Goals, points and old rivals

I know it’s a modern trend to make an arse of yourself on Twitter, but you would think that sports personalities would learn from the mistakes of others? Well, it would seem not.

There have been two tweets and two apologies in the Celtic community over the last couple of days. It won’t be the last time this type if scenario occurs on Twitter either, but the timing of one tweet in particular is hardly the best way to prepare for one of your biggest games of the season.

The game in question is of course tomorrow night when Celtic take on Ajax at Celtic Park in the Champions League. They haven’t faced each other since 2001 when Ajax beat Celtic 1-0 in Glasgow.

That result didn’t matter in the end thanks to a jaw dropping 1-3 away win for Celtic from the first leg. It was sufficient enough to send Celtic through to the Champions League group stage for the first time in existence.

Neil Lennon played in both of those matches and now the teams meet once more. Interestingly enough, Lennon’s opposite number in the other dugout is one Frank De Boer.

Whilst each playing for Celtic and Rangers, they came up against each other on two occasions. Lennon was on the winning side both times.

Now both are in their first head coach jobs and both are desperate for points. It’s possible that Celtic and Ajax could be slugging it out for third spot in Group H, but we know how quickly things can change in the Champions League.

Celtic should be aiming to win their next three group games. It’s a tough ask given that so far its played two, lost two and no goals scored.

Ajax may only have one point and one goal but its one point and one goal more than Celtic have right now. De Boer will be looking to add to that tally and keep Neil Lennon and Celtic at bay.

The way I see it though is that tomorrow night is a blank canvas. Forget the last two Champions League match days.

Celtic’s campaign begins on Tuesday at 7.45pm. There is no point in looking back, only forward.

Yes, Lennon has injuries to his squad and a suspension to contend with. Thinking about that won’t help him or the club tomorrow night though.

He must take the players he does have available and galvanise their belief to win. Celtic are due to bang some goals in against someone soon because they’ve been playing well enough.

There have been some fantastic European nights at Celtic Park. I’ve watched from the terracing, from the stands a from my sofa.

I believe Tuesday can be one of those special nights. I didn’t think so against Barcelona.

Lennon knows what is at stake here. He won’t need to remind the players either, though I’m pretty sure he will.

A win for Celtic tomorrow would put them in third place. And if say Barcelona beat Milan home and away over the next two matches, Celtic could potentially go second in the group with the right kind of result in Amsterdam.

There are of course other permutations but it demonstrates the complexity of the group phase. So it should be both encouraging and motivating that despite two defeats and no goals you’re never out of it.

There’s no debate on Celtic’s passing or possession, it’s their ability to put the ball in the net that is my only concern. This season I’ve yet to see the kind of killer instinct in front of goal that can win you games.

There are goal scorers throughout the squad and I’ve seen some good goals so far this season, but Celtic have had little luck in the Champions Leaguw. At some point that luck has to change but not without being ruthless in front of goal.

Be it Forrest, Pukki, Samaras, Stokes or whoever it doesn’t matter. Celtic must take their chances tomorrow night because I am damn well sure they will be created.

Until tomorrow, Celtic. Glasgow here I come.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

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Red mist, diving and dire officiating

You never give up on Celtic. Especially in the Champions League.

These days I like to take the positives from games. In previous years it was usually the negatives, but I’m a changed man.

Celtic do their utmost to get into Europe year upon year. The Champions League is a great competition and the fans come out in their droves to support the club home and away.

The club also continues to fly the flag for Scotland in Europe. In fact its surprising Alex Salmond hasn’t been seen waving a saltire at Celtic Park.

Two games into the Champions League and two defeats. Both have been hard to take.

Like the Milan game, I would have bitten your hand off for a draw last night. Instead, Celtic walked away with nothing.

Barcelona fully deserve praise for the way that they play, its mesmerising. However, for Neymar I have zero respect.

Not because of the Scott Brown incident but because of his diving antics. I shouldn’t be surprised given what can be seen in Spanish football.

Last weeks Madrid derby left me unimpressed. The amount of diving, rolling around and ground slapping dramatics made me sick.

It’s not something unfamiliar to us though. Italian players have the same gene and lets not forget the South Americans, but I digress.

After one of Neymar’s blatant dives in particular, the referee allowed play to continue. When play stopped he called the player over.

All the referee did was talk to the player and it was obvioulsy for the dive. However, the refree took no action.

Had the referee done the right thing, the Brazilian wouldn’t have continued to play in the manner that he did. A tight grip on the game is all you can ask of the match official but even that was hard to come by.

Some of Stéphane Lannoy’s decisions were abysmal. Celtic had their twelfth man in the stands and Barcelona’s was on the park.

Then came Scott Brown’s moment of lunacy. His challenge on Neymar was risky enough, but the cheeky kick afterward was Scott Brown of old.

Brown didn’t see much of the ball last night. With Neymar’s continual play acting thrown into the mix it seems Brown’s frustration levels had peaked.

I thought our club captain had put these tendencies to one side. For a long time many fans didn’t think he was right for the team but he grew into the role over time so its disappointing to see last nights incident.

The point is that Scott Brown, club captain or not should know better. He’s played in umpteen Champions League matches and knows the score with Barcelona.

Lennon used the antics of Neymar to shield some blame from Scott Brown, but the truth stands. Celtic were still in the game and standing firm so its disappointing that the game was tarnished by a red card amongst poor refereeing and cheating.

On a positive note, Samaras and Forster were outstanding. Samaras was on his own for long spells but he knows his role in Europe and does it effectively.

Fraser Forster pulled off some huge saves in the second half. He looked about ten foot tall after seeing those saves only to be beaten by Fabregas after Ambrose failed to mark him.

Aside from that blip I would say that the defence did their job well. What has to be remembered is that the team were down to ten men and Barcelona still struggled to get a goal.

When Celtic lost Brown, they created two fantastic opportunites. The effort by James Forrest would have been a corker had it not been for an amazing save from Victor Valdes.

The most glaring miss was Charlie Mulgrew’s. He’d outjumped his marker and got a firm head on the ball only for it to go wide of a gaping goal.

That could have been a game changer and a good repsonse from Brown’s sending off. What’s done is done and now Neil Lennon must move on.

Despite being in a difficult group, Celtic must and can win their next three group stage matches. Its a big task but it is possible.

You can forget about the match at Camp Nou. By that stage Celtic will need to have taken the points required on the road.to Barcelona.

I don’t expect Ajax away to be a pushover, but I believe a win is possible. What I do expect though is two home wins.

Celtic take on Ajax in three weeks time in Glasgow. This is where Lennon must get those first points.

He’s been desperately unlucky not to have picked up any points at all. The team have been worth two draws at the very least.

There shouldn’t be any pressure upon the players to get points because they’ve played well enough in the first two group stage matches. Someone just needs to step up and inspire.

Samaras readily leads the team in Europe, but influence must come from other areas. For me the defence is one of Celtic’s greatest strengths, but from midfield to attack there is room for improvement.

I have no intention of criticising the team after last night because when you play Barcelona you see very little of the ball. There were one or two players not in the game but I found those players come into to it later on.

Lennon has options and in general his tactics are right. He’s found a blend between the cavalier football of Martin O’Neill and the effective yet unattractive style of Gordon Strachan.

It’s a case of knowing when to attack and when to defend. Lennon must now get back to domestic duty but it is important for his players to remain confident.

I’d like Samaras continue his leading role in Europe. I’d also like to see Pukki emboss himself in the forward line because Celtic need it.

As far as the midfield goes, Celtic have options. What Lennon has to do now is get the right blend.

Two games down, six points lost, but lets leave the past in the past. Ajax at home, Ajax away and Milan at home – three wins is the target.

Come December 11th, I’d like to be sitting in Camp Nou anticipating a favourable result from the other group match in Milan.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Early days yet…

Victory over St. Johnstone at Celtic Park yesterday afternoon was the kind of response Neil Lennon would have been happy to see. Having witnessed his team cruelly defeated midweek to a very fortunate AC Milan side, a positive domestic result demonstrates good character from his players.

In the past Celtic have suffered domestically following midweek European matches. In the media this is known as a “European hangover” – great journalism.

Win, lose or draw (De Tha Seo? for any Alba viewers) there were often signs of fatigue or negativity. A home win over St. Johnstone may not seem like a tough ask for Celtic, but in the past some of those sides have faltered.

If anything it just shows how far the club have come since Martin O’Neill reignited Celtic’s European presence. To walk away from the San Siro feeling hard done by may seem like a “we’ve been here before” scenario, but Celtic’s performance was credible.

As supporters we’ve seen Celtic pipped to the post on many an occasion but this deafeat felt different. Given the class of opposition in Group H and the budget available to Neil Lennon I’d say there is much to be positive about.

However, don’t rely on the media to tell you this. They’re in a league of their own when it comes to truth and you’ll get no favours either.

Last season Celtic played well throughout the qualifying and group stages of the Champions League. They may have underestimated Juventus in the last sixteen having beaten Barcelona at Celtic Park, but this team continues to progress.

The season before last I said that it was crucial to maintain the same squad. Lennon did that and it was crucial to alst seasons European campaign alone.

Two of those key players from last season have now gone but it was important to retain them at the time. We are where we are now because of what happened back then.

There were some gruelling close season qualifiers to endure. Yet, Celtic still fly the flag for Scottish football.

Group H opposition are no pushovers but Celtic can inflict as much damage at Celtic Park as they can receive on the road. That is an encouraging factor.

Don’t get me wrong, my head was down on Thursday morning. I couldn’t stomach the headlines until Saturday!

I didn’t expect a victory at the San Siro. Having seen the evidence though, Celtic were good enough for a draw at the very least.

Factor that into Neil Lennon’s campaign and there is everything to play for. Don’t expect the media to back up that claim right enough.

I look forward to Lennon proving them wrong.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Dublin Heart

Celtic took on Liverpool yesterday for an early evening friendly encounter at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Most friendly ties are either pre-season warm-up’s or PR matches, but when you put two giants like this up against each other its more than just that.

This was the seventh and final friendly of the summer for each club, but Celtic have had to play five competitive matches amongst this pre-season schedule. It was no surprise then that Neil Lennon would make significant changes to freshen things up after some important fixtures of recent.

To see some of Celtic’s young talent get their chance was brilliant and it’s something I would like to see more of. I didn’t expect to see so many fresh faces, but I don’t think anyone watching would be disappointed with effort shown.

There is much praise to be offered to these young lads against an experienced and expensive Liverpool team. Its clubs like Liverpool that can afford to steal players away from Celtic so it was even sweeter to beat them 1-0.

So when I watched these young guys play their heart out in Dublin yesterday evening, it was encouraging to see the potential on show. There were some notable performances from elsewhere in the ranks as well.

Senior players such as Lukasz Zaluska put in a tireless 45 minutes in goal. He has become a forgotten man at Celtic since Fraser Forster became number one.

After his first half performance yesterday though, I would have no doubts about him stepping in because he looked more confident than he has done for some time. Fair enough, it’s a friendly encounter and Liverpool have had no competitive matches so far, but Celtic’s number two goalkeeper plays about as many first team matches as the young players do.

For a team who could possibly have wiped the floor with Celtic then over the ninety plus minutes I would have to say that Celtic can be most pleased with that performance despite over and above scoring the only goal of the game.

The line-up saw Stokes as captain with Lustig, Kayal and Izaguirre as the only real regulars of late. Adam Matthews has barely kicked a ball recently and Tony Watt has been seen playing on the left flank but they played their part as first team players.

Steven Mouyokolo put in a tight performance at the back and will be in contention based on that game alone. Amido Balde kept the Liverpool defence busy and got a goal under his belt as well.

The smallest guy on the park, Dylan McGeouch, showed some promise. After being recaptured after a spell down the Clyde, he demonstrated some of the ability that Lennon felt was worth bringing back to the club.

I am saving all of my praise for the young guys though. They proved themselves against giants as far as I am concerned.

Jackson Irvine looked strong yesterday and his movement and passing was excellent. He did not look out of place amongst the big guys.

His fellow development squad comrades Darnell Fisher, Stuart Findlay and Bahrudin Atajic came on and did not appeared to be phased by the opposition. Paul George and Liam Henderson were late additions but they too can take heart for their inclusion.

All in all, Neil Lennon can be encouraged by what he saw. There is not doubt that what Celtic continues to nurture has the potential to challenge, especially in these prudent times in Scottish Football.

With all of the pre-season now firmly behind Celtic, the next two matches are away from home. By the time they return to Celtic Park, they will have played in Sweden, Ireland, Aberdeen (well, it’s like another country) and Kazakhstan.

In two out of four matches played so far, Celtic have not conceded any goals. They’ll be looking to do the same against Aberdeen on Saturday and Shakhter Karagandy the following Tuesday.

Playing Aberdeen is usually a good watch but Karagandy is new territory for Celtic. Entering into the unknown is something you can expect in Europe these days particularly in these qualifying rounds.

It is still hard to believe that in the “Champions Cup”, the champions are not automatically entered to the he play off round let alone the group phase. This is why the rich clubs get richer and those less financially sound struggle.

Celtic should be proud of what they can do these days though. They are a huge club with a huge heart and a fantastic support around the world.

It was pleasing to hear the BT Sport studio team praise Celtic’s performance yesterday. I cannot say the same for Michael Owen in co-commentary though.

As much as he was a good footballer, his droning summarising was as on a par with David Coulthard’s in Formula One. If he wants to make it in this current role he will need to learn to be impartial as well.

Owen showed slight bias toward Liverpool as one might expect from a former player. That didn’t stop him occasionally take the shine off anything Celtic did, though he did wind his neck in second half.

Well played Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Ki for Kazan?

Some media outlets have been reporting that Celtic have turned down an offer from Russian side Rubin Kazan. With the fee being said to be around £6M mark, I’ve been wondering why the club accept it?

I’m pretty much on the fence with a lot of things. When it comes to Ki’s place in the Celtic squad, that’s where you’ll find me.

There is no doubting that Ki has the potential to be a good player. From time to time we’ve gotten that from him.

He does lack fortitude though, particularly in big games. The ability he does possess then exit’s the game shortly followed by himself.

His market value is negotiable because is is a promising talent. However, he will only make it at the right club.

Scottish football has been a learning ground for him. I don’t think it is his playground though.

Spain, Italy or maybe some where the big bucks want good talent. With Kazan supposedly showing interest as much as an offer, Celtic maybe trying to abstract more for him.

A couple of years ago Celtic cashed in on Aiden McGeady when he was still only 24 years old. With Ki of a similar age he still has a long career ahead of him.

I’m pretty sure that Celtic will play hard on this one. Ki could still have another year at Celtic but he will have to toughen up.

His potential to play well in the big games still evades him. I do think he will become a very good player whether that is at Celtic or somewhere else.

Hail! Hail!

BF