Written by Dr. Grant Campbell – @stato_grant
The host of Campbell’s Footballs Dr. Grant Campbell has been casting his eye over an incident packed week in Scottish Football, giving his comments on some of the major talking points over the weekend’s matches. Feel free to discuss and debate the views on various social media channels.
SMASHED CELTIC SEE EUROPA LEAGUE HOPES IN TATTERS
Thursday was a miserable night for Celtic.
Their midweek 4-1 Europa League defeat at home against Czech side Sparta Prague meant that the Scottish Champions had lost a third home game on the trot in all competitions following defeats to Rangers in the league and AC Milan in the same competition; a feat which has not happened since the late 1980s. It was also Celtic’s second heaviest home defeat in Europe – only PSG in the Champions League have inflicted a heavier defeat on the team from Parkhead when the French side won 5-0 in Glasgow.
It was a galling display from Neil Lennon’s side (pictured) who were outclassed on the night by a Czech outfit who were not even at full strength. A hat-trick by Lukas Julis’ and a goal from Ladislav Krejci secured a deserved win; the former bagging the first treble at Celtic Park by an opposing player since Eric Black for Aberdeen back in the early 1980s. Despite a Leigh Griffiths goal midway through the second half, it was a night of desperation for Celtic.
They were sloppy in possession, weak defensively and lacked leadership right across the pitch. Shane Duffy had another nightmare in green and white and guys like Callum McGregor, Scott Brown and Mohammed Elyounoussi lacked dynamism and influence throughout. The latter seemed more interested in looking at his phone when he was substituted than his involvement during the 90 minutes!
Celtic were outclassed on their own patch by a decent side but let’s wake up and smell the coffee. Sparta Prague are not world beaters like Bayern Munich or PSG.
Chris Sutton was visibly apoplectic at full time speaking to Darrell Currie on BT Sport (pictured). As a former Celtic player, he is clearly hurting for his old team but also for his former teammate Lennon . He left no stone unturned in his post match analysis, outing players like Duffy, Elyounoussi and harshly in my view, Griffiths. The latter was one of Celtic’s better players on Thursday when he came off the bench and still offers a lot to this team as he did at Pittodrie in a recent league game.
Sutton is right about one thing however – Celtic should be judged on their European credentials as well as their domestic success and recently, it has been nowhere near good enough. Defeats to Copenhagen of Denmark, Ferencvaros of Hungary and on Thursday night should not be happening, especially on their own ground.
Celtic’s European dream looks in tatters as they sit bottom of their Europa League group with just one point from their first three matches. They travel to Czechia next before an away game in Milan and a home game against Lille to finish out the group. It will take a miracle to see them qualify now but in my view, Europe is the least of Lennon’s problems.
He needs to, in his own words, “address the culture” at Celtic Park and get his side back on track domestically as they aim to secure a quadruple treble and to win the ten league titles in a row that Celtic supporters so desperately crave.
How well this can be achieved remains to be seen. Time is not on his side.
MORELOS CREATES HISTORY BUT FAMILIAR WARNING SIGNS FOR RANGERS
Celtic’s bitter rivals Rangers had a helter-skelter affair in Portugal on Thursday as they were pegged back to a 3-3 draw against Benfica in their group.
It did not start well for Steven Gerrard’s side as they fell behind to a Conor Goldson own goal. However, after former Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi was sent off for denying a goal scoring opportunity, Rangers took control. An own goal got them level before Glen Kamara and history maker Alfredo Morelos looked to have completed a fine job for the Glasgow side.
Morelos surpassed “Super” Ally McCoist’s goal tally of 21 goals in Europe with his 22nd on Thursday and the story should really have revolved around the Colombian creating a bit of history. However, what happened next was a familiar tale that Rangers fans may be beginning to have niggling worries about as this season unfolds.
Defensive mistakes from Felipe Helander and Scott Arfield allowed ten man Benfica to score two late goals and claim a point which will feel like a victory for the Portugese giants.
At 3-1, Rangers had to manage the game better than they did. Ryan Kent hit a post, Joe Aribo missed a free header at 2-1 and Morelos missed a half chance at 3-2 to put the match to bed. Defensively though, for the first time this season, Rangers looked uncomfortable. A lack of correct decision making and naivety from Gerrard’s men cost them a famous win in Benfica meaning that they now head to the return game at Ibrox knowing they need to get a positive result or risk being in a battle to qualify out of the group. They still have Liege at home and a potential tricky game against Lech Poznan away in the final group match.
I still expect Rangers to get over the line but they have put themselves under needless pressure and in a season where games come thick and fast, concentration, saving energy and being ruthless is everything.
Gerrard will be hopeful that events on Thursday night do not turn into familiar tales of what happened the last two campaigns.
EARLY GOALS HELP ABERDEEN WRIGHT BACK ON TRACK
After last weekend’s disappointing defeats to Hearts and Celtic respectively in the Scottish Cup, Aberdeen and Hibernian met at Pittodrie on Friday night hoping to get back to winning ways.
The game was settled in a sparkling twelve minutes for Derek McInnes side as the Granite City outfit ran away with the contest winning 2-0. Scott Wright (pictured) bagged the opener before Sam Cosgrove made it two shortly afterwards.
After that, the Dons managed the game out with little fuss as they recorded yet another victory against the Leith men. Wright and Cosgrove will get the headlines but it was another solid all round performance from Aberdeen. Ryan Hedges continues to impress me and Lewis Ferguson and Ross McCrorie dominated the midfield battle. It was a positive result for McInnes team as they jumped up to third spot, two points clear of Hibernian following the win. 26 points at this point in the season is the Dons second strongest start to a season in 20 years.
Hibernian struggled and played poorly. Jack Ross was unhappy at his team and the performance of referee Euan Anderson but I don’t think he can have too many complaints. For me, there was not enough contact in the Matty Kennedy and Martin Boyle incident to warrant a penalty kick and they were fortunate themselves not to go down to ten men when Paul Hanlon only picked up a yellow for fouling Scott Wright as he was bearing down on goal in the second half.
Ross should be more concerned about the lack of chances his side created. Joe Lewis had not a serious save to make and when he did, it was his own defender Ash Taylor that gave him the biggest of problems! Boyle and Jamie Murphy were quiet throughout and Kevin Nisbet hardly had a sniff. It is not since 2012 that Hibernian last won a Premier League game at Pittodrie.
Hibernian play a stuttering Celtic next time out and like Aberdeen, they need to get Wright back on track quickly if they want to avoid their season petering out.
DINGWALL STALEMATE AS STAGGIES AND LIONS ENTERTAIN FANS
300 fans (pictured) were allowed back into Dingwall on Friday night under new restrictions due to COVID-19 and were treated to an entertaining encounter between Ross County and Livingston.
Oli Shaw’s header at the front post put Ross County in front, but Livingston equalised after Nicky Devlin turned in Scott Pittman’s cross in the second period.
There were plenty of chances for both teams in this game but in the end, a draw was probably a fair result on balance. County picked up their second consecutive home draw while Livingston avoided a fourth successive defeat. With both managers under pressure following recent form, I think both would have taken 1-1 at full time. There is only one point between these two sides in the table and that’s how it looked on the pitch too.
Both sides lack a cutting edge at times and both can also be got at from set pieces and crossed balls. These two sides will be involved in that proverbial “mini league” at the bottom of the table come the end of the season.
Whoever is head of that particular battle will be fine. Whoever is not may be in a spot of bother.
MCNAMARA WINNER HELPS CONTINUE SAINTS GOOD FORM
St Johnstone continued their decent run on Friday with a 1-0 win at a foggy Perth against Kilmarnock.
Danny McNamara (pictured) netted the only goal of the game for Callum Davidson’s men as they moved level on points with Motherwell and Dundee United in the Premiership standings. The team from McDiarmid deserved to win the game as they were stronger across the midfield and created the better chances. Sometimes, St Johnstone fail to make their superiority count in games and it looked like Friday had a bit of familiarity about it but up popped McNamara for a crucial goal and a big three points for Davidson’s side.
With League Cup games against Dundee United and Peterhead to come, it is a busy time for St Johnstone just now but it does seem like the switch for their season has been turned on in recent weeks.
THREE CONSECUTIVE DEFEATS FOR FLAT KILMARNOCK
Kilmarnock have gone off the boil of late.
Friday saw Alex Dyer’s (pictured) side fall to a third succesive 1-0 defeat in the Scottish Premiership and as a result have fallen ten points off the European places and are now only two points ahead of 10th placed Livingaton in the table.
Granted, Killie have played Hibernian and Rangers in those defeats and you can say these are tough games. However, they were at home for both of those and they did not create many opportunities in either of those games. You would hope that Killie would have been a bit braver and bolder in these games as the potential for positive results was there.
They were flat in Perth on Friday too. There is a real creative spark which is missing in this side just now, backed up by the fact they accrued just four shots on target from their last three games. It is a worrying time for the men from Ayrshire.
Dyer’s side are also out of the BetFred Cup. However, games against Clyde and Dumbarton do pose an opportunity to get some confidence back into this side ahead of their next Scottish Premiership match at home to Ross County and then an away trip to Hamilton.
I do not expect Killie to be embroiled in a relegation dogfight but they do need to raise their level a bit over the next few matches otherwise a promising start to the season is in danger of turning into a sketchy one.
HEAVY FOG CLOUDS DRAB PAISLEY AFFAIR
There was more danger of the fog winning this match than St Mirren or Dundee United on Friday in Paisley.
Mother Nature threatened to put a dampener on St Mirren’s first game in 27 days but referee David Munro managed to get the game completed and credit to him for doing that.
The game itself will not live long in the memory (pictured). Few chances for two sides with similar problems: a lack of goals. These two sides are in amongst the four lowest scoring sides in the league this season and it showed in this drab affair.
Jim Goodwin will be happy with a point considering how long his side haven’t played a competitive fixture in the league while Micky Mellon’s side have now kept a third clean sheet in their last four games and I am sure he will be equally content.
CELTIC HANG ON TO RANGERS COATTAILS AS GERRARD’S MEN ROUT ACCIES FOR ?
There was no change at the top of the table in the Scottish Premiership.
Celtic picked up a regulation 4-1 victory over Motherwell at Fir Park while Rangers recorded a thumping 8-0 victory over Hamilton.
Mohammed Elyounoussi answered a few critics with an excellent hat-trick and Oliver Ntcham, often criticised for some below par performances, also scored for Neil Lennon’s side. They were reasonably comfortable despite a Declan Gallagher goal which made it 2-1 midway through the second half. Ultimately though, it was a welcome three points for Celtic as they just about kept onto Rangers coattails in the title race.
Rangers absolutely smashed Brian Rice’s Accies. Three goals in three minutes saw the Gers go 3-0 up as Scott Arfield, Kemar Roofe and Joe Aribo (pictured) all netted. Aribo added his second of the game on 36 minutes but the scoring did not stop there. Second half goals from Roofe, Barker and two from James Tavernier added to the demolition Rangers handed out to their beleaguered opponents.
It was cruise control by the Govan team and a welcome way to head into the international break off the back of such a ruthless display.
It was a familiar tale for Motherwell and Hamilton: they are just too open at times and allowed so much space for Celtic and Rangers to punish them.
It’s alright trying to be brave against the Old Firm but there’s times to do it and times to sit and make yourselves tough to break down. Rangers time and time again cut through Accies like a hot knife through butter. I like Brian Rice but it would be difficult for him to survive this humiliation handed out to his side at Ibrox this afternoon.
Motherwell were better in the second half against Celtic but they didn’t take their chances and ultimately they paid the price. 4-1 may have been harsh on Stephen Robinson’s men but football is a ruthless game.
Today’s defeat for Motherwell made it no wins from 15 matches for Robinson against Celtic. They have only managed three draws in that run too. Thanks to Stefan Bienkowski for the stat on that one!
BATTLE IN BELGRADE AS HISTORY AWAITS SCOTLAND
It’s hard to believe it but Scotland are 90 minutes (and extra time and/or penalties if required) from the European Championships. If you are looking for a good preview heading into that game, may I recommend this podcast from John Bleasdale on the Scottish Football Forums website.
All that stands in Steve Clarke’s sides way is Serbia in Belgrade on Thursday night. There is no doubt that it will be a tough match for Scotland but at least we have given ourselves a chance. In a one off game, anything can happen.
We have momentum and confidence heading into the game after wins over Israel, Slovakia and Czech Republic last month and have looked solid defensively on the whole as well. Lyndon Dykes has shown a real eye for goal as well too which will be important. In midfield, John McGinn has come of age and we will hopefully have Ryan Christie and Kieran Tierney back after they missed the last round of games after having to self-isolate due to COVID cases of which they were close contacts.
We will need to do the business in Belgrade without Ryan Fraser though who is unavailable to injury. That is a massive blow as him and Dykes were building a good partnership together particularly in the wins over Slovakia and the Czechs. What is good news though is that Leigh Griffiths is back in the fold. If we need a goal late on to take the game to extra time or to win it, he has the ability to help us.
Can we do it? Of course we can! Serbia have a good side with Alexander Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in their ranks but at the end of the day we have players in our team who can hurt them I believe. We’ll be underdogs going into the game but that in my mind is where Scotland are at their most dangerous.
It’s been too long since France 1998. Let’s change the record books and let’s be celebrating like this (pictured below) after the game on Thursday.
COME ON SCOTLAND!