Saturday, 19 March 2016

You’re Gonna Hear Me Roar

Kilmarnock 0-1 Celtic, Motherwell 2-1 Aberdeen. Ronny summed up today better than I ever could… “Fucking yeah!”

We don’t need to kid ourselves on though, Celtic were dreadful (again). Performance-wise it was up there with the worst in a long list of drab displays this season. But we saw something today that has not been apparent for a number of month’s now, we saw some passion.

The importance of hunger, desire and unity cannot be undermined in this title race. Aberdeen have had it in abundance this season, and up until now, we have not. Did we display a win-at-all-costs mentality throughout the game today? Simply, no. To use my buzz word of the year, we were passive once again. Of course we tried to win the match, but there wasn’t the energy and drive of a team desperate to fight and win for each other.

Tom Rogic’s last minute screamer, and the ensuing celebrations could be the catalyst we have been waiting for in this disappointing season. There was jubilation in the stands; fans and players connecting at long last, and the manager showed he still has some fire in his belly.

In my last post I highlighted our lack of scoring late winning-goals throughout 15/16. Aside from a stirring display of attacking football, these are the moments which supporters remember most. Today’s goal was huge. I truly believe it saved Ronny Deila his job (had we drawn at Rugby Park and Aberdeen gone on to beat Motherwell, that surely would have been goodnight Ronny). The team selection was uninspiring, the performance was lacklustre, and my belief in us securing our 5th league title in a row was waning. But nothing does euphoria quite like a last minute winner, and a goal of the season contender at that.

During the match I considered Ronny Deila’s and my own rationale. If insanity is doing same thing over and over again and expecting different results, I’m not sure who is more insane: Ronny, for picking the same player’s time and again, or me, for watching those same player’s and clinging on to hope of an improvement in their play.

I say it time and again, but the players who aren’t giving their all for the manager need to be ditched. Whether he is the right man for the job long term or not is irrelevant. Right now our focuses need to be on winning football matches. It’s Ronny’s call who pulls on the shirt each week, and he’s going to have to learn to identify those not willing to fight for him, very quickly.

The likelihood is there will be changes in the summer, hopefully these will go beyond the management and coaching staff. But for now we are 4 points clear in the league (with a game in hand), and have a Semi-Final of the Scottish Cup to win.

It is time for that rallying battle cry now, Ronny. Celtic must ride today’s wave of good-feeling, these are the moments you can use to inspire; roll out the clich├ęs about Celtic’s win being the sign of champions, laud the passion of the supporters. We need momentum, belief and desire, and today is the best place to start.

Whatever your thoughts are about the current management, you get the feeling it may be down to the influence of the fans to drive Celtic on in this title race. You’ve got two weeks off to get your voices back after today… Let’s hear you against Hearts.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Something's Got to Give

I had considered starting this post with an inspiring quote about the importance of character in sport, the one's I came across, though, following my 30 second Google search, didn't quite fit the tone, so in true Celtic fashion (this season), when faced with a challenge, I've fallen short.

Friday night's draw at Hamilton was yet another frustrating game. The equaliser was inevitable when it came, and to be honest, I expected a Hamilton winner to shortly follow. Until recently, a ten-man Celtic side would still be favourites in almost every domestic match they played in, and against many Scottish opponents, convincing favourites at that. This is no longer the case.

We all know that the media often write to fit their own narrative. They frequently set out with an agenda and come up with stories to back this up, in all industries, not just sport. So, rather than an attempt at an emotive warcry, I've decided to take a statistical approach to analysing our performance when faced with any sort of adversity this season.

The tables illustrates all goals for and against up to and including Friday night's match against Hamilton (data pulled from BBC football website). We've scored 97 goals (all comps): 50 in 1st half, 47 in 2nd half; and conceded 53: 31 in 1st half, 22 in 2nd half. In terms of the time period of goals scored/conceded, perhaps the most glaring statistic is that 20/53 goals have been conceded from 31st minute until half time. An indication that we switch off defensively as the 1st half draws to a close.

However, the really interesting statistic to me is regarding late goals scored. The euphoria of a late winner is memorable, and we've had our fair share in our recent history. Off the top of my head these moments of last gasp ecstasy have dried up. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we have scored 14 goals from 76+ minutes, but further digging shows that of these 14 goals only 3 were decisive (equalising or match winning goals), Boyata's 82' winner v Qarabag, Rogic's 82' goal to put us 2-0 ahead v Hearts (won 2-1), and Griffiths' 90' winner v Partick Thistle.

Celtic have conceded first 8 times this season. Of these 8 occasions, we've come back to win 3 times. In each of the instances which we have turned the match around the goal was conceded before the 15th minute (Stjarnan 7', St. Johnstone 11', Hamilton 4'). No disrespect to the aforementioned sides, but overturning an early goal deficit to these teams is hardly anything to shout home about.

So far this season Celtic have played 44 times in all competitions, in 6 of these games we have received a red card. We've won just one of these matches (1-0 v Partick Thistle). Against Ajax, Celtic led 2-1 at the time of Izaguirre's red, we drew 2-2. Against Hearts it was 0-0 when Ambrose received a last minute red card, with the game finishing this way. In the 1-0 victory over Thistle mentioned previously the score was 0-0 when Bitton saw red, before Griffiths' late winner. Ross County in the League Cup semi-final provided the worst collapse of the list, at 1-0 up and flying Efe Ambrose was given his marching orders, we crumbled to a 3-1 defeat. And at Hamilton on Friday night, we were 1-0 up when Boyata exited the field, the game finished 1-1. Uninspiring to say the least.

While all wins (not cup) are rewarded with the same 3 points, some carry more significance than others. Beating title rivals/challengers in the League, and winning important Cup and European games gives the fans and, more importantly, squad an extra buzz and confidence in their ability, and helps instil a winning mentality. This season we have played a combined 22 games in: Europe, domestic cups, and versus Aberdeen & Hearts (our closest competitors), from 22 matches we've won only 9. Of these 9 victories, 2 were over Stjarnan, 1 at home to Qarabag, and 3 in domestic cup competitions against lower league opposition (Raith Rovers, Stranraer, East Kilbride). Of these 9 victories we were favourites in each of them. When you remove the 2nd & 3rd UCL qualifying round matches (as we were considerably higher ranked in UEFA coefficient), and lower league opposition from this statistic, it reads Played 15 Won 3 (Malmo 3-2, Hearts 2-1, Aberdeen 3-1).

The statistics are pretty damning in terms of the fight and character that Celtic possess. Last week I discussed my desire for Allan, Roberts & Christie to be given more game time. This was not a case of absence making the heart grow fonder. In a squad lacking leaders, their youthful exuberance could provide the spark we need to bring a fearless approach to games. Until we have a determined, unified squad, who play with hunger we are going to see no improvement in results when faced with adversity. Something has to change soon, and if it isn't the mentality and character in the squad, it will inevitably be the manager. Ronny desperately needs a catalyst a la Neil Lennon's 3-3 Kilmarnock come back. 

Something's got to give.