Rangers’ stumble is Celtic’s gain: Scottish football podcast

This week Kris Gourlay is joined by Darren McConachie to discuss the big upset in the Scottish Premiership as Rangers fell at the hands of Hearts to give Celtic the advantage. Listen below as we analyse this week’s action:

 

 

Europa League Preview: can Celtic keep their unbeaten run going?

Celtic vs Lazio:

Celtic face their toughest test so far in this year’s Europa League as they host Italian side Lazio. Neil Lennon will be relatively happy with his side’s performances so far, with a draw away at Rennes and a comfortable home win against Cluj being enough for them to sit at the top of the group.

Last years treble winners now find themselves needing a good result on Thursday, as a double header against the Italians in the coming weeks could decide the fate of their European ambitions this season in a very competitive group.

Domestically, Celtic have not looked as ruthless as last year, with a loss to Livingston and a draw at Hibs leaving them tied at the top of the Scottish Premiership alongside Rangers. They did, however, put six goals past Ross County on Saturday whilst Lazio were held to a 3-3 draw at home against Atalanta.

The Italian side will be no pushovers. Currently sitting on 3 points alongside Cluj, Lazio also need a decent run of wins to secure their place in the last 16 of the competition. Dangerman Ciro Immobile will pose a threat to the Celtic defence as he usually does with his opponents, already netting double figures this season in all competitions. Lazio also have an impressive midfield balance with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Ex-Liverpool players, Luis Alberto and Lucas Leiva, the latter winning the club’s Player Of the Season award last year.

Celtic head coach Neil Lennon confirmed on Wednesday that Olivier Ntcham is still unfit, but Tom Rogic and Ryan Christie should both be a part of the matchday squad, a real boost for Celtic as Christie has been one of their most impressive and consistent performers so far this campaign.

 


Porto vs Rangers:

Credit – Heather Miller

Rangers will look to put Sunday’s frustrating draw at Hearts behind them when they take on European giants Porto in Thurday’s early kick off in Portugal.

Steven Gerrard’s side failed to take advantage of results around them two weeks ago, as they slipped to late defeat against Young Boys in Switzerland, a game they felt they could have won. After an impressive 1-0 win at home to Feyenoord in game week 1, The Gers could have put themselves top of the group with a win in Switzerland but instead join the rest of the teams on 3 points.

Rangers find themselves mixed with an equally hard group as they did last year, when they failed to reach the knockout stage. Making qualification to the last 16 a huge challenge for head coach Steven Gerrard, who has made his side a more competitive force in Europe after a long absence.

Sunday’s draw at Tynecastle will have dampened the mood a little going into the showdown as they now have arch-rivals Celtic for company at the top of the Premiership, but Gerrard will be hoping for a big response on against the 2004 Champions League winners.

Porto oftenfind themselves amongst the worlds best in the Champions League but an unusually poor domestic campaign by their incredibly high standards resulted in them taking a step down into the Europa League group stages.

They started off well in week 1 with a home win over Young Boys but slumped to defeat against Feyenoord in game week 2 which left them on three points.

Porto were in cup action on the weekend with a comfortable 5-0 win over Coimbroes and currently sit 3rd in the Portuguese league.

Rangers’ only notable absentee from the match tonight is midfielder Ryan Jack, who sustained a knee injury two weeks ago against Young Boys. The Scot also put pen to paper this week to commit his future to the Glasgow side, which will no doubt have raised spirits inside the changing room.

For the home side, midfielder Sergio Oliviera remains on the side-lines but their strike-partnership of Ze Luis and Moussa Marega will be fit and firing, having contributed to 11 goals so far this season respectively.

 

Gerrard calls for more severe punishments after Rodgers burglary

Copy of BREAKING NEWS-2

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard says people who break into homes need to be given 15 year sentences in prison.

This is in response to Brendan Rodgers Glasgow house being burgled in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Gerrard was shocked at the news of his ex-Old Firm rival’s house and has calls for the sentences to increased from three years to 10 or 15.

The Liverpool legend is understandably passionate about the subject after he suffered a similarly horrific ordeal when his Merseyside home was burgled 12 years ago. The men responsible for this particular break in were jailed, but evidently in Gerrard’s opinion, not for long enough.

The Leicester manager’s wife Charlotte Searle and daughter were forced to barricade themselves into the bathroom as the intruders broke in and stole a number of Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic winners medals. He has said that despite this horrible experience, he will not let it spoil the good memories he has of living in Scotland.

Even when Rodgers was appointed as the Leicester manager and moved south, Mrs Searle had continued to live in East Dunbartonshire with her daughter while the school term finishes.

Rodgers has said that it is obviously unacceptable from those responsible, the main thing is that his family are unharmed.

 

Sectarianism: A continuous plague in Scottish football

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Celtic and Rangers fans at Parkhead (Credit: PaulVIF)

Pie, bovril and sectarianism. A typical day out for some Scottish football fans but the latter, a trend that should have been left well in the past.

In the last few weeks there have been numerous cases of sectarian abuse directed at those on the pitch and on the touch-line.

Kilmarnock manager, Steve Clarke, came out last week to say that he was delighted Chelsea signed him as a young player and took him away from the west coast. He went on to say that he was relieved his children did not have to grow up with such rampant hatred in England.

The source? A majority believe supporters of Glasgow clubs, Celtic and Rangers are at the heart of the ongoing issues.

For these two clubs religion remains a part of the club’s identity for many fans, despite their board’s efforts to distance themselves from the problem. Something which is not replicated in the English scene.

Clarke urged the Scottish FA to step up their efforts in tackling the issue saying: “Things can be done, Will [it] be done is probably much more difficult to address.”

The Scottish FA chief executive, Ian Maxwell, responded in a statement: “The Scottish FA condemns in the strongest possible terms the spate of incidents this season involving unacceptable conduct in Scottish football.”

More recently, Celtic supporters were criticised for posting a video on Twitter of fans in a pub singing about the IRA and ex-Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers.

WARNING: Some viewers may find the following video offensive or distressing.

A survey in 2017 of Scottish football supporters found that 81% of supporters thought Scottish football had a problem with sectarianism.

In the following two years there has been little change in the social environment surrounding Scottish football and many fans doubt that any real change will be enacted soon.

But something needs to change. Scottish football lives in the stone age when it comes to this level of discrimination. Clubs must act and distance themselves from the supporters involved if they stand any chance of stamping out sectarianism for good.

Hibs will be different against returning Lennon says Heckingbottom

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Hibernian boss, Paul Heckingbottom said he’s looking forward to meet his predecessor. (Credit: Luke Barry)

Hibernian manager, Paul Heckingbottom believes there will be enough differences tactically for a level playing field upon Neil Lennon’s return to Easter Road.

Celtic take on the Edinburgh club this Saturday in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup with new interim manager, Lennon.

The Northern Irishman left Hibs in January but made a surprise return to Scottish football earlier this week.

However, despite Lennon managing Hibs earlier this season, Heckingbottom said there won’t be a tactical advantage.

He said: “Well it is [his squad]. I’ve not signed a player.

“He is going to know the players but he’s not going to know what we ask them to do. For me it’s the same, for Neil [Lennon] is coming back somewhere he’s worked before which is always strange.

“It’ll different for Neil coming back to his old club which as I say is always a different sensation but for me nothing has changed.

“It’ll be nice to meet Neil [Lennon]. We’ve never met so it’ll be good to catch up after the game.”

It has been an eventful week for Celtic players and fans alike with the departure of Rodgers and his successor. But Heckingbottom insists it’ll be business as usual for the reigning Scottish Cup champions.

He added: “Obviously, Brendan [Rodgers] is gone. Big opportunity for Brendan and big opportunity for Neil now coming in as well. People just have to look forward.

 

“Celtic fans will be moving on now thinking about this trophy [Scottish Cup]. Football does that, everything is a big sensation one minute and then it just dies down and everyone gets on with it.”

The Hibees have won three out of three under new management with on-loan Reading player, Marc McNulty impressing the most. The Scotsman has scored six goals in four matches with his new club and his manager was impressed with his performances so far.

He said: “I’ve been really pleased with him.

“I can see him continually getting better because he’s not played much football and now he’s getting a run of games. He’s getting his fitness levels back up, his sharpness. We know he can score goals. I think he’ll be good for us between now and the end of the season.”

Hibernian vs Celtic: Scottish Cup Preview

Scottish Cup

Hibernian will be hoping to replicate the successful run in 2016 (Credit: David Ronney)

Hibernian welcome Scottish Cup reigning champions, Celtic to Easter Road this weekend, in what is shaping up to be a fascinating fixture following Neil Lennon’s appointment at the helm of the hoops.

Lennon left the Edinburgh club in Janurary and has made a swift return to Scottish football with Celtic only a month later.

The job of Celtic manager was vacated by Brendan Rodgers, who was tempted south to take over at Leicester City following the sacking of Claude Puel on Monday. This sacking was the start of the carousel of manager turnover this week.

Lennon will no doubt receive a mixed reception from the fans upon his return to Leith.

The Northern Irishman was in the dugout celebrating the last gasp winner against 10-man Hearts on Wednesday night that maintained his side’s eight-point lead at the top of the Premiership table ahead of Rangers in second place.

On the other hand, Hibs have enjoyed a good run of form under their new manager Paul Heckingbottom. The new boss has won three out of three since his arrival in mid February. This included an impressive win at St Johnstone on Wednesday night, with Marc McNulty grabbing the winner five minutes from time despite Hibernian going down to 10 men.

That win took them to within three points of fierce rivals Hearts who currently sit in fifth in the SPFL after a disappointing mid-season lull due a long string of injuries.

Heckingbottom will know beating Celtic will hand them a fantastic chance of silverware this season, which would be all too welcome considering their woes in the league this season.

Neil Lennon will be hoping to win a game at Easter Road, which incidentally is something his predecessor Brendan Rodgers never managed to do. A win is essential if the dream of the treble treble is to be kept alive.

The first match of the Scottish Cup weekend kicks off on Saturday at 5:15pm and is live on Premier Sports.

Sports paper review: March 1st

EN4 News sports reporters Bryce Donaldson and John Menzies sit down with Luke Barry to discuss today’s sporting headlines from the Scottish newspapers.

Thistle not to be taken lightly says Hearts’ Ikpeazu

Uche Ikpeazu

Hearts’ Uche Ikpeazu expects another tough Scottish Cup tie on Monday night (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian forward, Uche Ikpeazu believes Partick Thistle are not a side to be taken lightly as the Edinburgh club travel to Firhill on Monday night.

After suffering relegation to the Championship last season, Gary Caldwell‘s side are at risk of déjà vu as they currently sit bottom of Scotland’s second tier.

However, the experience the side have against Premiership clubs is a reason they shouldn’t written off Ikpeazu insisted ahead of the clubs Scottish Cup quarter-final tie.

He said: “There’s always upsets in these cup games and everyone is probably expecting us to win and sometimes that can also work against you because people think ‘they’ve got to win anyway’. I believe if we do what we do, we’ll win. We just got to focus on ourselves and not the opposition.”


The former Watford player put in a terrific performance against Celtic midweek and just a month on from his return from injury looks closer to getting back to his best.

However, his injury woes earlier in the season kept him out of Hearts’ Betfred Cup semi-final, but the opportunity to guide the club into this stage in the Scottish Cup is something the 24-year-old relishes.

He added: “Watching it [league cup semi-final] was crazy. Seeing how many fans [there were] in the stadium, I would have loved to be a part of it.

“I want to be a part of that this time.

 

“It’s a massive game for the club. It’s come at the right time. I think that game [against Celtic] done me good and now I feel I’ve set the bar and need to perform at that level consistently now, and the team as well, because if we perform like that then we’ll do extremely well.”

 

Hearts can compete with everyone believes Levein

Craig Levein

Craig Levein was happy with performance against Celitc despite defeat (Credit: Luke Barry)

Heart of Midlothian manager Craig Levein insists his team can “compete with everyone” ahead of Monday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final against Partick Thistle.

Hearts lost 2-1 to Celtic at Tynecastle on Wednesday, but despite the result Levein is confident the Edinburgh side are back to their best.

“Yeah I think there was enough in the performance [against Celtic] which made me see we can compete with everybody again,” Levein said.

“We’ve got through troubles defensively with injuries yet again but we can cope with that.

 

“We got to the semi-final of the Betfred Cup earlier on in the season and we lost Steven Naismith in the first minute of the match or something like that which made it extremely difficult for us, but the experience of getting there was good.

“I think it’s a while since we’ve managed to get to two semi-finals so if we can do that and get the victory against Partick I think it puts us in a good position.”

Partick Thistle are currently bottom of the Scottish Championship but are a team Hearts know well having played in the Premiership with them last season.

Levein is aware of the challenge Gary Caldwell’s side will bring, promising he won’t take the Monday night’s match “lightly”.

He added: “It’s a good opportunity to get to a semi-final so we will be playing our best team.

Craig Levein

Hearts will not be taking Partick Thistle lightly says Levein (Credit: Luke Barry)

“The thing is we’re away from home, I’d rather be at home. It will be on us to take the game to Partick.

“Partick are fighting for their lives in the Championship and they’ve got some very experienced players who, if they’re on their game on Monday, have got really good quality.

“I still see Partick Thistle as a big, big club, and that in itself gives us warnings going into this game.

“Thinking just because they’re bottom of the Championship it’s a game we should win easily, that’s just not the case. We know enough about them not to take it too lightly.”

Uche Ikpeazu‘s recent return from a foot injury has been a big boost for Hearts, with the forward impressing on Wednesday against Celtic.

Levein has been impressed with the striker’s work rate and hopes he can be the key for Hearts’ success on Monday.

“I was worried about him [on Wednesday], he put in a lot of effort, a lot of running, and he’s not long back from injury.

“Uche was back to his best and hopefully he’s pretty much the same on Monday.”

The final match of the Scottish Cup weekend gets underway at 7:05pm and is live on BBC Scotland.

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