Dubai won't be Celtic break - plenty to work on as heat turned right up on Neil Lennon's men
Celtic touched down in Dubai on Sunday morning with plenty of heat on their backs.
However, it’s not just the Gulf sunshine that has turned the temperature up on the nine-in-a-row Premiership champions. Losing 1-0 to Rangers in the New Year derby with Rangers, and consequently falling 19 points behind their Old Firm rivals, means that Neil Lennon and his players are in danger of watching their iron-grip on Scottish football melt right in front of their eyes.
Even taking into account the three games in hand Celtic have over Rangers, their quest for ten-in-a-row looks forlorn. Steven Gerrard’s rampant Ibrox team are unlikely to win every match between now and the season’s conclusion, but neither are Celtic. Even taking into account the reigning champions’ improvement in December leading up to Saturday’s summit meeting in Govan, there are still frailties. Another goal was conceded from a set-piece – albeit an own goal from Callum McGregor – and numerous chances were squandered. Nir Bitton’s judgement aberration in stupidly hauling down Alfredo Morelos, which led to the Israeli being sent off, was one of many costly individual errors that have plagued Celtic in the 2020/21 campaign. Therefore, there is much to work on in the Middle East as Celtic get down to work in Dubai.
It won’t be a holiday
“It’s definitely not a break,” insisted David Turnbull, who was making his Old Firm bow and is one of the players to have shone for Celtic recently.
"We will be working hard on the training ground and putting things right. It will be an intense training camp.”
The 21-year-old midfielder was part of a Celtic attacking unit at Ibrox that had Rangers under severe pressure for the first 60 minutes of Saturday’s encounter. Playing at the tip of a diamond, Turnbull looks at home in green-and-white. It took time for him to break into the team, not helped by a bout of Covid-19 picked up on Scotland Under-21 duty, but he now appears comfortable within his surroundings. He was sacrificed after Bitton’s red card and his departure denied Celtic a canny operator in between the lines.
A peculiar baptism of fire
“It’s obviously weird having no supporters inside such a big stadium but I enjoyed it,” Turnbull reflected on his Old Firm debut.
“There are pressures going into the game and you know that everyone will be watching. But you have to go out there and try and enjoy it. I felt I gave my all.
“I have had to be patient but I always felt I could play at this level. I feel as though I’ve taken my chance the last few weeks but it’s all about kicking on for the team now.
“For me I just want to help the team as much as possible and improve each week.
“There are a lot of players here who can help me do that.”
Doubts over red card
Turnbull admitted that the reversal by Rangers and the circumstances behind it will rankle for some time. “It’s a tough one to take,” he reflected. “Until the red card I thought we were playing really well and we were in complete control of the game.
“I felt we were causing them a lot of problems, especially in the first half and we carried that into the second half.
“It’s just unlucky that we didn’t take anything from the game.
“I don’t know about the red card, it changed the game of that there is no doubt.
“I thought big Kris Ajer was coming in behind so I felt the cover was there.
“As soon as I saw the ref I thought it was a bit of a soft one, I’m certainly not sure about it. These things happen.”
Confidence, however, still appears reasonably high within the Celtic ranks, not least because of the way they played for long periods against Rangers. Had they been a bit more ruthless, or not found Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor in such good form, then the match could have panned out very differently.
Quality is there
“We showed against Rangers that we are a quality team,” continued Turnbull. “We dominated large parts of the match until the sending off.
“Even at half-time we really felt we could go on and win the game.
“We created a lot of chances but clearly we need to start taking them. That’s probably the most frustrating part.
“Given the amount of chances we created we were unable to take any of them. That’s something we have to work on.”
And work on they will. Dubai has been a regular winter destination for Celtic, but this is the first time they have headed there in such title peril. Not that anyone will be giving in to such a chasm of points between the Glasgow clubs.
Going on a winning run
“Listen, the boys can take a lot of heart from the performance at the weekend and we will keep fighting and keep pushing,” said Turnbull.
“We need to get results and that’s our aim for the second half of the season.
“Our heads can’t go down. We’ve played them off the park for most of the game.
“It’s about picking ourselves up and trying to go on that all-important winning run.
“We need to win as many games as we can. We can’t look at anyone else.
“This team has shown it’s more than capable of going on winning runs and we need to find that level of consistency in the second half of the season.
“We need to forget about the defeat, put it to the back of our minds and move on.
“We will focus on ourselves, dust ourselves down. You have to remember there’s still a lot of football to be played in the second half of the season.
“We have a lot of ground to make up and a lot of work to do. Everyone will be giving it 100 per cent.”