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EXCLUSIVE: ‘WRITE OFF ANY CELTIC TEAM AT YOUR PERIL,’ INSISTS HOOPS GREAT

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DAVIE HAY refuses to buy into the Ibrox Invincibles myth, despite Celtic failing to beat their Glasgow rivals three times during a wretched campaign.

The Hoops legend emphasises that the Parkhead side have had the lion’s share of the last two games where Steven Gerrard’s side have managed only two shots on target in three hours while keeper Allan McGregor has been their best player on both occasions.

Former manager and player Hay, 73, speaking to author and friend Alex Gordon in another fabulous CQN EXCLUSIVE, said: “There has been a lot of gloom around Parkhead this time around, but sometimes you need to take a step back and have an analytic look at the situation.

“We are hearing a lot about Gerrard’s side being invincible after breaking Celtic’s nine-year domination of the championship.

MASSIVE PROBLEM…Christopher Jullien has been a big miss in the heart of the defence.

“You cannot take away the fact they have been by far the most consistent team in the league. But my old club’s incredible capitulation may never be properly explained.

“There are theorists everywhere and they are welcome to their views. Clearly, though, things have gone awry when you realise only two clubs, Hamilton Accies and Motherwell, have failed to take points off a team good enough to romp through the leagues in previous years.

“Why is this the case? For a start, there hasn’t been a settled back four and that will invite problems. Christopher Jullien has played only 15 games after being out with a back injury for long enough and then coming in to have a short run before his knee injury in the 3-0 win over Dundee United on December 30.

“Losing your regular centre-back is bad enough, but the situation is hardly helped when three different keepers – Scott Bain, Vasilis Barkas and Conor Hazard –  have been in and out of the side with no sense of regularity.

“I can’t think of any team that would not suffer in those circumstances. Celtic, for whatever reason, just could not get the balance right in the middle of the rearguard. Obviously, that is an extremely vulnerable area and even more so when no-one is taking responsibility.

RISE AND SHINE…Shane Duffy hits the heights against St Mirren, but his highs were few and far between.

“Shane Duffy looked to be the answer, of course, but it just didn’t work for him. These things can happen. Maybe he was trying too hard to impress in his games for the club closest to his heart. Who knows? But he didn’t look like the Shane Duffy I have seen performing for the Republic of Ireland where he would clear out penalty areas as he came for high balls.

“You can go through the team and spot problems and flaws just about everywhere. Key players just not performing. Frustration has heaped upon frustration until we have reached where we are today.

“But if the Ibrox club are the runaway leaders, it is worth looking at how Celtic performed against them. Forget the match in October. I’ve never been one for pointing to injuries or suspensions as an excuse, but Neil Lennon was without Jullien, Ryan Christie, Odsonne Edouard and James Forrest for that game. That’s four players I am fairly certain would have started in that encounter at Parkhead.

“There’s no argument the better team won that afternoon. That’s as disjointed a performance as I have witnessed from any Celtic team in recent times.

“The defence didn’t link with the midfield and they didn’t link with the attack. They didn’t manage a solitary attempt on target and that tells it’s own story.”

Hay, who is a club ambassador these days, continued: “However, it was an entirely different story in Govan on January 2. That was always going to be a pivotal confrontation with Celtic trying to claw back points.

COSTLY DEFLECTION…the ball strikes Callum McGregor on its way into the net for the only goal at Ibrox in January.

“That was a rejuvenated, hungry Celtic team. They came out the blocks on the front foot and could have been three goals to the good fairly early on when Edouard had one bocked by McGregor, the keeper tipped a Leigh Griffiths effort onto the post and Callum McGregor left his namesake standing with a cute low drive that just edged wide of the same right-hand upright.

“Gerrard’s men were struggling to get out of their own half. But, of course, the game turned on its head when Nir Bitton was red-carded around the hour mark and then Callum McGregor deflected in a right-wing corner-kick for the only goal of an encounter that had been fairly one-way for 60 minutes.

“It was the Ibrox side’s turn not to have a solitary effort on target. That must be one for the history books. The only time Barkas was asked a question, he couldn’t come up with an answer.

“It was a very similar story at Parkhead 11 days ago. Celtic hammered away right from the start with Allan McGregor alert as he had been in the previous game. If he got a day off in the first derby, he certainly made up for it in the next two.

AIR WE GO…Mohamed Elyounoussi beats Filip Helander to a cross to thump in a header last month.

STRETCH IN TIME…Allan McGregor dives to his right to push away an effort from Odsonne Edouard.

“He was beaten by a wonderfully-timed flying header from Mohamed Elyounoussi, but also made a series of saves to deny Edouard, McGregor and Elyounoussi, all in the first-half.

“By my reckoning, the visitors had two efforts on target. One was the goal from Alfredo Morelos, with Celtic failing yet again to deal with a set-play, and a good first-time angled volley from Ryan Kent which Bain did well to push away. I can’t recall the Hoops keeper having another save to make all day.

“McGregor made a fine series of stops – one from a swerving shot from Edouard and a near-post effort from David Turnbull are two that come to mind –  and when full-time arrived, Gerrard had witnessed his side maintaining their unbeaten run while taking eight out of nine points off the home side.

“That’s what you call maximum reward for minimum effort. Celtic called the shots in both games, but coudn’t turn that possession to their advantage.

“At least, the players performed with a bit of pride in those two matches against a team that are appearing to be lauded from all corners.”

Hay added: “I am reading and hearing about the Ibrox men getting ready for a period of sustained glory. Yes, they have done well on the domestic front this time out as far as the Premiership is concerned and that deserves to be acknowledged.

“However, let’s remember, please, that Gerrard has won only one out of the eight trophies that have been up for grabs since he took over three years ago. Winning the championship always deserves applause, that should go without saying.

“But one trophy from eight is far removed from the achievement of a quadruple treble, 12 victories in succession over four amazing years.

“Undoubtedly, there will be massive changes at Celtic in the summer, but I don’t think any new manager and any set of players wearing green and white hoops will be too willing to roll over.

“Write off any Celtic team at your peril.”

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