Perhaps it was because I’ve barely seen Celtic this season as most of my weekends are spent commentating. Perhaps the league table caught me off-guard, with 8 wins from 8 games. Perhaps it was sleep deprivation, combined with a portable flux capacitor and I thought I was about to watch the 2001 team. (OK, maybe not that last one.) Whatever it was, I woke up on Sunday certain we were going to witness a performance from Celtic, and that Lennon’s side would go a long way towards healing the pain of last year. What we got was more of the same.

I’ve seen a few accounts post-match, many of them hysterically blaming Willie Collum for his ridiculous penalty decision. Sure, he got that one wrong, and yes, it was a sore one to take. At 2-1 the game was wide open, but at 3-1 we needed a miracle. However, that doesn’t quite tell the whole tale.

I’m very unhappy to say this, but if I remove my green-tinted specs I will begrudgingly admit that Rangers dominated the game, and we got exactly what we deserved. Tactically, Lennon got it wrong, but he was let down by his experienced players all over the park. And it simply wasn’t good enough. Let’s look at Lennon first.

The system he picked was a head scratcher for me. Going for 4-4-2, but with Maloney and Stokes as the wide men meant we were effectively playing 4-2-4. Against a side with a 5 man midfield, we were always going to get over-run. We did.

Now there are some who may say that the system was changed early on with the Maloney injury. They’d be right, but the problem there was we still had both Samaras and Stokes playing wide. Both out-and-out strikers, neither were going to be useful in the midfield battle. Indeed, we were lucky not to lose Stokes just a couple of minutes in for a horrific challenge. Then of course we persevered with Glenn Loovens at the back, and if he’s actually a professional footballer then I’m a Dutchman.

I think Lennon should have predicted the inevitable Rangers formation and looked to play with 3 central midfielders, with Ki and Juarez playing in front of the back 4, and Ledley as a ‘box-to-box’ player. At Cardiff, Ledley was renowned for getting ahead of the front men and scoring goals. The type of player we have been missing since Stan Petrov left for Aston Villa, yet I believe we are not seeing the best of him thanks to our system. He almost reminds me of Paul Hartley: a player we signed as a great attacking midfielder, yet we played him as an anchorman. Too early to tell with Ledley, but speaking as someone who watches a lot of the Championship, I thought he was wasted protecting the back four.

And now, onto Samaras. People who have ever read my posts before will know that I’m hardly the big Greek’s biggest fan. He leaves me tearing my hair out at just how frustrating he is. I just don’t know how he can be so brilliant one week, and the next he’d struggle to get a game for Lincoln City. On Sunday he was just simply abysmal.

So much time was spent screaming at him. He dallied on the ball, didn’t see simple passes, and his ball retention was non-existent. There was a little drama involving Lee McCulloch in the first half, with the Rangers man lucky not be shown a second yellow. However, if Samaras had been on his game he would have slid Hooper in before McCulloch had a chance to make the challenge, got himself into the box and we may well have scored. And there were countless times he did this. Rather than taking a simple pass to slide the full back in for a cross, he tried to cut inside, or just took too long and the momentum was gone.

Then onto our defence. The first goal was an absolute shocker to concede, especially so early into the second half. All the momentum we had gained from Hooper’s goal right on half time had gone, and it was simply because we didn’t have the nous to deal with a high, hopeful cross into the area. Can you imagine that cross coming in with big Bobo back there? Or even Mjallby? (I’d suggest registering big Johan as a player again, just so we can have SOMEBODY who’ll put their body on the line at the back.) Quite simply, that kind of cross should be dealt with by Loovens and Majstorovic all day long.

And if the first goal wasn’t bad enough, the second was a real howler. I’m a firm believer in only passing the ball back to the keeper when you absolutely have to, as all they ever tend to do is boot the ball upfield. Majstorovic didn’t have to, he had time to clear the ball himself. Instead, he caused unnecessary pressure by knocking the ball back to Forster, and we all know what followed. Such a poor goal to concede, and it really knocked the stuffing out of us, and Rangers just got stronger. I’m not going to go into the penalty decision, because it has been done to death, but we were never going to come back after it.

All in all, it is more fuel to those who say that Lennon is yet to win a match “that matters”. At the moment, it’s hard to argue with them. Ross County, Braga, Utrecht and now Rangers really do take the shine off his previously unblemished league record. Fortunately, it’s a cup-tie on Wednesday and an immediate opportunity to put that right. I’d suggest that we will.

I’d also suggest that the next time we come up against Rangers we’ll be much more balanced as a side. Lennon strikes me as the sort of manager who’ll learn from tactical errors, unlike his predecessor who blindly stuck with the same players and system, even when it was blatantly failing. And despite all my negativity throughout this post, it is just three points. By the time the next derby comes around, our newer players will be even more settled, and with more experience of what it actually means to play for Celtic.

This championship is a long way from being over, and we’re right in the hunt. Keep the faith, Bhoys and Ghirls. There’s a long way to go yet.

So we are a week into the tournament, everybody is buzzing with excitement and marvelling at the fabulous football on display night after night; enthralled by brilliant goals and revelling in the atmosphere of the greatest competition on Earth. Oh, what’s that? No you’re not? Most games have been rubbish, hardly any goals have been scored and the vuvuzelas are driving you up the wall? Thank Yoda it’s not just me!

Before I go on I’d like to apologise up front; I feel a rant coming on, but I’ll be as brief as possible.

I’m generally the World Cup’s biggest fan. I do everything I can to watch as many matches as possible, from the big boys of Brazil, Spain and Holland to the minnows of New Zealand and North Korea. I’ve watched 15 of the 16 games so far, and feel quite deflated about the quality of the tournament.

OK, early on in the competition, teams will feel that playing for a draw is acceptable. After all, getting off the mark in the first game is vital, and how many times do you hear the phrase “you don’t want to peak too soon”? So maybe teams are going all “George Graham” on us, and not having a go? Possibly.

Quite simply, the tournament has really lacked any genuine quality. The question we have to ask is why?

Many players, managers and pundits alike have blamed the official ‘Jabulani’ ball, claiming it is difficult to control and causes goalkeepers major issues. Makers Adidas have described the Jabulani as being “the roundest football ever”, in an effort to lead to more goals. Now that I can understand, because let’s face it, any time ‘keepers are having problems is good for us as fans. We all want to see goals, and spectacular 30-yarders are particularly special for us. So ‘keepers struggling is fantastic.

But then we’ve also heard that the ball is “difficult to control”, with players from many squads largely condemning it. However, surely I’m not the only fan to think ‘will you just shut up and get on with it’? To me the excuse ‘the ball is too round’ is up there with Ol’ Red Nose’s excuse about United’s players not being able to see each other in their grey shirts!

Adidas have instead hit out at the players, and their preparation. They blame a combination of a lack of practise and the game being played at altitude. Indeed, I can certainly understand the altitude argument. Every rugby fan (and physicist, for that matter) knows that matches played at altitude mean longer goal kicking is possible. (Just look at Mourne Steyn for the Springboks during last year’s Lions tour) I refuse to accept that football management and players were not aware of this phenomenon, so they should have prepared for it. On this note I unreservedly agree with Adidas.

My only quibble about the ball is the fact that Adidas supplied it to the Germans six months before the World Cup kicked off. Understandable I suppose, a German company attempting to aid the German national team, but it’s not really in the spirit of fair play. It would have been nice to see Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard “getting their eye in” with the new ball, as it would for the rest of the world. However, it is just a football. If you’re being paid the amount some of these players are, you should be able play with tennis ball, let alone a new light size 5 football. Just look at Maradona doing just that below (apologies for the music, by the way!)

Then of course there is the vuvuzelas. The BBC have apparently received 545 complaints about the vuvuzelas in their coverage, and players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have joined the calls for FIFA to demand they are banned. Now I will admit the vuvuzelas are an irritant, but the BBC receiving complaints just seems ludicrous. What exactly do people expect the Beeb to do? Complete waste of effort from 545 people, in my humble opinion.

However, I can understand the players voicing their criticisms, even if I’m not sure they’re valid. Obviously, deafening noise makes communication difficult for the players, but if players can talk to each other in Old Firm games, or the Milan Derby, then their argument is null and void.

No, the way the quality of the tournament will improve is simply tactics. Managers need to remove the shackles on players, adopt a more attacking mentality and just let them go for it. As always, I’m optimistic this will be the case once we get to the last group games and the knock out stages (with the exception of Italy, obviously!)

England can easily do this by ensuring Heskey never gets another kick of the Jabulani (or any other football, for that matter.) Gerrard playing further up the field can only be good for England, and getting Joe Cole into the side will add to the side’s creativity.

Add to this a little shooting practise, there’s no reason at all to suggest England can’t do well in this tournament. However, whether they have the mentality to get past the likes of the Dutch or the Germans, only time will tell.

How do you feel about the World Cup? Have you been disappointed, or are you enjoying the tension of the tournament. Let me know below.

An honest assessment…

March 1, 2010

Apologies for my break in blogging. I spent much of that time researching for my commentary of the Suwon Bluewings v Gamba Osaka, but more on that later. I’ve been especially quiet on the topic of Celtic, simply because I’m sick of repeating myself, but after yesterday’s Old Firm I guess it is only right for me to address them again, so here goes.

What a mess we’re in. The club has me tearing my hair out in despair right now, and our lack of quality and leadership is evident for all to see. But before I get into that, I have to talk about the fans actions in the minute silence for Gerry Neef, the ex-Rangers keeper who died last week.

Regular readers will know how I felt about the actions of the mindless few at Falkirk on Remembrance Sunday and I feel exactly the same this time. By disrupting the silence, these “supporters” shamed themselves and our club. My father-in-law believes we should go to a minute’s applause for all these periods of respect, to ensure the idiots can be drowned out. Whilst I totally understand his perspective, I still think this can be massively inappropriate. Instead, I’d suggest those who booed are pointed out by our own supporters and ejected from the ground. Now this may infringe the ‘right of protest’ in the country, but when inside a football ground you have to abide by its rules. If you don’t like it, stay at home and don’t embarrass your club.

And on to the game itself. Like many other Celtic fans, I felt greatly aggrieved by Scott Brown’s red card. Indeed, Kyle Lafferty has ‘form’ for play-acting, and I’d like to think the SPL will look at this, but once again it seems the major decisions have gone against us. Quite how Bougherra managed to get through 90 minutes I’ll never know, and yesterday I felt quite bitter towards referee Dougie McDonald. However, that truly is deflecting blame, and instead, we should be looking at the players and the management team.

In a match we HAD to win, we didn’t even win a single corner. We had 4 attempts on goal, only two were on target, compared to the 14 efforts on goal Rangers mustered. Quite simply, (and I say this through gritted teeth) Rangers were far superior to us on the day. As a result, the championship has certainly passed us by for another year.

We are bereft of quality in the midfield, with no creative spark, nobody with the desire to dominate the opposition, and utterly shambolic at the back. The amount of times a simple through ball destroyed our defence is no joke at all, and reminded me of the earlier game at Ibrox. So what does this show us? It shows us that despite giving Mowbray the time I and many others called for, he’s not up to scratch.

As an ex-central defender, he should have us organised at the back, yet all season long, the defence has been our achilles heel. His vision of expansive, attacking football can only be played with a water-tight defence, yet Mowbray seems to be incapable of this. I have toyed with the idea of allowing him another season to get it right, but now I want him gone as soon as possible. He seems to make some utterly bewildering decisions, too.

Looking at our side, and our form going into Ibrox, Ray Charles could have told you to leave McGeady out. His form is abysmal, and a period on the bench is just what he needs. Then there are our options up front. In a match we had to win, we needed to go with our best goalscoring line up. That does not include Fortune. Morten Rasmussen has proved already he is capable of scoring goals, yet he’s been brought in to keep the bench warm. Why? A front two of Keane and Rasmussen was the best opportunity we had of nicking a goal in a game where chances were at a premium, and if Rasmussen had the opportunity Fortune had, I’d have backed him to at least work the goalkeeper.

However, we’d have had an even better chance if we had changed our system to 4-3-3. If we had played narrower in the centre of the park with three central midfielders, it would have allowed us to really get on top of Rangers. This would not only help our young central defenders, it would also enable us to use the pace of Keane and Kamara down the channels, with Rasmussen playing in the 6-yard box. And if I can see this, why can’t Mowbray?

This next paragraph may be deeply unpopular with a section of our support, but say it I shall. Can you honestly tell me that you think Gordon Strachan’s Celtic side would have been effectively 13 points adrift by the first of March? Anybody who answers ‘yes’ is either a liar, a fool, or a Rangers fan.

Quite simply, to be 13 points behind Rangers to a team including Gascoigne, Laudrup et-al is horrendous, but understandable. To be 13 points behind THIS Rangers team is just downright incompetent, and Mowbray should pay with his job.

I’m all for backing a manager, but that manager has to be up to the job. Mowbray has given a clear indication that he is not. Pack your bags ‘Mogga’. The time has come to stand aside.

Back in the hunt?

February 10, 2010

After the Kilmarnock game a week ago, I didn’t think I’d be writing this. And I know it could yet bite me on the backside, but as I type I just don’t care. My feelings have fluctuated from huge optimism to wanting to jump off a bridge when I consider Celtic’s season. However, a good result tonight against a well-organised Hearts side has seen us lay the ghost of last week, and that is boosted by Rangers dropping points at Motherwell.

Now, the lead is down to 8 points. Of course, if you read the papers many will tell you that the title is good as over, and we may as well give up the chase. Nonsense. However, it will take a degree of consistency on our part. A run similar to the one under Strachan where we put 7 wins together to nick the championship at the death.

However, if come the first day of next month we’ve put three wins together (against Aberdeen, Dundee United and Rangers) and are within 5 points of our Old Firm rivals, make no mistake about it, we’re in this title race. Indeed, with the strength of our squad, the ludicrous notion put forward by Lee McCullock last week may hold some water.

But there are a lot of ‘ifs’. Right now, despite the huge lead Rangers have, we can only worry about ourselves. That means working hard on the training ground to cut out silly mistakes. It also invariably means Robbie Keane taking the chances he’s currently missing, and possibly means ‘Mogga’ putting Rasmussen in the starting 11.

But whisper this quietly: if we’re 9 points better off come the 28th, we could just do this.

Keep the faith, Bhoys and Ghirls…

Apologies for the delay for my blog on the Old Firm game. I had planned to write this yesterday, but a combination of Notts County’s latest winding up order and a case of the AIDS put a bit of a delay on it. That’s the bad AIDS too. (OK, I don’t have AIDS, I have a man cold. Both are killers, honest.) Anyway, the Old Firm…

Despite putting on a reasonable performance, it was one of the most frustrating games I have watched in a long while, and I can’t believe the amount of chances we missed. Samaras and McGeady were the biggest culprits, with the big Greek back to his frustrating self. Quite how he managed to miss some of those chances is utterly beyond me. And McGeady’s misses showed us all that despite his obvious talent, he is not quite the player we want him to be…yet.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who was taken back to the early 90s while watching the game. How many Old Firm games did we see back then where we dominated possession, territory and chances, only for Laudrup to break away and score the winner? Rangers had one chance on Sunday, which they took. We had at least 9.

As for the controversial refereeing decisions that went against us, yes, he got them both wrong. However, we should have put the game out of sight without the referee’s help. By the time Skippy finally scored, we should have been three up, and the game would have been over. We clearly just don’t have the quality up front.

So that brings me on to the transfer window, and the desperate need for us to strengthen. The board must surely have noticed our lack of cutting edge, and so a new striker is a must. Dave Kitson has apparently declared an interest in a move to Parkhead, a move which could suit both parties. Kitson has been a regular goal scorer in the Premier League, something which he should be able to take into the SPL. He is also able to play as a target man, which may aid Skippy.

And that is the kind of striker we need at this stage. An experienced striker, rather than a youngster, one who can slot straight into the side and instantly benefit us. However, if the board aren’t prepared to put their hands in their pockets, I’m sorry to say I think Rangers will take another title, and we could see the end of Tony Mowbray.

Leaving us with just that ‘no debt’ trophy. Put your hand in your pocket, Mr Lawwell, and get us our title back.

On one side of Glasgow today, fans and club representatives are anxiously biting their nails. Today is the day Rangers will discover the extent of their UEFA sanctions, and also reveal just how much debt they are being strangled by. It is also the day the English Premiership clubs once again discuss the prospect of a Premier League 2, including both Old Firm sides. (since I began writing this I’ve heard that the Premiership clubs have rejected the proposal) However, I really couldn’t care less.

My interests right now centre on Celtic Park, and I have no time for basking in the misfortunes of our great rivals. You see, we are terrible on the pitch, and have our own issues to worry about off it.

Anybody who has read my blog over the last few days will know I was furious with the actions of a few ‘supporters’ on Sunday. I was absolutely sickened at the total lack of respect for the dead that a few mindless idiots displayed. I appreciate these ‘fans’ were outside the ground at the time, but as far as I’m concerned using that as an argument is pedantic to say the least. The fact is these idiots are attached to our club. What is doubly galling then, is when I hear some Celtic fans criticise Rangers for the actions of the few in Romania. I’m a massive Celtic fan, but this ‘holier than thou’ attitude amongst some of our support has to end.

Let’s get something straight. The majority of both Celtic and Rangers fans are thoroughly decent people. However, there is still work to do to flush out some of the fools who attach themselves to both sides, in the mistaken idea that they are part of some political ideology. This is a cancer attached to both clubs, who have to work together to cure themselves. And we as supporters have to help.

Then there’s the team. I’ve said for weeks we need a change in ethos, concentrating on youngsters from home and around the globe. I’ve also said PSV are the perfect model for us, a club that play in a poor league yet attract quality players and progress in Europe. Indeed, they were minutes away from the 2005 Champions League Final. If they can do it, why can’t we? It does annoy me a little that we constantly bleat about a lack of investment and demand this England move, when the reality is we can help ourselves by changing our mentality. I know I have said we need the move in previous blogs, and I’d snap up any offer, but realistically we need to look after ourselves. I mean you don’t hear Ajax, Feyenoord or PSV demanding a move to the Bundesliga do you?

However, right now we need immediate investment from the board. It says a lot to me that Rangers, despite all their problems, will go above us if they win their game in hand. And yet some people are blaming Mowbray for this.

Yes, I agree he’s made a few odd decisions. Taking McGeady off and bringing Naylor on during our game with Hamburg being the strangest one. However, I think he should be allowed to make a few mistakes, particularly at this time in the season. After all, he’s still getting to know his players.

Our performance on Sunday was simply unacceptable, but the blame should be laid with the players, as it should for our general performances this year. Mowbray is still using another manager’s team, which is far from ideal. That is where the board come in.

I would hope Mr Lawwell has learnt his lesson from last season, and will put his hand in his pocket to strengthen the squad in January. The thousands of empty seats at Celtic Park won’t have been missed by the board, management or players either. They should be well aware us as fans are pretty fed up with the mediocre performances we are witnessing. From what I’ve heard, I’m certain that will be the case.

If not, I genuinely fear for the future of this great club.

Pressure in football management is par-for-the-course, but nowhere is more unforgiving than when you take one of the big jobs in Glasgow.

Tony Mowbray, who is barely a dozen competitive games into his new job, is already swatting away questions from reporters about his performance in the Parkhead hotseat.

“Hopefully, the vast majority of Celtic supporters understand the journey that we’re on,” Mowbray said. “This team will change as time moves on. It’s my responsibility to do that. With every window of opportunity you try to improve your team. As time goes on you do the best you can. A new manager surely he has a right to build a new team.

“You can only move people in the transfer windows, so when those windows open you try to improve on the quality you have. Nobody is saying here that [a specific player] will leave, but in time competition [for places] will be created, and people will fall by the wayside. That happens at every club. As the next window comes and signings arrive, you’ll see competition.”

The man talks a lot of sense. After only ONE transfer window, I can’t believe there are already murmours of discontent from the terraces to go alongside the questions raised in the press. Yes, the squad at this moment is very poor, with a real lack of quality but as I’ve said til I’m blue in the face, this is not Mogga’s squad. He made a couple of signings in the transfer window, one of whom got injured very quickly, but Mowbray didn’t really have the time to fully judge his squad when he came in. As a result, blaming him for the lack of quality is grossly unfair.

In my opinion, our best player is only just breaking back into the squad after a long injury (Robson) and with him back in the side our fortunes will improve. On top of this, Mowbray has already issued a warning to his squad claiming he’d be willing to bring in TEN players in during the transfer window.

By this evidence, Mowbray can see how poor we are as a squad. And yet we have clowns within the support calling him “a muppet”, “inept” and other, less printable insults. It has to stop. We as a fan base need to get behind our manager, who has the club in his heart and the drivel we see on the pitch hurts him as much as it hurts us.

Statistics tell us that clubs who back their managers achieve more success than those who constantly chop and change them. We know that Mowbray likes to play football, the type of football we want to see at Paradise again. For Mowbray to bring us that brand of attacking football again we need to show him some support from the terraces.

I’d like to hope that support will begin tonight in the Europa League game against Hamburg.