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.
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?
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.
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.
I know there are Rangers’ fans like Brian Thompson out there that borrow a ladder and rollers for painting from a die-hard Celtic fan, but throw them into his tenement forecourt in the rain when their team gets beaten. And I did fling a piece of blue chalk from the pool table through to the lounge bar and hit Thompson on his grinning face after an Old Firm game. As the Celtic anthem It’s a Grand Old Team to Play For, ‘If you know your history…’
I used to be able to name the Rangers’ team. Now I’d be hard stretched. 14th June 2012, Rangers’ shares sold for three pence in the pound, and they were overvalued. Liquidators set up their stall outside Ibrox. There only concern enriching themselves, and people like them, and gorging on the mugs ready to buy a ticket for the now defunct Rangers Football Club.
We need Rangers for the good of the Scottish game we were told. I wasn’t buying that one either. Success built on a brand of sectarianism and hatred of all things Catholic. And I’m not even a good Catholic, but they branded me as one of them. The Orange Order ordering jobs for its members in shipyards, and parading through the streets, pissing up closes and breaking stain-glass windows. Protestant manses spewing anti-Irish hatred. Leaders of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh promulgating eugenic messages of Irish men having monkey-like brains, not being able to work complex machinery, and Irish women having low morals. Their children cretins and a prohibitive cost to the state—that cannot be met and should not be paid. The Masonic Order linking the civil service to the judiciary—Queen’s Counsel, Donald Findlay— to the boys on the beat, telling they who to beat and why. Singing The Sash, ‘Up to their knees in Fenian blood/ Surrender or you’ll die…
Our media falling over themselves with the Rangers’ rebranding during the Souness/Smith era. Chairman David Murray: ‘for every pound Celtic spent, I’ll put up a tenner’.
David Murry, like any good businessman, paid little or no tax to the British government, but he supported them with flag waving and big talk. A pyramid scheme with other people’s money from which he got out early enough not to be caught and found liable. Bringing in the England captain and a slew of internationalists, including Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup. Signing Mo Johnston in July 1989 was a message from the boardroom. Fuck you.
During the Rangers’ wilderness years, when Celtic won so many treble-trebles, it even shut Charlie Adams up and wiped the smirk from the face of Kris Boyd. It was like a fan asking George Best, ‘where did it all go wrong,’ while he was lying in bed with a million quid in notes, another Miss World, and yet another magnum of champagne.
There is a story going about, by the likes of Brian Thompson, we wish Brendan Rodgers well and hope Eddie Howe hits the ground running at Newcastle. Fuck you.
Steven Gerrard wins one trophy in nine and he’s touted as the messiah, and next Aston Villa manager (as a stepping-stone to the Liverpool job).
He won the one that mattered and stopped Celtic winning ten-in-a-row.
It was a hard one, I’ll admit it. Pubs were closed. Covid meant many Rangers supporters broke the law in the same way they trashed the streets of Manchester with impunity during their run to the Uefa Cup Final. At least that brought a smile to my face.
Few Celtic fans had heard of Ange Postecoglou. My fear was the appointment of John Kennedy. He was there and he was cheap. He was the managerial equivalent of Graeme Stuart Murty as Rangers’ manager. If you can’t remember him, that’s a bonus. A bit like remembering John Kennedy was meant to bring stability to a Celtic defence that shipped goal after goal from free-kicks and corners.
The countdown went something like this. All John Kennedy had to do as interim manager, with the league already gone, was win the Scottish Cup. Then it was just beat Rangers.
The problem with John Kennedy, the Celtic equivalent of Murty, wasn’t his coaching pedigree. A new manager needs to have a ready-made list of players he knows are good enough and ready to go. Kennedy was same-old, same-old.
Chief executive Dominic McKay resigned, which was hardly good news, but didn’t cost us anything. And for supporters on the ground doesn’t really mean anything. We know the only voice that matters is supposedly the ninth richest man in Ireland. And Dermot Desmond doesn’t come to Paradise very often. Shares from his Manchester United windfall from Glazer left enough to buy Celtic and have cash left over, but not to splash. Only little people do that.
Ange Postecoglou brought in Kyogo. He knows the Japanese league. The Yokohama F.Marinos striker Daizen Maeda is linked with a move to Parkhead. We got lucky with Jota. And I’ll even fling in Liel Abada. I’m not keen on Carl Starfelt. Aaron Hickey, like John McGinn, were the obvious ones that got away. But we’re linked with another wonder boy at left back from the J-League. But it might not be enough.
Rangers posted a loss of £23.5m last week. Wonderful news. We all suspect that those figures are a bit like a blonde and drunk young girl asking Leigh Griffiths if he’s just here to help her up the road. More to come.
Swiss Ramble’s audit notes (taken from The Daily Record, often a suspect source). Celtic ‘are in good shape financially, despite the pandemic, thanks to their sustainable model’.
Money talks are wee Fergus McCann knew better than most. The man with the bunnet posted a bond and said he’d take out £50 million from the club. He did as he said.
That’s the equivalent on the Champions League money at the end of this season. Rangers win the league and all those debtors will quietly fade away. Loss and they’re in deep financial shit.
At the start of the season we all soberly agreed Ange Postecoglou would need time to re-build a team. It made sense. But really, we’re frothing at the mouth. Give them fuck all. I’d guess it’s fifty-fifty. It could go either way this season. And it will go to the wire. We’ll bring in new players. Rangers won’t. That’s why the five points lost to Livingston hurt so much. We just need to keep winning. Europe after Christmas is a bonus for us, but a necessity for Rangers.
Do I want them to qualify and improve the Scottish coefficient in Uefa competitions? If you need to ask that you’ve not understood what I’ve been saying. Barry Fergusson is Brian Thompson in another life, but sometimes he’s right. I just hope he’s flinging the paint bucket out of his tenement window to make my Christmas complete.
Livingston’s game-plan at Parkhead doesn’t change. They play with eleven men behind the ball and came to take a point. Celtic dominate and are handed three points in the last minute on the ninety, but don’t take them. Obileye inexplicable swiped at Kyogo. He was sent off for gross stupidity and a penalty awarded. Callum McGregor was the last Celtic player to miss a penalty, which was firmly hit and the keeper going the right way. Josip Juranovic has scored two penalties, missed nil, and looked to be our designated penalty taker. Max Stryjek had to do little more than lie down to save Giakoumakis’ penalty, which tells you all you need to know. The Greek striker had another chance a minute later.
An enforced change with Tom Rogic—who has been brilliant—injured. Bitton comes in at the base of the midfield, which immediately makes it a more defensive set-up with Callum McGregor playing the number-ten role and replacing the Australian playmaker. This kind of game suits Bitton, carpet-slippers and moving the ball with around eight-five percent possession, he doesn’t need to defend, because he’s not a defender, even though he was pushed there when Carl Starfelt off injured with ten minutes remaining. He found it easy, too easy.
Livingston offered nothing in the first-half and little more in the second. Ralston had one of the few chances just before half-time. David Turnbull after an early header towards goal, played him in. Ralston’s swerving left-foot shot was saved on the line by right-back Fitzwater. And Liel Abada had the final chance of the half, but Stryjek did not had a save to make. The stand-out of the first half was Jota plucking a wayward Ralston pass out of the air. Ralston had a good case for being man on the match. His four early crosses in behind the Livingtson defence put them under pressure. He linked well with Abada and looked in the mood before it became overly predictable.
The gulf in quality between the teams immense, but it doesn’t show in the only statistic that matters—no goals. Ange Postecoglou tried shaking it up, bring on Kyogo and Mikey Johnston for the last half-hour. He left the Greek striker on (in retrospect, an understandable mistake). Kyogo played the number-ten role. Bringing on James Forest for Jota in the last few minutes of the ninety was the last throw of the dice. These changes would be seen as positive and have worked, if it wasn’t for the Greek striker missing that penalty. After a positive run of results, five wins in five, with some swashbuckling play, a draw. Terrible penalty and terrible result. At the end of the season, these two lost points could haunt us. Massive downer.
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.
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.
Kyogo Furuhashi with six goals in his first six games gets the sponsor’s man of the match (again). Edouard was left on the bench and Furuhashi played through the middle. His energy gave us that little bit extra. Edouard has been a drain, and his body language earlier in the season was off-putting and we wanted him to leave. (I still do.) Kyogo’s goal was spectacular. Tom Rogic set it up while playing keepie-up on the left, darting (well for Rogic a slowish foxtrot) to the right and swinging in a cross to the back post. Kyogo got a foot on it as it left the keeper with no chance. Celtic are a goal up ten minutes into the first half, but they could easily have been a goal (or more) down.
I keep going on about luck. Carl Starfelt is either the luckiest defender, or the unluckiest, since Shane Duffy. Five minutes in and Starfelt gets nutmegged and Aboukhlal takes the ball into the box. The Swedish international pulls him back, but it’s soft and no penalty. Then minutes later Starfelt gets caught square and Pavlidis nips in front of him. He’s six-yards out and sure to score. Joe Hart makes an unorthodox save, diverting it with his toes onto the post. Last season that would have went in. But Hart picked the ball up.
Celtic took the game to Alkmaar. AZ goalkeeper, Verhulst, made two save in a minute. He parried a raking show from Liel Abada, who’d surges down the right and drove into the box. Then he kept out a Rogic shot, tipping it over. (One of those shots Barkas might even have saved, if he wasn’t playing for us).
But Rogic had three or more curling and bending shots on goal. His link-up play was outstanding, and he looks back to his best.
Celtic had a let off after half an hour. Aboukhlal found himself free inside the penalty box. He looked to knock a low cross into the goal. But he did a Starfelt and got his feet mixed up and the ball spun away from him. But he didn’t have long to wait before Starfelt gave him the ball again, losing the ball near the half-way line. The Swedish defender had a better second half.
And Celtic went in at half-time a goal ahead. And what a goal it was.
Most of the second half Alkmar were the better team. They attacked more and looked to equalise. They’d a stack of corners, which we defended well. But nine minutes in and 1—1 looked odds on. Stephen Welsh, who had another excellent game and was unlucky at the other end of the field not to score with a header, stuck a foot in with a last-gasp tackle to prevent a goal. But the ball spun out to Oosting who had the whole goal to hit, but miskicked it up and over.
Edouard comes on for Abada and plays through the middle. James McCarthy and Adam Montgomery replace Rogic and Furuhashi, but not before he’d skinned his countryman Sugawara and took the ball to the byline and whipped it across.
The Japanese international helped make it 2—0. He came in from the left and played the ball to Forrest cutting in on the right. His shot was deflected into the Letschert from around ten-yards. Lucky again. But we’ll take it every time.
How we didn’t get a third is difficult to say. Unlucky. There’s a good case for making Tony Ralston man of the match. He’d almost a goal-line clearance to make it 2—1. Sugawara got forward and whipped a low cross across the box. Pavlidis had a tap in, but Ralston cleared from almost underneath the bar. Then at the other end of the park he almost created the third. Taking two defenders on, breezing past them and getting to the byline. He picked out Edouard, who should have scored, but Verhulst saves. The ball spins into the air. Edouard tries to head it over the line, but he saves it again. Montgomery fires in the rebound, but the defence scrambles it clear.
Five minute of added time Ralston went down after buying a foul with a clever intervention. The Croatian right-back we’ve bought will find it difficult to displace Ralston. And I never thought I’d say that. On the other side Taylor has picked up his game (but I still prefer Montgomery). Welsh didn’t make any rash tackles and give away needless free kicks. He was a threat in the opposition box. Starfelt is a worry. But all over the team is coming good. And we feel good. I’m not sure 2—0 will be enough, but maybe, just maybe, with Joe Hart in goal and breaking at pace, in Kyogo Furuhashi we trust. The feel-good factor continues until Saturday’s tie with St Mirren. We can’t really afford to rest players, but James McCarthy can step in and play his role. Ryan Christie will hopefully be fit. I still want Edouard away, but in the meantime, use him. Everything is good.
No Celtic supporter needs reminding that Hearts beat us at Tynecastle in the opening fixture of the Premier league. Celtic dominated large parts of the game. Today, even more so. We went a goal down in typical fashion from a cross ball in the league game. Then we lost a late goal in a similar manner. Our defenders bullied. This season and last. We’d have been calling for Neil Lennon’s head, but he was already away. Then we won three games in a week and Rangers lost three. It was almost like old times.
I sat in my brother’s house and watched the second-half of the Dundee United versus Rangers game. My brother shouted through to ask what the score was. I didn’t want to tell him, in case it jinxed it. I remember Charlie Mulgrew falling on the ball in his own penalty box. Last season that would have been given as a penalty. This season—apparently not.
Then midweek, I turned on the Rangers game again. Malmo were winning. I thought of turning the match off, straight away, in case I jinxed the ten-man Swedes.
Then against our Czech rivals in midweek, Callum McGregor made a shocking pass back. Joe Hart save it, and saved us. He did the same thing two minutes later. The irony here is we won 3—0. We were so far ahead that score-line flattered them. Yet they could and perhaps should have had a penalty. And Joe Hart went walkabouts and our defence had to clear the ball for him. Last season they might well have snatched a draw. We’ve become lucky again, as our rivals have become unlucky. But against better teams, we will be punished. We showed that laxness, yet, again today.
We’re better because we have a goalie that makes saves. Soro has been jettisoned and Callum McGregor takes the ball and makes forward passes. And, most importantly, we have a centre-forward in Kyogo Furuhashi that is hungry, talented and scores goals. Too often we dominated games but didn’t score, to be undone by a late corner or free kick. We’re scoring goals, lots of them, 13 in recent matches. But our defence is still, wide open. It’s a roller-coaster we’ll be on to the end of the season, but there’s hope now. In Kyogo we trust to hit forty or fifty goals this season. Today he was pushed wide, filling in for an injured Ryan Christie, but still created the first goal. A splendid pass into Forrest’s feet. He darted into the box. His cut back left Edouard with an easy finish. The Frenchman should and could have had another. He created space and hit Gordon from six yards. He was booked for diving. I want him away, but if he stays he needs to do more. Score more. Our midfielders to hit at least twenty.
The good news extended to our second goal. A short corner and Stephen Welsh scored with a header, a ball whipped in be Edouard, with ten minutes to go to half-time. I think the last central defender to score was Jullien. 2—0 at half-time. Total dominance. Hearts only menance coming after 30 seconds, with a corner. I held my breath. It was cleared. Joe Hart the proverbial spectator until half-time. Celtic with over 80 percent possession and 21 shots on goal.
Yet, Hearts made changes at half-time and scored two goals. Andy Halliday went off, which is always bad news for Celtic. Remember how we cheered him when he played for Rangers at Parkhead. Dumpling of the team award. Josh Ginnelly, on for Halliday, had a great claim for being Heart’s man on the match (ours was the more elegant Tom Rogic). Ginnelly continued where he left off at Tynecastle by putting the frighteners on Carl Starfelt. The Swedish international was the worst player on the park, yet again. First, he mistimed a header with Liam Boyce behind him, which he should have cleared, but forced Hart to make a save. Then he gave away a penalty. Starfelt got his feet mixed up with a clearance, in the same way he’d got mixed up with his header, but this time Boyce nipped in front of him. Stone-wall penalty. Liam Boyce stepped up to sends Joe Hart the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Celtic flapped. This had me thinking of the Scottish Cup final two years ago. Celtic in that game were so far ahead they should have been three or more goals ahead. With such a soft-centre in defence anything was possible.
Kyogo Furuhashi dug us out of a hole with a little help from ex-Celt Craig Gordon. Kyogo was offside, but Turbull waited until he came back on again, before slipping the ball to him. He scored in off the near post, Gordon diverting it into the goal. With 25 minutes to go it looked, once again, like game over.
Kyogo went off and we brought on Celtic fan James McCarthy. McCarthy allowed McGregor to go further forward and fill the space behind the striker. Man of the match Tom Rogic was also taken off. Young Adam Montgomery brought on. He played as a winger, but I prefer him as a full back in preference to Greg Taylor. Montgommery had a chance from which he should have scored, but was unlucky. Ange Postecoglou, like the rest of us, probably thought the game was finished when he brought on Albian Ajeti and Soro. Ajeti had a great chance to claim a goal in the last few minutes, but opted to pass the ball inside the box.
But in injury time Stephen Kingsley got wide and flung in a cross. It was deflected into the path of unmarked substitute Aaron McEneff who scored from close range. 3—2.
McGregor took centre and kicked the ball out for a shy in the opposition half. Unbelievable as it seemed, we were playing for time. All the good and bad in this current Celtic side was here to see today. We’re sharper, quicker and scoring more goals. But like a hole in a water-filled bucket, we need to, because we’re liable to lose them almost as quickly. Stephen Welsh had a good game. His one blemish a crazy and stupid tackle. I wish I could say the same for his more senior colleague. I’m not hanging Carl Starfelt out to dry just yet, but using the word unconvincing would flatter him. In an ideal world it would be better if Edouard left, but we’ll wait and see on that front. I prefer Kyogo through the middle, but Edouard scored, missed a sitter or two and contributed. I guess that’s all you can ask. Big game on Wednesday night. I just hope our defence is up to it. The rest of the team look it, if that makes sense?