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.
NO ITALIAN LOVE FOR LENNON AS CELTIC’S DEFENSIVE WOES CONTINUE
It was a better performance than last time out against Sparta Prague but yet again Celtic’s defensive frailties were laid bare for all to see at the San Siro on Thursday night.
It started so well for the Scottish Champions too. Tom Rogic and Odsonne Edouard superbly put Neil Lennon’s side into a deserved 2-0 lead as Milan, leaders of Serie A, looked a shambles at the back themselves. However, just as Celtic looked to have found their mojo again, the self-destruct button was well and truly pressed.
Ryan Christie’s needless challenge led to a free kick which Hakan Calhangolu scored from before Samu Castillejo (pictured) scored the equaliser moments later taking advantage of inept defending. Within two minutes, Celtic’s two goal advantage was wiped out. It was an all too familiar story.
Things did not improve after the break. Just when you thought you’d seen Celtic at their defensive worst, they reached a new low. Jens Petter Hauge breezed past three green and white shirts as if they were invisible and shot low into the bottom corner to make it 3-2 and then to cap it all off Brahim Diaz made it 4-2 with one of the easiest goals you will see scored against a side.
Yes, it was an improved performance from Celtic than the Sparta double header but that was not hard to do. Going forward, Celtic look generally OK. It is defensively where their soft underbelly is being exposed time and time again. The Bhoys have now conceded more goals in the Europa League Group Stages at this point than any other team in the competition having conceded 17 goals in 5 group matches; An average of over 3 goals a game. You won’t win many, if any games defending like that. They have conceded more goals than Irish Champions Dundalk, Bulgarian’s Ludogorets and Israeli side Hapoel Beer Sheva: all of whom like Celtic had to qualify for the Europa League group stage. It does not make for good reading.
Celtic are playing like a side who need a break right now but the games are coming thick and fast for Lennon’s side. They face Lille in their last group game, Kilmarnock in the league at home and are one game away from the quadruple treble as they face Hearts in the Scottish Cup final before Christmas.
If Celtic want to avoid any more embarrassment in Europe, close the gap in the league and want to make sure they achieve a slice of history, they simply have to start tightening things up and fast.
SCOTT-ISH DELIGHT AS ARFIELD WINNER SEES RANGERS PROGRESS IN EUROPE
On the other side of Glasgow, we will be guaranteed to have one representative in the knock out phase of the Europa League after Christmas.
Rangers had their own battles to contend with on Thursday night against a punchy Standard Liege side but Steven Gerrard’s side responded well to adversity to win 3-2 against the plucky Belgians at Ibrox.
It was a laboured start for the Ibrox team as Liege’s Maxime Lestienne tapped home inside the opening six minutes to open the scoring. But, Rangers got themselves level on 39 minutes as Conor Goldson headed in a corner to level the game up only for Duje Cop to restore Liege’s lead with a brave finish at the back post.
Then came a big turning point in the game.
Rangers were awarded a penalty via the fourth official after a handball from a Kemar Roofe shot had originally been deflected behind for a corner kick. After that decision had correctly been overturned (by the letter of the law it is a penalty), top scorer James Tavernier made no mistake as he levelled the game again from twelve yards.
The second half belonged to Rangers but not until after a big save from Allan McGregor early on. Scott Arfield (pictured) is quickly becoming a massive piece of Gerrard’s jigsaw for the season and the former Burnley midfielder showed why as he smashed the ball home to put Rangers in front midway through the second half.
Arfield reminds me of Frank Lampard during his peak Chelsea days. How often did ‘Super Frank’ always make that run from midfield into the 18 yard box, picking up scraps as it was falling to him? Arfield took his goal really well on Thursday night and is constantly a selector in Gerrard’s long term plans. I quite like his salute celebration as well and it has become very iconic with some of my own Rangers supporting friends on various social media!
Rangers deserved to qualify from their group after five solid showings from their group matches. They overall look solid at the back but crucially they look impressive going forward too. With a spare game now, Gerrard may use the final game in Poznan a couple of ways. He may use it to go all out to try and win the group (which I think he will do) or he may give some of his fringe players some game time (like he did against Falkirk in the BetFred Cup recently), saving his main stayers for domestic affairs and latter stages of Europe down the line.
Time will tell what he decides to do but what a luxury to have in this competitive and critical of all seasons.
CALLACHAN JOLLY ON THE SPOT AS ACCIES MOVE OFF BOTTOM
This was a huge win for Accies on Saturday and may be massive for Brian Rice’s team come the end of the season.
Ross Callachan (pictured) kept his cool from twelve yards to win what was a tight and competitive game for Hamilton as they moved off the bottom of the Premiership with a 1-0 win against Kilmarnock. Accies have had their penalty spot issues so far this season but the former Hearts and St Johnstone midfielder made no mistake yesterday to grab a massive three points.
If you rewound the clock back to two weeks ago, Hamilton were sitting four points adrift at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership table after their 8-0 humbling at Ibrox and narrow 2-1 defeat away against Dundee United.
However, in their last couple of matches Brian Rice’s men appear to have found something that works at home. The Accies have taken four points from their last two games against Aberdeen and Kilmarnock and perhaps it could have been more. They almost won that game late on against the Dons on Wednesday night, had it not been for a stunning Joe Lewis save and yesterday showed great character to get the points against a stuffy Killie outfit who had won recently with ten men against Ross County.
Accies were also awarded a “Brucie Bonus” of a 3-0 win against St Mirren because of COVID breaches by the Paisley side. I’m sure Rice’s team will have wanted to have won the game in a sporting manner but in what has been a turbulent season for the Lanarkshire side, you will take any breaks and fortune that comes your way.
KILLIE INDISCIPLINE STRIKES AGAIN
Clevid Dikamona got a Christmas card from Willie Collum yesterday at Accies but I am not sure it was the colour he was hoping for!
Saturday saw Kilmarnock reduced to ten men for the fourth time this season after the red card of Clevid Dikamona at the Fountains of Youth Stadium. Incidentally, Stuart Findlay, Ross Millen and Eamonn Brophy are the others to have been sent off for Killie this season. I don’t think he could have any complaints. It was a high two footed challenge which was over the top. Under the current laws, Collum had to show red.
Although Alex Dyer’s side got away with it against Ross County a fortnight ago, it is very rare for it to work for you on a regular basis.
It’s fine to get stuck in and make things tough for your opponents but you have to do it with a bit of control in mind as well. All four of Killie’s reds I’ve mentioned this season were all straight red card offences and you can bet your dollar when it comes to key matches, losing players to suspensions will become important the longer a season goes on. Add in COVID issues (self-isolation) injuries and other affairs, Kilmarnock do not have the deepest of squad depths so they need to be careful long term and not lose too many key players.
Kilmarnock are still playing well though, creating changes and putting in some solid performances. Even though they lost for the fourth time in five matches, I feel are in a good position to secure a top six place. On another day they could have got something yesterday and perhaps should have done.
If they want to go higher and challenge for Europe though, they need to cut down on the number of fouls and red cards and maintain a discipline in the team.
BACK TO BACK WINS FOR REVITALISED LIVINGSTON
This managerial lark is easy isn’t it? Well, David Martindale (pictured) at Livingston is making it look that way that’s for sure.
Two wins. Six goals. None conceded. The Lions also have a quarter final of the Cup to look forward to and are back to winning ways in the league.
Despite a tough time of things, It seems like Livingston are united as a club, particularly after losing their manager Gary Holt recently. They grabbed two good goals against Dundee United yesterday from two of their more experienced players as well: Scott Pittman and Marvin Bartley.
Yes, they may have a lot of inadequacies in their side and are still missing players in key positions and yes Dundee United may have been missing players who were self-isolating but you have to work with what you have and beat what is in front of you.
Livingston needed a response after that league defeat against St Mirren in their last home game and Martindale got that yesterday. Bartley and Pittman will get the plaudits for the goals and rightly so but I was really impressed with Matej Poplatnik’s performance also. He was all over the place and caused United’s defence a lot of problems with his movement.
It was a great follow on from that confidence boosting BetFred Cup win against Ayr United last week. With St Johnstone away and then that Cup quarter final against County to come, Martindale is playing himself in the frame to take the permanent job at the Tony Macaroni. Win them both and he will be surely the permanent manager. Why would you not give it to him? The man is definitely getting a tune out of the players recently that is for sure.
It’s not been a good week for Dundee United.
Yesterday, they were minus nine players and first-team management staff because of COVID19 circumstances and on the pitch they were lacking in quality and struggled throughout. Nicky Clark was a massive miss for United yesterday in particular. They have some tough games coming up too with Rangers at Tannadice and Hibernian at Easter Road next.
RUTHLESS SECOND HALF SEES HIBERNIAN MOVE THIRD
After an even first forty five minutes, Hibernian really gave Motherwell a second half lesson at Fir Park on Saturday.
It all started with Martin Boyle (pictured) rifling home to open the scoring before late goals from Christian Doidge and Stephen McGinn added some class to the score line for Jack Ross’ side.
Until yesterday, Hibernian’s form had been sketchy of late, particularly at home but their away form has really been source of gold for Ross’ team. Yesterday’s win at Fir Park was Hibs 6th away win of the season and they have now accrued 19 out of their 29 points away from Easter Road.
Hibernian are in a good place again it seems and if they can beat Accies in their next away game, they would put themselves favourites in my mind to finish best of the rest behind Glasgow’s top two. They also have Dundee United and St Mirren to come as well which are not the worst fixtures on paper to have at this stage in the season. They also have a quarter final away to Alloa in the League Cup to look forward to as well.
Christmas has the potential to be a good one for fans of the Leith team.
For Motherwell, it’s been a strange week.
They were awarded six points from their COVID postponements against Kilmarnock and St Mirren respectively and are now sitting fifth in the table, a point above Dundee United. However, I am sure Stephen Robinson will be disappointed not to have got something here.
Bevis Mugabi was harshly denied a legitimate goal in the first half for a foul by Mark O’Hara in the build-up. It looked very harsh. Had that counted, it would have been a different game.
They also passed up some good opportunities as well with Tony Watt in particular having a tough day in front of goal. 3-0 flattered Hibernian slightly but Motherwell missed their chances and got punished.
BUDDIES DROP TO THE BOTTOM DESPITE DONS DRAW
From the outside looking in, a draw at home against European chasing Aberdeen isn’t a bad result for St Mirren but with other sides winning around them, it will be a frustrating one.
The Buddies could not do the double over Aberdeen in as many weeks as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Derek McInnes’s side but it was still a solid display by Jim Goodwin’s team.
St Mirren fell behind to a Jonny Hayes goal for Derek McInnes’ side but Jamie McGrath (pictured), the man who scored the cup winner last weekend, netted from the spot to equalise.
The Buddies had plenty of sustained pressure in the second half, helped by Aberdeen going down to ten men, but could not force a winner and as a result move to the foot of the table. Lee Erwin had to score that chance at the end in particular.
Their poor week was magnified as they had to forfeit two matches 3-0 to Motherwell and relegation rivals Hamilton because of COVID 19 breaches.
I don’t think Goodwin and St Mirren will be panicking just yet but they do need to be sharper and clinical with their chances. Had they had a bit more composure, they would definitely have won yesterday.
RED MIST FOR FERGUSON AS ABERDEEN WORRYING FORM CONTINUES
Aberdeen’s worrying form concerns me.
Since their 2-0 home win against Hibernian at the beginning of November, Derek McInnes’ side have gone out of the league cup and failed to win any of their last three Scottish Premiership matches.
Losing Ross McCrorie and Lewis Ferguson to self-isolation after being on international duty has been a massive factor, particularly in that 4-0 thrashing the Dons received at Ibrox. Even without those two players, Aberdeen should really be beating sides like Hamilton and St Mirren away from home, particularly if they want to be finishing in the European spots.
The Dons have been laboured, disjointed and have been lacking imagination in the last four games and will need to get back on the bike quickly with a resurgent Hibernian now taking pole position in that battle for third spot.
They will need to do that without Ferguson (pictured) who was sent off yesterday for two yellow cards. The Dons talisman has been a massive player for McInnes and Aberdeen this season but he still needs to control his discipline at times and yesterday was evidence he still has a bit to learn in that department with the red mist in evidence again. His first yellow card could easily have been a straight red card and although his second yellow was very harsh you could argue he was walking a tight rope and gave referee Bobby Madden a decision to make.
Aberdeen have Ross County at home next time out before two tough away matches against Kilmarnock and Motherwell. You would expect Aberdeen to beat the Staggies but I think many expected them to beat Hamilton and St Mirren before that so we shall have to see what happens there.
Regardless, Aberdeen need to get a win and confidence boosting performance from somewhere and with Ferguson out for some of these matches that will be a big blow.
EXPERIENCE THE KEY AS RANGERS INCREASE CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD
Another weekend passes. Rangers win and keep another clean sheet.
It seems an ever turning wheel at present but Steven Gerrard’s men really are sauntering away at the top of the standings right now. In this game in Dingwall, they needed all their experience to get the job done.
Firstly, Allan McGregor produced an excellent early stop to prevent Harry Paton from giving the Staggies the lead. After that, it was the turn of Steven Davis to shine. His pass was latched onto by James Tavernier (pictured) who fed the ball across for Kemar Roofe to bundle in the opening goal. Until then, Rangers had struggled for clear-cut for chances as County had stifled the league leaders for much of the first half.
In the second half, Gerrard’s men upped the ante and were rewarded as goals from Tavernier, an own goal from Callum Morris and a goal from Jermain Defoe on his 800th career appearance putted the Staggies to the sword. Rangers look really strong just now and with a good blend of youth and experience, versatility across the team and a manager who is demanding high standards, it seems all is going well at present for the Ibrox team.
The same cannot be said for Ross County.
They have scored only two outfield goals so far this season and struggled to take their chances when they got in good positions on Sunday. Connor Randall’s second half miss summed up where they are at right now. They face Aberdeen next and Stuart Kettlewell needs to get some confidence boosting momentum ahead of the quarter final in the BetFred Cup against Livingston and huge six pointer against fellow strugglers against Hamilton later in the month.
MORE DROPPED POINTS FOR STRUGGLING CELTIC AS SAINTS UNBEATEN RUN GOES ON
Sunday 6th December. The day the Scottish Premiership title race ended? The day Celtic’s ten in a row aspirations died?
It certainly looks like being an uphill task for Neil Lennon and his side now after they lost more ground in the title race to their bitter rivals Rangers after a 1-1 draw against Callum Davidson’s St Johnstone.
It was another sketchy and unpredictable Celtic performance. They lacked creativity, imagination and width as they struggled to break down a resolute St Johnstone defence. Their lack of a wide presence really is hurting and they need to find a solution and quickly. They are missing massively the creativity of James Forrest and Mikey Johnston. If it had not been for Mohammed Elyounoussi’s late equaliser, it could have been even worse for the Champions.
Celtic are now very much at the ‘snookers required stage’ if they want to get back in this title race. They need help from others and for Rangers to go massively off the boil.
Can those happen? Of course it can. However, Celtic need to improve themselves on and off the pitch as right now they look a beleaguered and beaten outfit. Lennon remains defiant in his post match interview but the body language to me suggests he also has accepted his anticipated fate. It’ll be another massive few days for the Celtic board as they try to keep fans believing that history can still be made.
St Johsntone are now eleven unbeaten in all competitions and credit must got to Davidson and his team for their upturn in fortunes. Early on, they were playing well in matches but just not being clinical enough. Now it seems they are getting their just rewards.
Zander Clark is more and more looking comfortable in between the sticks for the Perth Saints and Ally McCann and Scott Tanser are continuing to impress me with their solid performances. I was pleased for Christopher Kane notching a goal too yesterday. He’s been struggling for form and consistency due to niggling injuries so it must have been a relief for him to get on the score sheet yesterday. St Johnstone will need him and talisman Stevie May long term if they want to have a successful season.
Don’t rule out St Johnstone of a late push for the top six or higher and to have a good cup run. They are playing with confidence just now and it is showing.