SPFL, Celtic Park, Celtic vs Kilmarnock (26th October 2014 @ 13:00)
Celtic face Kilmarnock in the second of four games in a row at Celtic Park across three competitions. Celtic were much improved against an admittedly poor Ross County side last week and they will be looking to carry this form into the match rather than what was on display on Thursday night in the Europa League. Kilmarnock have won their last three in the SPFL and are unbeaten since August however it is off-field matters which have dominated the build up to the match due to a bonus row – at one point there was a suggestion that the players would strike ahead of this fixture. If Allan Johnston can get his players to forget about financial matters there is a potential for an upset. Given that Killie sit 3 points above Celtic, Ronnie Deila will be quick to highlight to his players the importance of the victory in continuing their move up the table.
Celtic were very impressive last week against Ross County – it was a high pressure match for Ronnie Deila and his team and the way in which they handled it and the quality of the performance hinted at some of the good that could be on the way under the new management team. Stefan Johansen in particular was magnificent – with Kris Commons out injured it was unclear where Celtic’s creative spark would come from but in a more advanced role Johansen looked closer to the Norwegian player of the year that we signed than when he has been playing alongside Brown in a more defensive role.
There was a genuine sense of optimism going into Thursday night’s game with Astra on the back of this result but from the off it was clear that any sense of momentum had been lost. Celtic were constantly giving the ball away and looked lackadaisical going forward – given the quality of some of the chances that Astra passed up it was clear that we weren’t playing a side of any great quality but the fact that they were given the chances was worrying. The 2-1 victory was probably deserved across the piece and it was good to see Scepovic finally scoring but like many performances this season it left more questions than answers.
Celtic’s home form in general has been a cause for worry this season – with the exception of the first match against Dundee United there hasn’t been a home match where Celtic have been dominant for the full 90 minutes. The closest they have come was in the 2-1 victory against Aberdeen however a goal against the run of play for Aberdeen made for an edgy final half hour. Matches against Motherwell and Hamilton were particularly insipid – Hamilton were at least at the top of the table when they defeated Celtic but there was definitely no such excuse against Motherwell, a side who look doomed to a relegation fight following two seasons of over-achievement. Celtic will need to reverse this trend both in the next two league games and for the visit of Partick Thistle in the League Cup. With European football after Christmas not yet a certainty continuing to compete in three competions will provide an additional insurance policy for Deila should the remaining Europa League games go sour.
If Celtic’s home form is a concern for the players Charlie Mulgrew was certainly not letting on in a pre-match interview. “It’s a benefit for us to have these games at home. Everyone wants to play at home. That’s where our fans are, that’s where we are used to playing so if we had that choice we would prefer to have games at home. We’re delighted that the next few games are at Celtic Park and we have to take advantage of that.”
Ronnie Deila was typically respectful to his opponents – clearly conscious of the fact that they sit above Celtic in the league.
“It’s a very important game,” said Deila. “We are going to be up for the game and do everything we can to beat Kilmarnock.
They have had a good season and they are a little bit like Hamilton in that they are playing with a lot of energy and have a lot of confidence, so they will be hard to break down. But we are also making good progress and this game is coming at a good moment.”
Allan Johnston was keen to focus on the challenge ahead at Celtic Park rather than continue to be drawn into discussions around bonuses. He paid tribute to his players for their professional attitude in continuing to get results when all of the talk around them has been financial.
“It is still ongoing and you have to pay a lot of credit to the players for the way they’ve handled the situation in a professional manner and the way they’ve played in games,” said Johnston.”The players have been fantastic and I don’t think we could ask any more of them.”
Johnston was bullish when discussing his approach to the match.
“We’re going for the win. It doesn’t matter who we are playing, home or away, we try to win every game. We’ll have to play at our very best to have any chance of winning.”
For Celtic there are no new injury worries with everyone coming through the midweek European game unscathed. Kris Commons remains a doubt and the game comes too early for James Forrest who has now started training. Kilmarnock welcome back talismanic midfielder Alexei Eremenko however goalkeeper Craig Samson is rated as 50/50 to return from a broken toe.
Possible Starting XI’s
Scepovic vs Guidetti
Having witnessed Stefan Scepovic’s performance on Thursday night it was perhaps a little disingenuous of Ronnie Deila to talk of the challenges of having to pick between two in-form strikers. Scepovic definitely looked more up for it on Thursday night and his goal looked to have lifted a ton weight of his shoulders but there were still question marks around some of the chances that he missed. Whether this is enough to displace Guidetti in the League side is another matter – Guidetti has a real knack for doing very little but getting into the positions that a penalty box striker should do and finishing the chances. We haven’t had a striker like that since Gary Hooper left so Deila does have a dilemma as to whether to stick with his permanent signing or go with the loan signing that the fans would love to see stay. Would it be greedy to suggest that Deila tries playing both?
Eremenko vs Brown
Eremenko was a revelation first time round at Kilmarnock – the Ayrshire club did not have the means to sign him permanently and he went back to Russia and almost literally into the football wilderness with Rubin Kazan and laterally Kairat Almaty in Kazakhstan. He failed to make an impression at either club and has ended up back at the bright lights of Rugby Park – Scott Brown and co will need to ensure that he is kept quiet to boost Celtic’s chances of a victory.
I’m hoping that Celtic can make it three in a row and beat Kilmarnock – again its another game where the implications of losing don’t really bear thinking about.I can see Celtic winning but again have no confidence in a clean sheet so I will go 2-1 to Celtic.
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