So Near….

What a soul-destroying end to a match! With only a few minutes left, the Celtic players could feel quite happy with their efforts on the night. They had come out with the right attitude, got an early goal from the penalty spot, then competed very effectively with their lively opponents from Serie A, whose goalkeeper kept the score down on several occasions. Then, with only a few minutes left and Udinese stepping up the pace, another penalty decision, this time in favour of the Italians, allowed the visitors to snatch the point they had obviously come to play for.
After such a late blow, it is difficult to be truly clinical in one’s assessment of the game. However, with the Italians making several changes from what would be regarded as their strongest side, the match was there for Celtic to take by the scruff of the neck and this they did for long periods. Unfortunately, while the defence gave a competent display, there was some mis-firing amongst the forwards, who certainly did have some chances to put away. So, I should imagine that the manager will privately have mixed feelings about the result.
He will be pleased that his much-criticised back four dealt fairly comfortably with Udinese’s attacks and with the commitment his side showed throughout the 90 minutes. On the debit side, Neil must rue the missed chances across the forwards and be disappointed that a weakened Udinese managed to escape with a draw.
Now, the team must put the Europa League – something of a distraction this season – to one side and prepare for a difficult match in the campaign for the most important prize of the season, the SPL title. Under their new manager, Hearts have had something of a roller-coaster of a first few weeks in the league, as their record of played 9, won 3, drawn 3, lost 3 might suggest. However, they do have probably more players of quality than any side out-with the Old Firm, can raise their game when the occasions arises and will be pumped up to push Celtic all the way.

Jim Craig

Udinese

AN ITALIAN JOB?
Celtic will have to raise their game once again on Thursday, when Udinese arrive at Parkhead. The Italian club might not be regarded as among the great names of Serie A but season after season in recent years, they have managd to compete with the best and their showing against Arsenal in the qualifying round for the Champions League demonstrated their quality.
Neil Lennon has some tough choices to make, particularly at centre-back. Frankly, none of the possibles for those roles has been completely convincing since the start of the season, no matter who is paired with whom. And nobody will know that better than the guys vying for the positions. Fans tend to forget that players can have off-days, can have spells when their confidence is low or even periods when a niggling little injury – not enough to keep you out of the game – is just annoying enough to affect your form.
Dealing with a problem like that is a difficult juggling act for any manager. After all, these are the guys needed to keep him in a job! To let rip with a volley of castigation might damage a fragile ego even further; yet having to merely encourage and cajole players along on a regular basis is very frustrating. The former makes the manager feel better even if the latter is probably the more effective long-term solution to the situation.
At one time, of course, the full-backs would move in to help deal with any problems, coached as they were to be defenders first and attackers second. Nowadays, the opposite can very often be the case and the centre-backs can never rely on some help from that branch of the team. A shaky central defence causes trouble in other areas, particularly the midfield, which feels obliged to come back to help out. This then means that when the team does get possession, everyone is a long way from the opponent’s penalty box, the area within and around which most goals are scored.
This will be a crucial match on Thursday for Celtic. Everyone on the planet seems to know that the club’s record away from home in Europe is dreadful, which makes the collection of points in the home games even more important. Still, no matter what happens, it should be a great evening at Celtic Park, noted for its atmosphere on those European occasions.
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The Uefa website is very informative regarding the various European competitions. Due to their impressive coefficients, England (81.836), Spain (79.757) and Italy (64.338) are all allowed 4 teams in the Champions League, three of whom have automatic entry to the group stages, one having to attempt to qualify through one tie.
The next three in order, Germany, France and Russia, are allowed 3 representatives, two straight into the group stages, the other having to qualify; then comes a list of 9 teams all with two possibles–Ukraine, Romania, Portugal, Netherlands, Turkey, Greece, Switzerland, Belgium and Denmark. And next in line comes Scotland (coefficient 25.791) among the countries with one possible place.
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15th September…….Atletico Madrid 2 Celtic 0
24th September……Barcelona 5 Atletico Madrid 0

28th September 1940 Celtic 1 Rangers 0 GC Final

War-time or not, the Glasgow Cup went ahead and on this day in 1940, a Celtic team made up of the old and the new met Rangers in that season’s final.
New boy George Johnstone was in goal for Celtic that day behind the full-back pairing of the experienced Bobby Hogg on the right side and Joe McCulloch on the left, the latter playing only his 6th match in the Hoops.
Older stars Malcolm McDonald, on the right, and George Paterson, on the left, were in the wing-half roles with first season man Willie Waddell at centre half.
The very pacy Johnny Kelly was on the right wing; the clever and reliable Frank Murphy took up a role on the left; Johnny Crum was the spearhead at centre-forward with John Conway and George Gillan in the inside-forward berths.
And it was Gillan who scored the only goal of the game in the 60th minute to give Celtic an 18th success in the competition.

26th September 1953 Celtic 3 Aberdeen 0 Collins 3 pens

On this day in 1953, there were a couple of unusual names in the Celtic team which ran out at Parkhead to face Aberdeen in a league match. 3rd choice goalkeeper Andy Bell was making his 4th consecutive appearance and Jimmy Duncan turned out at centre-forward, one of only 9 matches he played for the club.
Apart from those two, the rest of the side were regulars. Mike Haughney and Sean Fallon were in the fullback roles; Bobby Evans, Jock Stein and Bertie Peacock made up the halfback line; Charlie Tully and Neil Mochan were on the left wing; with Bobby Collins and Jimmy Walsh on the right.
It was the ‘Wee Barra’, though, Bobby Collins, who stole the show, scoring all of Celtic’s goals in the 3-0 win. And, just to put some icing on the cake, all three came from penalties, in the 8th, 44th and 67th minutes, the first time this had occurred in Celtic’s history.

THREE POINTS…BUT UNCONVINCING?

I had suggested last week that it would be a surprise if Celtic did not win comfortably against the team propping up the table, Inverness Caledonian Thistle. However, while Celtic did pick up another three points in the chase for the SPL title on Saturday, it seemed to be through a performance well short of what the fans expected.

Due to a family function, I could not attend the match and was also under orders from SWMBO not to disappear from the event to catch up on the football programmes on radio and TV. So, it was with some surprise that I later discovered the score. However, there might be some very commonsense reasons for the poorish quality of the performance.

Players, managers and coaches are only human and during this last week, the ones at Celtic Park have all been under the cosh regarding the result against Rangers. There was a recovery of sorts against Ross County in midweek but it will take a few more polished performances before the team can find its confidence once again.

There is also the problem of the defensive set-up. There have been few successful sides in the history of football that did not have a strong backline. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, Neil has had to chop and change his defence, an area where the players involved need to develop a close understanding. This can only come with constant practice on the training ground and playing the same guys in the same positions on a regular basis on match –days. If injury strikes, as it has done at Parkhead, then combinations have to put out that have little playing time together.

When we consider the stats from Saturday’s match, it is quite clear that Celtic were in control of the proceedings. They had 59% of the play to Caley’s 41%. It looks like one of the problems, then, was the implementation of that possession, as it only resulted in two goals. At East End Park, with a similar ratio of Rangers 59%, Dunfermline 41%, the Light Blues scored four!

That considerably difference in the figures for possession usually only occurs in matches involving Celtic or Rangers against other opposition. And the stats can sometimes be be quite confusing. For instance, at Fir Park, it was Motherwell 54%, Aberdeen 46%, with Motherwell winning 1-0; down in Paisley, St Mirren had 48% of the play to Kilmarnock’s 52%, yet the Buddies won 3-0. And at Easter Road, while Hibs had only 40% possession, they fought back to draw 3-3 with Dundee United.

At Parkhead, the performance might not have totally pleased the watching 47,000 plus but three points is what Celtic must aim for in every match and they got that on Saturday. For a side which was comprehensively beaten in a local derby only a week ago, to win twice in succession during the following seven days shows a great deal of character.

NB You will be wondering what the acronym SWMBO and I will be surprised if you do not have one in your own house…..She Who Must Be Obeyed!

Jim Craig