Day of protest at top & bot­tom

Sup­port­ers of Celtic and Dundee United vent their anger at board mem­bers while Lawwell vis­its dress­ing room

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FRONT PAGE - STE­WART FISHER CHIEF SPORTS WRITER

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

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