Ronny Deila’s first Old Firm match ended in straightforward victory for his side over Rangers but, while expressing delight at the outcome, the Celtic manager warned of tougher tests to come in the pursuit of the treble.
Celtic took another step towards this target yesterday by reaching the League Cup final with a 2-0 victory over Rangers that was even more comfortable than the scoreline suggests.
First-half goals from Leigh Griffiths, after only ten minutes, and Kris Commons secured a commanding early lead and they held out on a surface Deila described as “not good enough” for a national stadium.
Now Celtic focus on this Saturday’s Scottish Cup fifth-round trip to Dundee, by which time Deila hopes to have added some fresh faces. The transfer window ends tonight and the manager is also desperate to avoid losing any of his current stars, Commons in particular. The midfielder, who has been linked with a move to Neil Lennon’s Bolton, played a pivotal role yesterday.
“Kris is staying here for the rest of the season and hopefully for the longer term,” he said. “I have a good feeling on that.” He would not be drawn on whether the club are set to make a renewed attempt to prise Gary Mackay-Steven, who has already been signed on a pre-contract, and Stuart Armstrong from Dundee United, their opponents in the League Cup final on 15 March.
“We want to add people tomorrow and keep everybody,” he said. “We are now in the critical period. On Tuesday we will know the answer, which will be good for you and for me.”
Deila was satisfied with the victory on a day Scottish football was firmly in the spotlight. “I think 2-0 was a fair result,” said Deila. “In the first-half we had four chances and scored two. I think that’s okay. In the second-half we didn’t have many, but they didn’t have a shot on target either.
“We have to enjoy the moment, to win the semi-final is a big thing,” he added. “But as I said to the players, we want to win the treble and we haven’t won any trophies yet. The final is going to be tough against Dundee United.”
Deila urged Scottish football authorities to improve the state of the turf ahead of next month’s final. The pitch cut up badly during the previous day’s semi-final between Dundee United and Aberdeen and got predictably worse yesterday. It hardly improved the likelihood of the match living up to the extraordinary pre-match hype.
Along with frequent outbursts of sectarian singing, the condition of the pitch was another embarrassment for Scottish football given the widespread coverage commanded by the first Old Firm clash in nearly three years. Deila’s presence meant many Norwegian reporters were at the game while live coverage was beamed to over 50 countries around the world. “If you are going to develop Scottish football you need pitches you can play football on,” said Deila. “If you are going to go four or five months with poor pitches all over the country then every game will be in the air.”
“That’s not international football,” he added. “If you are talking about Champions League it’s not even near. This is the national team’s stadium – it has to be much better. So it makes it very, very hard for the players. Skill needs good pitches – it’s more fun to watch. So this, in my opinion, was not good enough.
“We wanted to attack more. But I have to make the excuse that we are a passing team and we had no chance to pass the ball on that pitch. That’s not how a semi-final in the Scottish League Cup should be. It’s very hard to entertain our fans.”
Deila expressed relief that his side had managed to prevail in such a potentially hazardous situation. He was aware that a two-goal margin of victory was the very least that some Celtic supporters expected against their diminished Glasgow rivals.
“There were high expectations,” Deila agreed. “That’s not only from the outside, it’s inside as well.
“The best thing in football is when you sit after a game like this, with that atmosphere, you sit down and you have one beer and you relax and enjoy the moment.”