Scotland 2—1 Republic of Ireland.

At home, Scotland started as favourites and there was talk of topping the group. But Ireland had a good record here. They created most of the chances in the first half and went in at the break a goal ahead.

Scotland were outmuscled and outfought in Dublin. And the Irish were at it again. Tony Parrot had the ball in the net, but it was chopped off for offside. He also outjumped Tierney and forced a save from Craig Gordon, but he was penalised for a foul. Tierney was to go off shortly afterwards after going down in the opposition box. The Arsenal full back was replaced by his Celtic replacement, Greg Taylor. But like many of his colleagues he played too many of his passes sideways and backwards making it easy for Ireland to fall back and counter.

Scotland lost a goal in fifteen minutes, also giving the Irish defence something to hang onto. A simple corner (as in Dublin) which wasn’t defended. Lyndon Dykes did his job, winning the cross ball and heading it out. But Jayson Mulumby got in front of McGregor to win the second header. John Egan was the first to react. Spinning to put his shot in past Gordon.  

Steve Clarke’s men were outclassed by Ukraine at Hampden in their World Cup Play-off tie. They came back to make them think again and did a job on them, scored three and conceding none. The equalising goal in fifty minutes was made and finished by Jack Hendry. He played a ball wide to Taylor at the edge of the box. He nudged it on to Christie. The Bournemouth player flung it into the box. Hendry got up and headed into the corner of the goals.

Scotland were on top. McGregor got caught short on a number of occasions. He gave the ball away and Matt Doherty curled an effort wide. But Ireland’s best chance of the second-half came minutes later. McGregor lost the ball at the edge of the opposition box after a Scotland corner. Obefemi’s pace took him away from Christie, who tried to wipe him out (a certain red card had he connected) but he played in Tony Parrot. He ran in on goal, but his shot was poor and Gordon got down, parrying it away for a corner.  

Anthony Ralston and Ryan Fraser come on for Aaron Hickey, who was injured and Stuart Armstrong. That gave Scotland a lift.

Ireland made a triple substitution. It was end to end. McGregor chested down the ball at the edge of the Ireland box. His shot came off a defender and went for a corner. The ball came in and Browne flung up an arm to get in front of McTominay. Scotland players shouted for hand ball. The referee gave it and checked on VAR. Christie coolly slotted it away in the eighty-second minute.

 Kenny McLean and Che Adams replaced Ryan Christie and Lyndon Dykes and it was Scotland that had something to hang onto. The Bournemouth player with an assist and goal wins my man of the match. Small margins. If he’d connected with Obefemi he wouldn’t have been on the park.

Ireland tried to pressure the Scottish back line. But it was Ryan Fraser who had perhaps the best chance after McGinn had sprung the midfield and fed him with a one on one. His shot went past the post. Jack Henry got booked after the final whistle. But he wasn’t bothered. Neither were we. Rode our luck.

Celtic 4—0 Rangers.

Conundrum? Andy Rat asked if Callum McGregor had scored with that defensive header from the edge of the box, one of Rangers’ best attempts on goal, if that had been an own-goal, would I have got my double up of 4—1 Celtic, and McGregor to score the last goal?

Pat phoned to ask Stevie if he got his line up? Stevie always puts 4—0 on against Rangers. A hangover from the Brendan Rodgers’s era (remember him?) Stevie did.

But for all the other losers out there, just answer these questions honestly (Yes, No, or Don’t Know) Gio can help.  

Do have difficulty falling asleep at night?

Check for any that might apply to you.

Nightmares? (Jon McLaughin, nutmegged and a pass straight to David Turnbull for the fourth).

Tossing/Turning? Where is Liel Abada? Oops. Jota too.

Frequent Wanking. The overweight £40 million El Bullio came on to save the game.

How often do you feel tired and run down.

All of the time? (Steve Davis)

Occasionally, when I can be bothered? (£30 million, Ryan Kent)

Rarely? Glen Kamara. Taken off at half-time, because they couldn’t take Ryan Kent off.

In the last six months have you gained or lost of a lot of weight (not due to dieting)?

Yes?  El Buffalo.

No? Gio. Everything is fine. Absolutely fine. We’ve made the Champions League, after all. We’re five points behind, but Celtic were in a similar stage last season when they had outstanding players like a Crystal Palace substitute, a slow-pony who went to small-time Brentford to raise his game to substitute level and Ryan Christie who went to live on the coast. They never stopped.

Has your sex drive become seriously diminished?

Yes?  I live in Australia now. Women think I’m a strange-looking guy, but I used to be a Celtic regular before AP (Ange Postecoglou). I was framed for sexting. Really, it wasn’t my fault.

No? El Buffalo because nobody in Australia offered £40 million for my stud services.

It fluctuates? Like Boris Barsic tracking Liel Abada’s run, it all ends in tears.

Has a parent of sibling been diagnosed with a serious depressive disorder?

Yes? My father (Kris Boyd senior) was given to parental rages, but sometimes it went the other way when we lost.

No? Gio senior, everything was just fine. The cup is half fool. The treble is still on.

Do you feel that your life is not worth living?

Yes? Two thousand Rangers fans penned in at Paradise at 10am and we were made to wait until Gio and our heroes had left the ground.

No? But Gio did wave at us before he left Paradise. He showed solidarity, which is important. Those fans that burned their strips were trying out new heat-saving alternatives to turning the fire on at home. But we would never burn a Union Jack no matter how many kilowatts it generated.

How would you rate your daily rates of stress or anxiety?

High? I make tackles like that every day? Kyogo was faking it.

Medium? I brought down substitute Maeda because he was too fast and too good for me, not because I was angry about being 4—0 down and getting absolutely horsed again.

Low? If Joe Hart presents me with a ball inside the Celtic box, I’m a Scottish international, but substitute for one of the lesser teams in Glasgow, but I know I’ve got to keep it low, but I put it over the bar because I knew a foul would have been giving against me, and for a change it wasn’t for kicking anybody.

Do you experience any delusions or hallucinations?

No? Gio.

No? You sure?

No?

Does your mood take a turn for the worse as winter approaches?

Yes? We’re usually top of the league, but now we’re five points behind. Their run will last till Christmas.

No? We were written off in nine out of ten seasons. As winter approached Neil Lennon brought in Barkas. It can happen again. Just look at that Greek international keeper, McLaughlin.

Are you in a relationship?

Yes? Rangers until I die, or get my contract terminated with a massive pay-out of other people’s money.  

No? I’m on a rolling contract, yet another Scottish internationalist, and I signed from Hearts for days like this.

Do you ‘put on a happy face’ to hide feelings of sadness?

Yes? Kris Boyd. I’ve got to be honest, Celtic were the better team and fully deserved their victory, but if Alan McGregor was in goals, he’d have saved those three shots on goal, wouldn’t have passed to Turnbull, and we’d have got a penalty, which was long overdue. No, Abada fell over in the box, that wasn’t a real penalty. I’m happy to say I’m unhappy about the performance and everything to do with Celtic, but I would say they were lucky to have caught Rangers on an off day. On another day, I’m far more happy, and happy to admit, we the people can do better.

No? Gio. Everything’s fine. Honest. Fine.

Do you have trouble concentrating or remembering things?

Yes? Boris Barisic. Where is Liel Abada?

No? Oh, no, that’s the fourth. I forgot what the score was and I’m the captain. 4—0.  I didn’t even get to take a penalty. I did get a total doing by that wee Portuguese fella, George Michael, who had me by the balls.

Total your score. And decide whether and when you will have a trophy-less season, again? You might need to make another marque signing that can take a penalty.

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?

Celtic 6—0 Motherwell

Celtic win the double. Kyogo Furuhashi scores a first-half double as does our Greek striker, Giorgos Giakoumakis, but in the second-half. David Turnbull and Jota add to a six-goal rout. But all eyes were on Tom Rogic and Nir Bitton. They’ve decided to move on. But there was none of the baggage that left us with a squad full of outcasts who didn’t want to play for the club at the beginning of the season. We wish them well, but the Wizard of Oz, in particular, will be a big miss. But we’ve got Matt O’Riley to step in. We’ve got depth and strength we didn’t have at the start of the season—and we’ve got a £40 million Champions League windfall. We’ll be playing with the big boys next season—thanks to Ange—and I absolutely love it.

A long summer of recuperation and recruitment. No more qualifying rounds. Just straight into defending our tenth title in eleven years and straight into the Champions League. Bigger and better. We’re going to take some batterings, but we’ll get better. Let’s make it two-in-a-row under Ange and back up to the ten. Let’s build a dynasty. We all know that managers have a shelf life that’s shortening year on year. Look at Brendan Rodgers. He wanted out. And if he’d done the honourable thing—like Rogic and Bitton—and waited until the end of the season most of us (well me) wouldn’t have begrudged him his move. History now.

It was good to see the Scottish young player of the year, David Turnbull, back in the team and scoring. He’s got a habit of scoring against his old club and did so again, in between Kyogo’s double. Tom Rogic almost had the goal we all wanted him to score, but hit the post.

Kyogo’s double were wonderfully inventive. The first swivelling and somehow getting a shot away through a ruck of players and in off the post, in the twenty-first minute. His second, just before half-time was wonderful. He took a chipped pass from Tony Ralston, which came over the top of the Motherwell defence, and hit it first time into the net.

Giakoumakis came on a substitute, he helps create a debate whether Kyogo is better, whether he should be starting by continually scoring goals. One of them was his trademark overhead kick.

But Jota had already put us four up on fifty-nine minutes. He’s been a bit cagey about whether he’s staying or going. But the on-loan Portuguese player has scored and created opportunities all season. His last-minute goal at Pittodrie got us all three points and helped create a run of games in which we didn’t lose. I’d like to see him stay. But it’s really up to him. We just keep going as the post-match printed T-shirts said (smell the glove, remember that one?)

Celtic romped it against Motherwell, playing incisive one-touch football. Callum McGregor picked up the trophy. And I think this is his best season in a Celtic jersey. He helped carry the team. At the start of the season we were in a vicious cycle. Celtic are in a virtuous circle now, when everything that can go right does and the money flows in. In November of last year I was talking about a dog’s chance in the league. Comparisons have been made with Wim Jensen’s minor miracle and double-winning team. Ange’s team might just have topped that. He’s brought in players and they’ve made a difference. A real team effort.

And no, we don’t wish our Glasgow rivals all the best in their cup finals. We might have been turning Japanese this year, but we’re turning Germanese midweek and Edinburghese on Saturday. Small minded and bigoted. All the words you’d associate with your typical Orange Order. Just holding up a mirror.        

Dundee United 0—3 Celtic.

Celtic started 2/7 favourites and that’s the way it looked. No Jota. Giorgos Giakoumakis after his hat-trick against Dundee leads the line. He hit a double and he’s scored nine so far. He’s not great outside the box. But he’s a poacher. I like that. Who doesn’t?

Daizen Maeda pushes wide. His work rate is always impressive; his touch less so. James Forrest retains his place. Win, lose or draw, usually, we expect him to come off and Abada to come on, but he too is missing from the bench. That leaves a space for Karamoko. O’Riley is in for Rogic, but the switch we expected never came. Hatate replaced at half-time.  Caution when needed. That’s something no often associate with Postecoglou.  

Juranovic in for Ralston. Hatate for Bitton. The Japanese midfielder started with a bang, but is no longer an automatic first-choice pick in the way Callum McGregor is. Both featured heavily here. Hatate picked up a booking, but looked back to his elegant best. McGregor, from a short corner, and via a deflection got us the lead in twelve minutes. Later in the half, he had a run from the middle of the park and a shot on goal that just whizzed past the post. The spine of the Celtic defence remains largely the same. And despite the wobbles, when we lead, we usually win.

United despite an opening flurry offered nothing in attack. A long-range effort, a shout for a penalty, Starfelt on McNulty, and a dodgy back pass from, ahem, our keeper, Hart wide to Startfelt. We’ve cause ourselves more problems than United.  It’s got to the stage where sometimes I feel sorry for Starfelt. He sees more of the ball than any of his teammates

Maeda sometimes looks ungainly. His speed is his main asset. Balls over the top finds him outpacing most defenders. Early in the opening minutes he found himself in behind, but his cross turned into a shot and looped just over Siegrist and the bar. The second goal was down to him getting in behind the defence. His cross into the box was lame, but Siegrist allowed the ball to bobble away from him. Giakoumakis nipped in to knock the ball into the net. After a spirited second-half start from United, its game over.

Maeda also had the ball in the net in the first half, only for it to be chopped off for handball from Giakoumakis. His swipe and shot on goal had hit his hand, but the commentator suggested it wasn’t a foul and should have been a goal. I didn’t know that. Celtic controlled the first half. That second goal put us on easy street.

The third goal a few minutes from the end of normal time summed up the kind of night United were having. Forrest, who looked at times as if he was carrying an injury, was replaced by Dembele, who got the last fifteen minutes. The nineteen-year-old, who, for a variety of reasons, has promised much but so far has provided little, had a hand in the third goal. His shot at goal took a deflection.  Giakoumakis didn’t hit it cleanly either, but the ball ended up in the net.

Mikey Johnson also came on for a cameo. Another that has promised much. Doak, the next-big-thing is seemingly on his way to Liverpool. I never quite get that how untested young players on the verge of the first team take the money and go. Fuck off, I say. And, no, I don’t wish him well. I wish ex-Celtic players like Kieran Tierney well for obvious reasons. This was an easy win. United didn’t have a shot on goal. Giakoumakis, quite simply, for being the right man in the right place, wins man of the match for me.    

Celtic 2—0 St Mirren.

Giorgos Giakoumakis misses out again, which is disappointing after the lack-lustre goal display at Easter Road. A carousel in which Matt O’Riley returns and replaces Tom Rogic, or vice-versa. Both are class player. Celtic had a free-kick in the first minute, 30 yards out, which was wasted by O’Riley, with not even a shot on goal. St Mirren offering no threat other than a Scott Tanser cross which Joe Hart had to fall on, early in the first half. No surprise they camped in and played for a no-score draw. That’s a given for most teams in Scotland.

Charles Dunne, who was lucky not to escape an early booking, came closest to scoring an own-goal after 15 minutes, and was booked just before half-time. A Jota cross and Dunne’s mis-hit clearance hitting the bar. He almost sliced another ball into his goal.

Daizen Maeda had a few headers, none of which looked like scoring. But Liel Abada had the best chance of the first-half, Maeda missing a Jota cutback and the ball falling for the Israeli. He’d ghosted in and outside the six-yard box hit the ball first time, but hit the keeper.

Jack Alnwick saved from Jota and a  Josip Juranovic shot powered over his bar. It’s been all defence for the Buddies, but our attack finding it hard to create chances.

Our centre-half, Cameron Carter-Vicker won man on of the match for a performance where our central pairing got more of the ball than their teammates. Ten minutes into the second half he got the goal we needed. Abada taken out by Tanser, who limped off after getting booked. As a general rule, we don’t score from free kicks or corners, until we do. Ball whipped in, Carl Starfelt jostled with the defender and the ball broke to Carter-Vickers, his measured control and left-foot volley from six-yards broke St Mirren’s resistance.

Maeda almost made it two with an acrobatic volley from an O’Riley cross a few minutes later. Celtic brought on three substitutes. Forrest, Rogic and Nir Bitton. All added urgency to the Celtic team. Forrest flung in a ball for Maeda which was just too high at the back post. He also came close to getting us a penalty, getting to the bye-line and getting tackled but he didn’t go down. With Hattate and O’Riley off, Callum McGregor pushed higher up the pitch after picking up a booking.

Our captain put us on easy street with nine minutes remaining in the ninety. He drove a clearance through a ruck of defenders into the bottom corner. With a few minutes remaining he came off to a standing ovation to be replaced by Ideguchi. Job done. Dembele came on for a cameo after his horrendous pre-season injury. Jota went off. Nine game to go. Let’s hope and pray, nine-in-a-row.   

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.    

Celtic 1—0 Motherwell

A Tom Rogic goal in injury-time of the first-half was enough to win it, but left us with a nervy finish. The Australian at time looks a class apart. The free-flowing football associated with Ange Postecoglu is still there to see, but the goals have begun to dwindle.  I looked at the Celtic team and wasn’t sure who was playing through the middle in the traditional, number-9 position. The good news is Kyogo’s injury isn’t as serious as we imagined. My first guess was Liel Abada, but he was playing wide. Forrest also started but on the left. Perhaps even Rogic. But it was the same core with Nir Bitton at the base, McGregor further forward, and David Turnbull pushing even further up the park.  When Pep Guardiola does that type of thing we call him a genius, but then again, he has choices—and is a genius.

The surprise was no Mikey Johnston. I’d have thought him to be certain starter (with Jotta out) and the way we normally play. Most of the team stays much the same, which gives a platform to build from. Mikey Johnston did come up for Forrest, who is added to our injury list, only for the substitute to be subbed near the end, for another of our short-term injury candidates to make a welcome return—Anthony Ralston—to make a crucial block on a Tony Watt equaliser.

Celtic dominated early possession, with Motherwell finding it difficult to get out of their half. In other words it was a usual Premier league game, but Motherwell had a bit of bite and a lot of fight. James Forrest really should have put us ahead in nine minutes, racing through on goal with only the keeper to beat, I thought he’d put it past the post. A replay showed Liam Kelly had saved it and it should have been a corner. The referee missed the save and the corner, and a number of harsh tackles that went unpunished.

Callum Slattery, from the edge of the box, hit the crossbar. Kevin Van Veen picked up the first yellow card after stepping in front of Joe Hart, who was trying to take a quick free kick. The Celtic keeper then made a double save, on thirty-minutes, which bettered the Motherwell keeper’s early save. Sean Goss’s shot from the penalty spot came through a ruck of players. Hart got down to push it away, but up in the air. Tony Watt looked odds on to score from three-yards out, but Hart made himself big and blocked his shot. Motherwell were on the ascendency.

Mikey Johnston had what was once for him a typical mazy run into the box, his shot hitting the side-netting. A mis-hit clearance fell to Turnbull, whose shot ricocheted off the back off a Motherwell defender and forced Kelly to adjust his feet and go the other way, and palm the ball over the bar.

Rogic stepped into put us ahead. A free-kick from Turnbull across the box, dummied by McGregor and finished by the Australian.

A topsy-turvy first-half was followed by a more settled performance by Celtic in the second-half, but as the match neared the end, we needed that second goal to settle the nerves and it never came.

Rogic had a quieter second half, but had another few chances to add to his early goal. Mikey Johnson shot high and wide and had a back post header saved. But we expected more from Rogic from a Turnbull pass, but Kelly saved. It was all about seeing it out, and claiming victory. No Forrest. No Kyogo. No Jota.  Next up Ross County.      

Dundee United 0—3 Celtic

A straight-forward victory. Celtic drew with Dundee United at Parkhead in their last meeting which seems so long ago, I’m pretty sure Ismaili Soro would have been playing in midfield. In a first-half which Celtic dominated from the start with seventy-five percent possession, United’s best chances, their only chance of the half, came from Celtic defenders getting caught on the ball. Keeper Joe Hart in the fifth minute, for example, played the ball across the box towards Cameron Carter-Vickers, who had returned to the team for the injured Stephen Welsh. The ball didn’t reach the Celtic defender, but he helped usher it out for a corner.

Kyogo missed a good chance from a corner in six minutes. He peeled off his marker (how often do we need to say that? We’ll just take it as a given) and headed over the bar from close range. Turnbull had a similar chance. Mikey Johnston, looked sharp on his return—five starts since 2020, but Jota with five goals in five games is an enormous miss—hit a free-kick from the edge of the box against the United wall.

 Kyogo also almost played in Tom Rogic with a nifty one-two, which came to nothing as the Australian hoisted the ball over the bar. But the Wizard of Oz, who not so long ago was being encouraged to exit Paradise, did it all himself in twenty-one minutes. A five-a-side goal. Rogic took the ball from wide, near the half-way line, and cut inside towards the penalty area. Nipping in and out of defenders as they retreated. He beat two in the box and picked his spot. All kinds of goals make goal of the season. But this was special, because it put up one up. No more than we deserved. Celtic are always liable to lose a goal. In the game at Parkhead between the teams, for example, we scored and then United scored. We seen it against Hearts. A game we should have been two, three or four ahead, but scrambled to keep our lead.

Celtic had six corners in the first twenty minutes. Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt coming close and giving us yet another corner.

David Turnbull also missed a good chance with a header after thirty-three minutes. The former Motherwell midfielder has been an automatic pick, with his energy and passing ability, but his trademark runs into the box and goals from outside the box dried up of late. He missed another good chance from close in letting the ball hit off him, rather than guiding it into the net. He described it as ‘a sitter’.

Forrest got his feet mixed up and missed another chance in the six-yard box. But Turnbull’s goal, just before half-time, which gave us breathing space, was of the more straightforward variety. A dink over the defence by Callum McGregor. Turnbull juggled the ball over the advancing Siegrist. With his second touch, he volleyed into the empty net, just to make sure that Charlie Mulgrew couldn’t clear. Game over, so we thought, and so it proved.

United had more of the ball in the second-half, with one shot on goal. The kind your granny would have saved, but Barkas would probably have let in, which shows some of the distance we’ve come since the season started. Forrest who’d been holding his calf, late in the first-half, was replaced by Abada. The Israeli forward missed two decent chances.

Ten minutes into the second-half, Calum Butcher came on for Louis Appere. The latter was coming back from a suspension over a red card. The United substitute Butcher by name should have had a red card for his first tackle on Turnbull, ten minutes later. He got yellow. He also lunged into Turnbull again on the edge of the United box. That should have been another yellow.

But Celtic should have already added to their lead. Nir Bitton had replaced Rogic. And with almost fifteen-minutes remaining, Greg Taylor was substituted for former Shamrock Rovers defender, Liam Scales. Taylor has been out for three months. Many, including me, wondered if the former Kilmarnock full back was good enough for Celtic. Adam Montgomery came in but didn’t look the part. Josip Juranovic’s debut at left-back was in an Old Firm game. He looked cool and composed as his penalty panache suggests. But again, I’m not sure about his defensive work. The Croatian was shuttled over to the right-back spot to replace an injured Anthony Ralston. I laughed when the press questioned Ange Postecoglou about Juranovic saying he wanted to play on the right. Ange was quick to slap that one down with the reminder he picks the team, not the Croatian.

He picks the team and Liam Scales made his debut in a league match. He didn’t score the winner, but he did score the third from a shot from the edge of the box in eighty-one minutes of a second-half Celtic had cruised. We’ve a dud European match on Thursday. Maybe I shouldn’t get on the wrong side of Ange, but it would be nice to see Liam Scales starting, but I’m not really fussed. Just keep winning and pray for Jota to come back soon.   

Celtic 2—1 Aberdeen.

Two games a week now until the Rangers game at New Year. It isn’t too early to say—must win. After the disappointment of our defeat in Germany, much the same team. Nir Bitton, who I never rated, made me change my mind, with his last few performances, which bordered on man-of-the match. But with Jota in the team, that’s not going to happen, and he was at it again today.

James McCarthy needs to do the same, simply, to do better. The first few minutes, a terrible ball across the park from Welsh put the defence under pressure. McCarthy foul, gives away a free kick. Joe Hart lay injured for several minutes (four minutes added time at the end of the first half) from Christian Ramirez’s shoulder-barge.

Jota has been the most dangerous player in the last few games and scored many of our goals. Most chances coming from his wing. He scored again, the opener after nineteen minutes.

 Liel Abadda has had a decent start in a Celtic jersey. Now he’s under real pressure from James Forrest. He offered little in attack and was replaced by him after sixty minutes.

Abadda can count himself unlucky to give away the penalty. A foul on Bates, but with little or no contact. Lewis Ferguson equalised and after thirty-seven minutes. And Aberdeen came into the game more before half-time. Joe Hart having to make a decent save.

But Turnbull created the best chance just before the break. He swung in a deep cross to the back post. Stephen Welsh got a head to it, but squaffed it. Behind him was Kyogo, with a much better chance of scoring.

Former Celtic player, Dylan McGeouch was taken off at the start of the second-half. Scott Brown leaving later in the match, to a standing ovation. But in many ways, it’s our former left-back and sometimes winger, Johnny Hayes we can thank for our victory.

Ramirez had stood tall to a blockbuster shot from McGregor, knocking the Aberdeen player over and preventing an almost certain goal. Jota and Josip Juranovic came close as the second half began to mirror the first.

Twenty-four minutes into the second-half and Celtic take the lead. Abada, just before he was substituted, had a shot in the box blocked. The ball spun into the air. Hayes went to clear his lines. He hit the ball off McGregor and it ricocheted into the net.

Unlike the first-half, Celtic kept control of possession and the game. Ralston had a fine effort saved by Lewis. Jota got in behind the defence and hit the post. But with the game petering out, every corner and free-kick offers Aberdeen (and most other teams) the best chance to score.

 Juranovic’s audacious penalty might not have counted for much on Thursday in the Europa League, but his positioning and header off the line on ninety minutes won us three points here. You could just imagine Lewis Fergusson’s celebration if he’d netted a double for Aberdeen and the boys in blue.

Six-added minutes of injury time. Ange Postocoglou takes off Kyogo with a minute of it remaining and brings on Ajeti, which seems about right. The Japanese forward does the hard running for much of the team. In retrospect, we always come up with the right answer, but perhaps in midweek… Callum McGregor’s goal puts us back within four points of Stevie G’s bankrupt old team, whom after winning two games on the trot, claim to be back to where they were before—

Our next game, midweek, Thursday, Hearts. That’s all the matters. Hopefully, Rogic and/or Bitton will be back. I’m certainly not worried about Carl Starfelt. Christopher Julien has become a bit like the Loch Ness Monster, there has been a sighting of his head above the water, or so I’ve heard.