European Under Par

A much younger James Forrest celebrates scoring against Dunfermline in 2012Here we again, Groundhog Day at Celtic. From what I’ve seen in the last few days, everyone from the tea lady at Celtic Park to the players, the manager, the board, me, Boris Johnston, Rod Stewart, the Pope and probably even God have been blamed for Celtic’s Champions League qualifying exit at the hands of Cluj on Tuesday night.

We’re all disappointed, that doesn’t really need to be said, and we’re all looking to understand what’s going on and how we can do something about it. But let’s look at some of the facts.

We brought a 1-1 draw back from Romania and then went with a team that put a key midfielder at left back because we didn’t trust the new signing to play there. Indeed, there was £10m of new signings on the bench instead of on the park. We didn’t play well enough in the first half, apparently the half time team talk was to be more aggressive and we flipped it round to 2-1 after the break. Then, as we looked for the cushion in the tie of a third goal, we gave away a stupid penalty and they levelled the game and overtook us on away goals. But we quickly got back in front, only to ship another goal and then finally lose the game on the night as we desperately tried to get the winner ourselves.

So many problems there, where do you even begin?

Why are we leaving £10m worth of new signings on the bench? Does the manager not trust them? Are they not fitting into the team? Are they not fit? Should we be signing players sooner so they are ready for these vital matches? It could be any number of things, or a combination thereof.

I mean, how many times do we hear that January is the important window for us? So how come it’s the summer signings that seem to matter more? Who’s signing the players anyway? The manager? The Chief Executive? The tea lady? And where are we getting them from in the first place? We don’t seem to have a scouting network, is it agents touting their own people? What kind of way to run a business is that?

Okay, never mind those two. Why on Earth are we playing Callum McGregor at left back again? We’ve tried that twice at Ibrox last season and twice we’ve lost there! It’s not that McGregor is particularly doing a bad job there, it’s just that it’s a complete waste of his talents! Put him in midfield where he thrives, and play Jonny Hayes at left back again if it’s really such a problem to play Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo there at the moment.

I’ve seen a few people moan about the half time team talk being simply “be more aggressive”. I’m not sure why, it clearly worked! We did just that and were suddenly running the match our way. It was the best thing that happened all night. I’ve then seen people moaning that at 2-1 we didn’t try to protect what we had. That’s a dangerous game to play, you can practically guarantee the howls of discontent if we’d actually tried to sit on such a precarious lead.

Simply put, had we gone 3-1 up as we nearly did then that would have been absolutely the right call and I’d imagine we would then protect what we had with the extra cushion in place. But that didn’t happen, instead Scott Brown had a howler of a night and that was never more evident than the needless handball that let them have the penalty.

But we scored again very quickly after that. Again, do we sit on that precarious lead? No, we try and score again. Once you get into the final ten minutes, then maybe you think about sitting on that lead, but we never made it there and they equalised again. Then we had to push on, it doesn’t really matter that we lost the match as we were going out anyway. Well, it matters to the coefficient but protecting that isn’t as important as trying to win the tie.

Neil Lennon disagrees, but I think we got the team line up wrong with McGregor in the wrong place. We had no problems scoring in this match, but we couldn’t keep the ball out of the net. It really worries me that we’ve spent a lot of money on players who weren’t trusted for these big games and I really do wonder if the manager has much say in who is coming in.

We need a proper scouting network, not agent recommendations. I don’t care how good Dudu Dahan says a player is, I want an independent opinion and not one from the guy who profits from these signings. The fact we don’t have that proper scouting network says to me that someone isn’t doing their job properly at Celtic and that’s our chief executive.

Peter Lawwell has been at Celtic for sixteen years almost. That’s an insane amount of time to be in the same job. We need fresh ideas, he really needs to go. In fact, he needed to go a long time ago. Sadly he does what Dermot Desmond wants so there’s no chance he’s going anywhere until he wants to go.

All these little bits and pieces are why Celtic not only failed on Tuesday night, but have failed in qualifying in four of the last six campaigns. We keep hearing about how Celtic’s budget doesn’t guarantee that you’ll win ties against teams with a lower budget, but I’m pretty sure it should mean we have a better than 33% success rate in doing so! The fact that we don’t says to me that we’re doing something wrong. Whether that’s who we’re buying or how we’re using them, well I’d suggest it’s probably a combination of both.

But what can we do about it? Celtic is run by a handful of shareholders who do pretty much what they want knowing most people will still pay in time and again regardless. Football might be a business, but it’s a very strange one where customer loyalty almost can be taken for granted because people love the club and not the business around it. I’m certainly not going to tell you not to spend money on the club until it changes!

But it does have to change. We just need to hope those in charge actually see it that way sooner rather than later.

Until then, there’s a job on the park to do. Today’s game should be relatively straight forward in theory. Championship Dunfermline Athletic visit Celtic Park in the second round of the League Cup and we’ll look to kick off our defence of the trophy with a victory over them.

Mind you, the last time Neil Lennon was in charge for a League Cup match at Celtic it saw Championship Greenock Morton.visit Celtic Park in the second round. I still have nightmares about the 27 useless corners that night as Morton beat us 1-0 thanks to a Dougie Imrie penalty.

The League Cup is the only trophy that Lennon hasn’t won as Celtic manager, so this is his chance to put that right. After Tuesday night, I’m sure he’s as keen as anyone to make sure we bounce back and are in a better frame of mind for the visit of AIK Stockholm next week.

Dunfermline came through the League Cup section with wins over St Mirren, Albion Rovers and East Kilbride, although they did have a surprise defeat to Edinburgh City in there as well. Their league season has started with draws at home to Dundee and away to Queen of the South. Although if anyone saw the Dundee game on BBC Scotland you probably know the penalties that Dundee got that night were somewhat questionable.

We haven’t faced Dunfermline since the 2011/12 season when they were last in the top flight. A 2-0 win at Celtic Park came courtesy of goals from Charlie Mulgrew and James Forrest. It was a game that sent us twenty points clear at the top of the league, coming just a week after Rangers entered administration.

Ahh Rangers. Remember them?

Actually, the previous game against Dunfermline was just a few days after we had beaten Rangers to overtake them at the top of the league – a position they never held again. We cemented our position there with a 3-0 victory at East End Park, this time the goal scorers being Anthony Stokes, Victor Wanyama and Charlie Mulgrew.

Those were meetings 100 and 101 between Celtic and Dunfermline. Hopefully the 102nd is similarly a victory for Celtic and a place in the quarter final draw on Sunday.

Krys (Twitter @krys1888)

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