Scotland was playing Albania last night. Anyone that knows me would be aware if Alex McLeish had phoned and asked me to play centre-half, I’d have told him what most of the Scotland squad told him, ‘nah, emulsioning the ceiling and I’m pretty busy this weekend, I’ll call you back when I’ve got a bit of time for Scotland.’ Which means, of course, you’ve no time for Scotland, but like me, you kinda like them to win, but don’t really give a shit. Painting yourself in a corner is a messy business.
Whereas I love Celtic and would rather watch Celtic play a tiddledywinks-cup tie against Yoker than watch the European Cup Final. So Scotland, aye and no. Let’s start with the positives. Kieran Tierney didn’t start. That’s good. Gives the boy a rest, he’s been magnificent for Celtic, no more so than that opening goal against Leipzig. That was our best game of the season and we were truly classy. None more so than Tierney, who gave the future French left back a bit of a doing. What was so pleasing in the quartet of games before and after was the emergency of Ryan Christie, who was up for it and at it, yet again, last night for Scotland, with another superb performance.
Let me put that into context. Ryan Christie was on his way out of Celtic. Admittedly, he was good in cameos. Running about, closing down, but doing nothing much of notes when he got on the pitch for the last ten minutes. It’s all about pecking orders.
Remember way back to the start of the season. Dembele and Edouard up front. Behind them another Frenchman Ntcham and we were playing exhilarating, attacking, football. Those were the golden boys. How quickly it all changes.
Dembele spat the dummy, we miss him, but not that much. Ntcham is injured and will find it hard to get back in. Only Edouard, who can blow hot and cold, is guaranteed a start, mainly because Griffiths in injured and out of form. We’ve one number 9, but most of the time that’s all you need and again, against Leipzig he had one run from the touchline, holding off defenders and zeroing in on goal that was almost as magnificent as his match-winning goal at Ibrox. He has the ability and has showed flashes, but a Celtic centre forward, playing so many games, should hit 40 goals a season, easily.
Calum McGregor, that other Scottish internationalist, and I don’t mean that as an insult, has had to filter back, and play just in front of the centre-halfs. We used to call it a midfielder. Then a sitting midfielder. Then we just said Scott Brown. He got injured and Calum passes the ball quicker and better. So that’s like Nitcham, we’ll just have to wait and see. Automatic pick no longer.
James Forest scored two for Scotland against Albania. One of them was an absolute belter, with most of the Celtic boys involved. I know I sound biased here, which I totally am. If Alex McLeish doesn’t start the Celtic boys then he’s more of an eejit than Donald Trump. Forest is first pick for Celtic, therefore he should be first pick for Scotland. Celtic are much better than Scotland so cogito ergo sum Alexed, or some bullshit like that.
Forest has been praiseworthy not only for going forward, but also for what we used to call defending, but is now called pressing. Let’s face it, he’s got to help out Lustig. Lustig hasn’t gone backwards. He’s stayed much the same. Reasonable and unreasonable, a replacement part we should have replaced two years ago.
Behind him, in goal, we have an adequate replacement for Craig Gordon in Bain, as he showed in his debut at Ibrox, he’s at the right club, but whether he’s good enough to fill his boots, we’ll need to wait and see.
What is clear is Boyata, who went missing when we most needed him in the Champions League tie in Athens, where we lost school-boy type goals, is our best header of the ball and our best centre-half. But he’s off, wanting away and when it comes to Christmas, he’s a loss maker.
In fact we have a black hole in the middle of our defence that has needed filling for two years, which has been filled with chicken wire. While Filip Bankovic from Leicester has looked assured, he could be off back to his parent club too. That would leave us with Ajer, who’s been not too bad, but for such a big guy loses too many aerial duels. Jack Henry, part of the schoolboy group that lost in Athens. I’d class him as our defensive Kouassi and fling in a bargain buy Gamboa, Nir Biton and a packet of cheese and onion crisps please and I want change back for all of them. A bit rancid and leave an unpleasant taste, but can be tasty as that tackle from Simonvic.
Rogic is the real deal. What has been great is seeing him back to his imperious best. Scoring goals, creating chances and even lasting ninety minutes as he did he the plastic pitch at Livingstone.
It saddened me to see the loss of Daniel Arzani, his fellow Aussie, but not too much. He only lasted ten minutes and he’s not our player.
Scott Sinclair, Scottish player of the year, two years ago, has been in a word, rotten. Put it this way, when Calum McGregor starts popping up at right back, as he might, then Lustig knows he’s on the way out. Worse still if Johnny Hayes deputises for you. Actually, I think Johnny Hayes would make a great right back, if we want to go the route of the richest team in the world, Manchester United and start using former forwards at full back. Sinclair, to be fair, with that back-heel goal against Aberdeen has looked back, not to his best, but in front of Hayes, but not Calum. And waiting on the wings is Mikey Johnstone who is worth keeping and Lewis Morgan, who I’ve not really seen enough of, which maybe makes its own point.
Then there’s Leigh, father of the nation. I like Leigh, during Ronnie’s reign he was the kingpin. Forty goals in a season man. He doesn’t start. Doesn’t score and gets injured, even with Scotland he gets injured. Listen, Alex McLeish isn’t even phoning him. He needs to get is sorted, whatever it is. But we love him. That’s a good start.
Brendan Rodgers might have stumbled on his A-team through injuries and it was good to see him picking it after that game on Thursday night against Leipzig, with the exception of Gordon and Bankovic, who came on for Ajer against Livingston. Christie is a standout and a new million pound player. McGregor has looked assured and dare I say it, better than Scotland’s player of the year, Scot Brown, the former beating heart of Celtic. We’ve had a heart transplant and the ball is moving quicker. Sinclair and Edouard, we need a bit more. Lustig is Lustig, done. Centre of defence has been filled with enough chicken wire until Christmas. We might not make it through the Europa League section and European football. The treble treble? The rest of our team – God Bless the Celtic and here’s hoping. In Brendan we trust.