“But shouldn’t you have scored against a team like that?”

Yesterday, someone implied that I must have been disappointed with Celtic’s failure to score a goal in Azerbaijan on Wednesday evening. This was in response to my comment when asked how I felt the game went.

After explaining that Celtic had taken the cautious approach to the game I got the reply: “But shouldn’t you have scored against a team like that?” I didn’t take the bait for this one and let it slide.

This didn’t come from someone with great passion for football. A mere onlooker shall we say whose interest in the sport, or any sport for that matter, is somewhat ‘generic’.

They’ll read the news and the opinions of others whilst ‘supporting’ an English club who may be further up the rankings than Celtic, but are by no means a great team even if they have a superior income. On occasion, this person watches or attends cricket, rugby, football or athletics and talk about it as general news.

That doesn’t make you an expert. It certainly doesn’t make you any more of an expert when you comment on a game you never saw or that the two teams involved you’ve probably never seen on live TV before.

I on the other hand have a personal interst in my team, the game, the competitions and a more rounded and insightful view of the game (I think). I don’t just read what the media are saying then use it as a third person remark as this person did, I actually write about it myself in the first person.

It got me thinking though – should we have scored against this team away from home? Let’s be honest, the comment made tells you just how much of a throwaway remark it was.

Did this person know anything about Qarabağ? No, and even I had to do my research to write about them before a ball was kicked.

Which led me to thinking that we should not underestimate that team. In fairness we were all thinking that and even Ronny demonstrated that with way we set up on Wednesday.

Without a reasonable understanding of the game you could forgive this person for not knowing any teams from Azerbaijan. Because of that it is understandable given their remote interest that they would assume a club like Celtic should dispose of an ‘unknown’ club.

Apart from Celtic’s current ongoing development under Ronny Deila, Qarabağ were no mugs. European football is a journey into the unknown at times, particularly when even as a national champions, you still have to jump through hoops to get to the stage your team should be given direct entry to in the first place.

Qarabağ may be ranked 139th in Europe overall – some 93 places below Celtic – but that’s far superior to any other Scottish club. The Scottish best of the rest are:

211th – Motherwell
212th – Hearts
221th – St Johnstone
257th – Dundee United
258th – Rangers (are these points even valid?)
280th – Aberdeen
305th – Inverness Caledonian Thistle
306th – Hibernian

Whilst not all of these teams are in the Scottish top flight (tee-hee), Celtic have played all of them in the last twelve months. Who would you rather play in Europe – Qarabağ or one of the above?

As it is, of the five possible opponents Celtic could face in the play-offs, most are better off in the UEFA club coefficients than the clubs above:

98th – Maccabi Tel-Aviv
122nd – Malmö FF
138th – Partizan
224th – Skënderbeu Korçë
286th – Astana

After a 0-0 draw in Finland, Astana overcame HJK Helsinki (146th) 4-3 at home. Skënderbeu won 2-0 home and away to win 4-0 on aggregate over Milsami (307th) of Moldova.

Partizan won 5-3 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw against Steau (49th) in Bucharest then taking them down 4-2 in Belgrade. Malmö FF turned around a 2-0 away defeat by Celtic’s opponents from last season, Salzburg (38th), by notching up a 3-0 home victory.

Better still were the efforts of Maccabi Tel-Aviv. After losing their home leg against Plzeň 2-1, they travelled to the Czech Republic and duly despatched them 2-0, winning 3-2 on aggregate.

As Celtic supporters I think we all know well enough not underestimate any team and not to be swayed by the UEFA club coefficient system. The names may not be well known, but some of these ‘minnows’ are well funded, in the midst of their domestic season at during summer time and can spend the same if not more than Celtic can.

The gap in European football is vast but Celtic, despite their respectable standing, are in a domestic pool that is underfunded and badly maintained. Celtic are the standard in Scotland and have achieved that by running a good business and living within their means.

For Scottish football to evolve, there needs to be an improvement with standards and a plan for the future. Until that happens Celtic will continue to fly the flag and not take risks against teams like Qarabağ.

Be it a trip to Israel, Sweden, Serbia, Albania or Kazakhstan….bring on today’s draw!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Patience and discipline pay off for the play-offs

Well, the game played out as expected last night. Even if my nerves were tested at times, this was a case of job done.

Qarabağ played exactly as I imagined they would. The big surprise for me was that Ronny Deila deployed holding tactics.

This was the right move away from home though. Qarabağ’s European results in recent years demonstrated they were not an attacking side home or away.

Although they offered more in attack in Baku last night, Celtic also allowed them more of the game. They were the ones chasing a goal to stay in the tie but their tactic appears to be drawing out their opponents and hit on the break.

Celtic didn’t play ball and both the defence and defensive midfield played a blinder. Our attack was sporadic and largely ineffective but this was not a game we had to win.

As I said from the first leg, Qarabağ make good use of the ball and postion themselves well. It’s a quality they can build on for sure but Celtic played them at their own game and even though I would have felt more comfortable with a goal we came out on top.

Bitton and Brown were fantastic, chasing down the ball, breaking up the play, taking the heat off our defence and even trying to create moves for our attack. The defence were equally effective and played a key role in keeping the goal protected and moving the ball forward and despite Gordon flapping at one cross he pulled off the save of the match.

Lustig and van Dijk were their usual selves, performing how and when it matters. I’ll single out Boyata though as I criticised him in a previous blog.

I thought he stepped up his game last night, stood firm throughout the match and kept his focus. On the left Izaguirre played a more defensive role than he normally plays but be coped well over all.

Sadly our attack was static and once more Ciftci was lacking pace and movement. Mackay-Steven, Armstrong and Johansen didn’t play badly but they didn’t over commit themselves such were the tactics deployed.

Griffiths (67), Commons (79) and Forrest (84) kept things moving as the game moved into the final third. It was hot, it was late and legs were getting tired.

All in all I think this was a test of Celtic’s patience and character. To stay disciplined and organised despite the temptation to attack showed some real maturity for what is a reasonably young team.

It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t say something about match referee Martin Strömbergsson. Tbe Swedish official was diabolical.

It’s fair to say I was tense going into this match. His blatant refusal to award stonewall free kicks to Celtic though was astonishing.

I stopped counting after 7 denials. There must have been at least double that amount by the time the final whistle came.

As it was it took until the 76th minute for the Swede to award one if those stonewallers. It wasn’t our first free kick of the game but it was the first given in an attacking area of the park, all of which were previously ignored.

In the end Celtic set out their stall to counter Qarabağ’s counter attacking style of play. Without the referee’s assistance Celtic are in the bowl for Friday’s draw.

Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel), Partizan (Serbia), Malmö FF (Sweden), Skënderbeu Korçë (Albania) or Astana (Kazakhstan) are Celtic’s potential opponents. At first glance I’d prefer the Israeli side or the Albanian’s not for location, just for our chances.

It will be another step up for Ronny Deila and his players as the expectations become more real. European football is secure until December but the Champions League is where we want to be.

Until Friday.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Forget the lying King…here’s the King of Kings

Whilst the comedy show at Ibrox continues to embarass Scottish football (I mean seriously sort yourselves out over there), the name ‘King’ has been embossed in the Scottish media almost daily. However, it was the return of the King that took my attention this week.

Henrik Larsson, the King of Kings made an appearance for Helsingborgs IF on Wednesday evening. As their current manager and experiencing player shortages, Henrik threw himself on as a substitute against Malmö FF.

As if that weren’t enough he helped himself to the last of the goals in a 7-1 mauling of their Swedish rival’s in a practice match. 43 years young and still doing the business.

We never tire of watching Henrik. It does make me wonder if I’ll ever see another player of his quality in the Hoops again during my lifetime.

Topically, a striker is one key position Ronny Deila needs to consider for next season. Leigh Griffiths has done a great job as a goal provider since his arrival in January 2014 but Celtic need something in addition.

Stefan Šćepović hasn’t lit up the forward line as we had all hoped. He didn’t even get near the brief achievements of the outgoing John Guidetti, but it remains to be seen how things will pan out for the Serbian at Celtic next season.

Celtic’s shape these days is completely different to the era when Henrik was the first name on the team sheet. Lone strikers are all the rage these days with support coming from the channels.

Ironically, Henrik used to work the channels himself (as well as other positions), particularly at Feyenoord before achieving legendary status at Celtic as a striker. Who will be our next star and is he already at the club?

When Henrik arrived we had no idea he would become the player he did. Especially after an abysmal debut against Hibs where he gifted them a goal resulting in a 2-1 defeat at Easter Road.

Some players can make that kind of error and be remembered for it for their whole career. Instead, Larsson carved out his own history at Celtic as well as Barcelona and Manchester United in the final years of his career.

To see him play is always a joy. A true legend.

Will we ever see his likes again? Well, we can dream.

Hail! Hail!

Guidetti should be indebted to Celtic

Yes, that’s what I said. Indebted.

You might ask why that may be if you’re not of the Celtic persuasion. Well, I’ll explain.

John Guidetti came to Celtic on loan just as the summer 2014 transfer window came to a close. Up until then he had little other than a few loan spells under his belt which included IF Brommapojkarna (the club where he began his career), Burnley, Feyenoord and Stoke City.

That spell at Feyenoord was productive but he returned to parent club Manchester City after an incomplete season. Having never established himself in Sweden or England his career has not yet taken off.

Celtic offered him that opportunity and immediately hit the ground running. As I’ve said in the past, we all liked what we saw.

Frustratingly, he was ineligible for European competition but his domestic form was drawing praise from the support. He had charisma and we all sensed there was something about this guy.

What we soon discovered though was that he had his own agenda. The more Celtic were convinced by his form, the nearer a deal came to being ratified for a permanent signature.

It’s not too often Celtic make such a move. The club have let many a player slip through their fingers but to be fair to the board, they moved swiftly.

What they didn’t bargain for was Guidetti stalling. Not only did he stall, he decided to hawk himself to other clubs.

This public show of availability to clubs in Italy and the Netherlands drew a different sort of reaction. Celtic fans were no longer behind this guy, they were beginning to feel betrayed.

Guidetti isn’t the first player to do this to Celtic. In fact, you could say he’s now joined an elite bunch of former servants.

The difference is, I feel Celtic deserved a chance with this player. The club did all the right things and Guidetti threw it back in their faces.

For a talented player, he has yet to establish himself at any one club. He has the skill but the mindset is questionable.

Perhaps the signs were already there and we all failed to see them. At the end of his first contract with Manchester City, he apparently struck a deal to join FC Twente.

At this time, Manchester City offered him another contract and eventually stayed. FC Twente debated that their contract was legitimate but that would be the end of it.

Ironically, Guidetti moved on loan to Feyenoord not long after signing that first team contract with City. It was a productive time for him in Rotterdam but illness marred the remainder of that loan spell and he returned to Manchester.

After recovering from illness, he went out on loan again. This time it would be Premier League club, Stoke City.

There he would vent his frustration at lack of appearances. Most of which was levelled at manager Mark Hughes.

So what has Guidetti achieved then? Well, his only honours to date have come from one season at Celtic.

He threw away the opportunity to build upon that success. Even after scoring against Inter Milan on the European stage, he still had a chance to resurrect a permanent move but he would continue to flaunt himself to other clubs.

At the League Cup Final he would spit the dummy out on the field of play. His reluctance to celebrate winning his first ever club honour was the end of the affair.

In many respects Celtic may have got off lightly here though. Despite his talent, Guidetti clearly has some issues.

He has cited a lack of challenging games on the domestic front with Celtic being an issue for his international career. Domestic football isn’t always what we want it to be though.

It doesn’t matter which club you play for. Every league has its fair share of poor fixtures.

Real Madrid might be a big club but do you think they face a huge challenge week in week out? I mean, Celtic may be the best team in Scotland, but they haven’t exactly wiped the floor with teams this season particularly when Guidetti was starting games and it has been a challenging season.

In fact the Swede played in probably the toughest period of the season gone. When Guidetti lost his place, Celtic grew stronger though.

With that in mind, it actually makes his spate of form look less influential. Aside from that goal against Inter, his influence ended long before Christmas 2014.

If John Guidetti wants a decent club career, then he will need to do some serious self assessment. He appears to have a high opinion of himself but lacks the mental ability and dedication to conduct himself in a professional manner.

Like Feyenoord, Celtic gave this guy a solid chance. Once more, a club has helped him raise his profile.

Adjö John.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Headhunting

Where do you begin when searching for a new manager? Well avoiding past mistakes would be beneficial to begin with.

Appointments aren’t always about replacing like for like. You have to look ahead and where you are as a business or in Celtic’s case, a club and a business.

The question the board must ask themselves is “what direction is the club going in?” The football climate in which Celtic exist is one with restrictions, that we are all well aware of.

There isn’t the kind of money flowing through Scottish football like there is in other leagues in Europe. I’m not just talking about the flagship leagues mind you, they are an inner circle that requires more money than sense.

I’m referring to countries elsewhere in Europe where there are league’s that fair better with TV revenue. Some of these countries appear to have better deals with similar or smaller audiences than Scotland and yet I’m not entirely convinced that the quality is substantially better.

Despite this, Celtic Football Club is set up well to survive the financial shortfall, even if the rest of the Scottish clubs are not. The financial backbone that is in place ensures stability which in this day and age is a saving grace.

On the playing field, the league is of course bread and butter for a club like Celtic. Currently, there is no opposition to threaten Celtic’s claim season after season.

Not even the emergence of Second Rangers can be considered a threat. They don’t play in the SPFL, are not guaranteed promotion after next season or to even exist long enough to get there.

So what is the attraction for a potential suitor to the Celtic throne? Well, should an appointment come from within the Scottish game, it will be a big step up by taking the reigns of a club like Celtic.

Winning the league would be a huge challenge for guys like Jackie McNamara or Paul Hartley whose names have been mentioned in the past few days. Europe would be considered an even greater task but Lennon was in that boat as well and proved the doubters wrong.

It took him a couple of years to get to grips with competing in Europe but he learned. The question is will Celtic go down the same route as they did with Lennon or pick someone with more experience?

Henrik Larsson has been talked about heavily, even before the departure of Lennon. As a club legend it is not surprising to hear his name every now and again.

Many fans would love be to see the return of the king and Larsson himself has hinted at a return some day. He has been busy coaching in his home country of Sweden for five years now and looks set to continue that unless matters change.

For some, it isn’t Henrik’s time and feel if he had to come now it might tarnish his legendary status. For me though it would be the board’s desire to capitalise on Larsson’s marketing value that is of concern.

PR stunts are not beyond Celtic and if Larsson’s attraction was purely a financial one I disapprove. Robbie Keane was drafted in at a time when Mowbray’s efforts to make Celtic success flopped.

Keane’s appearance in a Celtic shirt must have sold dozens of jerseys and put bums back on seats. In reality, getting rid of Mowbray was the best thing the club did that season, the worst being his appointment.

If the club are looking at managers from outside of Scotland then you are looking at someone who may have handled a larger spending budget or worked in a tougher league but probably not managed a big club. There are a number of candidates out of work right now and when a club with the stature of Celtic are headhunting, interest is most definitely going to be high.

For example, David Moyes, ex-Celt and long-term guardian of Everton, recently sacked by Manchester United. He might be out of Celtic’s league financially and not everyone’s cup of tea, but on the other hand Celtic could a be the perfect opportunity for him to rebuild his reputation.

After just ten months at Manchester United he could be considered tainted goods, but he didn’t get that job by chance. He earned the opportunity through hard work obtaining his coaching badges whilst still a young player and earning plaudits from his fellow professionals as he climbed the managerial ladder.

Promotion to the second tier of English football with Preston (and very nearly the Premier League) brought him to the attention of Everton. He maintained Everton’s status in the top half of the Premier League in all but two of his eleven years at the helm.

He brought some brilliant talent to Everton, though the money was there to do so. What goes against him is that he never won a trophy or made an impact in Europe despite getting some very respectable league positions and making a domestic final.

Also in the managerial wilderness right now is another former Celtic centre half, Malky Mackay. Disposed of by Cardiff in December, he is certain to be looking to get back into the game as soon as possible.

He first stepped into the management hot seat as caretaker at Watford. That role would become his own but only after Brendan Rodgers had failed to deliver first.

Cardiff then came calling for Malky and it was there that he made a name for himself. He made the play-off’s and the League Cup Final but would eventually see defeat in both challenges.

The following season he won the Championship title and earned automatic promotion to the Premier League but soon after a rift would materialise between the himself and the owner. There is no doubt that the souring of that relationship diluted Cardiff’s chances of staying up and that was ultimately the end of the road for Malky and Cardiff.

Would he be a good choice for Celtic? I think so, but the main question is, is he the kind of coach the club are interested in or could even persuade to come north of the border?

Paul Lambert, another former Celt, currently plying his trade in management at Aston Villa could be looking for a move. New ownership is on the cards at Villa and when that happens you tend to find that your face no longer fits.

At this stage new owner’s have not been acquired but Lambert may take this opportunity to move if he feels his role is under threat. He stepped away from relative safety with Norwich to take the job at Villa but it is a big ask to get success at that club these days.

Staying up isn’t generally a concern for Villa, its progressing that is the challenge. Lambert may well continue his career at there, but if Celtic do come calling and money was not a huge concern for either party, I think Lambert would find it hard to refuse.

Also on that list of rumoured candidates is Steve Clarke. He has carved out a very respectable career as an assistant manager for a Newcastle United, Chelsea, West Ham United and Liverpool.

Clarke has also worked under some big names in management. Ruud Guillit, José Mourinho, Avram Grant, Gianfranco Zola and Kenny Dalglish have all utilised his services over the years but he would eventually venture out on his own.

That came in the form of Head Coach at West Bromwich Albion. His first season there was a huge success finishing eighth in the league.

Sadly for Clarke, that success would not be mirrored the following season and he was axed before Christmas. Whether he returns to management or not only time will tell but the one fact that is unquestionable is his ability as a firsf teamm coach.

Then there is Owen Coyle, a man formerly linked with the job at Celtic. On that occasion he was said to have been offered the role before Tony Mowbray but turned it down.

His managerial career was on the up with Burnley and he chose to stay in England. It could have been a good appointment for Celtic at the time but my feelings on that have changed.

As much as I understood his decision to make a name for himself in England, his career is in a different place altogether now. After gaining promotion to the Premier League with Burnley he jumped ship mid season to former employers Bolton who he had once played for.

Burnley were relegated that season and many felt Coyle had turned his back on them and I am inclined to agree. Although he had managed to keep Bolton in the Premier League for two seasons, he would eventually find himself back in the Championship.

Results didn’t go well down there and he was out of work only a few months into the new season. The following year he took the reigns at Wigan but once again he found himself out of work just six months into the job.

Celtic may have decided that with a poor run in the game in the last couple of years he is not the man for the job anymore. He was once, but for many Celtic fans he missed his chance and his value has plummeted.

A left field entry on the list is Oscar Garcia. He took Brighton and Hove Albion to the play-off’s this year but was unsuccessful in the end.

The Championship is a competitive league and he did well to get Brighton into the play-off position. The fact that he chose to resign after such a short spell is surprising given that he did well with relatively limited experience.

He may be looking for a bigger club and Celtic are certainly that. Whether he could cut the mustard in Scotland I do not know but I do question his staying power given that he has left his two most recent jobs after only one season in charge.

Also in that play-off battle is Steve McLaren. Having made the final and losing to a late goal might he be looking to move on?

Love him or hate him he has bags of experience. He hasn’t made any signs of leaving Derby but he remains a possibility and given his coaching credentials oversess and at international level he is not to be sniffed at.

Lastly, there is Roy Keane, another ex-Celt whose name has been mentioned. His recruitment as a player, whilst totally unnecessary, was amother PR stunt that Celtic just couldn’t refuse.

Sunderland was his first venture into management where he won promotion to the Premier League in his first season. He kept Sunderland up during his second season but the season that followed saw a poor start and Keane eventually resigned.

With a character like Keane’s there was the usual controversy. Never afraid to speak his mind, his management style didn’t go down well with players and officials during his time there but that’s Roy Keane I guess.

Ipswich Town would be Roy’s second crack at management. It failed to develop into anything successful for him or the club during an eighteen month period and having falling down the league he was sacked.

He returned to coaching last year taking up the assistant managers role under Martin O’Neill for the Republic of Ireland’s national team. Although still a relationship in its infancy, it hasn’t prevented Keane’s name being mentioned with the Celtic job.

His opinions and temperament don’t always win him votes with people. Roy is never afraid to speak his mind though but whether Dermot Desmond sees Keane as the kind of character he wants to coach the team, the Kaiser will have the final say.

What Celtic require is someone who will stick around for a few years and make some progress. The league is almost certainly assured given the gap between Celtic and the rest of the SPFL clubs.

Whoever takes over will have to emulate that domination in the league. A more successful run in the cups would also be desirable.

Then there is Europe and with it the income that Celtic require. European nights at Celtic are what we as fans all crave and without those evenings the domestic season would be very dull.

Being involved in the Champions League group phase is essential. Qualifying from that stage and reaching the last sixteen is a target that can only be surpassed by repeating the journey year after year.

Only two Celtic managers have ever made the knockout phase in the current format of the tournament. The board may not expect that next season given the change in personnel, but surely progression in Europe is the objective that makes this all worth while?

On the other hand, Celtic may be looking overseas for someone who can tweak those European fortunes. Though it’s unlikely that the club will be able to obtain the services of a coach with an admirable CV without breaking the bank.

Celtic may play in Europe but as I have said before, there are limitations to what you can and can’t do and that includes attracting the right people and being able to pay the right money. Whoever the club appoint, it will clarify their ambitions and intentions.

They must move swiftly though. The World Cup begins soon and with it an opportunity to scout talent.

Ideally it would be best to appoint someone before then and get them preparing for the Champions League qualifier’s in July. In the past the club have been slow to elect a manager so I hope that they are actively seeking one now.

Peter Lawwell stated that the club haven’t begun their search. Personally, I find that hard to believe, this isn’t the public sector after all.

Lennon said leaving wasn’t a knee-jerk decision. I’m sure the board may have either been expecting it, or helping him wind things down.

The new manager will need the backing of the support and not just the board. It would be advisable to give him every chance to succeed by getting him on board now.

So let’s hope the club don’t waste too much time and make an announcement soon.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Next stop: Elfsborg Fortress

Whilst one Glasgow club tears itself apart, another prepares for a crucial European tie. Celtic, currently competing in Europe, face Swedish club Elfsborg tomorrow night in the city of Borås, the return leg for Champions League qualification.

The second leg of this tie will be a tense affair for Celtic supporters. I have first hand knowledge.

A slender 1-0 lead means Celtic will need to be on their game. No mess ups, just 100% focus and application.

Without an out and out striker, the team will need to be patient where goals are concerend. There are goal scorers available though and Celtic will be looking to captilise when the ball breaks and opportunities come to bear.

With Samaras travelling and fit, he is likely to start. He is one player that can carve out goals in Europe and away from home.

Its hard to believe sometimes where his Celtic career was a few years back. “Languid” was one word a friend and fellow supporter would use to describe his form of that time – an in-joke that continues to this day within my circle.

Samaras would wander around the field of play with the ball stuck to his feet. The only thing missing back then was where the hell he was going on the park.

Lennon saw something though and remained on his side, regularly stating that he hoped the player would not let him down. You could see Samaras with flashes of ability and Lennon has helped him achieve the status he now has.

Samaras will not be relied upon to do it all himself of course. This is a team game and there will be a concerted effort to defend an attacking Efsborg side looking for that first goal.

Kelvin Wilson is fit and likely to partner Efe Ambrose in central defence. Charlie Mulgrew is also in the frame but unless Ambrose or Wilson are left out, Charlie could find himself on the bench or even deployed in midfield.

It is hard to guess how Lennon will set up though. Flood the midfield and use the channels, or keep it even from back to front?

Your guess is as good as mine. Though the former of the two has worked well in the past.

Rogic, Van Dijk and Boerrigter did not travel so it will be the usual suspects. This squad know each other and know what is at stake.

Elfsborg will feel confident though. A 1-0 deficit, playing the second leg at the Borås Arena and on an artificial surfice they are unbeaten on since September 2011 is positive in them.

However, Celtic have been here before. Few goals, away fixture, Champions League at stake and a  plastic pitch – the Hoops are every bit as capable.

We’ll all be on the edge of our seats. I may find it hard to focus on anything else for the next 24 hours.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Moving ahead.

I think most people would agree that Celtic turned in a good performance last night. The goal tally could have been greater, but the team put in a decent shift for this stage of pre-season.

Usually the main talking points are about player performance. However, the dirty tackling and poor refereeing are on my mind today.

The number of blatant fouls commited by Elfsborg was ridiculous. In Europe, referees are supposed to be tough on this sort of thing but last night they were weak.

I wouldn’t say that Celtic went out looking for these fouls. As the match wore on and Elfsborg continued to get away with their repeated fouling, Celtic did move in that direction.

That was mainly down to the lack of goals. On the other hand, Celtic players were being continually cut down on the attack.

An impressive Kris Commons had the beating of everyone last night and was surprisingly yellow carded whilst on the attack. So I felt it was a harsh booking when he was through on goal especially when the referee was somewhat lenient with the opposition.

Despite my previous blog on this subject, I cannot continue without mentioning Mo Bangura. Regardless of his presence in an opposing role to Celtic last night, his conduct was disappointing.

Any chance he had to return to Celtic, however unlikely, came to an end last night. Foul or no foul his face holding antics alone were enough to disgust the support, myself included but he’ll never wear the jersey again.

All that aside the team played well for most of the game. There were a few misunderstandings at the back but the midfield played well.

Kayal tired as the match wore on but Ledley’s arrival in the second half gave the team a lift. His presence in the midfield gave the team a dimension that allowed them to press forward.

Creativity was not lacking but where we were lacking was a cutting edge in attack. Just that one player to create room for himself and give defenders problems.

New additions Balde, Van Dijk, Mouyokolo and Boerrigter will hopefully add quality as well as depth to the squad. It could be that crucial fifth signing though that provides us with a target man.

Names have been mooted as Hooper’s replacement. A good striker will come soon I am sure, but until such a deal is made, Celtic will work with the players they do have.

With flag day at Celtic Park this Saturday, my first match at Paradise in couple of years, it is back to domestic business but only for one fixture. Our following game will be away to Elfsborg.

Celtic must take that slender lead of 1-0 and keep it tight. Not only have the team shown they can score away from home in Europe, but that they can win away from home in Europe.

Away goals and wins eluded the club for long periods. Lennon’s mentors O’Neill and Strachan got the ball rolling in Europe for Celtic once more but the current manager has built upon that.

Despite last seasons convincing home and away form in Europe, Lennon should not and will not take anything for granted. A bigger stage awaits the club and its what we all live for but it doesn’t come easily.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie