Another round of Champions league qualifiers and another one that got away for Celtic. It’s a familiar story in European games for the Celts as sloppy defending, mystifying refereeing and powder puff attacking cost the team dear. This wasn’t one of those occasions when Celtic were taking on one of the big boys and were unlucky, this was Celtic taking on a team with a wage bill barely a third of Celtic’s and coming up seriously short. The third goal Malmo scored at Celtic Park should have had alarm bells ringing in the Celtic defence. Yet they let Rosenberg get a free run at a corner to head home virtually unchallenged in the return game. Malmo coach Age Hareige would have done his homework on Celtic’s zonal marking system and plotted how to beat it. Blocking Van Dijk was the key and as we saw with the second Malmo goal, we had learned nothing. Three of the four goals conceded in the tie came from corner kicks and that is simply unacceptable at this level. Celtic was bullied by a smaller side who seemed to want it more and that hurt.
The search for answers begins with every fan having their own opinion about the way forward. Rachel Lynch, writing in the Irish Post, had it correct when she stated… There’s no single scapegoat in my opinion – from the board to the management to the players, everyone is to blame.’ She isn’t merely paying lip service to the idea of the old ‘winning together and losing together’ football cliché often trotted out at such times. She means it literally; there have been failings all round at Celtic Park. The Board have backed the Manager to a degree but have not given him the sort of money which will capture the experience and know how required to succeed at this level. Good players have left for financial reasons and in truth lesser lights have arrived. The young Scottish talent being bought may well deliver in the long run but some quality and experience is required to help them turn narrow defeats into wins. The players were also culpable for standing off Malmo and letting them boss long stretches of the game. The defence was culpable for not dealing with crosses and perhaps only Forrest and Gordon came out of the game with any credit.
Social media was alive with invective as some fans’ disappointment gave way to anger. For once the much maligned Efe Ambrose wasn’t in the firing line. God knows if he had played the level of abuse coming his way would have been astronomical. Celtic has some great supporters but there is a minority who turn their anger towards individual players in an unfair and often unhelpful way. Ambrose was slated for giving away a penalty at Tannadice last week and yet how many of you could name the two Celtic midfielders who put in rather half-hearted and pathetic tackles on Clayton as he waltzed into the box? Ambrose, like Peter Grant before him and Tommy Callaghan before that, is just the latest to be cut no slack by an unforgiving minority. His confidence is shot and every move he makes is scrutinised. Of course he makes errors, some such as those in the Juventus game a couple of years back, are very costly, but all players do. It is always right that fans vent their feelings on issues affecting the club but the public scourging of Ambrose does Celtic fans no credit whatsoever. A struggling player needs his confidence restored not further dented by his own club’s followers.
Manager Deila took his share of responsibility for the defeat in Malmo and in my opinion is improving the side. For some, nothing short of a decent Europa League run and the domestic treble will suffice. I think he is due another year and another crack at the Champions League. He found an unlikely ally in the shape of Malmo coach age Hareide. Asked if he felt sympathy for his Norwegian counterpart, he said:
"Yes, I have to say – I saw the pack of wolves surrounding him from Scotland last night, so I do feel for him. This is one of the disadvantages of being the coach of a big team like Celtic – in my opinion he has done a great job; he is a greatly talented coach and I hope for God’s sake he is allowed to keep working on his team in peace and quiet; building the team I know he wants to build, and that he has shown he can build by winning in Scotland and do well in the Europa League. Then he just has to try again next year for Champions League.’’
That ‘pack of wolves’ among the Scottish Sporting media have already taken up the flagging campaign to undermine Deila. His ‘judge me in 12 months’ quote from a year back has been trotted out to damn him. However, this isn’t the Celtic of 12 months back. The team has improved and that may just be enough to buy Deila the time to continue his project at Celtic. The Board needs to back him with some serious money, particularly if Van Dijk goes. More importantly the scouting network need to get it right after wasting millions on players who failed miserably in the much maligned Scottish game.
The defeat in Malmo hurt Celtic fans greatly but the majority realise that such high intensity games are rare in Scottish football and that this can have an adverse effect on the team in Europe. We need a more competitive league as that is the only sure way to drive up standards. Celtic have downsized in recent seasons as our two horse championship became a one horse race after Rangers galloped off to the knackers yard in 2012. It isn’t enough to build a team to dominate Scotland, the board, scouts and managerial team should be working together to build a team which will give the support the belief that we can at least compete in Europe. The next year will be an important one, let’s hope the right decisions are made.