Hibernian 1—3 Celtic.

Easter Road has been tough for us in the league. No away wins in eight seasons. But not tonight. Celtic totally dominant in the first-half and see out the second-half. For a change, we score from free-kicks, but true to form, concede too. Fourteen-minutes in, Tony Ralston started the party. Free-kick edge of the box. Ralston unmarked at the back post, keeps his head and powers in David Turnbull’s pass. Great header. Great goal.

Our second goal is another free kick. We don’t score enough from corners, considering we average around ten-to-one against most teams we play. Here David Turnbull simply whips it into the box and Carter-Vickers volleys home. Simple. Half an hour in, two set pieces, and two goals.

Giakoumakis drops to the bench, Kyogo plays through the middle (as expected) and scores, as expected from a Jota cutback after 24 minutes to make it 3—0, and it looks like game over. But yet again, we should have had more. Kyogo himself should have had more, squaring when he should be shooting three minutes later.  It’s great to see Mikey Johnston back—and starting. We’re beginning to pick up a bit of momentum, slicing through the Hib’s defence at will.

Winning four games on the bounce, with no goals conceded, until with Hib’s first corner of the game, and with fifteen minutes of the first-half remaining—and some Hibs’ fans leaving the ground—Boyle scores with a free—scuffed—header.

With almost total domination of the ball, it seems Hibs can’t get up the park. But two minutes after Ralston’s opener, Murphy plays in Joe Newell. From six-yards our goalie makes a crucial save.

Hart made an equally crucial save in the second-half. Hibs were dominant, but unconvincing. Doyle-Hayes plays the ball beyond the last man and gets behind the Celtic line with Ralston playing Murphy on. With 15 minutes to go if Murphy scored it could have been tricky. Hart makes himself tall and saves—yet again.

But the home side’s goal gives Hibs a dog’s chance. They should have been out of the game.

Tom Rogic, who had been running the show, unfortunately, got injured just before half-time and was replaced by the more defensive Nir Bitton.

 The focus in the other end of the city is on Walter Smith with a minute’s silence before the start of the game. We certainly hoped Aberdeen would honour his legacy by sitting in deep and Broonie scoring a breakaway winner after a dour defensive display, with their goalkeeper unbeatable.  But before the game we’d have taken a draw.

CELTIC 2—0-FERENCVAROS

3.30pm kick-off on a Thursday afternoon seems a time for school-football matches or reserve-team fixtures, but an almost full Parkhead showed how much we love European competitions. We’re in the second tier and whoever wins the head-to-head between both teams is likely to drop into the third-tier of European competition. Adam Montgomery came in for Bolingoli, the only change in the team that won at Motherwell. Celtic had similar possession here in the first-half, with two-thirds possession, but with far fewer chances. Jota came closest, with almost twenty minutes gone, with an angled drive Dibuzo tipped over the bar. Stacks of corners. But here’s the rub, we don’t look like scoring from corners, but we look like conceding.  Ferencvaros created a chance of their own, with a little help from Montgomery. The defence backed off and Montgomery gave Uzuni a chance to shoot from inside the box. Joe Hart made a decent save. It was a warning.

Samy Mmaee and Tony Ralston were both booked when the former kicked out at Kyogo. He didn’t kick him hard enough to get sent off. Sutton argued ‘a kick is a kick’ meaning a red card, but it was yellow.

The Japanese icon opened the scoring for us, fourteen minutes into the second half. Jota created it with a sweeping pass from the Celtic half. An exquisite first touch, a look up, and he dinked it in past the keeper and near the right-hand post.

We’ve had a couple of clean sheets recently, but were at our Keystone Cops best here as we almost conceded an equaliser immediately. Uzuni whips a dangerous ball into the six-yard box. Carl Starfelt is standing off Mmaee as he looks ready for the tap-in. But Ralston slides in to clear. Joe Hart also bailed him out when he dithered and made a back pass picked up by Uzuni. 2—0 up by then and there was more room for these kind of errors we’ve come to expect from Starfelt.

  Montgomery got us a penalty when he was brought down just inside the area by Wingo. Despite Celtic’s dominance, he too, didn’t have a great game. He’d earlier been booked after being on the wrong side of a winger, and his passing was erratic. When he limped off to be replaced by Liam Scales, it wasn’t a bad substitution.

Callum McGregor misses from the spot, or the keeper makes a good save? Either way, mid-way through the second-half, Celtic miss a glorious opportunity to put themselves out of the away team’s reach. His next pass went to the opposition. But Cameron Carter-Vickers does enough to prevent the counter-attack.

Most Celtic managers choose to substitute Tom Rogic after around 70 minutes, especially when we’re protecting a lead. Nir Bitton seems to be the man chosen for the job now. James McCarthy seems simply to have disappeared. But we also had a big substitution in us—Giorgos Giakoumakis. He replaced Liel Abada, who worked hard (that’s the minimal).  Giakoumakis gives us physical presence. Hart also took to pinging some balls from his goal mouth.

The Greek striker showed what he’s all about with a chest down in the box, holding off a defender and a shot that ballooned over the bar. He’ll score goals. Lots of goals.

With fifteen minutes remaining, with Giakoumakis lurking, David Turnbull scored after going to hit the ball with his right foot, the ball hitting his left foot. The keeper coming out of the goal and he’s tackled by a Ferencvaros defender and the ball ends up in the net. After his wonder goal at Fir Park, this was the antithesis. Not that it matters.

Turnbull should have scored another. Jota played him in. He’s one-on-one with the keeper, but slides it past the post.

Kyogo goes off and Mikey Johnston comes on, and he looked lively. With the game going to added time he played in Jota. But the Portuguese winger hit the side netting, when he should have scored.   

Fine margins. Celtic deserved to win and they did. Certainly we’ll go to Hungary next Thursday and attack. Kyogo will start through the middle, but there is a case for Giakoumakis. Jota is first pick, but Abada is going to feel the pressure of Mikey Johnston, or a tactical switch with Kyogo moving wide. We await Christopher Julien’s return. Starfelt looks the obvious candidate to go, but Carter-Vickers isn’t a loan signing I’d particularly want to keep.   

Celtic 0—4 Bayer Leverkusen.

None of my mates thought we’d win tonight (perhaps I should use mate, singular). A draw would have delighted us. We can’t score goals and concede at every opportunity. One win in six games. Against a Dundee United, mid-table Scottish team, we looked vulnerable. Against a German team with far better players, we feared we could face the West Ham scenario again. We feared a thrashing. The return of our captain, Callum McGregor a godsend. Kyogo Furuhashi leading the line an unexpected blessing.

In the first few minutes it was end to end. Leverkusen had a goal disallowed for offside. Kyogo rounded the keeper, Hradecky, and looked sure to put Celtic one up. Tah came in on the Japanese international’s blind side and put the ball out for a corner. The Finish keeper was hard to beat all evening—only something exceptional would get past him.

Tom Rogic has a shot that the keeper puts over the bar. Adam Montgomery plays a ball across the Bayer box but Liel Abada doesn’t get on the end of it. Twenty minutes in and even, the much maligned Carl Starfelt, has a descent effort that the Bayer keeper is forced to save.

Twenty-five minutes in and Parkhead is silenced. David Turnbull is caught in two minds clearing a ball on the Celtic touchline. Bakker nips in front of him and plays a diagonal ball across the six-yard box. Hincapie beats Hart, but Montgomery gets a foot to it, but directs it into the net.

Celtic punch-drunk. Commentator Chris Sutton remarks some of our home town players were hiding and it was difficult to argue with him. Unfortunately, Ralston wasn’t hiding. He gifted Bayer the second goal ten minutes after their first. Dithering on the ball in front of a static back-line. Wirtz one-touch finish made it all look too easy. Celtic on the ropes until half-time.

Celtic went for it at the start of the second-half. Kyogo almost pulled a goal back, holding off a defender and bending a ball in at the post. Hradecky got his fingertips to it. Bayer’s keeper followed that up with a good save from Jota. Ten minutes into the second half and Celtic look as if they might have a goal in them.

Thirteen minutes in and Turnbull goes down in the box, after a challenge from ex-Celt Frimpong. Not a penalty. Frimpong didn’t have the easiest night. He created a couple of gilt-edged chances, but Celtic’s best player, Jota, generally, got the best of him—when attacking.

Seventeen minutes into the second-half and it is game over. Leverkusen get a penalty, when the referee decides the ball hit Cameron Carter-Vickers’ arm and booked the central-defender.  Alario makes it 3-0.

Bayer with a game against top-of-the-table Bayern, at the weekend, bring on around six or seven subs (I lost count). Kyogo finds time to miss another sitter, before he’s taken off. Abada misses a good chance too.

Giakoumakis makes his debut for the last fifteen minutes, but barely gets a kick. Hart makes a world-class save from a downward Shick header with a few minutes remaining. The Bayer substitute the ripped Scotland to shreds can think himself unlucky not to score.

Amine Adli scores the fourth goal, four minutes after the ninety, running beyond a static Celtic defence and hammering the ball into the top corner past Hart.

Celtic were simply outclassed, found wanting all over the pitch. Hart and Jota get pass marks. Kyogo? That’s a tough one. Four chances, no goals. Turnbull sold a goal and just didn’t play. Ralston also sold a goal. You could see his effort, but sometimes effort isn’t enough. Hradecky showed him how it should be done. Sheer class, attacking and defending. We want to play like Manchester City, but we can’t defend and aren’t scoring. This was as close to our first team as you’ll get. Certainly, Christopher Julien is better than Starfelt. I’m better than Starfelt. But the problem doesn’t lie with the Swede international. Good teams find it easy to score against us. So do mediocre teams. Livingston, bottom of the Premier league at the time, beat us 1—0. The good news is I’m sure we’ll beat Aberdeen at Pittodrie. Not totally sure, but pretty sure. They’re wide open as well. And if we can score three or four, we might get better than a draw. If we can hang on to Rangers’ slipstream we’ve an outside chance of the league because they too are stuttering, just not as badly as us. In the Europa league we’ll be lucky to pick up more than a point.

Celtic 3—0 Ross County.

We hoped for goals, but in the first-half we didn’t see any. Ross County came with the Rangers’ game-plan, win a corner and win the game. Celtic made several changes to the team that lost at Ibrox. No Kyogo, no Edouard, no Christie,  no Ralston and no Welsh. Taylor came back into the team, but was replaced in the second-half by Adam Montgomery. Kyogo’s goals in recent matches have given us the edge, so obviously he was a big miss. But Albian Ajeti hit two striker’s goals.

Ajeti had a clear sight of goal, a one-on-one with Ross Laidlaw, which he missed after twenty-five minutes. Turnbull also hit the side netting. Abada hit the bar twice and should have scored with a superb pass inside from Rogic. Jota cut inside, after 40 minutes and the keeper made a comfortable save from his shot.

In the first-half, the former Benfica player looked the best of the newcomers. Cameron Carter-Vickers looks comfortable on the ball and he’s a big boy, although not the tallest, which is how we’ve been found out in most of the games last season (and this season at Ibrox). Juranovic played on the right, and Taylor went back to the left-back slot. The Croatian, as he showed at Ibrox, isn’t fazed on the ball and is a quality addition. Starfelt, however, remains Starfelt.

Ross County, like Rangers at our last away game, had around twenty-percent-possession in the first-half, but created three chances—that weren’t corners of free-kicks—and required toe pokes into the net. Breakaways, usually down the left. Their game plan to frustrate Celtic was working.

Albian Ajeti’s first goal, a flying header inside the six-yard box, from an Abada cross on the seventieth-minute, put us 2—0 up, and made sure the game was safe.  

But in many ways, the game hinged on a deflected long-range shot from Cameron Carter-Vickers, which looped over the Ross County keeper, after sixty-four minutes, when the away team were beginning to look comfortable.

Then a save from Joe Hart minutes before our second goal. Ross County forward, Charles-Cook had switched from the left wing to the right wing. He got the better of Juranovic a few times (which hints at defensive worries) and he hung a ball up at the back post. The County forward should have scored, but Hart kept us ahead. We went up the park and got the second goal. Massive.

Hart took the captain’s armband from Tom Rogic—who’d be given it be McGregor—when the Australian went off. Hart wore John Thompson’s name on his back today, in remembrance of the Celtic keeper who died after a head knock from Rangers player Sam English at Ibrox, 5th September 1931. The story of three captains shows who’s who in the Celtic pecking order.

I’m a fan of Montgomery and he created the third goal for Ajeti with five minutes of the ninety minutes remaining. A surging run from the young Scot, a ball into the box. Ajeti with a striker’s finish. He’s holding the centre-forward jersey now, and I’m trying on my old chant for size, ‘Ajeti puts the ball in the net-ti.’

We were exposed at the back a few times. And looked lethargic before the first goal. Jota faded out of the game in the second-half. Cameron Carter-Vickers won man-of-the-match. A good day for the debutants, overall—and Ajeti. Any victory is a good victory. We’ll be more tested in Seville on Thursday, Europa League duty, where, ironically, twenty-one-years ago we lost, but remember fondly.