The Bhoys crash out of League Cup – but still in the hunt for the double
So far, it’s been a slightly mixed season for Celtic, but as we enter into February, they’re still well in the hunt to deliver silverware to the ever-demanding Parkhead faithful by the end of the campaign.
After a disastrous European campaign which saw Ronny Deila’s men crash out of both the Champions’ League, as well as the Europa League, they have also just been dumped out of the League Cup after being defeated 3-1 by Ross County in the semi-final.
Reigning League Cup holders Celtic were favourites going into the game against the men from the Highlands, and lived up to that reputation by taking the lead in the first 30 seconds thanks to a close-range finish from Gary Mackay-Steven, but the game-changing moment came on 13 minutes when defender Efe Ambrose was dismissed for a professional foul, with the resulting penalty he conceded being calmed tucked away by Martin Woods.
Ross County took the lead early in the second-half with Paul Quinn heading in from a well-worked corner, before Alex Schlak rifled in a shot past a flailing hand from Craig Gordon to secure the victory. Celtic knew it wasn’t going to be their day as Leigh Griffiths missed a penalty to try and get the Hoops back in the game, but it was to no avail.
Speaking after the game, Celtic Manager Ronny Deila said that the sending off of Efe Ambrose and poor defending meant that the Hoops were always going to be up against the odds to win the game.
Deila said: “We started very well and the first 10 minutes were very good. We created three or four chances and scored a beautiful goal. We had everything in our hands but the red card changed everything – 80 minutes with 10 men makes it hard for us.
“In the first-half we controlled them and they didn’t create anything but we didn’t create too much either and it was quite even after that.
“In the second-half they were a little bit over us in the beginning and they got a corner kick. In my opinion it’s a clear free-kick on Craig Gordon.
He was taken out of the goal and he couldn’t get to it. Having said that, it was poor defending and we got blocked out with the marking.
“Then we had to go forward and they got one counter-attack and scored. Broony (Scott Brown) came on after that and we had more control in the midfield. We attacked them more and got a penalty with 15 minutes left but again we made a mistake and then it’s hard to win football matches.”
The match turned on the penalty and red card decision in the first-half which saw the Celts reduced to 10 men and County level the game from the spot. The manager said he hadn’t spoken to Ambrose about the incident but said all players make mistakes.
He said: “I haven’t talked to Efe about it but he’s very disappointed. That’s how football is. Efe has played well in three or four games now. He was a little unlucky and could be more aware of what’s happening so it’s a little disappointing but, of course, he is disappointed as well.
“This is what football’s about. It’s about learning from mistakes. Efe is very disappointed. We are working every day to do these things right. In the end it’s my responsibility and I’m very disappointed today. All the players are as well but what’s done is done.
The old adage of being able to focus on the League is definitely the case for Celtic, as they are currently sitting on top of the SPFL with a commanding six-point lead, which could be increased to nine if they defeat Aberdeen who are currently in second place.
Celtic have only been defeated twice this season in the league, and have only lost one game since September, so despite their form in Europe being somewhat patchy, their form domestically (save for the League cup defeat) has been exemplary.
Deila has encouraged Celtic to get the defeat out of their system and focus on the challenge of securing a fifth top-flight title in a row.
Deila said: “Moving on from the Ross County loss will be difficult, but it is vital for the team to look ahead to the next match. It’s very important.
We can really put a stamp on the league there to get nine points ahead. There’s so much to play for there.
“I have big ambitions and I’m as disappointed as everybody else today. Cups are tough. We saw that last year and this year as well. Things can happen in one game and against Ross County it happened again and we went out.
“But we still have a lot to play for and I see a team that can be really good and I’m going to work hard to get them to play how we want.”
Celtic have been hampered by some postponements due to bad weather over December and January, which will lead to a busier schedule in the second half of the season. The frequency of games, added to the occasionally harsh Scottish winters, means that Deila has decided that good periods of rest and recuperation in between games will help the team in the long run.
“Rest is very important but that’s how it has always been here at Celtic when you play so many games,” he said. “It’s always tough and you play almost 50 per cent more than the other teams, so you go into games where you’re not 100 per cent rested.
“That’s why we need a big squad and why we change the team, but we also started our season on June 22 and some of the boys didn’t have more than two weeks off, so to get some days off and rest is important and then you see a much sharper team than you saw maybe at the end of December.
“The goal is to step up. You have to develop yourself during the season and you need to get better. If you do that you have a chance to fight for trophies.
“We have won games all the time and last season we did it too,” he added. “This season we have won a lot domestically and we just keep on. You need a lot of victories if you’re going to win the league and get trophies.
“It’s nothing different this year but now what we’re happy about is that we’ve scored a lot of goals. Fifteen goals in three games is very good and that gives a lot of confidence in the team.
“I haven’t mentioned it (the double) and I didn’t do it last year either. We talk about the next game and everyone knows it’s hard to win everything but we’ve got high goals and we want to do it. We saw last year it’s small details that can ruin it so that’s why there are so few that have done it.”
The Celts will be looking to advance in the Scottish Cup – and are overwhelming favourites to do so – as they are taking on non-league side East Kilbride in the fifth round of the competition.
East Kilbride defeated Lothian Thistle in the previous round to set-up the money spinning tie against Celtic. The tie is being played at the home ground of Airdrie FC due to the unsuitability of East Kilbride’s own stadium to hold the tie.