Will he stay or will he go?

Strange days. A Scottish Cup Final tomorrow, and if Inverness Caley win (sixth in the First Division) it will be a bigger upset than Berwick Rangers beating Glasgow Rangers. Jock Wallace was in goals that day. But it wasn’t for Glasgow Rangers, but the mighty Berwick. What I’m trying to say it Celtic, despite a couple of games, our second-string players—with the possible exception of Oh—proved not up to the job. But we will win at a canter tomorrow.  (Inverness Caley 35/1 to win at Hampden.)

Yet, the rumours that started last week have put a pall over Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic team, winning the treble, and five trophies out of six since his arrival. Generally, we’re not talking about how he overhauled the squad, helped shape an attacking team, and when it mattered beat Rangers in the process. He overhauled a 25 point deficit, in what seems those historical times, when Neil Lennon was Celtic manager, and Stevie G, was a Rangers’ icon. It was the only time I was thankful for Covid-18. All Rangers supporters, like the fat Humpty Dumpty in the English Parliament, Boris Johnson, became common criminals breaking the law when they celebrated in George Square.

A tifo of Jock Stein was a thing of beauty that covered Paradise last week as Celtic returned to form and thrashed Aberdeen, who didn’t get a shot on goal. Jock Stein gave us the Lisbon Lions, a team that lived within 12 miles of Glasgow. They humbled Europe’s elite. In a testimonial against Real Madrid, they couldn’t get the ball off Jimmy Johnstone. We beat England’s best, Leeds United in a European Cup tie with one of the biggest crowds recorded at the match (my da was there). It was obviously, an underestimate, because as we know, kids were handed over turnstiles. When I was growing up in the seventies, we had the Quality Street reserve team that included Dalglish, McGrain, and former manager, Davy Hay and helped give Celtic nine consecutive league titles. We will not see the likes of Jock, or nine flag flapping on a tin roof, again.

Postecoglou isn’t in that bracket. I know it feels as if I’m writing in his wake and passing. The irony is another treble winner at Celtic, Brendan Rodgers is rumoured to be returning. Rodgers as we know brought Moussa Dembele and gave us a decent enough team. Three treble trebles, the fourth completed by Lennon. But when Rodgers walked mid-season, citing several reasons that sounded as fabricated as Boris Johnston’s Brexit promise to give the NHS £160 million extra ever week, nobody was buying it. Judas.

Martin O’Neil won the treble in his first season. Henrik Larsson was still here. We’d Lubo. We’d a decent team. But the Northern Irishman made us better. He took us all the way to Seville in the sun. We all want to forget Helicopter Sunday. But he did a more than decent job.

Postecoglou is in O’Neil’s bracket. But O’Neil was a pragmatist. Let’s not forget the colossus, Bobo Balde (poached from Kilmarnock). Bobo, as we know, couldn’t hit the ball with anything below the waist. His size 16 boots were for flippering the ball forward or out of the park. But any forward’s chance of winning the balls in the air were easily swept aside. Scotland’s (English) forward Lyndon Dykes, for example, would have won nothing against Bobo. But Gordon Strachan didn’t fancy him.

And Postecoglou, is an idealist. He wouldn’t have someone that couldn’t carry of pass the ball from defence in his team. Yuki Kobayashi, for example, can carry and pass the ball, but can’t defend and is too easily bullied. This doesn’t matter because he’s backup. Postecoglou’s Plan B was more of Plan A. It worked well, but not in Europe.

We cling to the hope, with Champions’ League cash, we can invest in our squad and do better. But, like many, I think Postecoglou is gone.

My fear is Plan B will be John Kennedy. A continuation of the same, but different. What Postecoglou brought to the club was a list of Asian player that he knew would make Celtic better. He brought many of them to the club. I don’t think there’ll be a sudden exit, but perhaps a drift. But Kennedy has nothing he can offer in terms of Asian, North American or Australian markets. He’s no list of players. He’s a Neil Lennon in waiting.

If or when Postecoglou announces he’s leaving for Spurs, I wouldn’t brand him a Judas as I did Brendan Rodgers. I can’t really stretch to wishing him well. I’d be largely indifferent. The only team I support is Celtic. The only team that concerns me is Celtic. The only team I hate with a passion is Rangers. Managers come and go. It’s in my blood. Celtic today, tomorrow—always—oh, yeh, we’ve a cup final to look forward to.   

Celtic 5—0 Aberdeen

A Kyogo double in a five-minute spurt meant it was effectively game over by half-time. Oh grabbed a second-half double, in between a Carl Starfelt headed goal. Job done. Champions again.  

Celtic sparkled in the first-half. Back to our best. Postecoglou made changes to his starting eleven in recent weeks. We all saw what happened to Bain. Joe Hart hasn’t set a very high bar, but he’s no 1 by some distance. Bernabei has been found wanting.  I’m not sure he’s going to make it. Too frail, defensively. A bit like Koybashi. Iwata partnered Starfelt today. Curtis Main ragdolled him against St Mirren, but he’ll probably start in the cup final in that central-defensive position.

Ralston is a stopgap. As we seen today, and most weeks, Alistair Johnston is better. But he’s maybe picked up an injury, which will put him out of the final (I don’t know). Kyogo also had to be taken off at the start of the second-half after clashing with the keeper. We know he’s the best striker in the Scottish Premier league because he’s scored the most goals.

We want him to start in the cup final. A game many of us took for a formality (including me) until our recent blip. Oh, is probably, the only player whose stock has risen in those league games. None of the others deserve to start in the final.

Abada made a strong case for inclusion, with a first-half performance that was generally excellent, highlighted by a lung-bursting run from before the half-way line and taking about six Don’s defenders with him. He won his personal battle today, with ex-Celt Johnny Hayes.

Daizen Maeda missed the game (his red card offence) but it’s probable that the Japanese forward will start at Hampden. Most of the team we put out today that strolled to victory will start against Inverness next week. If Kyogo and Johnston remain fit, they’ll start the game. Maeda will come in for Abada.

We know Tottenham are in for Ange. Two league trophies on the bounce. A possible five trophies out of six. The Australian has done a remarkable job. Today is a day just to enjoy lifting another trophy. The one that really matters, both in terms of prestige, but also Champions League riches. Ange’s motto of we never stop has brought serial winners. Let’s hope Ange stops that bit longer. Ideally, for three-in-row, four-in-a-row. Perhaps five or six. But again, today is the day to put that aside. Champions 2022-23.

Celtic 1—0 Rangers.

The only coronation I’m interested in is the treble winners—Saturday 3rd June. That puts Ange Postecoglou into the pantheon of Celtic’s greats. Sunday’s match didn’t surprise me. I predicted Celtic would win 1—0. Alright, I guessed we would score and Rangers wouldn’t. If you look at the last match which we won 3—2 without playing well or as fluidly, and compare it with our 4—0 rout of Rangers at Parkhead earlier in the season, it was who popped up to score Rangers’s two goals. A full back. Tavernier hit the post yesterday, and Sakala missed a sitter. But let us not kid ourselves that Rangers deserved anything.

We know how the Beale excuse-line goes. He’s not registered a victory over Postecoglou’s team in four attempts.  We should have, could have, but didn’t. No referee to deflect the blame this time. No dodgy decisions, apart from two potential red cards—Lunstram for a terrible tackle on Kyogo and… who cares?

We all hoped our midfield would include Hatate. I got the usual stick saying he was one of the best midfielders in Britain. Would he get into the Man City team and replace Kevin De Bruyne? On Sunday’s performance, he wouldn’t even get into the Celtic team. One wayward pass across the field and out of the park made me think he was Toady Cantplaywell.

Mooy suffered from a similar shocker of a game when we won at Parkhead. In full flow, of course, these guys are irresistible. Lately, they’ve been too resistible.

O’Riley gets pass marks, but it was our wide man that helps us win it. Maeda set Jota up. But he was more than that. Chasing and harrying until he was substituted after around 75 minutes. Carter-Vickers won man of the match, but Maeda did much of the running and was in the running. Kyogo had one decent effort from outside the box, but we know how deadly he can be. Beale knows that better than most.

Alistair Johnston went off injured. At least he wasn’t taken off like the twenty-million signing Ryan Kent. It was good to see Anthony Ralston getting a run out. He did fine and he’d be fine for the run-in and the treble celebrations.

Carter-Vickers is also out for the rest of the season. Job done. Rangers have five meaningless games, but one of them is against Celtic. We all know what that means. Putting down a marker for next season. All the usual speil talk. Of course, I think Celtic can win at Ibrox. If we play anywhere near our ability we will win. But if we’re really off the pace and out of sorts, I’m sure Rangers can get a draw. If not, they’ll be more markers. More Beale talk—if he’s still there?

Celtic have a minimum of £30 million from Champions League fixtures. A lucrative tour of the Far East which will bring in another few million. This one tastes sweeter. But I don’t think we’re ready to forget the lessons of losing the ten. To keep a virtuous cycle going we need to re-invest and upgrade our players and squad. Every position is up for grabs from goalkeeper to centre-forward. For now, I’d guess our captain McGregor is safe. Carter-Vickers has been money well spent. We’ll wait and see how he comes back from injury. Jota was also money well spent. He’s the player Ryan Kent wishes he was. Another goal that takes us into a cup final. But he’s not guaranteed a start. Maeda is a Costecoglou favourite for a number or reasons. As we’ve seen, he does the doggies and also scores goals. Not guaranteed a start, but likely starter. Kyogo is our top scorer and Hun slayer. Oh is on the side-lines, barring injury, he’s going to stay there. But he’s the perfect age to be on the bench, bursting to prove a point and a physical player.

I guess we’ll see more of Iwata in the next couple of games. I like him, and thought he might start at Hampden. Hatate will play most games, if he’s match fit. Like Mooy, he was off it and other midfielders will come into contention. Like everybody else, we’re looking for a cut-price Lubo. O’Riley seems to have plateaued, but there’s more to see.

Taylor has had an outstanding season. Well, two seasons, under Postecoglou. I thought the ex-Kilmarnock man was a dud. But when the facts change I change my opinion (well, not about Rangers, obviously). And I like Alexandro Bernabei too, but the young Argentinian just doesn’t seem to be able to defend. I suspect he’ll be quietly let go.

Carl Starfelt. Hmmmm. I’m not a fan, but he has had a good season. I’d be looking for better. I’d be looking for a replacement this summer. Good enough for backup.

Alistair Johnston has done everything asked of him. We’re kinda fine of this side. Ralston is good enough for back up too. But, of course, we’ll be looking for better than both.

Joe Hart has been alright. Of course, I’d be looking for better. But sometimes (I’m going to contradict myself) you’re better sticking with what you’ve got. Good for another season.

Look at is this way, Liel Abada didn’t make the bench for Sunday’s semi-final. His goal scoring statistics have been great. He’s fast and works hard. But he’s young. Sometimes he just doesn’t do it. Is he on the way out? Honestly, I don’t really care.

Stick on to stay and start next season in the Champions League: Hart, Johnston, Taylor, Carter-Vickers, McGregor, Kyogo, Maeda.

Stick on to be treble winners? Everyone from Postecoglou to the Celtic ball boys (and girls). Alleluia.       

Rangers 1—2 Celtic

Celtic were better and deserved to win. At the end of the match, Rangers manager, Michael Beale took his team aside, and into a huddle. ‘This is what losing feels like,’ he was meant to have told his players. Well, they better get used to it. Apart from a twenty minute spell when they offered some threat down the wings and Morelos got a goal back in the sixty-fourth minute to bring Celtic back into touching distance, they were no better than  the threat offered by, for example, Partick Thistle whom they edged past in the semi-final. As the late-great, Bertie Auld was meant to have said to his Rangers’ colleagues on match day, ‘You might get a bigger bonus. But ours is guaranteed’.

Hatate, McGregor and Mooy controlled the midfield. The flow of the game in the first-half was towards the Rangers penalty-box. Sure Ryan Kent hit the post and Fashion Sakala missed a good chance from the rebound. But for every mishit shot from the men in blue, Celtic had three or four. O’Riley missed a good chance at the end. And Haksbanovich missed a quick one-two of sitters.

Apart from McGregor, the Rangers goalkeeper, no Rangers player would get a place on the bench of this Celtic team. Joe Hart finds himself sitting on past glories. Compared to McGregor he’s a youngster, but his kicking isn’t as good. He should have got a better hand on the ball that went into the net from Morelos. At one point he punched a ball that came straight to him, and was the kind my granny would have plucked out of the air. But hey, he didn’t concede a second. He’ll do for now. But I’d hope for better.

And only one team can win the treble. The team with the worst ever Champions League record aren’t going to be in it this year (or the coming years). That leaves a straight shoot-out for the Scottish Cup and the last game of the season at Hampden. When we were picking up the League Cup last year, with another Kyogo double, it seems a different age when we still chasing Champions Rangers. In such a short space of time Postecoglou has taken an axe to the team that was and build a team that is a joy to watch. There is talk of him leaving and there will be a time when like all managers when he will leave. He’s not only rejuvenated the Celtic team, he’s helped erase the memory of the hapless blundering and lack of purpose when our ten-in-a-row bid ground to a halt. Celtic have purpose and identity. We want to win games the Celtic way with free-flowing and attacking football. The irony is the team that won the European Cup famously was recruited from a ten mile radius of Glasgow—Bobby Lennox, Saltcoats, the furthest away—had only two Scottish players in the starting eleven at Hampden. Callum McGregor and Greg Taylor are first picks every week. But supporting them apart from the dreaded English, Canadians, Americans, Japanese, South Koreans, Montenegrins, Australians, Danish, and not even an Irishman among them.  What Postecoglou brought wasn’t just a reboot of Celtic but also knowledge of where good player were for bargain basement prices. That is something Michael Beale with his media posturing does not have.    

Bargain- basement Kyogo, who won us the final last year against Hibs, also did so on Sunday at Hampden. He came up with two close range finishes at the end of the first and second half to effectively win the game, but he also missed a few chances. An ineffectual header and an early one-on-one attempt, which should have given Celtic their usual early lead. But unlike Morelos, when his number was called, he went off with a smile on his face, a humility that is heartening.

The treble is on, but one-game-at-a-time mantra is the kind of mood music us fans eat up. Celtic are well ahead of Rangers. There’s no doubt about that. And long may it continue. But Rangers can beat us in the odd, one off game. It will just begin to happen less and less. I remember listening on the radio to a report in which Celtic got a draw at Ibrox. Darren O’Dee was playing, and I was ecstatic. Not because Irish man Darren was playing, of course, but I did have a soft spot for the hapless Anton Rogan. One game at a time. One league at a time. One cup at the time. One treble at a time. Humility in victory and in defeat. Let’s see it out. Let’s build for a new future with or without Postecoglou. As the ten-in-a-row debacle showed to stand still was to go backwards. For now we’re going in the right direction. Hail Hail.   

Celtic 2—1 Ross County.

Defence against attack. Fifty goals scored. Nine points clear.

Kyogo missed the two best chances of the first-half. After a quarter hour, he got on the end of a cross and the ball floated harmlessly over the bar. Carter-Vickers had taken a pot-shot form twenty-odd yards. The keeper, Laidlaw spilled the ball and Kyogo was unable to get on the rebound. Then almost on the half-hour mark, Kyogo was played clean through by Matt O’Riley. The Japanese forward put his shot past the post.  

We looked at the team selection and then we look across the city to see if the worst team in Champions League history are due another penalty in Paisley. I was on the terracing, all those years ago, when Mo Johnston was in the team and there was a miracle as Love Street. The other Glasgow team will need to do something similar. There’s still that element of doubt.

Carter-Vickers captains the team before heading off the World Cup. Jenz comes in but goes off before half-time with a head knock. Carl Starfelt coming on. I’ve not being a fan of the Swede, but neither was I a fan of Taylor, who has been exceptional. Alexandro Bernabei started and played 85 minutes.  The young Argentinean looks a good prospect. He got a bit of a chasing at Hearts and he was hooked at half-time at home last week against Dundee United. But that was good management. He’d been booked. He lost out as you’d expect to long balls played out to Jordan White. But, one run, in particular from our half in to the last third of the field, took out most of the Ross County midfield. There’s nothing wrong with his attacking play.  

Hatate and O’Riley provide their usual elegant pairing. Further forward, Sead Hakšabanović got booked just before half time in a first half Ross County tried to frustrate. David Munro, the referee helped with some strange decisions. Laidlaw, for example, picking the ball up after dropping it as his feet. And O’Riley, as he did later in the game, making a good tackle in the box, and taking the ball off a Ross County player, but is penalised. But the VAR decision, wasn’t even the referees. I’m not sure Matt O’Riley was in the box. But three Celtic players seem to have got the job done of ushering the ball out and into attack.  Callum Johnson’s challenge meant the ball bobbled up and stuck his arm.

Penalty and job done for David Cancola and Ross County. They’re a goal ahead after 50 minutes in a game they never threatened to score.

Celtic poured forward looking for an equaliser. David Turnbull’s shot from outside the box the pick of the bunch.

Ten minutes after County’s VAR penalty, Celtic had a shout for one which was ignored. Ralston taking a dunt in the back inside the box and going down. It would have been soft. But it wasn’t given.

It didn’t affect the final score. Reo Hatate created the two goals. His turn inside the box was superb and just as he looked as if he was going to shoot he drifted toward the six-yard box and cut it back. David Turnbull took a touch and nutmegged the keeper. There was still thirty minutes of the match left to get a winner.

Eight minutes later,  Sead Haksabanovic got us it with a classy finish. Hatate played him in with a cushioned pass in a one-two movement. The Montenegrin had lots of defenders in front of him, but he bent the ball, almost in slow-motion inside the post.

This was his last action as Postecoglou replaced our front three. Giorgos Giakoumakis had a couple of chances when he came on and can think himself unlucky not to score. Jota and Abada also had decent efforts on goal.  Ross County didn’t create anything in the last twenty. They didn’t create anything in the other seventy, but they were given a goal. It didn’t prove to be enough. Celtic are in a good place. Champions and Champion elect.

Celtic 2—0 Hearts

A great weekend for Celtic. Ange Postecoglou went with the same team that beat Kilmarnock last week. And the same Japanese duo got our first goal. This time is was a bit later in the game, thirteen minutes when Kyogo tapped the ball into the net from a Maeda cutback. Good work from O’Riley and Turnbull helped unlock the Hearts defence.

Hearts won at Tynecastle in Postecoglou’s first competitive game last season. But it’s 2007 since Hearts last won a league game at Parkhead. And they offered little to suggest that they would win here, but in the first ten minutes of the first-half saw more of the ball and had five corners in relatively quick succession.

But it was 33 minutes when they had their first serious attempt on goal in which they’d seen little of the ball. Former Celt, Mackay-Stevens found space in the middle of the park for the first time and his pass found its way in behind the Celtic defence. Joe Hart came out to narrow the angle, but it was a poor attempt from frontman, Ginnelly, who really should have scored.

Celtic had stacks of first-half chances, but with that one goal lead, Hearts were always in the game. Greg Taylor, early in the match, opted to try to pass to Kyogo, rather than shoot. Later in the half he was clean through on goal, but took too long to shoot and was tackled by Haring.

Kyogo had a few damp squibs and an offside goal chopped off. Linesmen were often too quick to penalise his darting runs.

O’Reily had a spectacular half-turn-volley which went past the post. A header with which he should have scored.

Maeda had a few headers which were off target or too near the keeper. He arrived too late for simple tap-ins for balls flashed across the goal.

Jota had a few digs, none of which troubled the keeper. His nearest effort hit the side-netting.

And even Juranovic lead the line in a late break in  the first-half, but  he was pulled down by Mackay-Stevens.

Jenz has dealt well with the more usual pugilistic approach by Hearts. He looks like a fixture in the team.

Celtic were flat in the second-half and we’ve come to expect a raft of changes in the last twenty or thirty minutes. Maeda going off and Abada coming on. And lately, Mooy for O’Riley. This allowed McGregor to push further forward. These changes helped tilt the game back towards Celtic.

Giakoumakis to replace Kyogo. The Greek striker usually produces and he did so in the 94th minute to seal the points. His shot rebounding off Lewis Neilson. Before that he was unlucky with a header and had a scuffed shot that was well saved by the second-choice Heart’s keeper.

Rangers went down to nine men at Easter Road and dropped two points. Hearts also went down to nine men and made the last ten minutes comfortable for Celtic. Both were for second yellow offences.

Alex Cochrane pulled McGregor back when the ball was flicked over his head.  And in the closing minutes of the game, Alex Sibbick clearly pushed Abada after the second winger got ahead of him.

It was comfortable for Celtic in the end and that takes us two points clear of Rangers. Hatate did his chances of getting in front of Turnbull no harm with his substitute performance. But that’s not to say the former Motherwell man had a bad game. He didn’t.  Let’s hope PSV win on Wednesday and make it a bad week for the Ibrox club and help deprive them of the £40 million Champions League funds we are guaranteed. We’re away to Dundee United next week and then it’s the big one. Two wins—and would it be too early to say the league is over? Premature perhaps, but I’ll take it. Changed days from the doom and gloom of this time last season.

In Ange we trust.

As the song goes, Celtic, Celtic, that’s the team for me. I’ve no great interest in what other teams do or who they play or sign—apart from Rangers.

Even if it’s tiddlywinks, I want Rangers to lose. They’d won the league by 25 points, and stopped us winning the ten. One of the highlights of the season was watching Ryan Kent miss a sitter in the closing minutes and Aaron Ramsey missing that penalty. I joked that my pal’s dad had died, but at least he’d lived long enough to see that. It was a season when Rangers’ fans felt they did well reaching a European final and winning the Scottish Cup.

But when they were giving out awards it was Ange Postecoglou picking them up. Hard to believe, we were chasing Eddie Howe as our new manager and it just seemed a matter of getting the deal over the line. He walked away, citing concerns about having concerns. Ange Postecolgou came in. I’d never heard of him. Most of us agreed he’d need time to rebuild. He didn’t cite concerns about not having his own backroom staff. He was willing to work with the dross that was there. We’d give him time. I was even uttering strange things like he’d have at least a season, or maybe two, in which he wouldn’t be expected to do much, and spluttering into my pint that Rangers were still shite. I was hoping somehow we’d turn it around. In our pre-season games there was little evidence that would be the case. In the qualifiers for Europe, and in Europe, generally, we were out of our depth against mediocre teams (like us).

We lost to Hearts at Tynecastle, Kyogo came on as a sub, played wide, but did nothing of note in the few minutes on the pitch (shades of Henrik Larrson coming on as a winger against Hibs). We were chasing Rangers in the league. It was a race I didn’t expect to win. But the equivalent of muscles-memory of the mind sets in. Odsonne Edouard left for Crystal Palace. I was glad about that. Ryan Christie to Bournemouth. Kristoffer Ayer went to Brentford, where he’d be reduced to talking a good game. He was fine when he didn’t have to defend.

Now here we are again. I’m far more optimistic. We’ve signed seven new players, which include mainstays, Jota and Carter-Vickers. The Portuguese winger dazzled last season and this pre-season. Carter-Vickers in pre-season hasn’t looked great. He got bullied for the second goal against Legia Warsaw, for example, losing a bread-and-butter header I’d expect any centre-half to win and getting turned far too easily. That’s nit-picking. He too has been a success. But you’re only as good as your last game is a truism.

Joe Hart has been a great signing. He’s made vital saves. He’s our number 1, keeper. But we know he’s going to lose stupid goals, when he’s trying to play sweeper-keeper. It’s just a matter of how many and against whom. Teemu Pukki almost caught him out in the friendly match against Norwich. The ex-Celt is not the quickest, and not the best, as we all know. Hart might beat him in a footrace, but I’d rather not find out during a match. Joe Hart, vice-captain, Certain starter.  

  Benjamin Siegrist, of what I remember him, was decent for Dundee United. He’ll push for the number-one spot. Uncertain starter.   

Greg Taylor started against Norwich. I wasn’t a fan of the former Kilmarnock full back. But over last season I’ve come to appreciate him. He wasn’t Kieran Tierney. Emilio Izaguirre when he first came into the team was also a revelation. Taylor is not at that level. And now he has serious competition. *Certain starter when season begins.

Josip Juranović will not be going over to play on the left as he did at Ibrox because Ange doesn’t trust the likes of Liam Scales, for example, to do a job. The Croatian has established himself as our first-pick right back. Certain starter.

Scottish international, Anthony Ralston—and I never thought I’d say that without laughing—is backup. But he too will be pushing for a starting spot. Uncertain starter.

Argentinian, Alexandro Bernabei, I think looks to have more attacking flair than Greg Taylor. *Certain starter as season progresses.

Celtic supposedly paid around £6 million to Tottenham for Cameron Carter-Vickers. A snip based on last season’s performances (and not this pre-season). Certain starter, under Ange.

I heard Carl Starfelt was injured while on international duty with Sweden. He’d miss the start of the season. I wasn’t bothered. Like Ajer, Starfelt is decent when he doesn’t have to defend. He’s too easily bullied by muscular forwards. Most of the goals we lost last season came from free kicks and corners. The most common argument I’ve heard is we’d the best defensive record in the league. We also won the league. Therefore Starfelt must be better than mediocre. He isn’t. But he’s good enough for now. But Ange trusts him. Certain starter.

Christopher Jullien is still at Celtic. For how much longer? He picked up the captain’s armband in the pre-season friendlies. But he’s an uncertain starter. If any club fancies him, he’s free to go.

Back-up to Carter-Vickers and Starfelt has been, until now, under-twenty-one Scotland captain, Stephen Welsh. He’s no better than Starfelt, and often worse. Uncertain starter.  

 Moritz Jenz from Lorient is we hope better than Starfelt and will leapfrog Stephen Welsh into the team. Loan deals like Jota and Carter-Vickers gives us a chance to try before we buy. Uncertain starter, for now, but his time will come. And if he’s good enough, we’ll keep him. Win-win. Uncertain starter, for now.

Callum McGregor, the Celtic captain, and Scottish Player of the Year plays most games. Simple. Never stops. Certain starter.  

Reo Hatate came into the team and started with a bang. Goals against Rangers are often a great way to introduce yourself to adoring fans. He didn’t disappoint. But the end of the season he was disappointing. He was never rubbish, but didn’t shine. Pre-season he’s looked at back to the level he was when we hammered Rangers 3—0, and that old joke, they were lucky to get the nil. This was the pivotal moment in the season, when we leapfrogged them in the league. We did it in Celtic style. Hatate was the man. Certain starter.

Matt O’Riley played in that number-ten role when Tom Rogic didn’t. Usually, they switched like doppelgangers, with one getting sixty minutes, the other thirty minutes, or thereabout.  A terrific acquisition. He has added goals to his game. Certain starter.

David Turnbull played every game for Celtic under Ange, until he got that injury, just before the League Cup final, which Kyogo won for us. Turnbull has had a good pre-season, scoring two goals. Sharp and strong. Goal scorer. Ready to step in and stake a place. Uncertain starter, for now.

  Daizen Maeda starts most games under Ange. He’s played at centre-forward, most recently when Kyogo was taken off against Legia Warsaw and Giorgos Giakoumakis wasn’t available for selection. But Ange prefers to play him on the wing. Usually it’s the left wing. His pace troubles defences, but his closing down work is also a stand out. He scores goals. Certain starter.

Jota has a problem when Maeda starts on the left, because he’s pushed to the right wing. Maeda is all pace. Jota is an old-fashioned winger. He ties defenders in knots and scores for fun. It was a long and protracted deal with Benfica, with shades of the Eddie Howe haunting us.  Bargain buy at £6 million. Certain starter, on right or left wing.

Kyogo Furuhashi hit the ground running. Apart from his injury, he’s not stopped running since. His speed of thought and movement would give any defence problems. The first and best of the Japanese internationals to arrive. Certain starter.

Giorgos Giakoumakis was the opposite of Kyogo. He hit the ground not running. Then he took the ball off Juranovic (I think it was against Aberdeen) in the last minute and missed a penalty which cost us two points. Without actually being Albian Ajeti (or Pukki), he’d all the makings of a dud. But he scored twenty league goals. When Kyogo was out, we didn’t miss him. The Greek international did the business. Uncertain starter, for now.

Under Neil Lennon’s tutelage James Forrest could do no wrong. He was brought through the ranks. Made his debut in season 2009-10.  He was hitting twenty goals a season and has more Celtic medals than anyone at the club and has now signed a new contract. It’s hard to believe he’s not fifty-five. But for the first time in his Celtic career he’s not an automatic pick. Jota is ahead of him. Arguably, Liel Abada is also ahead of him. Uncertain starter.

Liel Abada scored a stack of goals and assists. Let’s for a minute consider the way he sneaked in behind the Rangers’ backline and scored at Paradise. Even now, it brings a smile. He’s ahead of Forrest, but not Jotta or Maeda. He will get game time, most often as a substitute. Uncertain starter.  

Aaron Mooy plays for Australia. Ange knows him and brought him in. Whether he is to replace Tom Rogic or to sit in as a defensive midfielder for Callum McGregor is unclear. Maybe a bit of both? I’ve not seen him play. Uncertain starter.  

 Yosuke Ideguchi (Guchi) the Japanese internationalist picked up an injury early in his Celtic career. He’s not been able to find a spot in the congested Celtic midfield. A very decent showing in our pre-season friendlies. Uncertain starter.

James McCarthy was said to have struggled in training when he arrived. Might be lies. He has struggled to get into the Celtic team. Not sure he adds much. But that might change, as it did with Giakoumakis. He’s been brought on very late in pre-season games, usually to replace McGregor. Uncertain starter.

Mikey Johnston, remember him? Tricky winger, could go outside, could go inside? Scored goals? Had that wow factor? Looked rotten in pre-season matches. He’s still got an outside chance, but he’s fading fast.

Scott Bain. Backup keeper, for the backup keeper. Ball boy. Uncertain starter.

We’ve got enough to win the league. Games against Rangers will decide the title. They bullied us in two games last year, both of which we lost, one, admittedly, in extra-time. We can’t let that happen again. The real beauty of winning the title is no qualifiers for the Champions League. £40 million in the bank. We’ll play some fantastic teams. We’ll take some terrible doings, but it’s not that I don’t care, the glory is being there and we’ll get better. We won’t win the Champions League and we won’t win the treble. But I’ve been wrong before. I didn’t imagine winning the league this time, last season. Eddie Who?

Manager of the Month, Ange Postecoglou.

Ange Postecoglou wins Manager of the Month award again. If he picks up the same award at the end of April then it’s kerching and £40 million Champions League money guaranteed. The question arises, would you take a draw at Ibrox? Obviously, after say 89 minutes and two goals down and I’d say, aye Ange, go for it, take the draw. But life and fitba doesn’t work out like that.

Last time we were in Govan, Edouard started up front. As we know, he’d scored some great goals against Rangers, but missed some complete sitters. He’s another of those matches. Great to see him, Christie and Ajer leave Paradise. We’d developed a habit of outplaying Rangers and losing—usually to a headed goal from a free kick or corner. Lots have changed, we’ve 5000 defensive coaches, but that remains our major vulnerability, home or away.

Our defence picks itself. Hart, Taylor, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt and Juranovic.  

We’re reminded nine out of ten Glasgow derbies are decided by who scores first. Defend corners and defend free kicks and I think we’ll win. But I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that.

We’ll start on the front foot, Ange’s Plan A is also Plan B. Rangers, despite their European success, don’t defend well. A major boost is that Kyogo is fit. He’ll be on the bench, I’m guessing. Georgios Giakoumakis should start after hitting two hat-tricks in two league games. He’s a poacher in the box.

But it wouldn’t surprise me too much if Ange favours Daizen Maeda. I’m still not convinced with him, but he does the doggies, closing down the opposition and getting in behind, in a Kyogo-lite way. And the Japanese forward scores regularly.

Postecoglou tends to play him, but not always through the middle. He’s featured mostly on the left wing. Jota switching to the right. Abada would therefore drop to the bench. He’s not started the last two games. So my best guess is that’s where he’ll start, but come on for the last thirty minutes.

The midfield carousel is harder to pick. McGregor, our captain, playing in front of the defence. Rogic has been pronounced fit. My guess is he’ll start. Certainly, win, lose or draw, if he doesn’t start, he’ll replace O’Riley.

Reo Hatate had the kind of introduction to the Glasgow derby that harked back to the little known Slovenian, Ľubomír “Lubo” Moravčík. The Japanese midfielder’s form has shaded but he’s a definite maybe (as in the Oasis hit). He works best with Maeda. My guess is Taylor, Hatate, Maeda down the left.

Juranovic, Rogic and the Portuguese wonder boy, Jota on the right. We might see the return of David Turnbull at some point, probably late in the game.

Georgios Giakoumakis to start and score first. Win, win, win.   

Celtic 1—3 Bodo/Glimt.

Ange Postecoglou flings up a few surprises. Hattate begins on the bench. The rangy Matt O’Riley comes into the team, and looks the part before being taken off. More predictably, Maeda replaces Giakoumakis. Then the Greek forward comes on late in the game, and achieves nothing worth noting. Neither have done enough to be certain starters. But the Japanese internationalist couldn’t find a way around Khaikin, but he pulls a goal back in the second half, only for Vetlessen’s deflected shot off McGregor to make it 3—1, thirty second later after the ball was centred. Celtic fans leaving the stadium with seven  or eight minutes to go of the ninety.  

The third tier of European football. Bodo/Glimt a comfortable win and Celtic third-class. The tie may be already over. But I’m a big fan of the dog’s chance. The Norwegian champions were comfortable on the ball and playing from the back. They edged clear-cut chances and more importantly got the first goal after six minutes. They knocked the ball around the edge of the Celtic box until they found an extra man inside the box. Espejord took a touch and then coolly finished past Hart. A minute later they had another chance. Late in the half a simple throw in and they could have had a second.

Celtic have dominated games, but here it was a midfield struggle. Celtic had eight corners and a few free kicks. But the Bodo keeper didn’t have to make a save. Maeda did more closing down than he had shots on goal. A fresh-air volley was not one he’d want to remember.  His efforts weak and off target. Jota and Abada similarly had similar efforts from outside the box. Abada was taken off, but it could just as easily have been Jota. Near the end of the first-half Carter-Vickers went down from a challenge from the keeper, but the American internationalist was clearly offside. Celtic finished the half with a little bit more of the ball, but still with no shots on goal.

The second and killer goal was just too easy. Taylor, like Starfelt, has been a whipping boy for Celtic fans (by that I mean me). He was beat far too easily by Solbakken, who did little more than run away from him. His ball into the box was standard fare and should have been easily dealt with. But goal scorer Espejord flicked the ball with the outside of his boot. That took out our centre-halfs and Josip. Pellegrino, just outside the six-yard box, finished.

With half an hour to play Celtic were sure to fashion chances. Juranovic swung a cross into the box. Maeda got his bald head on it and it flew into the corner. Then we lost a goal immediately.

Haikin, the Bodo/Glimt keeper who was excellent all night, without being tested much, and was booked for timewasting. He’s out of the next leg. Perhaps it was intentional. He’ll be available for the next round. Celtic won’t be in it.

We’ve won 16, drew 1, and now lost 1. This is the one I’d have chosen to lose. The league is first, second and third. The Scottish Cup fourth or fifth. The third tier of Europe…well, you know, it’s a grand old team to play for. Our strongest team will be out on Sunday against Dundee at Paradise. It’s hard to say who will start. Next week I’d put out the boys. I know that won’t happen. Just a thought.

Celtic 3—0 Rangers

Celtic go top. Even a few weeks ago that would have seemed ridiculous. Our captain Callum McGregor starting is a massive bonus. Maeda being on the bench gives us options. But it’s all about the other Japanese Bhoy. Reo Hatate scored in the fourth minute from a Matt O’Riley corner. The Japanese midfielder hit the clearance from the edge of the box, which took a nick of a Rangers player, before ending in the back of the net. Calvin Bassey and Joe Aribo bumped into each other and were lying in front of the goal. McGregor waved his arms about and tried to get the goal disallowed, but the referee, Mr Madden, gave the goal. Perfect start.

 We moved up a gear, and started with our usual high-pressing game and hunted Rangers down. All over the park we were better. Giorgos Giakoumakis led the line well, and was unlucky not to score one of his four chances. He also looked for a penalty. It was soft, but I’d have given it.

No need. Hatate struck again in the 42nd minute. He bent this one in off the post.

And then just before half-time looped a ball into the back post. Liel Abada did what he’s been doing for his thirteenth goal of the season. He left Barisic searching for him and McGregor standing as the ball went into the back of the net. The first half was all we could have hoped for. But we murdered Hearts in much the same way at Tynecastle and were left clinging on.

But there was never any chance of that here. Ryan Jack had a shot that hit the bar. And in injury time Connor Goldson found himself in front of goal with a free header, but put it over the bar. It was Celtic’s night.

Abada scored, but on the other wing, Jota was outstanding. He too was unlucky not to score, hitting a short Tavernier pass towards goal and forcing McGregor to make yet another save. Giakoumakis ghosting in and getting up above the centre-half was unlucky not to score.

O’Riley in midfield gives us guile and solidity. Hatate wins man of the match for his goals and assists. Our full backs were excellent. I’ve been critical of Taylor, but his work rate was impressive and he kept the ball well and his relationship with Jota flourished. Juranovic looks cool on the ball and off it. He was probably out best defender and best defensive attacker. If Barasic is worth £30 million then Juranovic is worth £60 million.

Gio made a triple change at half-time, but he got no change out of Ange Postecoglou. Rangers had more of the ball. Celtic made a handful of changes of their own to see out the game (Maeda, McCarthy, Forest, Soro and Doak for Giakoumakis, O’Riley, Jota and Abada who seemed to pick up an injury). The result was the same and we remained three goals ahead. Jota probably had the best chance to make if four, but tried to take on the defender inside the box and losing the ball, instead of shooting or passing to Forrest. A minor quibble.

We’ve been hearing all that shit about not beating Rangers since 2019, in a seven-game- unbeaten run. What many forget is how lucky there were to win many of the Old Firm games in which they were outplayed. They were smashed to pieces here in a pulsating first half. And the game was over. Bobby Madden didn’t give them a penalty. Other teams in the league will be looking at this Rangers team and think they can take something. Celtic have moved up and gear and moved ahead. Fourteen games to go. Just keep winning. Perfect day, even though it was night.