Cham­pi­ons bounce back from Europa League heartache with High­land vic­tory



WITH Celtic out of Europe be­fore Christ­mas, sup­port­ers turn­ing against him in in­creas­ingly large num­bers and one of his own play­ers pub­licly re­volt­ing, Ronny Deila needed this.

That the vic­tory at In­ver­ness Cale­do­nian This­tle was not wholly con­vinc­ing and was only sewn up late on with a com­i­cal and highly du­bi­ous own goal, was of lit­tle con­cern to the Nor­we­gian.

This was a hor­ri­ble fix­ture for the Scot­tish cham­pi­ons to have to ne­go­ti­ate less than two days af­ter such an en­er­gys­ap­ping game and de­mor­al­is­ing re­sult and it would have been un­der­stand­able if points had been leaked.

The Celtic squad had strug­gled through heavy snow on their way up the A9 to the High­lands on Satur­day af­ter­noon and the pitch had to pass an early in­spec­tion yes­ter­day morn­ing fol­low­ing torrential overnight rain.

How­ever, a draw or a de­feat would have in­creased the pres­sure which has been mount­ing on a man­ager as a con­se­quence of un­con­vinc­ing dis­plays in the Europa League and which peaked fol­low­ing a 2-1 loss to Ajax at Park­head on Thurs­day which ended their slim hopes of mak­ing the knock­out rounds.

It was vi­tal for Deila that his side pre­vailed. A 3-1 tri­umph achieved courtesy of a Cal­lum McGre­gor goal, a Leigh Grif­fiths strike and a late ef­fort which was cred­ited to Carl­ton Cole at the time, but which ac­tu­ally went in off In­ver­ness de­fender Danny Devine, sent Celtic fur­ther clear at the top of the Premier­ship ta­ble. It was a sat­is­fy­ing end to a dif­fi­cult week.

“It was a tough game,” ad­mit­ted a re­lieved Deila. “In­ver­ness are a good team and they worked us. They have a lot of en­ergy and on the back of the re­sult on Thurs­day against Ajax and hav­ing just two-and-a-half days to re­cover it was a good win.

“We didn’t con­trol the game with the ball, but we did well de­fen­sively and hurt them with a cou­ple of very good and ef­fec­tive attacks. I’m pleased with the boys that we bounced back and won to put our­selves in an even bet­ter po­si­tion in the ta­ble.”

A McGre­gor goal in the eighth minute, which was al­most iden­ti­cal to the one he had net­ted early on against Ajax, got the vis­i­tors off to the per­fect start and was warmly re­ceived by the large trav­el­ling sup­port brav­ing the el­e­ments. It was, though, not to be a straight­for­ward af­ter­noon for a side fail­ing to play at their high­est level.

Nir Bit­ton and Ste­fan Jo­hansen, who were sus­pended for their club’s penul­ti­mate Group A game against their Dutch op­po­nents, re­turned to the start­ing line-up at the ex­pense of James For­rest and Gary Mackay-Steven but they were un­able to make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence.

Ca­ley This­tle, de­spite hav­ing won just one of their last six matches, grad­u­ally took con­trol of pro­ceed­ings in the first half and Miles Storey de­servedly drew them level with his sev­enth goal in 11 games six min­utes be­fore half time.

Deila with­drew Stu­art Arm­strong early in the sec­ond half and re­placed him with Scott Al­lan. The mid­fielder had looked sharp af­ter com­ing off the bench on his Euro­pean de­but on Thurs­day and he con­tin­ued in a sim­i­lar vein yes­ter­day.

He had a hand in the sec­ond goal in the 59th minute. He sent Kieran Tier­ney into the op­po­si­tion box and the left back cut the ball back to Grif­fiths who drilled a shot be­yond Owain Fon Wil­liams and high into the roof of the net.

Grif­fiths had ac­cepted per­sonal cul­pa­bil­ity for the re­verse to Ajax. His man­ager was pleased that he put a be­low-par dis­play be­hind him with what was his 19th goal of the sea­son.

“Leigh has been bril­liant this sea­son,” said Deila. “He scores al­most ev­ery game. Yes, he had some chances against Ajax, but ev­ery striker misses some chances. He worked hard and he has a good at­ti­tude.

“That is re­ally what you can ex­pect from ev­ery player ev­ery time. Ups and downs in per­for­mance will hap­pen, but again he has bounced back to­day and I am happy for him and I am happy for the team.”

An­thony Stokes, the Repub­lic of Ire­land in­ter­na­tion­al­ist who last played for Celtic back in Au­gust, had caused a stir on­line be­fore kick-off when he had Tweeted his un­hap­pi­ness about be­ing left out of the match­day squad.

Deila feels the striker has to dis­play the same at­ti­tude as Al­lan, McGre­gor and Tier­ney, three men who have not fea­tured reg­u­larly but who were in­stru­men­tal in Celtic se­cur­ing a vic­tory which put them seven points ahead of near­est chal­lengers Aberdeen, if he wants to be in­volved in fu­ture.

“When you have a good at­ti­tude in train­ing, when you work hard, you are loyal, you are very hum­ble and you want to learn, like Cal­lum McGre­gor, Scott Al­lan and KT, you get pay­back time,” said the 40-year-old.

“That is what is so nice to see as a coach. Play­ers who re­ally want to un­der- stand, who look into them­selves in­stead of looking about at ev­ery­body else, al­ways get achieve­ment.

“Those guys have been un­be­liev­ably good ex­am­ples of play­ers who have been out and who worked them­selves into things and show on the pitch that they want to play.”

De­spite Deila’s in­sis­tence that Stokes can still fea­ture in the fu­ture if he ap­plies him­self prop­erly in train­ing, it would be sur­pris­ing if he plays for Celtic again and would not be a great shock to see him depart, either on loan or per­ma­nently, at some point the Jan­uary trans­fer win­dow.

If one for­ward’s ca­reer at the Glasgow club seems to be near­ing an end an­other’s is just be­gin­ning. Carl­ton Cole, the for­mer Chelsea, West Ham and Eng­land striker, made his de­but when he re­placed Tom Rogic af­ter an hour.

Hav­ing not played since May, it is fair to say the 6ft 3ins tar­get man is lack­ing a yard or two of pace and some match sharp­ness. How­ever, he was in­volved in the fi­nal goal with five min­utes re­main­ing.

Deila is hope­ful he can build on the run-out in the weeks and months ahead. “Carl­ton needs time,” he said. “But there is a lot more to come from him.”

Picture: SNS

FIR­ING AGAIN: Leigh Grif­fiths is joined by Tom Rogic as he cel­e­brates re­turn­ing to scor­ing ways in In­ver­ness

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