Ronny Deila insists Celtic team are not in decline

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RONNY Deila celebrated his first Christmas in Scotland with a feast of ribbe, the traditional Norwegian pork belly speciality, as his family travelled over from Scandinavia to spend the holiday season with him.

But he admits his festive period turned sour on Saturday when Celtic produced a real turkey of a performance in their 0-0 draw at home to Ross County, which saw their lead at the top of the Premiership cut to just two points.

Anthony Stokes's injury was a big blow to Celtic on Saturday. Picture: SNS

Anthony Stokes's injury was a big blow to Celtic on Saturday. Picture: SNS

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A pre-arranged trip to England with his twin teenage daughters, taking in Manchester City’s game against Burnley on Sunday and then Liverpool’s meeting with Swansea on Monday night, turned into something of a trial for the Celtic manager.

“My Christmas could have been better,” said Deila. “Everything was perfect except the result against Ross County. I then had to drive down to Manchester after the game with my kids and sitting in the car for three hours after a 0-0 draw and trying to be polite was not easy. It wasn’t a work-related trip, we were just spending time together as a family.

“But you can feel the pressure to win at Celtic in your body all the time. Sitting in that car, I was as angry as anybody about the result against Ross County.”

Deila, however, is quick to rail against any suggestion Celtic are currently a team in decline under his guidance. They are nine points worse off in the Premiership than at the same stage last season, when they remained unbeaten after 18 games under Neil Lennon, but Deila is dismissive of such comparisons.

“It’s not fair to judge me against last season,” he said. “This is a transitional period. You have to compare it with the team in the first year of the previous manager. If I can be here for four years then, hopefully, I can keep going and get a better and better team.

“We are top of the league, fighting for every single trophy in this country and still in Europe, but I’m totally aware of the pressures to win the league and that’s the most important thing.”

Celtic were greeted by jeers from the home crowd at full-time on Saturday, the stalemate against Ross County coming after a 2-1 defeat to Dundee United the previous weekend. But Deila believes the club’s supporters are generally appreciative of what he is seeking to achieve.

“I think the fans can see behind the results,” he added. “At Dundee United, we deserved more. I was not disappointed with our defence against Ross County as they only had one shot at goal. The way we shut down games and control games now is much better than at the start of the season. If we can do that away to Dundee United, then things are progressing. But when we don’t, we get criticism – I understand that.

“We control games much more now. In the last two games, we’ve had a very high percentage of possession but I’m not a fan of possession. I want to control games and to get it forward so that we break the lines and create chances.

“Against Dundee United, we did that a lot but against Ross County we didn’t do it enough. We have to find the reasons why. Maybe it was down to Anthony Stokes going out of the game early through injury. We put two strikers up front to see how it worked but we were not sharp enough and our play was too slow.

“We were playing sideways instead of playing through them and when we did play through them a couple of times, Callum McGregor got through and had a shot which hit the bar.

“We need more passes which break lines and we need more penetration. That has been good in the past but the last game was a step back. But our control of the games is much better. Teams sit in much more.

“In the past, I have been asked if teams don’t fear us anymore because they attacked us. Now they don’t attack us and we have to break down defences.

“I think other team fear us much more now. You saw Ross County – in Dingwall, they tried to attack us and lost 5-0. So now they are sitting in against us and that’s a credit to the team. But I’ve been here with other clubs and the next move for us is that we have to handle this. We have to continue to go forward in attack and solve that problem they gave us.

“The thing is I cannot question anybody’s attitude. The players worked so hard throughout the game. We just couldn’t break them down and that’s what we have to learn and take the positive things with us.

“But the pressure on my shoulders is also inside my ear. I know what I want to achieve and it’s the same with the players. We just need to be calm.”

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