Ibrox Blues, Paradise News

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This was a game that the home side needed to win. And for the opening 30 minutes they certainly gave it a go. 

Mark Warburton’s players went at Brendan Rodgers players with some purpose. They didn’t allow the visitors to get into their stride and drew first blood as well.

You could be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be the breaking point in Celtic’s season…if you were a fan of the home side. That their new Ibrox club were going to be the team to halt Celtic’s unbeaten run in domestic competition this season.

However, there was also a sense of inevitability about the match. That when Celtic did get into their stride that they would show their dominance.

So whilst Kenny Miller’s jubilation at the opening goal was still filtering through the home crowd, they were unable to follow-up with a second. Celtic were working themselves into the match slowly whilst Warburton hoped another goal would come his way.

It didn’t, and Celtic began to settle down. The truth is, that was all it was going to take.

To be fair to Warburton, things started well for his team. When Celtic eventually got a foothold though there was no looking back.

After half an hour of the home side throwing themselves at Celtic, the Bhoy’s eventually stepped in. Or rather, Moussa Dembele did.

A corner from Scott Sinclair found the French under-21 international behind a crowd of players who lashed home a fine effort. I didn’t think Celtic would go on to slaughter the home side but I was somewhat relieved at them finally getting on score sheet.

I say relieved because I had spent 5 hours wondering what the bloody score was and avoiding all forms of communication so I could watch the game several hours ‘live’ after I’d finished work. Not good for the soul, I tell you!

I wasn’t on my own though.  There were others in the same boat as me as we started our Hogmanay early in the evening rather than at lunchtime!

After a breather at the interval, we sat down to watch the second half. As the game wore on and chances came and went for Celtic I had the mindset that this was heading for a draw.

There was nothing wrong with how Celtic were playing. Despite the dominance the Hoops were now showing, it was just beginning to look as though it wasn’t going to come off on this occasion.

That was until my man-of-the-match, Stuart Armstrong slung in a direct pass across goal to find Scott Sinclair unmarked at the far post. Boom!

Celtic had come from behind at Ibrox to win the match and with time to spare. As narrow as the score may have been, there were a chances galore for Brendan Rodgers side.

The Bhoys showed their class by taking control of the game after a half-an-hour flutter by the home side. Now Celtic sit very comfortably on top of a 19 point lead in the Scottish Premiership.

Mark Warburton now has Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen breathing down his neck. The Dons are only 2 points behind second place and with one game at hand.

Meantime back at Fortress Paradise, it is exciting times. New contracts are going on the table for current players, new targets are mooted and some players will be moving on.

2017 will be a good year.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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129 years, injuries and that gap

skysports-mikael-lustig-ankle-injury-celtic-v-inverness_3824676Celtic restored their lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership on Saturday to 10 points with a 3-0 victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Despite the Hoops consistency in the league this season, Thistle have been the only team to take points off them, a 2-2 draw in September.

Under Brendan Rodgers, Celtic continue to make progress whilst dominating their domestic opponents. And at the current rate of improvement, Celtic could be looking at huge gap between first and second come the end of this season.

When Caley Thistle are in the other corner, you can expect a tough challenge though. They punch well above their weight for the size of club and they never seem impaired by their own league position when playing the Champions.

Thistle weren’t exactly oozing class at Celtic Park right enough. They were certainly playing a physical game though.

You can argue that they went about playing that way to disrupt Celtic’s flow, but that’s when you rely on the referee doing his job. However, this is Scottish football and you could turn blue holding your breath waiting for that to happen.

It took a long time for the match official to book Greg Tansey who had been at it all game. In the end he would see red and deservedly so.

Celtic continued to make strides, adjusting their personnel when required. Leigh Griffiths got a rare start and scored into the bargain, but not before Scott Sinclair scored his 9th league goal of the season.

Tom Rogic capped off a victory with the third after coming off the bench. All of the goals came in the second half with Rodgers’ game plan being disrupted by the injury to Mikael Lustig.

The Swedish defender went off early in the first half after taking a knock on the ankle. On came Emilio Izaguirre to left back and Stuart Armstrong dropped into right back with the Bhoys shifting from three to four in defence.

As unconventional as this was, Armstrong didn’t shirk his duties. In fact he imposed himself in attack as much as defence, playing a wing back role which drew a comparison from his manager to the ex-Brazilian star, Cafu.

I’m not so sure I’d have gone as far to say that, but Armstrong was brilliant against Thistle and he continues to make a steady impact for Rodgers. Despite being faced with an early injury, a forced tactical change, a player out of position and a tough tackling opponent, Celtic brought home a solid victory.

Going into the international break on a high is always good, but with injuries to Scott Brown and Mikael Lustig there was immediate concern. Brown is said to be fine and still in contention for Scotland duty but Lustig is out for Sweden.

The Swede has dealt with injuries well this last year so Rodgers will be hoping to have him back for the next match against Kilmarnock. At the very least, back in time for face Barcelona.

walfrid_brotherbOn Sunday, Celtic celebrated 129 years since they were founded. The date relates to the meeting that took place in St Mary’s church hall in Calton, Glasgow on that day in 1887.

This was the beginning of Celtic Football Club and as far back as I can remember, I have always created my own mental image of that meeting. So important was this meeting that when at school, some friends would speak proudly of their ties to the church, the school, the street or even the area.

My parents were both from Calton, went to St Mary’s school and regularly attended the church in their youth, but they rarely talked about this moment in Celtic’s history. I guess when you’ve grown up there, you don’t have to talk about it because you are already part of it.

Still, for me this was always a proud association with the area and still is today. Calton may be a different place these days, but my routes from both sides of the family are steeped in this area just as they are for many other families in the Celtic community.

All Celtic families though, regardless of where they are from originally, can ponder about that meeting all those years ago in that church hall and what effect it has had on their lives today. It has changed all of our lives for sure.

Happy Birthday Celtic Football Club.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Celtic not too far off the pace when you consider Spurs result

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It appears that the gap between Celtic and Borussia Mönchengladbach is not as big as we first thought. Celtic played at Borussia Park on Tuesday and earned a draw against the German side, but the Hoops almost won it.

After taking the lead through Lars Stindl on 32 minutes, it looked as though Celtic might be facing a second defeat by Gladbach. However, the performance either side of this opening goal by Celtic was far better than the one they put in at Celtic Park.

That wouldn’t be difficult of course because they never turned up at home two weeks ago anyway. What is more commendable though is that Celtic were vastly weakened going into this match, the odds were stacked against them (aren’t they always?) and going in at half-time a goal down you might just think another goal would finish the match.

Celtic had other ideas though and played some good football throughout the game. Scott Sinclair had already hit the upright before going a goal down to the Germans and there was still fight in Celtic.

Gladbach also hit the woodwork and both keepers were drawn into action, but it was Celtic who showed greater character in the second half. Away from home and a goal behind, Moussa Dembele won and scored a penalty with the resultant offender red carded.

Celtic smelled blood and were trying to win it as well. Nobody will be more disappointed than Callum McGregor at failing to hit the target after being one-on-one with the goalkeeper in the closing stages of the game.

On another day, I’m pretty sure McGregor would have tucked it away. It wasn’t to be and so the task remains tall with one win required at the very least to even have a chance of qualifying.

When the group was drawn, we all knew it would be tough and that the best we could hope for would be third place. After four roller coaster games Celtic are still in it, however unlikely it may seem that Brendan Rodgers will be playing European football after Christmas this season.

As I said at the beginning though, perhaps the gap isn’t as big as we thought. Rodgers mentioned ‘time’ in his post match interview as the requirement to make progress and not ‘investment’ as the BT Sport interviewer did.

I found that encouraging because it calmed the nonsense that usually arises from the post match analysis after these European fixtures. Speaking of which, look no further than Tottenham Hotspur as an example.

Last night they slumped to a 0-1 defeat at home to another mid-table Bundesliga side, Bayer Leverkusen. I’ve commented previously about the gulf in finance between Celtic and many other European clubs, but Spurs are not short of cash.

In fact like Celtic they are run pretty well financially. The difference is they can spend like most high-end European clubs can because of the income generated in English football.

Like Gladbach, Leverkusen sit mid-table but they showed away from home that they can get a result. So perhaps Celtic aren’t as far out of things as we think when you compare the Spurs v Leverkusen result.

If Brendan needs time to close that gap then he has it. I’m sure Celtic will invest what they can, but the response in Germany was very encouraging and the Bhoys were desperately unlucky not to get the win.

I guess all Celtic need to do is beat Manchester City or Barcelona (or both) and we’re in the Europe after Christmas eh? Sounds like a challenge.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Focus on the positives

Tonight Celtic face Manchester City in the Champions League at Celtic Park. After a 7-0 mauling away to Barcelona, Brendan Rodgers will be aiming to limit any damage this unbeaten City side can inflict under Pep Guardiola’s management. 

Let’s face it, this is a tough group for Celtic. They have a few things going their favour tonight though.

Leigh Griffiths

The Scottish international has returned from injury after missing four matches including the match in Barcelona. Despite Celtic not suffering too much in front of goal though, the return of Griffiths is a positive selection headache for Brendan Rodgers. If Dembele isn’t on his game it is good to know that Griffiths is available.

No Kevin de Bruyne

Manchester City may be laden with Premier League superstars such as Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling amongst plenty others, but they will be without one key player at Celtic Park. Kevin de Bruyne (along with Vincent Kompany) is in Barcelona being medically assessed by Pep Guardiola’s favoured doctor. This doesn’t mean City will struggle because they have so many good players but de Bruyne has been so influential for the Premier League table toppers and Celtic must take confidence from that.

The Paradise atmosphere

You don’t have to be Celtic supporter to know about European nights at Paradise. Just ask anyone who has visited Celtic Park as a player, pundit or away supporter on a Champions League evening. You don’t always get the result you want, especially when a good team comes to visit. What you can be sure of is that the Celtic players will have the vocal backing of the entire Celtic supporter and they will all sing their lungs out until they can sing no more. There’s no other atmosphere quite like it.

Craig Gordon

Brendan Rodgers has already stated that Gordon will play in goal against City. He dropped the former Hearts and Sunderland keeper for Dorus de Vries in the game against Aberdeen several weeks ago. Since then, Gordon has made one appearance against Alloa Athletic, where he was lucky not to see red, then at the weekend when he replaced de Vries at half time against Kilmarnock. Although Gordon has been collating faults following a highly commendable first season, he is still number one for me. De Vries has shown me nothing to suggest Gordon is finished. The fact that Rodgers has chosen him ahead of de Vries for the game against City tells you all you need to know. Overall it remains a position of weakness for Celtic, but right now Gordon is our best man.

Celtic’s goal threat

Whist Celtic have been seen to haemorrhage goals in all but three competitive matches this season, going forward and scoring goals has been very productive. In all competitions the stats look something like this:

P 15     W 10     D 2     L 3     F 41     A 22     GD +19

Take away the Barcelona anomaly and it looks even better! Celtic should be aiming to utilise their firepower on Manchester City particularly with home advantage. City might have the marquee players, but if any of our free scoring players such as Scott Sinclair, James Forrest, Moussa Dembele or Leigh Griffiths take the initiative there is every chance Celtic can get their first goal(s) and first point(s) in Group C tonight.

Brendan Rodgers

The Northern Irishman has already shaken things up at Celtic. Of the few additions he has made, Scott Sinclair, Moussa Dembele and Kolo Toure have made a huge difference to this team. However, you only have to look at Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, Tom Rogic and James Forrest to see the influence Rodgers has had on them. They look fresher than ever before and with many players still on the fringe of the team and still to get back up to full fitness, it’s safe to say I have faith in Brendan’s ability particularly with his experience in the English Premier League.

Celtic may not qualify from Group C, but I would not criticise the effort that has gone in so far from everyone. This is season one under Rodgers and the club have fallen behind in development these past two or three seasons.

Now we are seeing Celtic getting back to where they should be after a lull in progression. This experience is invaluable for Rodgers and his players and the Champions League is just hotting up so let’s keep the faith.

On nights like these anything can happen. Believe.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Killie dispatched, now City come to visit

Celtic were in mesmerising form on Saturday. The 6-1 thrashing of Kilmarnock was a welcome boost going into Wednesday’s Champions League tie.

In the aftermath of the Massacre of Matchday 1, Celtic managed a 2-2 draw at Inverness in the Scottish Premiership followed by a 2-0 win at home to Alloa in the League Cup. In truth Celtic should have won the game against Caley Thistle with several chances missed whilst the Alloa match would have been a high scoring win on any other occasion.

So beating Kilmarnock by such a large margin, Celtic have their shooting boots on again. Just in time for the arrival of Manchester City this week.

I only saw the highlights of the weekend’s game but Celtic looked comfortable and at ease. This was a good warm up with Wednesday’s game in mind.

Leigh Griffiths returned and scored after replacing Moussa Dembele who had helped himself to a brace before making way for the Scotsman. A fine effort by James Forrest, a trundled goal by Tom Rogic and a Scott Sinclair penalty all added to make this a healthy scoreline.

Sinclair kept his scoring record alive and on course for equaling and possibly beating Jimmy McGrory’s record. Dembele’s tally continues to grow as does Griffiths’ but save some praise for James Forrest who is looking like a new player these days.

He’s clearly enjoying his football under Brendan Rodgers at Celtic. In fact, the same can be said for most of the players at Celtic right now.

I always knew this team – made up largely by the previous managers – was capable of so much more. The few new additions have helped compliment the many who have been at the club for a while.

For Rodgers this is good news but this is far from the finished article. There us plenty of room for improvement.

What we’re seeing now though is breathtaking at times. We’ve not seen this kind of ruthlessness from a Celtic side for so long.

What still needs attention is goalkeeping and defending. We must be just as mean at the back as we are clinical in attack.

In time that will come I’m sure. With the added expectation and pressure of the Champions League there is little time to get that ingrained into the mentality of the team.

When Pep Guardiola brings his unbeaten team of all-stars to Celtic Park on Wednesday we could be brought down a peg or two once more. City are a high-flying team right now with one, if not the most, respected managers in world football at the helm.

The team sheet is laden with superstars thanks to being bankrolled by the very generous TV rights kitty in England and of course a very wealthy owner. By comparison, Celtic operate in a less lavish climate despite being the best team in Scotland by far and with solid business model in place.

When Celtic went to Barcelona nobody expected a result. We didn’t expect a hiding either but then we were up against the best three-pronged attack in world football.

City offer something different though. They aren’t world beaters but they are superb.

Celtic have a chance though because they have home advantage. It can count, but Celtic will have to dig deeper to stave off such a potent force.

Brendan Rodgers has instilled confidence into the Celtic team but he must sort out the goalkeeping position and organise his defenders. Dorus De Vries was subbed at the weekend, claiming he had a chest injury.

In stepped Craig Gordon for the second half. From what I’ve seen of De Vries, he has very little more to offer than Gordon does.

I’d rather Rodgers went with Gordon on Wednesday. It has to be said though that this is a position that must be dealt with swiftly.

Gordon is a decent keeper, but his form has slid since his debut season and I was already of the opinion Celtic might need to bring in someone new. De Vries was drafted in to challenge the Scotland international but I’m not impressed.

I’m not bothered by the fact he is three years older than Gordon. What I am concerned about is that we’ve brought someone in who is supposed to be challenging for the number one jersey and has so far failed to impress.

Whoever plays in goals on Wednesday night they need only do one thing – their job. In the short-term we will need to make do with the current set of goalkeeping options but looking ahead, something will need to change.

Beating Manchester City remains a tall order. They have a great squad, manager and are in top form.

Celtic must use home advantage, keep things tight at the back and have the fans in top voice. This isn’t an impossible task but it is a difficult one.

I would expect Celtic to concede as they have in all but three games this season. Scoring goals hasn’t been too much of a problem though Celtic have yet to get one in this group.

I am confident we will score against City. The question is, how many will they score against us?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

A busy transfer window, not a miserly transfer window

I’m not going to beat about the bush. This Bhoy is satisfied with the transfer activity carried out by Celtic this summer.

Many of you will no doubt disagree with me on that,  judging by some of the reaction I’ve read elsewhere on the web. The lack of an apparent marquee signing or a creative midfielder appear to be the main reasons.

With a squad the size Brendan Rodgers has, there are still plenty of opportunities for existing players to prove themselves under his guidance. The manager has already made a huge difference upon his arrival.

Celtic have offloaded nine players with a further ten out on loan. At the same time, they have drafted in six players and renewed the contracts of two.

If that isn’t a busy window, then I don’t know what is. Come the January transfer window, I would expect to see further moves in and out of Celtic Park as well.

Celtic are already showing signs of great improvement on the field of play and that is without a fully fit squad. Now with the transfer window shut, we know who will be available to Brendan Rodgers until the end of the year at least.

The addition and impact of Scott Sinclair and Kolo Toure has been very influential and I would argue that they have marquee signings for Rodgers. New contracts for Tom Rogic and James Forrest has breathed new life into their careers at the club and on the field of play.

Moussa Dembele continues to settle in and has also made a steady impact. Cristian Gamboa’s was an unexpected purchase but with Saidy Janko now out on loan, it appears this was an area Brendan Rodgers was not happy with.

The departure of Stefan Johansen and the loaning of Scott Allan has helped the midfield in that there will be more opportunities for others. Ryan Christie, Liam Henderson and Kristoffer Ajer will be seeking to displace Scott Brown, Nir Bitton, Callum McGregor, and Tom Rogic.

There is also Stuart Armstrong and Kris Commons to consider as well. With the amount of games Celtic are set to play, I expect many will get an opportunity even if they have to be patient.

At the back, it would have been good to see the back of Efe Ambrose but he has stood firm and remains. I can’t see him getting in the team with Kolo Toure and Erik Sviatchenko as key players.

Also fighting for a place will be Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic. The jury is still out on Boyata for me but the failed transfer of Simunovic to Torino is a positive.

Having been hampered by injury, the Croatian defender has rarely had time to make a go of things and I was stunned Celtic were trying to move him on. I think this might be a twist of fate for Celtic as he will push Toure and Sviatchenko all the way.

Mikael Lustig has the benefit of being able to play right back or centre half so he is one of our more fortunate defenders. Kieran Tierney doesn’t look as comfortable in a back three as Lustig but will be a key player on the left side of defence regardless.

Sparring for that role will be Emilio Izaguirre though he is more like Gamboa as a wing back than a defender. The one player I was sad to see sign on elsewhere was Charlie Mulgrew.

Although he was still training at the club, he hasn’t been shy of injuries in recent times. Mulgrew’s versatility is one of his greatest assets which would have been great to have had in the squad.

However, if he did receive reduced terms as reported, I cannot fault the club. Given his absences in the past two seasons and his desire to secure one last big contract I can only wish him all the best at Blackburn.

On the wings we have Scott Sinclair, James Forrest, Patrick Roberts and Gary Mackay-Steven. Mackay-Steven will struggle to get into the team now, especially when Roberts returns.

Up front, Leigh Griffiths will duel with Dembele so it will be interesting to see how Nadir Ciftci handles being left in the dark. He will either emerge better or go under and eventually move on – it is up to him.

Last but not least is the number one slot. Craig Gordon has been first choice for two seasons but with the arrival of Dorus de Vries, his position is in jeopardy.

De Vries played under Brendan Rodgers previously and seems he will be given a chance to push Gordon all the way. Meantime, Logan Bailly and Leonardo Fasan have fallen further down the pecking order.

So it is an exciting time. The squad has seen arrivals and departures and judging by what I have seen under Brendan Rodgers will continue to get better.

Poor transfer window? I don’t think so.

Some further deals may have happened but for the business that has been done, I am happy. There is so much to look forward to right now and even more to look forward to in the future.

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