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

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First time at Celtic Park? Welcome!

This Saturday, I am almost certainly due to be suffering. Because on Friday night, three of my best friends are celebrating their 40th birthday and I’ll be hanging by lunchtime the following day!

It just so happens that this coincides with Celtic’s first ever league meeting with the club now operating out of Ibrox. Until now, both Glasgow clubs have only ever met on neutral ground.

They first met on 1st February 2015 at Hampden Park in the League Cup Semi Final. Celtic won the match 2-0 with goals from Kris Commons and Leigh Griffiths.

The pair’s next encounter came almost fifteen months later on 17 April of this year in the Scottish Cup Semi Final, also at Hampden. The match was a draw at full-time (1-1) and after extra time (2-2) which resulted in a penalty shoot out.

Celtic lost 4-5 on penalties and the new Ibrox club got their first ever scalp from Scotland’s biggest club. It isn’t the first time Celtic have lost a vital cup match to a club from a lower division.

The game itself was the death knell for Ronny Deila. His time at the club did not inspire many fans and this defeat was the final nail in his managerial coffin, although his departure would not come until the end of the season.

It was unthinkable that Celtic could lose to this tribute act but lose they did. Defeat by a team, masquerading as Celtic’s old rivals, was enough to convince even the most sympathetic Celtic supporter that Ronny had to go.

In fact, it was evident in that particular match just how disjointed that Celtic side were. In terms of personnel, Celtic should have done a lot better but the real issue was their inability to play as a unit.

The club may have come in for criticism for not funding a decent team. However, it was still better equipped than any other club in Scotland.

You could see a less expensive, less experienced Ibrox side playing together as a team in spells throughout the fixture. They were up for it and they proved that by taking the lead through former Celtic and Rangers player, Kenny Miller (15).

Although a hatful of chances would come Celtic’s way, they did not equalise until the second half. Erik Sviatchenko, who had replaced the injured Dedryck Boyata in the first half, levelled the match in the 50th minute.

It was just what the Celtic fans wanted to see after going in 0-1 down at the interval. Further opportunities to take the lead would come and go for the Hoops.

In the end, the match went to extra time. Five minutes into extra time, the Ibrox club were in front once more.

After a throw-in was awarded incorrectly against Celtic, Barrie McKay received the ball outside the box and lashed home a fine effort. Celtic would respond ten minutes later with an equaliser after some great work by Kieran Tierney and the resultant scorer, Tom Rogic.

Then came the penalty shoot. Ironically, the outcome would be decided by the player who took the match to penalties in the first place.

After each team had scored and missed penalties, Tom Rogic stepped up to keep Celtic in the game. As he blazed his shot over the bar, the unthinkable finally happened.

Another Celtic loss in a cup competition to a team from the lower division. Now of course, the Ibrox club have found their way into the top flight.

They also sit in second place on 8 points after four matches. Celtic are a point ahead with a game at hand against other Glasgow rivals, Partick Thistle.

Saturday’s lunchtime encounter with the Ibrox club isn’t just the first league meeting of the two clubs. This is the first time they will have played at Celtic Park.

Sure, their fans might sing the same songs and their players might wear the same colours as Rangers, but let’s get one thing clear. This Ibrox club is a new club and we will never accept this continuity myth from anyone associated with this new Glasgow club or the Scottish media.

Buying the assets of a liquidated club doesn’t make you that club, it just means you have the assets. You cannot control what no longer exists.

Rangers 1872 are gone and what you will see on Saturday, is a club that rose from their ashes. They have four-year history and have never competed in European competition but we welcome them regardless.

When Rangers were going down the tubes, it was widely accepted and reported that this was indeed the end for the 1872 club. It was written about, spoken about on air and even cried about though many have changed their tune.

Those irresponsible parties in Scottish football and the Scottish media that continue to pedal this continuity myth are quite frankly an embarrassment to the game. It is no wonder that Scottish football is such a joke to so many when you look at just how appalling this saga has been handled by the authorities, the media and the long list of pretenders who set out to resurrect the club.

The truth of Rangers 1872 demise was brought to the masses by bloggers and independent journalists, not the Scottish mainstream media. For years and years, the old Ibrox club had the media in their back pocket as part of their ongoing regime.

Ultimately, the bubble had to burst and it did so in epic fashion. Rangers 1872 died in 2012, several million pounds in tax and bills were never paid and so the fxitures and fittings were sold on.

With the club gone and the assets sold on that meant only one thing. Someone starting over.

Despite multiple attempts by the football authorities to get Rangers 2012 into the top flight, the majority of Scottish fans and their respective clubs said “no chance”. The new Ibrox club started at the foot of Scottish football in 2012, working their way up to where they now find themselves – in the Scottish Premiership.

They were not relegated. They were not demoted.

It was a complete restart for the new Ibrox club. Even then, they were lucky to be granted entry into the bottome tier as I am sure there were many clubs out there awaiting such an opportunity at the big time.

However, as our football authorities and sporting media in Scotland have demonstrated in their actions over the years, “Scottish football needs Rangers”. Well, now they have something that looks and sounds like Rangers ‘back’ in the top flight, only it isn’t Rangers.

At 12pm on Saturday, with my hangover in tow, Celtic will host the New Rangers Football Club. This is the beginning of a new era.

We know the truth. We won’t let it lie.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Three and easy, but it’s time to trim the numbers

Celtic won their Scottish Cup quarter-final match against Greenock Morton on Sunday in just 35 mins. The Hoops went in 3-0 at the interval after goals from Leigh Griffiths (14), Gary Mackay-Steven (25) and a superb finish from Callum McGregor (35).

Despite the meagre attendance of under 15,000 at Celtic Park and the opposition lying 6th the Championship, Ronny Deila needed a response from his players. He got one as well with Celtic pressing Jim Duffy’s side from the beginning.

There was certainly more conviction with Celtic’s play on Sunday, something which has been missing in quite a few games recently. If it came from these so-called clear the air talks then it looks as though it had the desired effect.

To say that Morton weren’t any trouble though would be disrespectful. They drew two great saves, one either half, from Craig Gordon which the keepers deserves full credit for.

The truth though is that Celtic were pummeling Morton and should have finished more than 3-0 especially with the foothold they had in the game. Second half substitute Patrick Roberts hit the foot of the post after some fine work and Mackay-Steven rattled the crossbar.

Another substitute, Colin Kazim-Richards, came close as well but to his frustration hit the side netting. This was better from Celtic over all but as I said, the game was already won in the first half.

Speaking of which, Stefan Johansen’s game came to a halt at half time. A dangerous challenge by Mike Miller left the Norwegian’s writhing in pain.

Referee Willie Collum took no action on the incident. Instead he blew his whistle for half-time and trotted off, leaving a Johansen sprawled out on the Celtic Park surface like nothing had occurred.

Miller had just been booked moments before and given the nature of this challenge, should probably have received a second yellow. Instead, he walked in at half-time a lucky man but he was substituted 7 minutes into the second half which was probably a smart move by Jim Duffy.

Johansen was subsequently replaced by Kazim-Richards for the start of the second half. Later on, Patrick Roberts would replace an unhappy Griffiths and Stuart Armstrong came for Kris Commons.

So 3 goals, a clean sheet and a bit more conviction was a welcome boost. Then came the draw and a pairing with Rangers at Hampden for the semi-final.

This will be the second time Celtic have faced the Championship club. They met for the first time in their history last February in the semi-final of the League Cup at Hampden.

Ronny Deila’s players ran out 2-0 winners that day without the Ibrox club managing a single shot on target. Griffiths and Commons were both on target that day to book Celtic a place in the final which they would go on and win.

This season it’s the Scottish Cup and with Rangers looking very likely to get promoted to the Scottish Premiership, they will fancy their chances this time around. They beat Dundee 4-0 at Ibrox on Saturday to secure a spot in Sunday’s draw and already comparisons have been made by the media.

Dundee drew 0-0 with Celtic in the days before that game at Ibrox and as you can imagine, media mouths are watering already. The build up to this one is going to be unbearable.

The match itself is many weeks away and a lot can happen between then and now. It’s a must win game for Ronny Deila for many reasons though.

Firstly, a win means a place in the Scottish Cup Final and secondly, it keeps the dream of a double alive. There is also the small matter of Deila’s place among the fans which is a debate of its own.

Then there is the ‘rivalry’ between the two sets of fans. This Rangers is supported by the same fans as the old Rangers even if these same fans fail to admit they are two different clubs.

As someone who deals in fairness and justice in their working life, I will never accept this Rangers as the same club. After the old club cheated Scottish football as well as the taxpayers, I only see this current incarnation as a new club wearing the same colours as the one that no longer exists.

A new rivalry will be built and this fixture next month at Hampden is another part of that. Whatever came before is now confined to the history books.

No person in the media will ever say that right enough. After all, this is Scotland we’re talking about.

Let’s talk a bit more about Celtic though. Sunday was a solid performance but we need to see more of this kind of effort for the remainder of the campaign.

The debate continues as to whether Ronny Deila will be here next season or not. Right now, I think that idea needs to be shelved.

Celtic are in a winning a position and the focus must be upon winning. Recent displays have cast doubt over this team and the coaching staff as to whether they can secure a league and cup double.

There is certainly more ability in this squad than we have seen. There are a lot of players at Ronny Deila’s disposal compared to any other Scottish club.

Too many options in fact. From now until the end of the season, injuries aside, Deila must narrow those options.

We’ve seen too many changes. Some have been obvious alterations through injury or suspension but there are other issues that affect the choices made and I am not just talking about form.

James Forrest is a yo-yo and with his contract talks hitting the skids his appearances are now tainted. Tom Rogić suffered a similar story though he himself rubbished that.

Callum McGregor’s focus looked to be a factor when he was absent for a while following his drink driving case. This is all over and above the guys who, whilst have had their illnesses and injuries, never seem to get a proper run.

Kris Commons is a fans favourite and rarely gets a look in. Scott Allan has been waiting in the wings and after a short run of games has found himself out of the picture again.

You see all these guys, and even the ones I haven’t mentioned, must make selecting a Celtic team a total nightmare. There is no excuse though because this is one of Ronny’s own making.

He said a long time ago he wanted to trim this squad down. Well, it just keeps getting bigger.

I’m all for options but if someone is out for one reason or another we have more than enough options. The problem right now is that we have a first, second and third choice for virtually each midfield/attack position and can’t please everyone.

That’s without even considering the young players who in your worst case scenario would probably get a chance. You can’t even begin to imagine a youth player getting into the team right now.

If making the squad bloated is an indirect way of trying to push certain players out then its a strange business we’re running. Whether it is Ronny that gets to do it or someone else, this squad needs some breathing space to allow youth to develop as first team players.

For now, the best thing Ronny can do is channel the first team squad into a smaller group and stick with it. If a place becomes vacant then pick from his backup group.

There are too many fighting for the one spot and that would make me miserable as a player. If Ronny doesn’t know what his best team is then perhaps he should look at the numbers he is working with.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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

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