Oct 262015
 

Simunovic and Tierney Impress as Celts Shine

 

 

Whilst the clocks went back during the weekend just gone, Celtic may well have taken a small step forward as they eased past a poor Dundee United side by a comfortable margin. Once Leigh Griffiths bagged his thirteenth goal of the season, one which rather typified his industrious attitude on the field, the contest never looked like it would finish with any outcome other than a win for the home side. Craig Gordon kept Celtic’s tenth clean sheet of the campaign (from twenty-two matches in all competitions), one more than the Hoops had managed at this stage last season, and maybe – just maybe – we saw the first combinations of a new left side of defence.

Jozo Simunovic made his home debut, and although he was never seriously tested by a supposedly toothless Dundee United offence, the Croatian seemed assured on the ball and showed a great willingness to attack the ball in the air. Equally, on one of his forward raids, he stung the hands of Luis Zwick with a powerful shot from distance. It would be naive wholly judge Simunovic on this showing, but the initial signs appear encouraging nonetheless.

At left-back, Kieran Tierney made his fourth start of the season, again excelling as he deservedly picked up the man of the match award, as well as winning the penalty which Kris Commons dutifully dispatched to make it three-nil shortly before half-time. Notably, of the three domestic contests which Tierney has started this season (as well as the only one he made during the last campaign), Celtic have yet to concede a solitary goal. With a combined age of just thirty-nine, one cannot help but wonder whether Jozo Simunovic and Kieran Tierney may well become our first choice left centre-back and left-back pairing in the months and years to come. Regardless, one thing is certain, they deserve more opportunities to show us what they can do.

 

 

Stefan Johansen partnered Scott Brown at the base of Celtic’s midfield five, whilst Nir Bitton watched on from the bench. Whilst this does not happen as often as it did at one time, this partnership is not a wholly uncommon sight, although clearly Brown and Bitton remain Deila’s first choice pair. Notably, Celtic scored more than two goals and emerged victorious whilst Johansen was in this deeper role for the first time in thirteen months yesterday (ironically a League Cup fixture against Hearts being the last tie in which this occurred). Two-nil Celtic seems to be a remarkably common scoreline when the Norwegian plays in this position, with four of the last five matches in which this has been the case finishing with this result.

During Ronny’s tenure as the Celtic manager, the Hoops have won sixteen of the twenty-three matches in which Stefan Johansen has played in a deeper midfield role (circa 70%). However, they have only netted three goals or more on six of these occasions (26%), one of which came against KR Reykjavik and another in the four-three away defeat to Dinamo Zagreb. Indeed, we’re actually as likely to win two-nil if this is the case as we are to score three or more and win, but there’s nothing wrong with relatively narrow victories, so let’s not get caught up on that fact.

 

 

Further up the field, Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong started as our two wingers for only the fifth time this season, whilst Leigh Griffiths did something which last happened six months ago today, as he scored a goal with his right foot. Since that last occurred at the start of what would become a hat-trick against Dundee United at Tannadice on April 26th, Griffiths has scored sixteen goals with either his left foot or his head. Yet, with average of one goal scored for every one hundred and eight minutes he has played in all competitions this season, I doubt anyone is complaining about the current form of Celtic’s main striker. After all, of the thirteen men to score for Celtic this season (excluding own goals), Leigh has scored more than seven of them put together (Stuart Amstrong, Nadir Ciftci, Emilio Izaguirre, Mikael Lustig and Charlie Mulgrew (all with two); Scott Brown and Callum McGregor (with one each)). Also, whilst on the matter of goals, Aaron Kuhl was credited with an own goal yesterday after Scott Brown’s late run towards goal. “Who were the last team to score an own goal against us?”, I hear you ask. Yes, you guessed it, Dundee United, as Mark Durnan slotted the ball into his own net in August.

In closing, yesterday saw as good a victory as anybody could have realistically expected, as Celtic opened up a four point lead over Aberdeen who dropped two points at home to Motherwell on Saturday. Our five-nil win may not have expunged the significance of our recent defeat against Molde, but it is a step in the right direction. The next few matches are pivotal with regards our season, as a trio of victories could once again open up three tournaments, whilst losses could shut the door on two of them. Wins over Hearts and Aberdeen would boost the confidence levels suitably ahead of the huge visit of Molde, so let’s hope the team can push and achieve more positive results.

 

Oct 232015
 

Molde Ease Past Lacklustre Celts

 

 

It will be fifty-three years ago tomorrow since Celtic played their first ever home European tie, drawing 2-2 with eventual Inter-Cities Fairs Cup champions of 1962-63, Valencia. Having lost the away match by virtue of a 4-2 scoreline, Celtic exited the competition at the first hurdle and left it to the likes of Dunfermline Athletic and Hibernian – who were both subsequently eliminated themselves by Valencia – to fly the flag for Scotland that year. Nowadays, the footballing world is very different, and as 2015 begins to draw to a close, Celtic are Scotland’s only European representative once again.

Another less laudable anniversary which occurs today is that of our last Europa League victory, which came a year ago tonight at home to Astra Giurgiu (2-1, Scepovic (73), Johansen (79), Enache (81)). Since then, Celtic have failed to win any of our following eight Europa League fixtures to this point, despite some valiant efforts during those ties.

 

 

Indeed, whilst we’re on the subject of statistics, allow me to highlight some of the more important ones from last night’s match against Molde, which proved to be galling. Firstly, despite having fourteen attempts at goal, Celtic only had two shots on target yesterday evening. Not only is this indicative of poor finishing, its significance becomes more apparent when one asks the obvious question, “When was the last time we only managed two shots on target during a game?” The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the 2-0 away defeat against Malmo. Prior to that, the Celts only registered a solitary attempt on target away against Qarabag, and once more managed two away to Inter Milan. Further considering the differences between ourselves and our European opponents with regards both total attempts and shots on target, the following graphs go someway to highlight our relative inability to consistently create chances.

 

shotsgraph1

 

shotsgraph2

 

 

Taking into account all of our European matches under Ronny Deila (with the exceptions of the qualifiers against both KR Reykjavik and FC Stjarnan as such teams, with the greatest respect to them, are sides Celtic should progress past with relative ease), we can see there is a clear gap between the relevant shot totals (only seven matches have seen us record more shots than our opponents and just five times have we registered more shots on target). This, coupled with some poor defensive displays which have seen the Celts keep just three clean sheets in these nineteen ties, does not make for pleasant reading.

 

shotsgraph3

 

Another matter of some concern is our current figures regarding the number of goals we score/concede when compared to the relevant shots for/against totals. Over the entirety of the last season, Celtic averaged one goal scored for every 7.15 shots taken, whilst conceding one for every 11.32 shots which the opposition managed. After a shaky start to the 2014-15 campaign, the gap between these figures grew steadily as the months passed. Indeed, the last time upon which our averages showed us to be conceding more easily than we were scoring was after the home loss to Hamilton Academicals. Today however, the current figures for this season stand at one goal scored for every 7.91 shots taken and one goal conceded for every 8.05 shots against. This is the closest these two figures have been for over a year, and says a lot of our current defensive woes. Good showings against Dundee United and Hearts should stop these figures from crossing over, but that should not take away from the fact they are currently so close.

Returning to the aforementioned match against FC Astra, it is intriguing to note that whilst the winning goal was scored by Stefan Johansen, our only other group stage victory during the last campaign came thanks to a goal from Kris Commons. Now, it will come as no surprise to any of you who watched last night’s tie in Norway that I have mentioned each of these men, both of whom were undoubtedly important players at Celtic Park last season, delivering some fine performances. Commons bagged 16 goals in all competitions during the 2014-15 campaign and Johansen netted 13 times himself, with each holding a place near the top of the Club’s scoring charts.

This season thus far, each man has scored four times (twice in European competition in each case) and produced several assists (seven for Commons, five for Johansen). However, it is noteworthy that two of Johansen’s goals came against FC Stjarnan, as did two of his assists. Critically, Kris Commons has also played almost 300 minutes less than the Norwegian during this campaign, and therefore his goals and assists per minute played averages are significantly better than Johansen’s figures. If one ignores the FC Stjarnan ties (and the relevant minutes played therein so as not to skew the statistics), we find that whilst Stefan Johansen has either scored or assisted a goal once every 226 minutes so far this season, Kris Commons has done so every 93 minutes, so there can be no serious debate as to which individual has enjoyed the better form of late.

This only adds credence to the already strong argument that Kris Commons should not have been replaced last night whilst Johansen remained on the field. Commons’ behaviour, whilst not unjustified, cannot be condoned,  but to criticise it beyond that would take attention away from the significantly more pressing issues regarding Celtic’s recent European form. and  Four wins from nineteen matches (again excluding the first round Champions League qualifiers) is very poor, regardless of how well we may have played at points only to have to content ourselves with a draw.

 

 

 

In the wake of yesterday’s result, much blame has been attributed to different people for a variety of reasons. I’ve seen comments hoping for the departure of Dermot Desmond, Peter Lawwell, Ronny Deila, John Collins, John Kennedy and several first team players. Every supporter is entitled to their own opinions, but personally I don’t think we can blame one individual for last night’s display. Indeed, it is my belief that people at all levels of the Football Club must take their fair share of the blame in this instance. The Club has regressed in recent years from the successes of the 2012-13 campaign, despite being the recipient of some significant transfer fees, and the product which the fans are now paying to watch has suffered as a result. The hierarchy at Celtic Park must shoulder the blame for this, as they have implemented the strategies which have helped to lead us here.

As for the playing squad, it is now undeniable that something is not right in the dressing room at Celtic Park, and whatever the source of this issue, it has to be resolved as quickly as possible. It simply cannot be allowed to fester any longer. That aside, both the manager and the players are due some criticism for recent events. Ronny may have a clearly defined ideal as to how football should be played, but if he does not have players capable of carrying out his system of choice effectively, his unwillingness to adapt on occasion will continue to be a source of frustration for many. After all, his changes last night came far too late and produced no great benefit. Focusing now on the team, it cannot be ignored that so many preventable individual errors continue to occur time and time again. Deila can be criticised for picking the team and making substitutes, but he cannot be for the inability of a professional football player to successfully complete basic 5-15 yard passes with any consistency or to completely abandon their defensive duties without a discernible reason. The goals we conceded yesterday were calamitous in nature, and there can be no doubt that better opposition would have recorded a heavier defeat on us. There is no choice now but to dust ourselves down and move on to Sunday. I would love nothing more than for Ronny and this Celtic side to enjoy great success, but such a slump cannot be allowed to continue unchecked forever.

Finally, I would like to pay enormous credit to those who traveled to Norway and attended the match. If your devotion and faith were what earned us points and results on the continent, Celtic Football Club would be a European colossus once more. May those of you still to return have a safe journey home.

 

Oct 162015
 

“McGrory Stands Supreme” – Willie Maley

 

mcgroryedit1b

 

78 years ago today, James Edward McGrory pulled on the green and white Hoops of Celtic Football Club for the final time, scoring once in a 4-3 win over Queen’s Park. With this in mind, I felt it would be an apt day upon which to release the following excerpt from the chapter which is devoted to the great man in my first book, “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” (released October 2013). Paperback copies of this work are still available, and should anybody be interested in this or its upcoming successor, please feel free to contact me for more information or click here. Regardless, grab a cup of tea or coffee, sit down and please enjoy the following passage. Rest in peace, Jimmy. 

 

“In 1937, Celtic reached the Scottish Cup Final where they would take on an Aberdeen side who were debutants to such an occasion. Of course, Jimmy was used to playing in front of big audiences, but this was to be the largest of them all. To this day, that match, held on the twenty-fourth of April 1937, remains the highest attended national Cup Final in history. Debatably, it may actually have been one of the highest attended games of all time.

Officially, there were one hundred and forty-seven thousand, three hundred and sixty-five spectators in the ground that day but, having consulted with experts at the Scottish Football Museum who referenced the original architect’s plans for the time and this man’s own personal estimates, they believe that in all likelihood, the real attendance may have been “somewhere around the one hundred and eighty thousand mark”, with the aforementioned plans of Hampden predicting it’s true maximum capacity to have been about one hundred and eighty-two thousand at that stage (at a time when the stadium was as large as it would ever be).

The match itself was an engrossing affair. Celtic started well and took the lead after only eleven minutes through Johnny Crum. Only sixty seconds later though, Aberdeen equalised via Matt Armstrong, and so began a tactical battle for the Scottish Cup. In the second half, Celtic largely dominated, controlling the midfield against a determined and organised Aberdeen side which defended valiantly. In the end, with around twenty minutes to go, it fell to the great Jimmy McGrory to create the chance for Willie Buchan to score and win Celtic their fifteenth Scottish Cup.

Buchan himself said this of the match: “Even now I still remember the incredible volume of sound that greeted us as we ran onto the field. I have never heard anything like it and initially I found myself slightly overawed. The memory of my winning goal is still vivid in my mind too. The ball was played through from our own half, and Jimmy McGrory flicked it on, allowing me to move in on the keeper from the right hand side of our area. The two full-backs closed in and I remember as the keeper came out, the goal seemed to become smaller. I just managed to squeeze the ball past him, and it went in off the post.”

This was to be the final trophy McGrory won in his extraordinary career, and he eventually retired during the 1937-38 season, having only scored a mere six times in eleven appearances in that period. Jimmy made his final appearance for Celtic on the sixteenth of October 1937 against Queen’s Park and, typically, he opened the scoring that day, as the Hoops ran out four-three winners at Celtic Park. Nobody knew this would be the last time he would play for the Hoops, but one newspaper report did say the following of Jimmy’s goal and his performance: “McGrory appeared to concentrate too much on making openings for McDonald and Buchan, and although his scheming was always full of subtlety his methods were inclined to hold up the attack…White fumbled a ball from Crum to allow McGrory to head through Celtic’s first score.” And so, the footballing career of one of the greatest strikers of all time was over – on the field at least.

During his time with Celtic, the supporters coined several nicknames for McGrory. A prominent example of this was “The Human Torpedo”, because Jimmy was seemingly unbreakable, always heading for his target until the ball exploded into the net from his boot or head. He suffered an almost endless list of injuries, as opposition defenders knew no other ways of stopping him other than attempting to hurt him. For example, he suffered a broken nose on more than one occasion, and of course, he had his jaw broken at one stage after being kicked in the face. However, none of this could stop “The Mermaid”, the man who had such a talent for heading the ball, whether he was jumping or diving to do so, that he earned this slightly unorthodox tag for a footballer.

All in all, Jimmy McGrory from the Garngad scored five hundred and fifty goals in five hundred and forty-seven appearances for Celtic. He firmly holds his place within the top ten greatest goalscorers in the history of the beautiful game, and finished his career with the mind boggling statistic of boasting ‘goal to game ratio’ higher than one. He has been immortalised in song, and will always be remembered as one of the “football greats” who “have passed through Parkhead’s gates, all to play football, the Glasgow Celtic way!”

At the end of 1937, only weeks after another injury in his final match for Celtic had ruled him out of action for the foreseeable future, Jimmy became the manager of Kilmarnock Football Club, a position which he would hold until the end of World War Two. The highlight of his tenure there was a run to the Scottish Cup Final in 1938, where they lost by four-two to second division East Fife in extra-time. This was only the club’s fifth appearance in a major domestic final, and a notable piece of success for a team who were largely a mid-table side at the time.

When Willie Maley published his aforementioned book in 1939, he said the following of one of his greatest players, continuing on from the excerpts cited earlier: “Jimmy McGrory leaves memories of the finest and of deeds in our colours that will never fade. As a goal-getter, McGrory stands supreme.”

Some years after his final appearance as a player, tragedy would again strike the life of Jimmy McGrory, as his wife Veronica (often referred to as Nona) died during a medical procedure which aimed to determine why the couple had been unable to have a child thus far. The loss of his wife struck Jimmy terribly hard, and it was only his strong connections with his family, as well as his friends at Celtic Football Club, that kept him on the proverbial ‘straight and narrow’ through another tremendously traumatic period of his life.

In 1945, Jimmy McGrory returned to Celtic Park to become the Club’s third manager, replacing Jimmy McStay, the man who had taken over from Willie Maley only five years previously. Personally, his life would once again take a turn for the better in 1946, as he married his second wife, Barbara Schoning, with whom he would go on to have two daughters (Barbara and Elizabeth) and one son (John). During his time in charge of the Football Club, Celtic experienced some fantastic highs as well as some sobering lows. After all, at the end of the 1947-48 season, Celtic finished only four points clear of the relegation places.

In truth, part of the problem during this period was Jimmy McGrory’s good manners and overall amicability. The board of directors and Robert Kelly, who became the Club’s chairman only a couple of years after Jimmy took on his managerial role, incessantly interfered with footballing matters, such as team selection and which players were bought and sold. The players knew this all too well, and many of them voiced their anger about the way in which the Club was being run, even if many of them only did so once they were no longer affiliated officially with the Football Club (see Bobby Evans as an example).

Most managers, especially those in the modern era, would have walked straight out of the front door to the media in the face of such treatment. However, McGrory saw it as an honour to manage Celtic, and felt he could not walk away from the Club he loved. He did not rock the boat, and at times had almost as little managerial influence as you or I – well, perhaps that is an exaggeration, but you will understand my point. However, he always did his best and gave his all, and this must not be forgotten.

In saying all of this though, I must highlight the triumphs (albeit they were not as numerous as we may all have hoped for) that the Club achieved under Jimmy McGrory. With their greatest goalscorer at the helm, Celtic did win the Scottish Cup in 1951; the Coronation Cup in 1953; a league and cup double in 1953-54; the Club’s first League Cup in 1956; and of course, the famous seven-one League Cup Final victory in 1957. In his later years as manager, Jimmy would also lead Celtic to the semi-finals, and very nearly to the final, of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1963-64. While the Coronation Cup win and the day of “Hampden in the Sun” will forever be remembered with fondness by the Celtic support, Jimmy McGrory’s tenure as manager will never really be looked upon as some of the glory days of the Club. Granted, much of that was not Jimmy’s fault, with various factors affecting his ability to do his job.

In reality, to progress in footballing terms, Celtic needed a significantly more strong-willed, somewhat stubborn individual to lead them. In 1965, just that man, in the form of Jock Stein, became the fourth manager of the Football Club. It wasn’t exactly a proud moment for Jimmy, who was demoted by the board of directors to another position within the Football Club without much of a say in the matter, but he was still happy to be playing his part at Celtic Park.

In his later life, Jimmy continued to follow the Club he supported as a lad, reflecting on Celtic’s most famous victory of them all in Lisbon in a book entitled “A Lifetime in Paradise”, which was published in 1975:

“I actually broke down in tears that night, the first time in all my years in the game that I had cried. What a thrill it was to see young boys like Murdoch, McNeill, Johnstone, Gemmell, Clark and Lennox coming of age. What a thrill it was to the see club I had served all my life reach its pinnacle.”

Jimmy McGrory died on the twentieth of October 1982, at the age of seventy-eight years old, leaving behind him a legacy of goalscoring that will never be forgotten and, poignantly, one that will likely never to be beaten by another Celtic player. While the number of medals he accumulated throughout his career may not have quite lived up to his individual talent, and while his tenure as manager may not have been quite as successful as we all would have hoped, one thing is certain; James ‘Jimmy’ McGrory loved Celtic Football Club with all of his heart and soul, and he gave a tremendous amount of time and effort throughout a long, and at times difficult life, to that end.”

 

Oct 022015
 

Another 2-2 Draw in the Europa League

 

 

In the wake of yesterday’s draw against last season’s runners-up in the Turkish Super Lig, two words have been voiced more often than any others, “Efe Ambrose”. Yet, whilst this article will mention the Nigerian defender briefly, it aims to look beyond that towards the much fabled and occasionally cliched “bigger picture”. Now, before continuing, allow me to consider the Turks momentarily. Despite becoming the first Turkish side to face Celtic competitively last night, it is safe to say that the vast majority of Celts would have heard the name “Fenerbahce” before the draw for this season’s Europa League group stages was made. After all, their rivalry with Galatasaray is famous worldwide, and only on one occasion in the last twelve years have they failed to finish as either the Champions or the runners-up in Turkey. During the summer transfer window, they spent a total of almost €43,000,000 (approximately £31,500,000) on an array of new players including Robin van Persie and Nani. Granted, they recouped almost €20,000,000 in transfer fees received, owing predominantly to the sale of Moussa Sow to Al-Ain for €16,000,000, but the summer still saw a net spend of €23,000,000 regardless (a little over £17,000,000). Indeed, their current squad cost around £65,000,000 to assemble, but as money does not win football matches alone, I shall leave such financial matters there. I simply felt such details were worthy of inclusion before we proceed.

Following Celtic’s defeat at Pittodrie earlier this season, which came only a matter of days before the Hoops were due to face Ajax in Amsterdam, someone on Twitter posed the question, “How many points do you think Celtic will achieve during the coming group stage?” Inevitably, this quickly led to a barrage of different answers, ranging from the remarkably optimistic to the wholeheartedly disheartening in nature, but the majority seemed to be in the 3-6 range. Indeed, from memory I predicted 4 – hoping for a home win against Molde and perhaps an away point from somewhere. Of course, such predictions from many supporters were somewhat influenced by the lack of confidence which inevitably followed the loss to the Dons, but even with this in mind, it is apt to consider how each of the teams in our group (and their fans) are likely feeling at present.

 

 

Ajax

As pot one seeds, Ajax will undoubtedly be aiming to qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League. With two opening ties against Celtic (H) and Molde (A), it is likely most of their supporters would have been hoping to have attained six points by this stage in proceedings, with perhaps four being an acceptable minimum. After all, they had beaten Celtic in Amsterdam only a couple of years ago, and likely thought pot four seeds Molde would also be a potential source of three points. As such, with only two points on the board from two draws – having come from behind on both occasions – the Dutch side will be disappointed with their results thus far.

Fenerbahce

A pot three side, but only on paper, Fenerbahce were many people’s favourites to progress alongside Ajax from Group A, possibly as winners outright. Their first two fixtures saw them face Molde (H) and Celtic (A), but failures to win either of these matches will undoubtedly have annoyed many followers of the Turkish side. Indeed, had it not been for their fightback in Glasgow last night, they would not have a point to show for their efforts. Fenerbahce fans will be disappointed not to have four – or even six – points at present. They will not consider a solitary point to be good enough.

Molde

Undoubtedly the surprise package in this group, the Norwegian champions will be delighted with the two results which they have achieved up until this point, winning comfortably against Fenerbahce (A) and drawing with Ajax (H). Despite currently lying seventh in the Tippeligaen, these European matches will have buoyed their spirits and rightly so. Molde have proven themselves to be no pushovers, and whilst it remains to be seen whether or not they can go on to qualify for the latter rounds, other sides will certainly be more wary of them now than they were when the draw was made.

 

 

Celtic

Considering the topic of the previous conversation – the eventual points total of the Hoops in this year’s group stage – an analysis of Celtic’s two matches up to this point is tricky. On one hand, most of us would have been happy with a draw in Amsterdam had we been offered it beforehand and it would not have been overly surprising had we fallen at home to Fenerbahce, so another draw wasn’t a bad result. Therefore, two points seems like a good return. However on the other hand, when we consider the manner in which the two matches actually unfolded, it is not wholly unrealistic to think six points were there to be had for the Hoops, if only discipline and concentration had not let us down. As a result of this, many feel frustrated to varying extents, whilst had we all been asked before the group started, I don’t think anybody would have been flabbergasted had we sat bottom with zero points to our name at this stage, but then again, football is a funny old game. Group A remains wide open, and we must push onward, taking the positives from our recent performances and learning from our mistakes.

 

 

Before bringing this piece to a close, I wish to briefly discuss the two matters I consider to be of greater significance than Efe Ambrose’s error last night. For the sake of clarity, that does not excuse Efe for his mistake, but hopefully you will see my line of thinking shortly. First of all, whilst the Nigerian can and must shoulder the blame for his individual shortcomings, it is not his decision whether or not he is selected to feature nor indeed to be a Celtic player. Save for the potential movement of Mikael Lustig to centre-back and Saidy Janko to right back, or the selection of the largely untested Tyler Blackett, Ronny Deila had no choice but to play Ambrose yesterday evening due to the current unavailability of the injured Jozo Simunovic and Charlie Mulgrew. Therefore, I feel it is of critical concern that we, as a Club, have reached a point where Efe Ambrose is the first choice back-up centre-back at Celtic Park. Of course, the biggest talking point in this regard is usually our forward situation, where we currently rely heavily on Leigh Griffiths, with only Nadir Ciftci as a back-up presently, but the issue stands nonetheless. Whilst Efe has been playing well of late – and actually did so for the majority of the match against Fenerbahce – a horrendous individual error never seems to be too far away, and this must play on the minds of his teammates at points. Fundamentally though, Ambrose can be criticised all day long, but the emergence of such errors is not a recent occurrence, and as such, his continued selection for the side (largely out of necessity at the moment) is a source of frustration for many.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is the current Celtic side’s propensity to throw leads away in big matches. Two-nil margins in our favour have not seen the comfortable victories they should have in recent home European ties, and again questions can be asked of the nature of the draw in Amsterdam. When Fenerbahce scored their first goal last night, the mood in the stadium shifted in a manner not dissimilar to that which occurred when Jo Inge Berget grabbed a late second for Malmo in the home leg against the Swedes. Two matches which should have witnessed relatively comfortable victories after the home side enjoyed such excellent starts – which must receive the praise they are due – ultimately slipped from our grasp, and it is not simply defensive errors and a supposed inability to repel set pieces which should concern us here, but the way in which we seem to quickly find ourselves at panic stations. This is why last night’s draw was bigger than Efe Ambrose’s mistake, because one can safely assume that had Dedryck Boyata or any other player did exactly the same thing, the momentum would still have been sapped away from us; the belief in ourselves would dissipate temporarily; and our backs would have been firmly against the wall, just as was the case against Fenerbahce. Supporters will inevitably get nervous if a lead is halved or even taken away entirely during a match, and whilst such events are bound to have some affect on the players, as professionals it is their job to rise above such natural feelings and focus on the job at hand. One can only hope that the return of Jozo Simunovic will help to steady the defensive ship. After all, two enormous ties with Norwegian side Molde lay ahead.

Special mention must be made of the individual performance of European debutant Kieran Tierney last night. At eighteen years of age, he put in a very fine showing in a game of such magnitude, defending ably and offering an attacking threat also. It is clear the young man has bags of potential, and such performances warrant him more playing time in the senior side. I think we can all agree in saying we hope Kieran has a very big future in front of him at Celtic Park.

In summary, whilst I think a lot of us will feel frustrated about the nature in which both European 2-2 draws have came about, we must all keep in mind that potential progression to the knockout stages remains a strong possibility if we can cut out some of the mistakes which have hampered our efforts thus far. When one considers Celtic have now only won three of our last eight competitive matches (scoring 16 and conceding 9), I find it somewhat strange that I am not overly unhappy with how things are going, so it will come as no surprise to you that I’m not someone who wishes to see a change in manager any time soon. The team are getting better as time passes, and one would like to think this will see us succeed domestically once again, but with only four European ties remaining before the group stages come to a close, improvements will have to be made rapidly if we are to enjoy another European run beyond Christmas.

Who knows what will happen? It’s Celtic after all, sometimes they surprise us when we least expect it.

 

“Uniquely Celtic: The Soul and the Spirit” is set to be released this month, with a final date yet to be confirmed. At over 550 pages long, including almost 200,000 words and forty photographs, I hope it will be very much enjoyed by those Celtic supporters who choose to read it. 

 

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