Has this “winter shutdown” seemed as long to you as it has to me?
Because to me it’s dragged on forever.
To me, it’s been nightmarish. Three weeks of it. Of scouring the net for transfer rumours – of which there have been none. Three weeks of media stories about how wonderful things at Ibrox are without the counterpoint of a Celtic victory.
Part of it is our own fault. Had we won comfortably at Celtic Park against the Ibrox basket case, as we were supposed to, as we were expected to, we’d have gone into the break on a high instead of with gnawing frustration. The anti-climactic end to the first half of the campaign made these three weeks much longer than they needed to be.
So too did our inactivity in the transfer market, which is causing more consternation with every day that passes and allows the media to use our club’s name to drum up interest in players and even generate the occasional headline such as tonight where McCann is “warning us” about Jack Hendry who, by the media’s own admission, we’ve submitted no bid for.
All of this gets to you. All of it annoys and aggravates you. All of it makes you wonder if the whole winter break idea is a good one, or if it should be scrapped. We’ll never have summer football here in Scotland – you need a summer first, and we have wind, rain and hail and then winter – and so a winter break looks like a good idea … but this has been ghastly.
Tomorrow we’re back in business. Weather permitting. Just looking out the window right now makes my teeth chatter. The snow is off – for the moment – but it looks like Christmas in Lapland out there nonetheless. If it snows heavily tonight – as the Met Office expects it to – I can see the roads being too icy for the game to go ahead.
Jesus, that would be awful. It would push us down the line another three days, until we roll up at Firhill in the SPL on Tuesday night. I know having waited so long we should probably not be all that bothered about waiting a little longer, but seriously … I want to get back to the good stuff.
The game itself should present no significant problems, but fans will be hoping to see us come out of the traps as if we’ve got our drive back. The lacklustre performances which characterised the latter part of the first half of the season should have been left behind us with 2017.
The challenges in front of us are big ones. To secure the title, to win the treble, to move forward in Europe with a good performance against Zenit. We expect all these things. We also expect that the squad will be stronger by the time we come out of the window.
But trebles are secured one game at a time, just like titles are, and this weekend we play our first Scottish Cup game of the campaign. The onus is on us to do the job right, to put on a show, to stamp our authority on the tie early and show people we are determined to defend our trophy the way we defended the League Cup.
We will face harder games in later rounds. The thing is to send a message of intent.
Griffiths is probably out with an injury, which makes team selection somewhat easier and will stop the press writing one of its ridiculous headlines. I would still like to see us go two up front, so we can accommodate Moussa and Edouard both. If we’re going to experiment with the formation it seems to me that this is the right game to do it in.
Don’t ask me why, but I expect to see Bitton start at the back. That would make sense. It would also make sense to play Gamboa and some of the other so-called fringe players. Our first team needs to get back up to speed, but this might not be the game to risk further injuries when we already have one or two of them to contend with.
There is no real “banana skin” potential in this game, but we will take it seriously and treat our opponents with respect. Fielding fringe players doesn’t mean we’d go into it lightly, and when even those guys are all internationals there’s little risk in it.
I think most fans just want the game to take place at all. We just want to get back to the football, to the good stuff, to watching the Celtic. This has been a nightmarish break, but as long as the weather behaves itself it’s almost over.
I for one cannot bloody well wait.