When Michael Nicholson picked up the phone to Stewart Robertson last month, he gave the Newco chief executive a dilemma. Nicholson said Celtic were finished with the 700 away fans limit when the teams meet each other. It did not allow visiting fans unrestricted entry and egress from games, along routes which had reduced flashpoints for a century, and therefore created an unnecessary safety risk. It was Newco’s choice but Celtic’s options, either revert to 7,000 visiting fans or have none at all.
We have already covered how Robertson had boxed himself into a corner years earlier, when he located the Newco ultras group in the Broomloan Road stand, only to dislocate them whenever Celtic visited. That was incredibly short sighted and soon led to a straightforward challenge: give primacy to your own fans or to Celtic fans.
Robertson will scarcely let a moment pass without the weight of his club’s financial problems weigh down on him. He knows winning the league, with automatic Champions League qualification, would allow him to delay the worst consequences of Uefa’s enforced financial restrictions, which limit his ability to renew contracts and sign players.
On hearing from Nicholson, Robertson’s mind, therefore, would immediately go to what he needs from tomorrow’s game – a win. This alone is not enough, but it is absolutely necessary to ensure Newco remain in the title race, even remotely. It is just as important in their desire to be competitive next season.
So Robertson’s choice was simple: go into a must-win game with 7,000 fans, or go alone. The former would give Newco their best chance of remaining competitive in the years to come, the latter would pander to his ultras and damage the club’s prospects.
It is not the job of the directors to be popular, or to pander to any group, no matter their sense of self-importance. Often, they have to be unpopular, especially if it means diminishing your club’s chances of winning an absolutely must-win game. And diminish his club’s chances is what the fool did.
I don’t know if Michael Nicholson is a strategic genius who set a trap for Robertson, or if he just played the hand in front of him. Either way, Celtic have the advantage.
To the game itself. After two lacklustre Celtic performances in his absence, Aaron Mooy is certain to start. It will be his first game in four weeks, most of that time he has been injured, although I have great hopes for the balance he will bring to the team, he cannot be at his sharpest.
Greg Taylor took what looked like a straightforward muscle knock against Ross County last weekend. If it is nothing more than a standard knock, he should be ready for tomorrow. Greg’s importance to Celtic this season can scarcely be overstated. He is a crucial part of how we attack and an endless source of energy getting back.
Reo Hatate strained a hamstring three weeks ago. The minimum period for recuperation from this particular injury is three weeks, but hamstrings take months to fully recover (years if you are above a certain age). If Aaron and Greg are fit, I would save Reo for the more important Scottish Cup game later this month. Ange Postecoglou likes a big line-up refresh around the hour mark, tomorrow is likely to be no different.