Day of protest at top & bottom
Supporters of Celtic and Dundee United vent their anger at board members while Lawwell visits dressing room
RONNY DEILA has insisted chief executive Peter Lawwell’s visit to the home dressing room after yesterday’s home Ladbrokes Premiership draw with Ross County did not mean he would expedite his departure from the club – as Steve Clarke became the latest big name manager to express interest in replacing him. There were boos and protests from fans despite a 1-1 draw which meant the club’s fifth successive top flight title could be confirmed as early as next weekend, but the Norwegian called for unity to help them get over the line.
“He [Lawwell] spoke to me, not the players,” said Deila, who announced on Wednesday that he would be leaving the club at the end of the season. “But we talk together all the time. It’s nothing new. It’s not like I’m going to quit tomorrow. I’m going to stay here until the end of the season and do everything to get over the line and perform better than we did today.”
Deila said he understood the frustrations of certain supporters – but their actions were detrimental to the team.
“It’s not helping, I can assure you of that,” he said. “You can see it in some of the confidence of the boys. But these are the circumstances right now and I can understand the fans. A lot of them have been here for 40 years. I have been here for two. But the most important thing is to end the season well, get over the line and make it five in a row for the club.”
Clarke, meanwhile, said it would be “nice” to speak to the Parkhead board about the possibility of succeeding Deila as manager. The 52-year-old from Saltcoats, interviewed two years ago prior to the Norwegian’s appointment, has been out of work since December when he was sacked by Reading just two weeks after rejecting the chance to join Fulham. Previously assistant at Newcastle United, Chelsea, West Ham United and Liverpool, Clarke also has a period as manager at West Brom on his resume.
“Listen, Celtic’s a massive club,” he said on Sky Sports’ Goals on Sunday show. “Anybody that comes from the west coast of Scotland, as I do, understands the size of the club. Next year will be fantastic with Rangers back in the SPFL, and Aberdeen made a good fist of it this year. With Hearts and hopefully Hibs will come back up through the play-offs in the Championship it can be a really exciting league next year. There’s a lot of good managers out of work. It’s a big job ... a great club and if they want to give me a call it would be nice.”
While another reported candidate for the job, Roberto di Matteo, seated alongside him on the couch, kept his counsel, the news came a day after Malky Mackay informed a Sunday newspaper that he feels a record 10 top flight titles in a row is achievable and he would love to discuss his ideas of how it could be done.
“If Celtic wanted to talk to me, I would certainly be keen to do that,” said Mackay. “I think the next five-year period at Celtic is a crucial one. A record 10 titles in a row is achievable and a strong focus should be there. I think I could help with that and bring a fresh approach.”
IF Celtic were of the opinion that the announcement of Ronny Deila’s departure would act like a release valve, freeing the team up to cruise to their fifth successive top flight title with a smile on their face, then they can think again.
Frustration was everywhere at Parkhead yesterday, a somewhat surreal backdrop for a team who are champions elect and were inching a point closer to glory. The Ladbrokes Premiership title could be secured as early as next weekend but rarely can Scottish top flight silverware have been achieved in such a discordant and dysfunctional manner.
Judging by the banner they unfurled pre-game – “Lawell (sic) and Desmond’s Legacy,” the artwork read, “Empty Jerseys, Empty Hearts, Empty Dreams, Empty Stands” – the fans are frustrated with the players and the management, and they are definitely frustrated with the board.
Judging by the way Leigh Griffiths celebrated the unerring right-foot strike which opened the scoring yesterday, by launching a left-foot volley which landed in the area of the ground where the Green Brigade had just displayed said banner, some of the players may also be frustrated with the fans.
Judging by the fact chief executive Peter Lawwell entered the home dressing room afterwards, the board are fairly frustrated with the football department too. And all of the above were definitely frustrated by their collective inability to see off a stubborn Ross County side who successfully frustrated the life out of them.
There were boos when Tom Rogic was withdrawn from the fray during the second half, with a mixture of apathy and further anger at full time.
There were ironic cheers when Kris Commons was finally introduced to the fray for the last nine minutes, more than he got at Hampden last week, only for the club’s talisman to be unable to turn the tide. Nir Bitton had particular reason for rage afterwards, angrily confronting Ross County substitute Raffaele de Vita for running his studs down the foot of his Achilles late on, a nasty challenge which earned a booking but not a red.
The biggest cheers of the afternoon were reserved for Lubomir Moravcik, who trotted out at half time to conduct the Paradise Windfall draw. It is stating the obvious to say that all this background noise didn’t seem to help the players produce a stirring riposte to their critics.
After defending his players during the week, the Norwegian made just two enforced changes to the side which had failed to grasp the nettle against Rangers at Hampden last Sunday.
Erik Sviatchenko continued at the back in the stead of the injured Dedryck Boyata, while Colin Kazim-Richards took over from another man who limped out of Old Firm action, Stefan Johansen.
While there was speculation yesterday that the Norwegian midfielder could follow his countryman out of the club this summer, the pre-game notes showed that Kazim-Richards has scored just once for the club, against part-timers East Kilbride. The crowd was given as 41,396, but a head count of those actually in the stadium would have been closer to half of that.
Ross County boss Jim McIntyre – a clear manager of the year contender – marshalled his resources in a variant of the 3-5-2 shape which he had used to capture the League Cup earlier in the season, but he was unable to prevent Celtic forcing the early pace. And when Griffiths picked up a pass from Kazim-Richards and found he had enough room to fire in an excellent right foot drive, it seemed as though the Parkhead side may indeed be able to move on from a stressful week.
While Rogic could and should have converted a cross from the enterprising Patrick Roberts soon afterwards, and Scott Fox’s handling was secure as the likes of Griffiths and Bitton occasionally peppered his goal, the Highlanders kept their heads and started carving out chances of their own.
Liam Boyce headed too close to Craig Gordon following a Jonathan Franks cross before the end of the first half, then Michael Gardyne and Alex Schalk both went close in the second.
The equaliser was a thing of beauty – midfielder Stewart Murdoch’s 25-yarder deceived Gordon on its way through a ruck of players – with the frustrations of the goalkeeper only added to by the fact the match officials failed to notice County defender Chris Robertson getting in his eyeline in an offside position. From then on, this game was anybody’s. While Kazim-Richards tugged a shot wide at one end, Paul Quinn missed a chance for his third winning goal against Celtic this season at the other.
McIntyre was ever so slightly miffed that he didn’t end up with all three points.
“Our chances were far better than theirs and if there’s one little criticism, it is that we never punished them on the day because they were golden opportunities,” he said.
As for Celtic, victory at Tynecastle next weekend would leave only some outlandish arithmetic between them and the title.
Whether anyone at the club feels like celebrating it or not is another matter.
IN THE FIRING LINE: Peter Lawwell (second left) was the target for protest at Celtic Park where supporters unfurled a banner criticial of the chief executive
PROTEST: Celtic fans unveil banners showing their displeasure at the way the club is being run. INSET: Stewart Murdoch celebrates his equaliser while Kieran Tierney can barely hide his embarrassment at the result