Up in the air…

The transfer window is now shut thankfully! And with it, any player speculation for the remainder of the current season.

Nothing major or unexpected has occurred in January. With Eboue Kouassi the only player drafted in by Celtic, I was more pleased to see some players heading out.

Eoghan O’Connell (Walsall), Jamie McCart (Inverness), Theo Archibald (Albion Rovers), Joe Thomson (Queen of the South), Ryan Christie (Aberdeen), Aidan McIlduf (Queens Park), Kristofer Ajer (Kilmarnock) and Leonardo Fasan (Port Vale) have all gone out on loan until the end of the season. Aidan Nesbitt (Morton) has extended his loan spell, whilst Saidy Janko (Barnsley), Paul McMullan (Dunfermline) Colin McCabe (Stenhousemuir) and Jamie Lindsay (Morton) continue their season long loans.

Moving on is Irish youngster, Michael Duffy who has returned to Ireland to play for Dundalk. For those with Celtic contracts ending in the summer, it is almost certainly the end of their careers at the club as well.

Not going out on loan spells are Kris Commons, Nadir Ciftci or Efe Ambrose…or is he? Commons will leave in the summer when his contract expires and Ciftci still has two-and-a-half years left to run on his deal but he is almost certain to have that cancelled if he fails to find a suitor.

For Efe it looked as though the transfer window had slammed shut on his fingers. Apparently the deal is not yet dead though so we may be bidding farewell to him before the summer.

Even then, I’m sure the club will be sweeping up Efe’s debris long after he’s gone. He’ll be haunting people in the corridors of Celtic Park for years to come!

Slowly, but surely the squad size will be coming down because. This needed to happen, but in turn the quality needs to remain high.

With Moussa Dembele and Craig Gordon linked with Chelsea in the window, it was reassuring to hear they were both staying put. There’s nothing to say that, that might change in the summer, but for now they are both still Celtic players.

The lure of London, the Premier League, Antonio Conte’s aftershave and a lot of Sky Sports money must be hard to ignore. On planet Celtic though there is a treble at stake and dare I say it a chance to go the whole season unbeaten?

Something special is happening at Celtic right now. We’ve seen that in almost every game this season so far.

You’d be a fool not to want to be part of it if you are being given the chance. There are some who don’t feature in the long-term plans though.

For many of the squad, the season is just beginning as they earn their first minutes on the park under Rodgers. The pack will become tighter as the squad downsizes.

We’re not losing quality, just quantity. Some guys will come back and have another crack, some will remain gone forever.

The key thing here is that Rodgers has run the rule over this squad. He’s been patient, given many a chance and remained even-handed with his fitness policy.

He made it clear that Leigh Griffiths, although a talented player, isn’t doing it right in other areas to be considered his first choice striker. I get Brendan’s stance on this and we saw something similar with Ronny Deila, though it failed to obtain respect and support from some of the dressing room and supporters.

Deila imposed a similar regime of health, fitness and lifestyle but his tactics and squad selection would be his undoing. Most of the current squad endured that but it ironically has paved the way for Brendan Rodgers.

Griffiths was one of those players, Commons was another. Only one of them still has a shot at a Celtic career.

I feel for both guys having both served the club so well. It is obvious though that under modern management at a club like Celtic it is becoming a club standard to shape up or be shipped out.

Leigh has a chance and he did seem to take Deila’s advice, eventually earning his place after being out of the picture. Under Rodgers the bar has gone up again though.

Whatever Leigh isn’t doing right he needs to change. He is a fine player who has already shown what he can do on a Tunnock’s diet.

I hope he continues to work hard and demonstrates his willingness to comply. If he does he’ll be unstoppable and Rodgers will have a pleasant headache.

Right now though it seems to be Dembele all the way. Until the summer at least.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Steady as she goes…

For the second time in a week, Partick Thistle were turned over 2-1 at Firhill. This was good news for Ronny Deila even if it wasn’t for Alan Archibald.

It was an important win for Celtic which had a nervy ending. With Aberdeen inflicting the other 2-1 win over the Jags, the title race is being maintained for now.

The Dons also won on Saturday to close the gap to 1 point again. Though Celtic still have a game at hand to play with.

A slender gap keeps everyone on their toes and right now, that is a good thing. Yesterday’s performance at Firhill didn’t ooze class but it was solid enough once more from back to front.

Craig Gordon seems to have rediscovered his form recently which is good because he has kept us in the game with some of those performances. A bit earlier in the season and we may not have been so lucky.

Since Charlie Mulgrew has stepped into the back four he has looked good. We found out by accident under Neil Lennon just how useful he was as a centre back but he has rarely played there in recent times.

Right now, I think he is a good choice next to Erik Sviatchenko who, aside from handing Partick a late penalty, has been an imposing presence. With a more settled defence, it has probably aided Gordon with his goal keeping, knowing what his defence are going to do.

Mikael Lustig has had a long run of games and dealt well with his injuries this season so far. On the opposite berth Kieran Tierney hasn’t just ousted Emilio Izaguirre, he has established himself as one of this seasons best players and is without a doubt a fans favourite certain to pick up at least one award at the end of the year if not two.

In the midfield it has been chop and change throughout. Too many players to choose from has been a hindrance in my opinion.

Yesterday it was a good display from the quintet of Scott Brown, Nir Bitton, Kris Commons, Callum McGregor and Gary Mackay-Steven. They all worked hard and kept things moving though only Commons looked a little off the pace at times.

McGregor grabbed a beauty of a goal as did the man in front of him, Leigh Griffiths. Both players demonstrated good footwork and finishing and despite losing a goal towards the end of the game it was enough to take all three points.

So job done and onto the next match which is away to Aberdeen’s latest challengers, Kilmarnock. In fact including yesterday’s game at Firhill, Celtic will have played 4 of their final 5 Scottish Premiership matches before the split away from home.

Call me Paranoid Patrick, but isn’t that just a tad ridiculous for any club? Sure we get the live TV coverage, albeit 4 of those 5 games have now all been scheduled for lunchtime kick-offs, but does that really serve the travelling fans well?

No, not really. Celtic fans should get a medal just for coming in their droves at stupid o’clock just because the club are at the mercy of BT Sport and Sky.

There isn’t much you can do about it without it. As a Scottish football club you are lucky to get a game televised and the available slots aren’t any better.

The best we can hope for TV coverage are evening slots during the week or on Friday nights. Our next match though is yet another Saturday lunchtime kick in the baws…..as is the next one…..and then the match two after the next…..

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

5 out 6 for Celtic and the transfer window

The treble dream came a sudden halt yesterday as Celtic were derailed by Ross County in another cup semi-final at Hampden. It first happened almost six years ago in the Scottish Cup under our then caretaker manager, Neil Lennon, but the circumstances were somewhat different.

Celtic ripped into Sunday’s match with real positivity. Gary Mackay-Steven scored in under 30 seconds and from that point on Celtic chased the second.

However, it was in the unlucky 13th minute that the game would turn the tide. Efe Ambrose, so often the culprit of Celtic’s woes, made contact with Alex Schalk who took to the ground.

It was the slightest of touches but enough for the Ross County forward to go to ground with the ball already out of his reach. That resulted in a red card for Ambrose and a penalty for Ross County which was tucked away by Martin Woods.

Up until that incident Celtic were running riot and probably should have been a few goals up by that stage. Who knows what 11 v 11 for 90 minutes would have looked like?

As a Celtic fan you would do well to keep that in mind when judging Ronny Deila’s achievements at the end of the season. However, we’ve already seen the backlash begin once more.

This moment in the match was a game changer. On a really good day perhaps 10 Celtic players could have beaten 11 Ross County players.

For decent portions of he game Celtic were good but County had the extra man. Leigh Griffiths wasn’t exactly at the races despite his recent form.

Throughout the game he struggled with the ball and as time wore on saw less and less of it. The soft penalty that was awarded to Celtic, about as soft as Ross County’s right enough, was not converted by Griffiths.

It appeared to be that type of game since going down to 10 men. This was an uphill struggle because Celtic weren’t able to play with the same energy and verve.

You can’t blame Ronny Deila for that. Ambrose has been in decent form lately and was the best choice as Erik Sviatchenko had yet to settle in despite being called upon as his replacement.

The one thing I would question was taking off Callum McGregor and not Stefan Johansen. If ever there was a player badly off the boil it is Johansen.

McGregor on the other hand is exactly the kind of energetic player we needed on the field with a man down. Johansen may be more experienced but as the game wore on, his own lack of form developed into frustration and petulance.

It was the wrong choice but not necessarily one that would have guaranteed a better result. When you are playing with a one man deficit for 75 of the regulation 90 minutes it is always going to be a big ask no matter who you are playing.

On a separate note there was the referee. Craig Thomson, always a thorn in the side of Celtic fans, had a poor game.

For an official with a tendency to act like he’s in charge, and with forthright in his approach, he seldom officiates a game well. I’m not suggesting that he (or any other official for that matter) has it in for Celtic, but for a semi final let’s face it, he was pretty inconsistent to both teams.

What now for Ronny Deila though? With the treble now gone would the possibility a domestic double be enough to keep him in a job?

Firstly, I don’t think Ronny is at risk of losing his job. If he wasn’t capable of winning he league then yes, I think he would find himself out of work but that hasn’t been the case.

Europe has been the obvious disappointment. More this season than last to be honest.

Personally I think he’ll still get another crack at it next season and if no progess has been made then maybe that’ll be the end of it. However, we are in the current season sitting top of the league and still in with a chance of a double.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the League Cup and Celtic have a 50% success rate in all the finals they’ve reached. Obviously if you’re on a treble you want it but I’d rather have the Scottish Cup and a sunny day in May.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m gutted that the treble gone and the boo Bhoys are back in voice, but as far as I am concerned what happened at Hampden yesterday was out of our control. I’m not even going to weigh into Efe because I think we all know that he should move on before he becomes a permanent target for abuse.

I started the month of January hoping that Celtic would win 6 out of 6 only for them to lose out at the final hurdle. A hurdle which would have kept the treble on course.

We were unlucky and must now pick ourselves up as a fan base and football team to take on Aberdeen this Wednesday. The visit to Pittodrie will be tough for Celtic and the Dons will be looking to feast upon raw wounds.

This is yet another huge game for both teams. A win for Celtic would give them a nice 9 point cushion but a defeat would close the gap to 3 points.

Before then Celtic could be involved in further transfer activity. With Sviatchenko and Patrick Roberts on board this window, Colin Kazim-Richards and Kristofer Ajer are said to be two players earmarked for this window as well.

Those two remain unconfirmed either way. The same goes for any potential moves of Celtic players going out on loan or on permanent deals so I’ll be tuning into watch that fanny Jim White for the rest of the day now I expect.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Defiant Deila, sheepish McInnes.

What negative Celtic headlines will we be reading in the coming days? After a convincing win over Aberdeen on Saturday lunchtime, will the media continue to chip away at Scotland’s best football club and their head coach, Ronny Deila?

I’ve mentioned to quite a few people over the years how the English press lay into their national football team in every way possible. They treat then almost as if they are the enemy and I just don’t get it.

The Scottish press are a similar bunch with one difference. They’re supportive of our national side (unless they are truly are honking!) but they stick the boot in to Celtic at any opportunity so long as it makes a headline – fact or fib.

This is part of the reason why many Celtic fans, including myself, despise the sporting media in Scotland. The other part stems from the protection and promotion of our deceased rivals across the city.

The Scottish media’s failure to report the truth about their demise was every bit as blatant as the decisions they received over the years from referees and the SFA’s agenda. Officials and the media are of course two totally different areas of the game though populated by people with similar leanings.

If you dare to report the truth about the dark side or even utter anything factually correct, they’ll take it as far as it needs to. Just ask former BBC journalist Jim Spence, the most recent victim of abuse from the tribute act.

However, I digress. The point is even now with our old rivals long gone, their phoenix club potentially meeting a similar fate, and rivals Aberdeen fading faster than Derek McInnes’s tan in December, Celtic remain the media target.

It doesn’t matter whether they are having a good season or not. The media will do everything and enlist anyone to push Celtic’s buttons.

David Tanner and Andy Walker were at it yesterday during the Sky Sports coverage apparently. I didn’t see the game live but Ronny “losing the plot” and “being lucky” were being banded about on Twitter.

Gordon Strachan did not jump on their bandwagon though. For a guy who played for Aberdeen, did a great job for Celtic and still never won over all the Celtic support fans, he’s never ever stuck the boot in on Celtic like some ex-Celts have.

When he resigned a rather large portion of fans were happy to see him go and his replacement, Tony Mowbray, walk in. And we all know how that turned out.

So let’s see how our media handle Celtic this week particularly with a home tie against Molde in the Europa League on Thursday. Criticism has been rife this season and not without good reason but I sense Celtic have unity among the ranks even if some fans have lost faith.

Aberdeen have slipped into third. Hearts are the new title challengers and we disposed of them in the League Cup last Wednesday.

Celtic are still the best team in Scotland by far. It’s a shame they aren’t given the credit they deserve particularly when they have earned it.

Top of the league. Mind the gap.

The only footage I’ve seen of the Aberdeen match so far contained the Leigh Griffiths header and James Forrest goal which were both sublime in the build up and the finish. I also caught the tackle by Graham Shinnie on Nir Bitton which was horrendous.

That was a red card in my opinion and in Europe he wouldn’t have been so lucky, not that Aberdeen know what Europe is like these days. I’ve seen players sent off for less and any attention Shinnie received from the Celtic players throughout the match was most definitely warranted.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

A case for the defence

There was a controversial debate from Saturday’s league win over Ross County at Celtic Park. The key argument of course being Neil McCann’s application of the rules following Craig Gordon’s foul on former Celt, Jackson Irvine.

However, I’d just like to rewind a bit and leave McCann out of that debate completely. Gordon stayed on the park and yes was probably lucky because quite frankly you just don’t know what an official is going to do these days.

My main concern though was the defending that led to the incident. Despite scoring two goals this season already, Dedryck Boyata was at fault for the error which would eventually allow Jackson Irvine in.

Overall, I’ve been impressed with Boyata’s general play but he failed to track back even after he allowed Craig Curran to latch onto the loose ball following a mistake of his own making. And that isn’t the first time Boyata has done that this season either, it’s the second.

I’m all for him pushing on and going up for corners, particularly when it brings in crucial goals. He’ll have to get his finger out though when it comes to defensive matters.

We already have one defender who has made the odd gaff in his Celtic career in Efe Ambrose. Even then, Efe generally tries to make amends on the back of a self made error.

In actual fact Efe had a really good game at the weekend. I’m not saying I’d put him in first time every time but to know there is someone with his level of athleticism on the bench can be valuable when your team are bit leggy.

So by all means Dedryck, keep banging in the goals. When you stuff up at the back though don’t switch off – track back and win the ball back.

With Virgil van Dijk rarely out of the headlines these days about a move south the spotlight is firmly on the Celtic defence. It’s unlikely Celtic would allow van Dijk to move if they qualify for the Champions League regardless of the price but all the same this defence must tighten up for the big games.

On a more positive defensive note, I thought young Kieran Tierney had a fine 60 minutes at left back on Saturday. He stepped in for the suspended Emilio Izaguirre and never really put a foot wrong.

It remains to be seen whether Ronny Deila will procure another left back to challenge Izzy for his role this season. Should a player fail to transpire, I would be happy to see this Celtic youngster get a chance.

You don’t often get the opportunity to shine as a product of Celtic youth but Tierney has done his chances the world of good.  His focus was good throughout the game.

The player who replaced him on the hour mark was Saidy Janko. The former Manchester United youngster will be vying for a place this season as well and has already shown his aptitude when given the chance.

With Mikael Lustig certain to sit out a good few domestic matches Janko will get a chance to step in. He’ll do battle with Darnell Fisher for the right back role but if fit and an import game, Lustig will be the man to play.

Charlie Mulgrew is another option to fill in at centre half or left back. He came under fire for his performance in a preseason friendly but Mulgrew is a useful player to have in the squad and you don’t judge a man who has served us well.

A blend of youth and experience is always beneficial. Guys like Tierney, Janko, Fisher and even Eoghan O’Connell are the new blood at Celtic who should all be pushing for defensive places.

With much emphasis on Europe, the squad well be tested severely this season. Nobody will want to lose their place but injury, suspension and tactical switches will mean opportunities.

If you have a duff game one week it might be useful to remind that player how important concentration is by dropping them for the next. For one it will keep them on their toes, allow others a chance to fight for that place, whilst ensuring there is no complacency or a guaranteed starting spot.

Ronny wants a smaller tighter group of players but he’ll have to give them all a fair chance if he wants to keep them happy. That’s one more challenge for the coaching team to handle.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Better make that four

With a Scottish Cup Semi Final place at stake and any hope of a treble for Celtic, the tie was already a tense affair before a ball was kicked. As it was, the game against Dundee United would go through a series twists and turns from one minute to the next.

First off, the surface at Tannadice on Sunday was a total disgrace. Scotland is not blessed with great weather but there are a number of measures football clubs can take these days to maintain their pitch.

The ball was bobbling all over the place and caused as many bad touches as it did prevent goals. These were the conditions that both teams had to deal with though.

As of the the 11th minute the conditions would take a back seat. After a series of tasty challenges the game was stopped.

The unnecessary intervention of the assistant refereree after a few players faced off, led to some disciplinary action. Scotland’s so called top referee, Craig Thomson, lost his head and ejected Virgil van Dijk and Paul Paton.

Now it is a referees responsibility to control the game and take appropriate action using the rules of the game. In football, a refree should use some common sense as well and allow the game to flow with as little disruption as possible.

Red carding a player from each team did nothing to keep order on Sunday. In fact, he even managed to red card the wrong Dundee United player.

Calum Butcher was the player involved with van Dijk but it was Paton who walked with the Dutchman. As Kris Commons pointed out in the studio, in the time the game was stopped, a video replay could have been used to verify the situation.

Being so early in the game, it was clear that Thomson was letting the tackles go as the play moved toward the Celtic goal. It was the post-tackle altercation that stopped the game.

The smart thing to do there would have been to warn or yellow card each player. There were several challenges going on and Thomson could have spoken to both captains to calm things down.

Sending off two players was poor judgement. As it was, Thomson missed or ignored the Ciftci/Brown and Butcher/van Dijk tackles so it made no sense to then send off two players and propel the game into madness.

Despite still being even on both sides, the surface was anything but that and it was back to dealing with that diabolical pitch. The game moved on two players down and further controversy would follow.

A late penalty in the first half was awarded to Dundee United. Anthony Stokes was judged to have fouled Aidan Connolly inside the penalty box and Craig Thomson did not hesitate.

There was definitely intention from Stokes to go for the ball but it is extremely questionable as to whether he made any contact. Connolly looked as though he had dived, he certainly projected his eventual fall.

When the second half came, it brought another penalty in the opening minutes. A blocked shot by Paul Dixon’s arm saw him red carded.

You can contest that he knew little about it. The fact of the matter is that his arm was raised and blocked a goal bound shot so there can be no complaints.

Leight Griffitths stepped up but Radosław Cierzniak made the save. With a one man advantage Celtic pushed on.

When the equaliser came it was carved out beautifully. A sweet ball into the United area from Stefan Johansen found the waiting Griffiths who bullet headered it into the goal.

He was jubilant, not just because it was the long awaited equaliser, but that he had made up for his earlier miss. Something which he had apologised to the fans about at the time of the penalty.

The winner wouldn’t come though and the game which had already seen red cards, penalties, bad refereeing, a ploughed surface and wonder saves from Cierzniak was going to a replay. As if playing United three times in a row wasn’t enough.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Tannadice Shuffle

It has been ten days since Celtic exited the Europa League at the hands of Inter Milan. Since then its been back to domestic business and the Hoops have played two matches in the Premiership.

Bouncing back from European defeat came in the form of a 4-0 thumping of title challengers, Aberdeen last Sunday. This was an excellent response from Ronny Deila’s players.

With Aberdeen put to bed for now, the midweek challenge at home to St Johnstone seemed like routine business. As it was, the Perth side had other ideas and Celtic lost to a solitary goal from outside the box.

I felt there could be a potential slip up going into that game. A home match which may have seemed like a foregone conclusion playing against a mid-tabled team.

Credit to St Johnstone for organising themselves in the fashion which most clubs do at Celtic Park these days. Its the only way they know how to avoid defeat and they got the points.

As much as it is a minor setback, Celtic must also heed the warning from this result. It would have been an opportunity to go 9 points clear of Aberdeen, but it is also a reminder that this title will not come to Celtic Park easily.

The timeliness of this result comes just before Celtic embark on a triple bill of encounters with Jackie McNamara’s Dundee United. They currently lie 4th in the Premiership but still pose a great threat to Celtic’s title and cup hopes.

First up is today’s Scottish Cup Quarter Final at Tannadice. The last visit there by Celtic ended in a 2-1 defeat.

The winner that day was scored by new Bhoy, Stuart Armstrong. He, along with Gary Mackay-Steven are both cup-tied for today’s encounter and next weeks as well.

The addition of these two players have been a fantastic boost for Ronny Deila. Like Dundee United though, Celtic will have to do without both, or at least for the next two matches anyway.

United will be looking to up there game which has suffered at the loss of Armstrong and Mackay-Steven. With home advantage they’ll be looking to inflict a similar result on Celtic as they did on 21st December.

For Celtic that means they will need to be at their best and shrug off Wednesday’s set back. Ronny Deila must shuffle the pack to bring balance back into the team which will be missing some key players this afternoon.

With injuries and cup tied players affecting the starting eleven, its time for those in reserve to step up and play their part. Stokes, Wakaso, Forrest, Fisher, McGregor and Henderson are all capable on their day and today could be the day for all or some of them to prove that.

If the treble is truly being sought then a victory on today will be a step nearer to making that happen. Further crucial matches against Dundee United await in the weeks ahead.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie