Comfortably Thumb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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EK OK but revenge is on the cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Time to support Deila, not sack him.

Ronny Deila’s presence at Celtic Football Club continues to divide the Celtic fan base. Meantime in the dressing room, he has received vocal support once more from club captain Scott Brown and not for the first time.

He has also had backing from Leigh Griffiths and Charlie Mulgrew in his time at the club. How united that backing is throughout the dressing room is a topic of its own.

Elsewhere, the media and pundits continue to have their say on TV and in the newspapers. The comments which gained a reaction from Scott Brown recently came from the one and only Andy Walker.

Now 99% of the time you’ll find that 99% of the Celtic support don’t agree with what Walker says or thinks. In fact that goes for pretty much any pundit, particularly when they are ex-Celts bashing Celtic.

On this occasion Walker called for Deila to get the sack following two bad results against Ross County and Aberdeen. This is despite the fact Celtic still sit top of the league with a game at hand and also compete in the Scottish Cup today against East Kilbride.

It’s true that Ronny Deila has not taken Celtic to glorious heights in Europe. In fact it has been his least successful area since arriving at Celtic and progress has not been made over two seasons.

I say “least successful” but that still includes qualifying for two group phases of the Europa League. One which he qualified from and one which was completely underwhelming.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it once more. He isn’t the first Celtic manager to falter in Europe.

Deila himself has mentioned this on a couple of occasions himself. This still appears to fly in the face of what supporters expect – instant success.

Martin O’Neill, Celtic’s first modern-day manager to make inroads on the European scene, didn’t get past Bordeaux or Christmas in his first season. He had a formidable team as well with the UEFA Cup Final in 2003 the pinnacle of his era but he too experienced disappointment such as that season which ended trophyless.

For Gordon Strachan it was reaching the last 16 of the Champions League twice and trouncing the league by winning it in record time in 2006. Like O’Neill, he experienced disappointment though unlike his predecessor he was NOT the messiah to the supporters and found himself departing to the applause of many.

Tony Mowbray, a poor appointment from the beginning was widely supported by the fans, myself being one of the exceptions. If anyone dragged Celtic down it was him and he was shown the door for achieving nothing.

Then came Neil Lennon, a rookie, but also the only real option at the time, who did a fantastic job and probably should have stuck around beyond 2014 in my opinion. With one great Champions League campaign to his credit, a win over Barcelona being the standout, this was not achieved without experiencing two difficult first seasons and personal death threats.

His departure was a surprise but he’d endured a lot in his time. He had also lost some of his best players and bought some donkeys at the same time.

In step Ronny Deila, wins a double in his first season and reaches the last 32 of the Europa League. Not a bad start but two failed attempts at the Champions League in his 20 months in charge are at the forefront of most Celtic supporter’s thoughts.

Along with that, two treble opportunities gone, but with a second domestic double still very much on the cards. Is that enough for Celtic fans though?

Many don’t appear to think so and yet, Celtic are still the best team in Scotland. And that’s in a league which is more closely competed these days than in the recent past.

Isn’t that what we wanted? A competitive league that wasn’t a forgone conclusion every season?

Celtic have and always will make mistakes along the way. A flawless season is a rare thing, particularly when your current head coach is trying to execute a long-term plan.

Ronny Deila may never see his vision come to fruition especially if not given that time. I never expected great things immediately because greatness takes time.

I don’t think Ronny Deila is as clueless as people say he is. He’s making mistakes like any other coach does and working toward something we all want.

We didn’t recruit Pep Guardiola and land £50M to spend on players courtesy of the Kaiser. We plucked a young relatively unknown manager from Norway with a vision that suited Celtic’s situation.

Overnight success is not a realistic target, particularly in Europe. At Celtic, European success is a tall order even for the best manager available to us but it is still how we measure progress and success at the club.

What is being attempted under Deila is a different path but one that fits the club’s financial situation. I back the left field approach and how bold it has been but it remains to be seen if Ronny will be given another shot at Europe like Neil Lennon was.

Winning the league is essential and that remains within our grasp. So too does a domestic double.

Surely that is worth backing until we are in jeopardy of losing it? This is not the time for change, this is a time to stick by ans support Ronny Deila.

In my view we should not be hitting the panic button. You have to see it through the tough times, you don’t just throw in the towel.

I’m going to stick my neck out and continue back Ronny even if I am a minority. If he throws away the league this season or fails badly in Europe next season then we are looking at re-assessing the situation but only then.

I’m not 100% happy with the way things are, how some players are performing and have my own questions but I’m not calling time just yet. There is room and time for things to take shape.

Right now I think too many are being too fickle. Time to tough it out folks, because our support is required.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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

Friday Feeeling: Dundee United v Celtic

Celtic take on Dundee United this evening at Tannadice. This is match number 3 of 6 for the month of January where Celtic should be aiming for straight wins.

United find themselves rock bottom of the Scottish Premiership on 10 points. This has to be a one of United’s worst seasons since the 1920’s but I’d need a Dundee United statto to confirm that.

I’ve always found ties with United entertaining over the years but they have found themselves way off the pace this season, compared to previous years. In the last 12 months Celtic have taken three of United’s best players off them which hasn’t helped of course.

I wouldn’t go blaming Celtic for Dundee United’s problems though. They’ve been selling their best for a while now; Andy Robertson, Ryan Gauld etc.

The question is are they reinvesting that? That’s something an Arab might know more than me.

Ironically, Nadir Çiftç, Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven have yet to set our pulses racing at Celtic. The two Scot’s have a had a longer bedding in period (and some decent games) than the Turk but none of them have been among our top players this season.

Our best players have been few in number but sometimes the latter half of the season can produce something new, sometimes in the form of a new signing. So far it has been Kieran Tierney, Tom Rogić, Nir Bitton and Leigh Griffiths keeping Celtic fans entertained.

Over the coming weeks and months that list may well grow. Tonight though, it is all about the three points for Celtic.

Despite United having a season of woe and being locked in the relegation zone, the bottom club can sometimes take you by surprise. However, Celtic are (I hope) on-the-up right now and should be aiming to put United to the sword this evening.

Ronny Deila took us all by surprise last Sunday and played two strikers. Tonight he would do well to do the same against a team who are suffering badly and show them no mercy.

It would also give Griffiths and Cole the chance to play together again. They teamed up well enough against Stranraer and I see no risk in going with the same plan against United.

As much as Ronny appears to oppose a two-man attack, one man hasn’t exactly being paying off for us. Against top class opposition I can understand a single front man but we are playing domestic football in Scotland and is totally different to playing European opposition.

So to ensure 3 points tonight I would go with Griffiths and Cole for sure. Celtic have a treble to chase and I think it is high time this team took the gloves off on the domestic scene.

Celtic should be smashing teams left, right and centre in the league. Sure, be conservative in Europe but in Scotland we are the best team in the country by far.

It’s time to start showing that because we’ve regressed. Role your sleeves up and start dishing out some punishment.

We aren’t going to win treble by being over-cautious in our formation.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Composure in the cup

Celtic booked their place in fifth round of the Scottish Cup with a 3-0 away win over Stranraer. This was a composed performance which in truth could have had a far greater scoreline for the Hoops.

Part of that was down to 18-year-old Max Currie playing in-goal for Stranraer for only his second start and third competitive appearance for the club. He pulled off some magnificent saves at Stair Park which saved his team from a drubbing.

A gulf between teams is often evident by what you can spend on players and wages. Stranraer were plucky though and even started the better team.

The opening moments of the game saw them come at Celtic. Eventually though the Hoops would get a foothold in the match and would not let up.

In terms of performance, this was one of Celtic’s best of the season. Yes, this isn’t a Scottish Premiership side or even European opponent but the attitude of Ronny Deila’s players was correct.

That’s been a rarely seen thing this season. So what was different and what’s changed?

Well aside from playing a Scottish League One club, Carlton Cole started the match though not as a sole striker. He partnered Leigh Griffiths who was himself returning to the starting line up.

I was surprised to see a 4-4-2 formation as much as anyone. As I said in my previous blog though, it suits some games and you need to be able to adapt.

Despite resembling a collapsing building at times, Cole put himself about. He may be at that stage of his career where he doesn’t have the legs, pace or sharpness but his presence was certainly felt.

I miss having a player like that as an option even if not a regular. For that reason I welcomed his inclusion on Sunday and he was to be rewarded as well.

However, it was the effervescent Leigh Griffiths who would draw first blood. A nicely weighted diagonal pass from Callum McGregor found Celtic’s leading scorer who netted a perfect finish.

Then came Carlton Cole’s goal. A cross from Nir Bitton found Cole at the back post to head home from very close range.

Throughout the game there were countless chances for Celtic. As I said, if it were not for the heroics of Max Currie, it could have been far more punishing for Stranraer.

Griffiths was denied and missed further opportunities. The same goes for Cole, Kris Commons, Stefan Johansen and Scott Allan.

In fact it was Allan that turned provider for the third goal. He slipped through a ball to the marauding Griffiths to complete the win.

Celtic should take a lot of positives out of this game. It was their best performance for a long time, regardless of the level of opponent.

There were a couple of moments Celtic got lucky with. One was an apparent handball by Efe Ambrose in his own box and the other a Leigh Griffiths reaction to a challenge.

Ambrose got lucky but depending on retrospective action, Griffiths might not be. His reaction to a Stranraer player’s challenge was caught on camera but as yet, I’ve read nothing about it other than Twitter retweets.

Sadly, the match was blighted before it even kicked off thanks to some morons. Several flares were let off prior to kick off by some travelling Celtic supporters.

I don’t know what motivates you to throw anything onto the field of play to be honest. There is one thing I do know though and that is by doing this you drag down the name of the club and the reputation of the supporters.

Whoever you are, whatever your objective is, it isn’t smart/cool/clever/funny/safe etc. You need to learn some social skills and pay attention to the game or just get lost for good.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Stranraer v Celtic

Celtic travel to Stair Park today for the Scottish Cup Fourth Round tie with Stranraer. The game might offer Ronny Deila the chance to field some players lacking game time so far this season but he won’t be taking this game lightly.

This match is key to maintaining Celtic’s treble hopes, so a strong team will be put out. With injuries and suspensions though, a few changes are on the cards.

Craig Gordon and Nadir Çiftç are both suspended for this game so the expected starters will be Logan Bailly and Leigh Griffiths. Efe Ambrose is likely to step in for the injured Dedryck Boyata and partner Jozo Šimunović in the heart of the defence, flanked by captain Mikael Lustig and Kieran Tierney though there is every possibility we may see Emilio Izaguirre in this match.

It’s in the midfield where there is the opportunity for change today. Deila might take the opportunity to mix things up a little against smaller opposition.

There is an element of risk but freshening things up might be good. Scott Allan and Gary Mackay-Steven will be looking for more game time as will James Forrest particularly with Stuart Armstrong being added to the injury list.

Callum McGregor has been seen more recently and I would expect that to continue. The question is do you drop experienced players such as Nir Bitton and Stefan Johansen for such an important fixture?

Also on my mind is playing two up front in this game. Carlton Cole is waiting in the wings and so is young Aidan Nesbitt.

Ronny Deila is not keen on the idea of two strikers but adapting your tactics should be in your locker. I’m fairly certain that some games deserve a partnership in attack.

Instead we’ve seen Tom Rogić, Kris Commons and less recently, Stefan Johansen, play an attacking midfield role. Perhaps there is room to accommodate Nesbitt in there today.

However Ronny decides to set up today, there needs to be focus throughout the team from back to front. I’m always a little bit nervous when changing keepers, particularly when you’ve seen little of the replacement.

An unsettled defence doesn’t help matters either. Whilst Šimunović has brought a degree of calm to things, I’m not 100% about Ambrose or even Boyata.

A win is all that is needed today. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just no errors.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac