Thursday, 16 May 2013

(OLD) Celtic book place in Scottish Cup Final

 CELTIC have booked their place in the Scottish Cup Final after a thrilling seven-goal thriller against Dundee United, ending their Hampden ‘curse’ in the process.

Since Neil Lennon was appointed to succeed Tony Mowbary, we have lost numerous big games at the national stadium - five to be precise.

The most recent of which was a 3-2 defeat to St Mirren, in yet another game where we simply did not turn up, meaning we left yet another cup game feeling rather melancholic.

If history had repeated itself against Dundee United, and we missed out on another cup final, serious questions would have been asked about this squad of players and their commitment and passion for this club and what we expect to achieve.
Celtic fans, from what I have seen and heard, unanimously agree that Hampden is a lifeless, bromidic ground, and leaving their time and time again empty handed is something that we can no longer accept or be content with.
So, could Celtic finally break this dreaded ‘curse’ as it is now known?
Celtic got the start that Lennon would have dreamed of.
Kris Commons has opened the scoring for Celtic on their previous three visits to the National stadium, and wouldn’t you know it, he did it again!
Commons picked up the ball from Victor Wanyama in the second minute of the game and eased past United midfielder Marc Millar before lashing the ball in from 25 yards into the corner of the net for his 17th goal of the season. 16 more than he managed in the whole of last year’s campaign.
It would be putting it politely to say Celtic were looking extremely nervy at the back. Despite this, we should have doubled our advantage when, in the 20th minute, Emilio Izaguirre stood a cross up at the back post for fellow full-back Lustig but his header from inside the six-yard box hit the post and John Rankin cleared the ball to safety.
Dundee United would make Celtic pay for that miss three minutes later, when Kelvin Wilson mistimed his tackle, leaving Daly to run on and play Mackay-Steven down the right channel and, with the Hoops defence posted missing, he played a one-two with teenager Ryan Gauld before bending a shot past Celtic keeper Fraser Forster from inside the box.
United were soon to take the lead, when Barry Douglas swung a teasing ball into the six-yard box. Daly wanted it more and got his reward as he nodded past Fraser Forster to give the Arabs the lead. Deja vu, right?
The lead only lasted 80 seconds, however, as Victor Wanyama, who was far from at his best for the Hoops, got on the end of an Izaguirre cross to head Celtic back level. Four goals after 30 minutes made for great showing for the neutral, who were also treated the day before in the other semi-final which saw Hibernian go through after a 4-3 win against Falkirk.
The second half saw both sides go all out to get the all-important goal. It was end-to-end stuff, but in the 59th minute, Izaguirre raced up the left, taking a Wanyama pass and when his cross came into the middle, Commons did not appear to know too much about it as it bounced off his chest/arm and trundled over the line. Not as spectacular as his first, but they all count.
11 minutes later, however, United were level again.
The unmarked Daly looped a header from Mackay-Steven's cross over Forster and in off the post. The cup final place, once more, was up for grabs.
The game finished like this meaning extra-time was required to separate the sides, who had produced a memorable semi-final. Substitute Anthony Stokes came out and got the goal that would prove to be the winner after 104 minutes of play.
Celtic, it appears, had broken their Hampden Curse, and will go on to face Hibs in the final on May 26.
Semi-finals are all about winning the tie and getting through. However, there were some serious concerns that I feel should be pointed out. I hope this game will give the players a physiological boost going into the final, after it appeared some of the squad were suffering from nerves.
Efe Ambrose was a bomb scare all afternoon. He is clearly a talented player, and likes to run with the ball, but there was times when that over-confidence gave the ball away and could easily have cost us the game.
Another player who I think is already planning his summer holidays is Gary Hooper. I, along with the vast majority of fans wanted Hooper to stay in January. But since then it appears he has lost his hunger and spark.
In my opinion, and it is just my opinion, Hooper was very poor today. His first touch was slack, he was struggling to complete the most simplest of passes and didn’t seem to have any sort of imagination. This clearly frustrated the Celtic fans, as they booed Neil Lennon’s decision to take off Commons and not Hooper.
Hooper has been brilliant for Celtic, scoring some crucial goals. I just feel it’s pretty clear he knows he will have to go to England to get his international call-up. I hope I am wrong, of course. I hope the likes of Hooper, Wanyama, and Forster can repay the faith the manager and fans have shown them since they moved to our club, in the final few games of the season.
Overall, I’m sure everyone was pleased with the result today and is relieved to get that ever-growing monkey off our backs. Let’s hope that continues on May 26, and we can complete the league and cup double.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Is Lennon immune from criticism

Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Ross County in Dingwall confirmed Celtic will finish this season with fewer points than Tony Mowbray’s side did in 2009/10.

That being the case, should Lennon and his side face any sort of criticism, despite winning the league with four games remaining?

It has been well-documented this season that Celtic have been far from their best in numerous games in the SPL. But some fans still seem to be wrapping Lennon and his side in cotton wool, defending them from any sort of criticism.

“We’ve won the league, it doesn’t matter what the results are from now on.” I have read this on Twitter and other sites numerous times.

I’m sure the fans who are paying their hard-earned cash to travel to support Celtic will certainly disagree. If Lennon knows his side aren't going to perform to an acceptable standard, why can’t he let the fans know prior to kick-off to save them money?

If Lennon wasn’t a ‘Celtic man’, for example Gordon Strachan, then there would be a lynch mob outside Celtic Park calling for him to quit.

The Champions League run was fantastic and we, in every sense of the word, over-achieved. That for me, however, does not excuse the fact that Celtic have been woeful this season domestically. The public wooing of Lennon is tiresome and needs to stop. He is a good manager, yes, but why can’t he motivate his side when it comes to league duties? It doesn't help when he’s in the stand most weeks mind you.

I can imagine people reading this and angrily cursing at me, “We won the league, what more do you want, you closet hun?!”

Well, here’s a little perspective and a breakdown of how we have performed this season. I won’t bore you by talking excessively about the omission of Rangers from this year’s top flight, but it’s a relevant point. Had a full-strength living Rangers been competing this year, they would have mopped the floor with us. It’s not relevant to say, “Oh, but we would have raised the bar if Rangers were here.” That’s a nonsense thing to say. Fans are paying money expecting this side to give their best. It isn’t just a one-off game. We are consistently under-performing.

Anyway, I digress - our league form.

Away from home this season, we have won eight games out of 18. Motherwell have won nine.

Has it led to vociferous protests against Lennon and the team? No, it hasn’t. Some fans are blindfolded due to our Champions League run and the omission of our former rivals.

After the draw in Dingwall, we have now gone six SPL away matches without a win - our worst run in the league since going 10 away games without a victory in 1994/95. That is a shocking and embarrassing stat, which must be addressed.

Winning eight out of 18 games away surely merits some form of criticism? Stats such as these justify why none of our players were nominated for Player of the Year. I would make a case for Commons, but a weak one at that.

In Tony Mowbray’s “disaster” season, the “worst one ever”, we ended up with a total of 81 points – we now cannot reach that tally for this season.

Even today (6-5-13) Neil Lennon has taken to his Twitter account to defend his team. Is the pure denial? Here are some of his quotes that stood out for me.

“I didn’t see anything wrong with the attitude yesterday” – He must be the only one.

“We have a cup final so season is not fizzling out. And the league was won a fortnight ago” – Is this an excuse for the players to under-perform? I hope not…

“Am (sic) using the whole squad..the edge isn’t there at min (sic)as league is already won” – Don’t tell me he is starting to believe the nonsense that he is reading on his timeline. The players have the obligation to go out and perform until the final day. We are spending money to support them, the very least they could do is put a bit of effort in.

I’m far from a “Lennon out!” man. I admire Lennon as a man and a manager for everything he has went through in Scotland, but I’m pretty fed up of being slated every time I wish to question anything he does.

Another cause for concern is that if this inconsistency continues, supporters will postpone renewing their season tickets. Why should we spend our money when we’re turning up watching half-hearted performances every week? 

Winning the league is great, but we are also paying to be entertained throughout the season.

Attendances (oh no, not this again…) are important to the club and have been terrible this year. If that is to improve, a bit part of that is down to the players. If they can perform to a high enough standard, then attendances will get better.

Bottom line, I wrote this article, as I do with every article, to find out what the fans think. Should Lennon face any sort of criticism for this year’s domestic performance, or is winning the league purely enough?

Twitter: @Kieran_Psyl