable.

Hard work continues behind the scenes and that means fine tuning the talent currently at the club. There are still several fringe players whose futures will be decided throughout the remainder of this season, if not by January.

Might there be the possibility of one or two coming in? I’m not sure that is something Celtic are in desperate need of to see us through this campaign unless there are departures.

One player who has been mentioned as coming in is Steven Gerrard. Personally, I can’t see any advantage to bringing him to Celtic at this stage.

We have a midfield more than capable of winning the title, double and treble. Had European football been on the cards after Christmas I might have understood, but that remains an unlikely possibility.

Right now Celtic need to carry on the charge with the team we do have. As I said before, we have a lot of fringe players who will need to either need to get an opportunity or move on temporarily or permanently.

This size of squad is not sustainable particularly if you want youth to flourish. So expect some exits as this team continues to grow.

As for Rugby Park tonight? Three points please Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Climate control

It was a game I felt Celtic could win. In the end it was a game that Celtic never really turned up for.

I watched the match, the post match interviews, listened to the post match analysis and took in all of the viewpoints. I didn’t disagree with much of it at all.

Borussia Mönchengladbach, despite the loss of several first team players through injury, were the stronger team by far for the entire match. This disappointed and frustrated me immensely.

After going for the jugular against Manchester City, I expected more of the same from Celtic against the Germans. But Germans being Germans they outclassed Celtic in every area of the park with efficiency.

This wasn’t a thumping. This was more of a lesson in better use of the ball, movement and positioning.

Celtic played like the away side all night with the supporters the only element that suggested otherwise. The Germans strolled through Celtic Park like it was a walk in the Rhineland.

Personally, I wasn’t under any illusions about the gap between our two nations and their top flight football leagues. However, I thought I had seen enough so far from Celtic this season to get a result on Wednesday night.

Brendan Rodgers summed it up simply by saying “they were better than us”. He wasn’t wrong either and even he pointed out that that is the level Celtic must aspire to.

I’m fairly certain in time, Celtic will be playing at a better level under Brendan Rodgers. In fact they already are, but we are still off the pace for the Champions League.

Improvement will come at a cost and will need to be done within budget. Playing in Scotland does not help that situation, particularly when many clubs lack the financial input to get near Celtic.

Celtic are a big club in a small pond. I have no doubts that in a bigger pond, Celtic would be able to cut it.

Many outside of Scotland disagree because they base their decision upon how they see Scottish football. What these people fo not realise is that Celtic have the fan base, stadium, marketing and anything else you care to mention that in a wealthier climate would do very, very well.

Scotland is not that climate. I don’t believe that Scotland will ever be that climate either.

My home country can aspire to many things, but when it comes to football it is a marshy landscape. So for Celtic, they must do all they can to survive in Scotland’s financial climate whilst flying the flag in Europe until a solution can be found.

Right now, Brendan Rodgers will be seeing the club through the rest of this group stage and assessing what he needs to improve upon that. Whatever is available he will get, but we will have to wait and see if it is enough.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie mac

Scotland the brave?

On Saturday night I sat down and watched the Scotland v Lithuania game on TV. Once again I put myself through the kind of torture that can only mirror what it’s like to follow a lower league club.

That hopeless desire that one day you might just experience something wonderful with that inevitability that you never will. In that respect, Scotland are a lower league international side. 

International football, of course, is a different beast to club football altogether. The analogy is pretty close though.

The qualifying campaigns are long, drawn out affairs and in Scotland’s case unfulfilling. Having failed to reach a finals since 1998, the national side remain way off the pace.

After Saturday’s lucky draw at Hampden there appears to be no sign of that changing. Scotland always seem to come up short when they need exactly the opposite.

Gordon Strachan was a good appointment for the national side. He’s a good coach and was an iconic player so he fits the bill in terms of an international leader in my view.

The trouble is, Scotland were lack some exciting players on Saturday night. They have a good variety of talent playing at a decent level in England but there weren’t many on the park that I would have considered as star players.

Robert Snodgrass was probably the only guy I’d put in that category that started the match at Hampden. There might be a few who have moved with rather large price tags or command larte salaries but nobody got my heart racing against the Lithuanians. 

Lithuania are ranked around 70 places below Scotland, but Strachan’s players struggled to create chances let alone score goals. There is the basis of a good Scotland squad,but you need players out there providing a bit of inspiriation.

There are plenty of guys out there who haven’t even been capped and could do a very good job. When their time will come remains to he seen.

I might be slightly biased in my analysis,but not one Celtic player started. Leigh Griffiths, James Forrest and Kieran Tierney were all on the bench.

Are we really saying none of these guys were good enough to start against Lithuania at Hampden? And what about the other Celtic players yet to get a sniff at a Scotland squad such as Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor?

Of the Celtic outfield trio, one, two or all three should have started given their form this season. Coming off the bench is all well and good but I think Gordon set up wrong for this match.

Scotland should have hammered out a solid home win at Hampden. With a more attack minded team, Scotland could have ended this game early.

Intead they were chasing an equaliser. Had they gone on the front foot sooner, Strachan could have switched things and rested players for the next game.

Away points will be hard to come by in England, Slovenia and in Slovakia on Tuesday. We can add Lithuania to that list if Saturday’s match is anything to go by.

Winning home games is essential. Scotland won’t win the group, but they should be doing everything to ensure they amass the highest amount of points possible to see them into a play off position.

Realistcally, that is Scotland’s best hope. Just managing a draw against Lithuania was lucky, but it was also damaging to our campaign.

You don’t get much of a chance to recover in qualification. There are few games in which to make your mark and Scotland always seem to be dragging their heels.

The qualification process is far from decided. At this stage though, it was a blip that Gordon Strachan could have done without.

There will be more dramas ahead. As a Scotland fan of many years, I know that all too well.

Stevie Mac

The Champions League: a dream ticket

For two seasons, Celtic have been bereft of Europe’s most prestigious tournament. The UEFA Champions League is by far the most lucrative offering available to Scotland’s top club.

When the head was finally severed from the Ibrox club in 2012, Celtic flew the flag in Europe for Scottish clubs. It has been a lonely journey but one which continues to be solo.

Finance is the setback for clubs such as Aberdeen or Hearts. Celtic may have trimmed their own margins in recent times but they should still have been comepeting in Europe’s premier club competition rather than operating in the Europa League. 

Wherever you place your blame, Ronny Deila, the Celtic board, the scouting network, the transfer policy, we haven’t reinvested since the peak of 2012-2013. Well, not until now.

The demise of Celtic’s old rivals wasn’t just the comeuppance that they deserved for financial fraud and mismanagement. This was a signal that the immediate face of Scottish football was going to change.

Scotland has not seen top flight winner other than Glasgow’s oldest rivals for 30 years. With one of those rivals now a defunct club, how long will it be before Celtic’s reign will be broken?

With no other Scottish club able to finance a team the strength of Celtic’s (without spending money that wasn’t their own) Celtic put the brakes on.With little pressure from other teams on the domestic front, investment was reduced and certain gambles were taken.

A modern day, up and coming Norwegian manager was appointed. It was a left field approach which I backed fully but given the lack of domestic pressure, was less of a risk.

Although Celtic’s 4th and 5th title in row was achieved, it was Europe that became a declining feature of each season. Two failed attempts at the Champions League led to dropping into the Europa League twice.

The team wasn’t performing as well as they could and tactically the head coach appeared naive. I fought his corner but we saw last season that things needed to be shaken up.

As I said at the beginning, Europe is lucrative for Celtic. In fact it is essential for the club’s finances.

Dismal displays on the continent did little to woo season ticket holders and any other sales that generate revenue for Celtic. Now the club have brought in someone who can take us back to the Champions League.

Tomorrow night Celtic must hold their nerve in Israel. They have a three goal lead but that doesnt mean I’m okay with the two goals Hapoel Be’er Sheva scored at Celtic Park.

They can score again but so can Celtic. Brendan Rodgers and his players must get across the line tomorrow night.

So far I’ve been impressed with the incremental improvements. New players making an impact and established players rediscovering old form.

The UEFA Champions League is there for tomorrow night’s winners. Let’s get back to where we belong.

A dream ticket awaits those who show willing.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Sinclair breaks Hearts

Just when it was looking like a draw, up stepped debutant Scott Sinclair to send Celtic fans wild. Tynecastle is a hostile environment and it rarely produces a dull match when Celtic come to town.

Sunday’s opening league match away to Hearts was always going to be a tough start for Brendan Rodgers. Celtic took the lead though in just 8 minutes as James Forrest pounced onto the loose ball Callum McGregor had been relieved of inside the penalty box.

It looked like a penalty but play continued to allow Celtic their first goal of the domestic season. Hearts were up in arms about Stuart Armstrong interfering with play (though not at the time of the incident) but whether the rules say he was or wasn’t,  McGregor was fouled for a penalty that wasn’t given so let’s scratch that one shall we?

Talking of penalties, Hearts equaliser came courtesy of a Jamie Walker dive. There was no contact with Kieran Tierney and by his own admission the referee owned up to getting that one wrong. 

Will Jamie Walker face retrospective discipline for cheating? Not unless he changes his name to Derk Boerrigter.

One glaring opportunity that Hearts should have equalised with was the free header ex-Celt Tony Watt had. Not only was he unmarked by Mikael Lustig, the goal was wide open for him. 

Nae luck wee man. Thanks for missing though.

Later on there was another penalty shout for Hearts. At best it would have been very soft and not giving it was the correct decision, most likely aided by the Hearts spot kick awarded in error earlier in the match. 

Like Wednesday night against FC Astana though, this match produced a winning moment from the bench. I don’t know if ‘Mystic Mick’ McManus saw this in his crystal ball, but Scott Sinclair seized his opportunity to win the match for Celtic. 

Celtic broke down the left hand side after a Hearts move broke down. The ball was chased down by Leigh Griffiths who, after fending off his pursuers, squared the ball long and low to the onrushing Sinclair who finished neatly inside the box.

What a start for the English winger and what an end to a fiesty match. Celtic deserved their victory, even when you take into account all of the right and wrong decisions.

Robbie Neilson, a good young coach, sadly had a touch of the Jim Jeffries about himself post-match. Being a sore loser and not understanding the rules of the game only makes you look like a bit of a fanny, so only whinge when your facts are solid.

On the subject of fannies, Sportscene was back last night and in glorious er…SD. We were told of this new time slot and promised longer coverage.

What about the Scottish Championship coverage though? Why would they ever have dropped that segment for this season I wonder?

Still no post match interviews from Ibrokes for the BBC. I guess Sportscene will need to try even harder though I doubt their two bob mixture fund will stretch any further.

The Scottish Premiership’s first timers might have failed to speak to the grovelling BBC, but it wasn’t because they drew with Hamilton Accies at home. It’s all historical, though given their history only goes back to 2012, not that historical.

Elsewhere the Dons drew with St Johnstone in a 0-0 thriller. Having gone out of Europe to Celtic’s old foes Maribor midweek I thought Aberdeen would come out of the traps at the weekend.

So none of Celtic’s so called ‘contenders’ managed a winning start. I guess that’s because only Celtic have a £4M player on the bench eh Robbie?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Rodgers and Sinclair reuinted for season opener at Tynecastle

Celtic have today confirmed Scott Sinclair as Brendan Rodgers’ third signing. The 27-year-old winger has worked with the Celtic manager in the past and there appears to have been some determination to obtain the services of the English winger.

From the little bit of research I have done on Sinclair, he comes with a lot of experience south of the border. That has been based mainly on playing for a long list of clubs, though only for short spells.

He began his career at Bristol Rovers where he came to the attention of Chelsea as a young boy. Having moved to Chelsea, it was there that Rodgers and Sinclair came together for the first time.

Rodgers was the head youth coach at the time and the two worked together for a number of years. Eventually Rodgers would move into first team management at Watford whilst for Sinclair half a dozen loan spells would begin.

Both mentor and pupil would be reunited once more at Swansea City in 2010 where they would enjoy very positives times in their careers. Because of the success enjoyed during their two seasons together, they would both move on.

Brendan went to Liverpool and Scott went to Manchester City. We all know about Brendan’s Liverpool tenure but for Scott his rare appearances in a Manchester City jersey led to further loan spells before a permanent move to Aston Villa.

Many have pointed out that Villa wasn’t a great success for Sinclair. Then gain, that could be said for Villa has a whole because after flirting with relegation for a long time, they now find themselves in the Championship.

Right now, I am keen to see Sinclair in the Hoops. Brendan has pursued him and looks to be one of his players.

That means he knows what he will get from him and when asked to do something, knows he will get a positive response. The only thing Sinclair needs to do is do what is asked of him.

We might get to see that today as Celtic take on Hearts at Tynecastle. With Patrick Roberts injured and Gary Mackay-Steven facing a loan spell, Celtic are light on wingers for once.

If Sinclair does play, it might just be as a substitute. Either way we are all looking forward to him help bring success to the club.

To play away from home and at Tynecastle in your first Premiership match is about as tough as it can get. Celtic will need to be at their best as I expect Hearts to have built upon last season.

There a fewer better places to play away in Scotland than Tynecastle in terms of intensity. Welcome to Scottish football, Scott.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Tonight…

…is the biggest game of Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic career. So far anyway.

The negative scoreline that Celtic returned from Gibraltar with wasn’t just a bad result. This was an embarrassment that now requires complete exorcism.

Some said it was like England’s result against Iceland. It wasn’t, it was worse.

Iceland went through two qualifying groups before facing the English and were there on merit. Lincoln Red Imps are a semi-professional side formed the same year I was born.

Sure, they’ve won the last 14 league titles but Gibraltar only became a member of UEFA in 2014. Does this mean Celtic have met their match?

No it bloody well doesn’t. Yes they beat a better side (on paper) in the previous round, but Celtic should be able to dispose of the Gibraltarians at Celtic Park tonight with a strong scoreline.

That is what Celtic fans will be looking for Brendan Rodgers to ensure happens. We can accept that 1-0 away defeat so long as we are convinced by what is on show tonight and not just edging past the Imps.

We know that this Celtic team is still undergoing surgery. The fat is being sucked out of the torso in order to expose the muscle this squad does have so we can invest in the muscle that we do not currently possess.

It will be a process that requires our patience. Something we are not all blessed with as Celtic supporters.

There is pressure to reach the group stage of the Champions League but there is also the expectation to create a functioning football team at the same time. Both of these are working against each other because on the one hand we don’t have the luxury of time with qualifying for Europe’s premier club competition starting so early in the summer, but time is needed to develop a good team.

Could this have been prevented? To some degree yes, but we can’t dwell on that.

Now what we need is to start setting out our stall. Playing the players that are working and in the right position.

Lincoln Red Imps aren’t playing games. They fancy this with their opponents (us) not firing on all cylinders just yet.

This is no time for complacency. Rodgers needs goals, a clean sheet and a good performance.

We demand it. We need it.

Convince us.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac