RONNY Deila has played down the potential for rancour when his Celtic side visit Pittodrie tomorrow in a fixture completely overshadowed by the fall-out from Aleksandar Tonev’s ban for racially abusing Aberdeen’s Shay Logan in the last meeting between the sides.
As Deila travelled back from Romania with his squad following their 1-1 draw against Astra Giurgiu in the Europa League, Pittodrie counterpart Derek McInnes was telling a media conference that the Norwegian and his captain Scott Brown has been “wrong” to back the pleas of innocence from the Bulgarian – available for the trip north after appealing his seven-game suspension.
Deila stated yesterday he will speak with Tonev before deciding to include him in the squad for tomorrow’s encounter. However, it seems inconceivable he would risk inflaming what is sure to be a powderkeg atmosphere by doing so. Even if the Norwegian, perhaps naively, can see no reason why there should be hostility towards his team from the home fans tomorrow.
“I don’t think there will be bad feeling. I have seen Scottish people as friendly people and passionate as well,” he said. “There will be a lot of tension and passion, but I think it is going to be friendly and that’s what I hope.”
Even though both clubs effectively have questioned the credibility of the other player at the centre of the case with the unstinting support for their own man, Deila does not see why this should impact on relations between the two teams.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
“I haven’t been there, so I don’t know what it was like before but I have a good relationship with them,” the Celtic manager said. “It is no worse than it is with other clubs. They are a big club and they are a team who will challenge us in the league. That’s why everything gets more passionate in the games between us.”
Deila said he had not spoken to all his squad about the Tonev case but reiterated: “We are going to support Aleks [because as] I have said many times that it is word against word.”
On the field, Deila accepted a visit to the home of the team regarded as strongest outside of the Scottish champions could provide the sternest domestic examination for his men. Last season, Pittodrie proved the venue for Celtic’s only league defeat. “It will be the toughest game and maybe the most fun one as well,” he said. “We are looking forward to it. It is going to be a full house and I feel we are ready.”
Despite the concession of a late goal on Thursday night that prevented Celtic securing the victory that would have taken them through to the knock-out stages of the Europa League, Deila draws satisfaction from his team’s eight-point haul after four games. Salzburg, already guaranteed of progress, will visit Celtic Park on 27 November. A home win then is required to avoid the possibility of Celtic needing a point in their final encounter away to Dinamo Zagreb to finish above the Croatians.
“We have had a very good tournament so far in the Europa League and now we have to prepare really well for Salzburg,” he said. “If we win that game, we will be top of the group and that will be fantastic. They are a very good team and our draw in Salzburg was a good result. If we can beat them at home, it will show us that we are making progress and starting to become a very good team.”
Unbeaten in their Group D encounters and with five wins and a draw from their past six matches, Deila is in no doubt he is in charge of a mentally strong team. “We are working really hard on that,” he said. “I said on the very first day that we need 11 players who work defensively and offensively as well. On Thursday night you saw that and that’s why we are getting points away from home. We fight and we need to win challenges, but also we need skill to have a passing pattern and in the first half we showed we were dangerous and produced good moments. I think if we’d kept on going we’d have scored more goals.
“We have to learn from this and take the positives with us but also remember that is three times now we have gone up in games away from home in Europe and we have let the lead go. We need it to be otherwise the next time.”
Deila has “always believed” in the importance of psychology in football, and is convinced the full-time presence of former Gaelic football coach Jim McGuinness among the Norwegian’s senior backroom staff provides a channel for the Celtic players to recognise its value of developing the right mindset.
“He is now working very closely with the players and he is a fantastically skilful man. I want him to get closer to the team because mentality and psychology is 60 per cent of it. His work with them is very early.
“The players have to be their own psychologists and I have to be a very good one. But it’s important to have a team around you that gives you input and the chance to reflect on things. That’s what we have – a big staff around the team – and that’s going to help us win matches.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS