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.
For the second time in three weeks, Celtic and Rangers endured eerily similar outcomes from their reverse European exploits against Sparta Prague and Benfica respectively.
PRAGUE HAMMERING SEES CELTIC EXIT EUROPE
It was back to back 4-1 losses for Celtic which saw them crash out of the Europa League and, unless a minor miracle occurs, sees them destined to finish bottom of Group H. Celtic finish up their campaign with a trip to the San Siro to face AC Milan and play French side Lille at home in their remaining matches in what can only be seen as dead rubbers.
It was an eerily similar performance from the Scottish Champions in Prague on Thursday night to what we saw in the reverse humbling at Celtic Park. The only difference was that they took the lead in this game through and excellent finish from Odsonne Edouard (pictured). After that, it was a nightmare for Celtic, very much a recurring theme of recent weeks.
Defensively they were so inept again. They were punished at a set piece for the equaliser and failed to cut out a simple ball across the six yard box as they fell behind in the Czech night. It was woeful once again. A broken record which keeps ever circling. Defensively wafer thin and up front lacking in bite, panache and quality.
Ryan Christie and Edouard passed up good chances to equalise before Prague superbly punished them on the break with the third and fourth goals. Lukas Julis (pictured), the hat-trick hero in Glasgow, added a brace on home soil to bring his tally to five goals over the Scottish Champions over the two games. Celtic did not know how to handle the big striker and his movement.
Too many of Celtic’s players are either not up for the fight or are just simply nowhere near good enough in my humble opinion. Far too many times it has been evident and once again it was laid bare for all to see on Thursday night in Prague. Lots of flak has been aired the way of Neil Lennon in recent weeks and although ultimately, he will carry the can, the fact of the matter is his players are not performing.
Shayne Duffy – brought into the side for leadership – is now out of the team after a horrific run of form. Kristoffer Ajer doesn’t look interested and has not been the same player since being linked with a move out of Parkhead. Vasilios Barkas was brought in for nearly £5m but yet has been average at best in between the sticks and is now on the bench behind Scott Bain in the pecking order. While Bain is a solid keeper, he is nowhere near championship winning quality. Olivier Ntcham doesn’t look up for the fight and goes missing far too often in matches. Scott Brown’s influence in games is waning as well. Celtic’s full backs are not disciplined enough either leaving the centre back’s exposed time and time again when they are caught on the break. And that’s just scraping the surface.
Should Neil Lennon (pictured) be fearful of his job? Definitely but there is more problems at Celtic than just Neil Lennon I’m afraid. Celtic fans might not like it but that’s the plain truth.
I’ve seen people say that Eddie Howe should come in and take over. I completely disagree with that sentiment. Celtic, if they are going to sack Lennon, need to go for someone who knows what it takes to manage big games, knows the philosophy of Celtic and crucially, knows how to handle the pressure of delivering the big prizes. Howe, as well as he has done at Bournemouth, does not for me have the credentials to manage at a top side. I can only see them going for John Kennedy or someone who has managed Celtic before. Of those available and willing, Gordon Strachan (pictured) would be in my view the only feasible option.
This season, more than most, is a horrendous time to manage at Celtic. The unbelievable pressure on whoever is in the hot seat would be unprecedented. Only Walter Smith back in the late 1990s would be able to tell you how much pressure he felt going for a tenth league title on the trot with Rangers.
People forget that Neil Lennon is one game away from delivering a quadruple treble for Celtic – an extraordinary feat in itself but it seems a mere footnote in all that is going on right now.
If Peter Lawell and Dermot Desmond were to pull the plug on Lennon, whoever comes in would be under the pump from game one.
ANOTHER TWO GOAL LEAD SQUANDERED BY RANGERS
It was a similar story for Rangers in Europe too.
For the second time in three weeks, Rangers let a two goal lead slip to the hands of Portuguese side Benfica.
It looked like a promising night for Rangers after Scott Arfield and Kemar Roofe (pictured) put Steven Gerrard’s men 2-0 up at Ibrox. However, Benfica showed their class and got themselves a share of the spoils courtesy of an unfortunate own goal by James Tavernier and a sumptuous goal by Afonso Fernandes (Pizzi).
Gerrard, like in the first game in Portugal, may be disappointed once again at his side’s inability to see a two goal lead out. However, on the flip side, his team have picked up two points against arguably the best side Rangers have faced this season, whether that be domestically or in Europe.
I’d be very surprised if this Benfica side did not reach the latter stages of the competition outright.
Rangers fate is still in their own hands too.
After Standard Liege’s unlikely win against Lech Poznan in the other group game, they only need a draw against the Belgians at Ibrox on Thursday night to book their place in the last 32.
Gerrard, I am sure though, will want to aspire topping the group ahead of their Portuguese counterparts and get a much more favourable Last 32 draw after New Year.
FAMILIAR PROBLEMS FOR SCOTLAND WOMEN
It was back to back defeats for Scotland’s Women’s team on the international stage on Friday night as Erin Cuthbert (pictured in blue and white) and her teammates slipped to a 1-0 loss in Portugal.
Similarly to their narrow loss away in Finland recently, Shelley Kerr’s side failed to make their territory and possession count in Lisbon. The Scotland women’s manager Kerr may be self-isolating at the moment but she must be pretty concerned with recent events with the national side as she watched on from home.
Time and again, Scotland got into good areas but failed to test nearly enough the Portugal goalkeeper or their back line. The goal they lost as well, scored by Ana Borges, was equally disappointing. It seemed all too avoidable.
These defeats against their group rivals leave no margin for error now as they face Finland in the return fixture at Easter Road on Tuesday night. It really is win or bust from here for Kerr’s team. Win and they are back in the group with Portugal at home left to play, lose and I think this may be the start of a changing of the guard.
There is no doubt that failing to qualify for the European Championships would be a massive disappointment for the national side considering the fantastic scenes of qualifying for the World Cup in Paris a couple of years ago (pictured).
It seems to me though that perhaps the ceiling has been reached for this team and things are perhaps just beginning to peter out.
Let’s hope I am well off the mark though. I’ll be backing the girls on Tuesday you can be sure of that.
JAM TARTS STUNG BY WASPS
Well done to Peter Grant and Alloa Athletic (pictured)!
His side produced a shock by defeating Hearts at the Indodrill Stadium after a late penalty in extra time scored by veteran striker Alan Trouten.
Grant has done nothing short of a sensational job at the Wasps. He led them to safety last season and consistently has set his side up to be very tough to beat especially at home in the Championship. Many, including myself, thought that when Jim Goodwin swapped Alloa for Paisley that Athletic would struggle but this is a big feather in Grant and his sides’ cap for their excellent display and never say die attitude.
Saturday’s success was a first ever win for Alloa against Hearts in a competitive match and only the 5th time in 74 years that the Wasps have reached the League Cup quarter finals finals. A stonking achievement. The club will gain financially from this run as well which will be welcome especially during these unprecedented times with COVID time. They will be dreaming of a big tie in the quarter finals and if they were to be drawn at home, you can be sure that whoever plays the Wasps will have to be on their guard and not be stung like Hearts.
For Hearts, this was a massive disappointment. Robbie Neilson’s side would have targetted a good cup run to go along with their main goal of winning the Scottish Championship at the start of the campaign (pictured). However, they could not break down a stubborn defence who they comfortably dispatched in the league last week at Tynecastle.
The Jam Tarts need to find ways of getting victories at these tough venues especially when they are not at their best. They got away with it at Gayfield this season having been outplayed for much of the game by Dick Campbell’s team. They didn’t get away with it at East End Park last Friday night against a well oiled Dunfermline side and they did not get away with it on Saturday.
It’ll be interesting to see their response from this disappointing result. I still back them for the title in the Championship but they are now under massive pressure.
LEWIS BLUNDER SEES DONS CRASH OUT
It has been a terrible week for Aberdeen and Derek McInnes.
After failing to win at bottom of the table Hamilton Academical on Wednesday night, the Dons limped out of the League Cup to St Mirren in Paisley. McInnes men fell behind to an Ilkay Durmus free kick before equalising, somewhat against the run of play by Niall McGinn. That looked to give Aberdeen the impetus to go on and win the game but the off colour Dandies were hit by a late winner by Jamie McGarth (pictured), gift wrapped by the normally reliable Joe Lewis in the Dons goal.
First of all, St Mirren deserved it. It was a magnificent display from Jim Goodwin’s side. They were hungrier and simply wanted it more than McInnes meagre side. That win over Livingston last week seems to have rejuvenated Goodwin’s side and I am keen to see if they can kick on now in the league following that performance.
However, this was a shocker of a result for Aberdeen and yet another disappointing performance to go with it. They looked disjointed in midfield without the ever present Lewis Ferguson and Ross McCrorie and their replacements Dean Campbell and Funso Ojo both under-performed for the second game in a row. It is proof once again that the two Scotland U21 internationalists are massively missed in that engine room in the Dons midfield.
I don’t think I can dress anything up to defend Lewis for his late howler either. There is no doubt Lewis (pictured with Andy Considine) is a reliable presence in between the sticks for the Dons but his mistake on Saturday evening was massively costly.
Questions will now be asked of McInnes (pictured) again after last night’s disappointing exit. It could yet another season where Aberdeen won’t win a trophy with now all eggs in the Scottish Cup basket. Is third or fourth place in the league good enough for the majority of Dons fans? Is McInnes the right man to keep the club moving forward? It could be over 30 years without winning a Scottish Cup for the Dons, a period far too long for a club the size of Aberdeen to be without winning.
McInnes and his team will hope to find some momentum in the league leading up to that Scottish Cup run as they face the same opposition next weekend.
MANAGERLESS LIVI THRASH DEFLATED AYR
I was sad to see Gary Holt (pictured) leave his post at Livingston last week.
I thought the writing was on the wall though after their loss at home to St Mirren last week and I mentioned on my appearance on the Go Football Radio Show on Monday night that they are definitely in a spot of bother in the league.
With that in mind, I honestly thought this was a real banana skin for the Lions against Ayr United in the League Cup but I was proved massively wrong. They were excellent for much of the first half as David Martindale’s side (pictured) ran up four first half goals to comfortably book their passage into the quarter finals.
It was a professional display from Livingston and may just be the confidence boosting win they need to get their season back on track.
STYLISH PARS IMPRESSIVE IN GAYFIELD TRIUMPH
I’m quietly impressed by the start Stevie Crawford’s Dunfermline side are making.
Last weekend, they won at home to Championship rivals Hearts and this week they booked their place in the League Cup quarter finals with a solid win at Arbroath.
Gayfield is a difficult place to go for the majority of sides but goals from Ryan Dow, Euan Murray (pictured) and Kevin O’Hara settled things for the Pars.
It has certainly been an excellent start on all fronts for Dunfermline and they will be keen to keep their run going long term as they challenge Hearts for the Championship title.
I think quietly though they will be fancying their chances in the quarter finals of the Cup as well whoever they get.
With a bit of luck, they could genuinely make a semi final which would be fantastic.
WOTHERSPOON COMPLETES SAINTS FIGHTBACK TO BLAST PAST WELL
David Wotherspoon (pictured) is quite an underrated player isn’t he?
The St Johnstone midfield maestro inspired an excellent fightback to defeat Motherwell in the ‘Off the Ball’ derby at Fir Park on Saturday afternoon. It looked like it was going to be Well’s day after Tony Watt had given them the lead on the hour but Callum Davidson’s men turned the game around with Callum Hendry and Wotherspoon netting the goals to settle the contest.
St Johnstone are now unbeaten in their last 10 matches in all competitions and Davidson is more and more impressing me as manager of the Perth side. For Stephen Robinson’s side, their lack of consistency continues.
MURPHY WINNER DEFEATS DUNDEE
Hibernian defeated Dundee for the second time in a fortnight.
It was closer than the 4-1 drubbing the Dees suffered two weeks ago but it is Hibernian who will join the rest of the teams in the Scottish Cup quarter finals with a 1-0 win at Easter Road.
Jamie Murphy netted the only goal of the game as Jack Ross’ side got the job done in what will be a game that will not live long in the memory.
Hibernian, having made a decent start to the season, Hibernian have tailed off in recent weeks following a defeat at Pittodrie and drawing at home to St Johnstone. They did draw at home to Celtic as well but it does seem their form has just stagnated in recent weeks.
However, Ross will be delighted to have got this side through to the quarter finals and now should be targeting the cup as a genuine opportunity to win silverware this season.
COUNTY STUN CELTIC IN BETFRED CUP
35 cup wins for Celtic have been ended and how. Take a bow Ross County!
The Staggies produced an unbelievable shock to dump Neil Lennon’s side out of the League Cup with a 2-0 away win at Parkhead on Sunday afternoon.
I want to give every tribute to Ross County. I’ve been very critical of them lately as well as worried for manager Stuart Kettlewell but this afternoon they were sensational. Ross Stewart continues to impress me in blue and white. He was different gravy today, giving Christopher Jullien and his fellow Celtic defenders the run around. His hold up play was just fantastic too and on days like today, you can see why he is being touted for big things. He also took his penalty well in the game too and gave County something to hold onto in what was another off day for the Champions.
County played to their strengths at set pieces too and Alex Iacovitti’s (pictured) excellent header confirmed what they deserved: A fully impressive victory against a side who were lacklustre and off the pace once again.
County will be intrigued to find out who they draw next. Usually whoever defeats one of Glasgow’s big two usually ends up not performing in the next game.
Let’s see if County can, like St Mirren, can use their victory this weekend as the catalyst to get their league campaign back on track.
If today’s win at Parkhead does not inspire them, nothing will.
REGULATION WIN FOR RANGERS AT FALKIRK
No such problems for Rangers as they eased into the last eight of the League Cup with a -0 victory away at Falkirk.
Jermain Defoe (pictured) and Calvin Bassey netted early goals for Gerrard’s men as they settled into proceedings at the Falkirk Stadium.
Borna Barisic added a third before half time with a terrific free kick as Rangers, who had rested players, showed their strength in depth by blowing away their League One opponents.
Tougher tests lie in wait for Gerrard’s team but the juggernaut keeps on rolling on.