Ronny Deila’s grip on his position as Celtic manager was further weakened after another inept defensive display saw his side lose 3-1 in the key Europa League clash at Molde in Norway on Thursday.
The double header with the Norwegians was widely seen as crucial to the Bhoys’ hopes of getting out of a group also containing Ajax and Fenerbahce. Deila’s men contrived to turn six points into two against their first two opponents, so there was a lot at stake in the first of two matches against the surprise packages from Norway.
Molde had pulled off arguably the shock of the competition so far when they beat big-spending Fenerbahce 3-1 on their own patch on match day one. They followed this up with a draw at home to Ajax, so Celtic were well aware that this was not a team to be taken lightly.
Nevertheless, Molde are currently lying seventh in the Norwegian Tippeligaen so still represented a potential scalp for the Scottish Premier League leaders.
Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solskajer took over at his former club just in time for this game and immediately pulled off the kind of result that his compatriot at Celtic is desperate to achieve.
To make matters worse for Deila, Celtic’s scorer Kris Commons threw an almighty strop after being substituted on 70 minutes, with the visitors already 3-1 down.
The manner of this defeat in addition to Commons’ rant, suggest something is wrong at Celtic. The defence continues has been leaking soft goals since a 5-3 pre-season defeat to Dukla Prague in July raised eyebrows.
Deila’s coaching staff has been unable to remedy this and Craig Gordon, so strong in goal last season, has looked much more vulnerable this term.
Gordon was beaten at his near post for Ola Kamara’s opener and Vegard Forren netted the second as Emilio Izaguirre stood back and watched.
After Commons capitalised on a mistake from the home side to reduce the arrears, more slackness allowed Molde to immediately add a third – Mohamed Elyounoussi was unmarked at the far post to bundle home a deep cross.
Celtic are now bottom of their Europa League group and the manner of this defeat offers very little hope that they will find the formula to climb back into the top two.
Social media reaction to the defeat suggests a huge split among the Celtic support regarding Deila and, in addition, there was a mix of condemnation and support for Commons.
Commons was Scotland’s player of the year in 2013-14, scoring an incredible 32 goals from his playmaker’s position. But the Scotland international was immediately made a more peripheral presence after Deila’s arrival last summer.
However, the 32-year-old was and remains Celtic’s most creative player and the decision to replace him against Molde was another baffling decision as ‘the Bhoys’ battled in vain for a way back into the game.
While watching a player rant at the coaching staff after being substituted made him look like a spoiled child rather than an experienced international player, it is apparent that an underlying mistrust exists between Commons and the management team.
Many supporters remain hopeful that Deila’s men will come good and point to the lack of investment in players as the true reason for some of Celtic’s woeful performances under the Norwegian.
The best player in the squad, centre back Virgil Van Dijk, was sold to Southampton in August. Two central defenders have come in but Dedryck Boyata has been more impressive in the opposition penalty box than his own since arriving from Manchester City, while Jozo Simunovic has been out injured for almost every game since signing from Dinamo Zagreb.
Just as many, however, are starting to believe that Deila may not be the man that Celtic need to take them forward. While Celtic have made a better start to their league campaign this year, there has been little, if any progress, on the European stage.
The 2-0 defeat to Malmo in this year’s UEFA Champions League qualifying round demonstrated exactly the same failings as the capitulation in Norway. Nothing, it seems, has been learned in the last two months.
Celtic made it out of their Europa League group last year, winning a total of eight points. They need two wins from the last three group games to match that total and give themselves a fighting chance of doing so again.
The next game offers Celtic a chance of revenge against Molde in Glasgow on November 5. A failure to win that game might see dissent against the current coach grow into an open revolt.