Rangers v Celtic

Toxic levels of hate should go through the roof when Celtic win on Sunday. Because of the corona virus I don’t think there’ll be much hand shaking at the end. But perhaps Scott Brown can give Morelos a little friendly pat on the head. Rangers outplayed Celtic in the last two games and won at Parkhead. That latter game, in particular, there was a lot of talk about Celtic not being able to play as badly as they did at Hampden. They played worse at Parkhead and got nothing. Rangers deserved to win.

Fraser Foster, apart from that blip at Livingston has been arguably, Lennon’s best signing. He’ll need to deal better with cross balls. As will the Celtic defence, in general.

There’s nothing worse than defenders getting beaten in the air and losing a goal from a cross ball. Niko Katic’s winner for Rangers at Parkhead, could, ironically, mean no place in the team for Jeremie Fringpong, who was probably our best player in the two games against Rangers in December and January.

If we go with three at the back, as I expect, then Nir Bitton is the one holding the jersey. I’m not a great fan of Bitton, but in the last few games he has looked composed on the ball. An outside bet for this position is the Israeli, Hatem Abed Elahamed. He was outstanding when we last visited Ibrox and for most other games before his injury. He’s came on as a substitute recently, but I reckon he won’t be match fit. He won’t start.

Kristopher Ayer and Christopher Julien are certain starters. The latter got bullied at Livingston recently, but is a goal threat from corners. Even Ayer is scoring goals. But both lost personal battles in the last Old Firm fixtures to Moerelos. Let’s hope the Ibrox striker continues to miss easy chances against the Celts. Jozo Simunovic, whose howlers have led him to being dropped from the squad, may reappear on the bench here. I don’t expect him to start.

Greg Taylor looks to have tied up the left-back/midfield slot. After a good start, he’s not been great recently. Against Livingston he kept bringing the ball backwards and was very poor. Only when James Forest switched wings with Taylor, after the former Killie player was taken off, did a Celtic player run by the Livingston full back on the left hand wing and reach the bye-line.

Neil Lennon has the option of Boli Bolongoli Mbongo. But he’s a dud. Sell him now.  I’d go with Jonny Hayes, who can now be classified as a veteran. Ironically, the two players that have been brought in to fill this spot—haven’t—although Taylor might get to the level of being a regular on merit, rather than necessity.

James Forest is a certain starter. If he’s ineffectual as he usually is, then Lennon likes to bring Fringpong for him. But Forest gives you goals. Fringpong, usually, doesn’t.

Calum McGregor will play in the middle with Scott Brown. The Celtic captain usually bosses it against Rangers, but that’s been missing recently. McGregor is the best midfielder in Scotland. He can play anywhere and do everything: defend, attack, dribble, pass, and score goals. If it wasn’t for Odsonne Edouard, I’d be saying he’s the best player in Scottish football.

Here’s where it gets a bit confusing when we try and second-guess Lennon. The Celtic manager was brave playing Mikey Johnston at Parkhead. Johnston is an old-fashioned winger that is so talented he goes by people for fun and can score goals. But against Rangers he’s been awful. He’s injured anyway.

If we’re going with only one up front—by that we mean Edouard—then Mohammed Elyounoussi is likely to start. He started against Livingston, instead of Griffiths, but the Southampton player here on loan did not stand out and was subbed. Griffiths, as we all know, scored a hat trick against St Mirren.  The Paisley team did not make a tackle and simply conceded, Rangers are far more likely to make it more difficult. If Lennon does go with two up front, Griffiths gets his place on merit.

But here we go with the wildcard. It might even be, whisper it, Vakoun Issouf Bayo. With the Ibrox pitch a mud patch, the big target man, might get a sniff. As unlikely as Rangers winning the league, but you never know.

Tom Rogic was given a game in the stroll against St Mirren. He’d be a certain starter if Brendan Rodgers was still talking about loyalty and picking the Celtic team. He isn’t and in this kind of battle Oliver Ntcham looked a stick-on to start, but since his injury that looks far more unlikely.

Ryan Christie looks to have the position by default. He’s scored twenty-plus goals this season, never stops running, is a great passer and great at free kicks. He’s good in the air too for his size. The downside, like many other Celtic players, was he was rotten in the other Old Firm games. That’s always a worry. But I think he’ll play in front of Rodgic and possibly Ntcham. He might even play on the right in Forest’s place, with Forest going to the left in place of Taylor.

That would leave no room, not just for Taylor, but Griffiths, Rogic, Elyounoussi. Edouard is our ace in the pack. Whoever plays with or against them, he’s better all-round. If we can defend our box, that’s why we’ll win. I’m not going to say we can’t play as bad again. We’ve proved we can again and again. We’ve got better players and should win. I’m repeating myself. Let’s prove it.

I think Celtic will go with Forster, back three of Biton, Jullien, Ayer. Forest on the right, Taylor on the left. In the middle of the middle, McGregor and Brown. Christie playing behind Edouard and Griffiths.

[McGregor and Griffiths to score. We’ll win 2—1 (I hope]  

Celtic 1—3 Copenhagen

When we are down, Rangers are up. Life’s that simple. On even pegging going into this tie, we blew it. Cluj done a similar job here at Parkhead earlier in the season. Copenhagen followed suit. We get back into games and then simply make school-boy errors. Jozo Simunovic was way back in the pecking order under Brendan Rodgers for the kind of mistake he made last night. He’d overall a poor game and his pass back was short.  Julien slid in and his ricochet made it even easier for sub Santos to score. Edouard’s penalty ten minutes from the end had us thinking of extra time and the possibility of penalties to decide the tie. Two minutes later. Game over. Tie over.

Biel arrows through the centre of Celtic’s defence as it wasn’t there (it wasn’t). Celtic would need to have scored two. As in the Cluj game, Copenhagen were the team to score with N’Doye milking—the culmination with his battle with Julien—with a third and final goal to put him and Celtic in their place, which was nowhere. In truth, it didn’t really matter at that stage.

We fall back onto it’s the league that matters argument. Nine-in-a-row. Then Ten. Rangers will have more ties to play and that’ll hurt them. Let’s just say that’s the kind of hurting I’d like, possible an English side and a couple of extra million in the bank. Cluj cost us tens of millions. Copenhagen cost us millions. Worse, it gives Rangers the bragging rights. Rangers, remember are a poor team that also beat us at fortress Parkhead and we won the League Final against them at Hampden only because of Fraser Forster’s heroics.

Rangers will not win the Uefa Cup, but they’re still in it. We’re on the outside looking in. Rangers have made £7 million from the Uefa Cup. That pays for Ryan Kent and boost their struggling finances. More money to come from their tie against Leverkusen. Lose-lose for us, whatever way we portray it.

Hopefully, we can go on and win the league. With performances like this that isn’t a given. The Scottish Cup would be a bonus. We’re back to the same old, same old. Pish.

Celtic 1—2 Rangers

we don’t need more stats, we watched the game.

I’d a gut feeling Celtic would lose today and a gut feeling they’ll lose the Championship. Hope I’m wrong, of course. Last year we were behind Rangers and went on to win it comfortably. I remember being 13 points behind Hearts a few years ago. No need to go overboard and get bogged down in hype and hysteria. Rangers not if, when, they win their game in hand, will be a point ahead in the league.

In terms of performance this was on par with the League Cup final. Lennon went with his strongest eleven. Johnson in for Ntcham showed attacking intent. All over the pitch Celtic had pace. That was the theory.

In reality, Rangers outmuscled us. You can’t blame Fraser Forster for any of the two goals. Scott Brown was the only Celtic player that turned up. Jeremie Frimpong decent enough without doing anything. Most anonymous player, James Forrest. I’d call him dreadful, but he didn’t have enough touches to be dreadful. Mikey Johnson is a truly gifted player, but not today. Starting him was a gamble that didn’t work. Odsonne Edouard talent wasn’t on show, no better than Lewis Morgan. Ryan Christie missed another penalty. I knew he was going to miss. Decent height for the keeper, but great save. That would have put us 1—0 up. It didn’t. We were chasing the game, after Ryan Kent’s superb strike.

Rangers second goal, Kristopher Ajer, six-foot-six or six-foot-seven, outmuscled and outjumped at the back post by Katic at the back post. Centre-halves especially in Scottish football need to be able to win their headers. This is something Ajer seems incapable of.  

Christopher Jullien won us a penalty and had two headers cleared off the line and was unlucky not to score. But he kept giving away fouls by knocking over Morelos. He’s prone to that basic error of pushing over the opposition centre-forward and helping the opposition team up the park. His passing is also erratic. The Rangers outball always had us scrambling backwards towards our own goal. Morelos didn’t score, but he got the better of our centre-half pairing.

Boli Bolingoli wasn’t the worst, wasn’t the best, and was distinctly below average, which just about sums him up.

Calum McGregor scored a deflected goal off Edouard’s hand and got us back into the game coming up to half time. Terrific player, but not today. Not in the last match at Hampden or Ibrox.

Nine out of ten Celtic players—the exception being Scott Brown—lost their person battle with the opposition players. At home, remember, where we should win games.     

Neil Lennon was fond of reminding commentators that Celtic bossed the last game at Ibrox. Ranger bossed the game today and the game at Hampden. If they boss any more Old Firm games Lennon won’t be the boss for much longer. He’s wise enough to know that himself. We can win at Ibrox, but let’s put talk of winning the Europa Cup on hold. The team that Lennon built isn’t good enough even for Scottish consumption.

Peter (Barra) McGachy (1956-2019)

the bold barra

Peter (Barra) McGachy died on Friday 13th December. I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere. Barra was a bit of a bard, one of life’s storytellers. He would be saying, ‘C’mon, Friday the 13th for fuck sake’. He’d one of those gritty voices that came from a mineshaft below his feet and echoed up through his body. His throaty laugh was a bit like that, an invitation to stop fucking about, get a drink and enjoy your life. And his moustache, most people remember his moustache. Even when he shaved it off, it was six months before I noticed. It was like the queen with her corgi dogs, you just expected it to be there. His moustache was a corgi dog, tail wagging, and a tale there somewhere.

But he wouldn’t thank you for mentioning him in the same breath as the queen. At his funeral I was surprised to hear he was a socialist. Look around for the cheapest, most dilapidated van outside Dunswin Court, burst tyres, beer mat for tax disc – that’s anarchy for you.

Barra worked in the yards, a welder. I didn’t know that. Didn’t know about his wife and family. Just a guy I knew from the buroo club and fitba, thirty years ago, when gravel parks were the AstroTurf of our day. Barra loved fitba. Loved Celtic. Used to slide into the booth beside me in Mountie and watch the games on the big screen. Play pool with him in the Drop Inn. Saw him in the snooker hall. He did the commentary on the glory years. We’re old enough to remember the other mob that bought nine titles on tic. And even the time before that the Lisbon Lions. Nine flags flying over Paradise.

I’m not going to start greeting or anything like that. We weren’t great pals. I knew where he came from Belmont Street in Whitecrook and the Bisley. Little Ireland. Men worked in the yards, the Proddies got all the best jobs and divvied up the other shite and allowed the Catholics to toil in the dirtiest, lowest paid work. No surrender comes in many forms. Good to hear Barra was a shop steward and employed his gift of the gab.

When Barra was born in 1956, Ferenc Puskás threatened to flee Hungary during a visit to Scotland by the national team, seek asylum, and play for Celtic. All along the Clyde the yards were shut down by strikes over guaranteed pay. We all know the story of shipyard owners who had made their millions claiming they would be forced out of business unless caulkers, burners and platers were reasonable. A familiar ring we here every day now.

Billy Connolly talks about the funny men in the yards. That’s Barra. I’m sure he’d have told the Parkhead hierarchy he could speak Hungarian in the same way he convinced me he could play in goals despite being legless.  If he’d negotiated for the welders he’d have been reasonably unreasonable.  A zip in his trousers at the back, as he explained, for emergency purposes only. Christmas lights on his hat so he could go to the gaffer and, honestly, tell him, he was feeling a bit light-headed. Barra had a sense of the absurd and we all need that to leaven our everyday work and worries.

I had to laugh at one of the family photos. That could have been my family, or most of the families I knew. Dad standing at the back as Irish looking as a potato. Mum in the middle of the couch, broad presence, centre of the family –I’m not even sure if it’s his family. There should be a wee sister there but it’s all young boys.  Barra grinning at the front, smoothed down hair, big jug ears, tan coloured, V-neck school jumper, shirt and dark tie. Gallus, ready to leap up and get on with some mischief. He didn’t have a moustache then, but did have nudie books, he was only about ten. Photos cost money, but you see consumerism creeping into view. An Electrolux hoover and that looks like a record player. A family on the up and up.  

How quickly we become frail and fall. Barra, father and grandfather, was buried by those who loved him. It was good to see such a turn-out at the crematorium. I’ve been up that way a few times already this year. And I’m sure if I hang about long enough it will be my turn too. I think I can hear Barra’s laughter.     

Betfred Cup Final: Celtic 1—0 Rangers

Betfred Cup Final (what we used to call the League Cup Final before the rights were sold for hard cash).

I know how Steven Gerrard must feel. I had two quid on Julien for first goal and lost the bookies line. Going further back than that I remember when Celtic used to play Rangers off the park during the Tommy Burns era, only for Brian Laudrup to gallop up the park and score the winner and the flying pig, Andy Goram, to make save after save. Here we had Fraser Foster save a penalty from Alfredo Morelos in the second half, and a world-class save from Ryan Jack in the first half. He also made a fistful of other top-notch saves. Fraser Foster might well have been Neil Lennon’s best signing.

The strange thing about the aftermath of the final is both mangers can feel quietly pleased. Julien was offside when he scored. Rangers did batter Celtic from the first to the last of the 96th minute. By some margin this was Celtic’s worst performance against Rangers in years. Worse than the 2—0 defeat at Ibrox last year under Rodgers. Worse than the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat at Hampden to a Rangers team playing in the First Division. Craig Gordon, Scott Brown, Nir Biton, and Leigh Griffiths played in that game. Callum McGregor and Tom Rogic came on as subs. I was looking for James Forrest’s name, but it was missing. You’d be hard pushed to have noticed he was playing yesterday.

Neil Lennon brought Forrest into the Celtic team and he’s been a consistent presence since then and in the ten domestic trophies won in the last three seasons.   He’s added goals to his game and managers such as Rodgers were quick to tell us how hard he worked. But we’re not digging up bags of coal. Our eyes don’t deceive us. He was rotten yesterday and not much better in the last home game against Hamilton. But his performance was hidden in a team display that never reached the level of mediocrity. Ironically, the miss of the game was not Morelos from twelve yards of the penalty spot (and yes Forster did move off his line) but Mikey Johnston’s. He was played in by Odsonne Edouard and had a one-on-one with McGregor, but put it by the post. That would have given Celtic a 2—0 lead and game over signs would have flashed around the stadium. And despite Ranger’s defenders missing some good chances to score from corners and free kicks, the biggest miss of the afternoon was Kris Ajer’s free header, six yards out, and all he had to do was score.

I was surprised to hear Lennon praising Ajer. I think he must have had on his James Forrest specs on. At one point he tried to play Morelos offside, got nudged aside by the Ibrox psychopath as he ran down the touchline. We knew what was coming next, because Ajer does at least one of these Inspector Gadget tackles every game. Stick a long leg out and hopes to hit the ball. He didn’t, Morelos was in on goal. Only for Fraser Foster to start laughing at the Columbian striker and put him out of his stride. Morelos should have been sent off for kicking Scott Brown, Julien and any other Celtic player within spitting distance when the ball was at the other end of the park.

Lennon had a big call to make before the game, whether to play Edouard or not. Player power. He let the French man decide. He was on the bench and came on to do everything that Lewis Morgan did not and could not. Connor Goldson is not the best centre half in Scottish football, but having Lewis Morgan as an opponent was like having a day off yesterday. Morgan’s not a centre forward and not even the best winger at Celtic. He’s probably fourth or fifth choice.  Vakoun Issouf Bayo, who does not play as a forward for Celtic because he’s either injured or not good enough (probably the latter) wasn’t fit to fill in for Edouard. Neither was Leigh Griffiths deemed not sharp enough or fit enough for a place on the bench. In contrast, Mohamed Elyounoussi was deemed fit enough to start despite missing a few games, but was subbed at half time when the score was 0—0. To use the argument he wasn’t the worst is to invite comparisons for the race to the bottom and there you’ll meet James Forrest, who’ll outpace you and show you his winner’s medals.

Only three Celtic players deserved to pick up a winner’s medal, because individually all the others lost their battles all over the park. Fraser Forster is the giant in which stand the shadows of Edouard, who came on in the second half to cause the Rangers defence problems and Jeremie Frimpong. Little Pingpong might have been the smallest guy on the pitch, he might have given away a penalty—Julien and Ayer sleeping as Morelos got in behind them and Pingpong was the wrong side of the Rangers’ attacker—but the little full back was Celtic’s best defender and attacker. Apart from Forster, Celtic’s best player full stop. He’s a gem of the Kieran Tierney variety and the right back position that was once so troublesome looks sorted.

I’ll take any kind of win over Rangers, whether it’s darts, ludo or pingpong. Yesterday’s final was the tenth on the trot. A marvellous achievement. We have the luxury of a Europa tie against Cluj that is a practice match for Sunday when we play Hibs. I expect us to win there and for Young Boys to beat Rangers and Motherwell to win at Fir Par against Rangers too. Wins like yesterday give a bit of breathing space, but the next game and the one after that are the only ones that matter. Old glory is no glory. Yesterday’s news. Celtic need a replacement and back up for Edouard. Simple. And if they can’t put their foot on the ball and play football, which they didn’t manage yesterday, then the players shouldn’t be at Celtic. Simple. The pleasing thing about yesterday was the win and not the manner in which we won. Quite simply, we didn’t deserve to, but yesterday’s fixture also knocked about twenty million quid off the over-inflated price tag for Morelos. He was that bad yesterday he should have been wearing the green and white hoops.   

Too difficult for Boris

As you get older the spring of optimism gives way to the winter of pessimism. You know that no matter how hard you try you will never play for Celtic, especially given the fact that you couldn’t get a game for your pub team. Surplus to requirements.

Your bullshit detector, however, gets more refined with age. The charlatan that is Boris Johnson gets short-shrift for everything he says and everything he stands for, for being Boris Johnson, basically.

Boris Johnson is like a Buddhist sutra there are always aspects of his bullshit waiting to be discovered.

His reluctance, for example, to commit to bringing a handful of British children back from Syria because it was too difficult.

We all know about the Kindertransport that saved mainly Jewish, middle-class, children from the Nazi state prior to the beginning of the second world war. That didn’t seem too difficult. We put children on a train and then we put them on a ship.  Around 10 000 of them arrived safely.

Taking soil samples from the surface of Mars needs a larger commitment and to be more organised.

  1. Sending a rocket up into the Earth’s atmosphere to circle our planet.
  2. Sending it on a trajectory to Mars.
  3. Orbit Mars
  4. Land on the Syritis Major region.
  5. Send a robotic vehicle from the hold of the spaceship to collect soil samples
  6. Collect samples of soil from the surface of Mars put it in a metal tube and seal them.
  7. Leave sealed metal tubes on the surface of Mars.
  8. Send a second spaceship to Mars and land it near to the metal tubes.
  9. Send a second robotic-rover across the surface to pick up the metal tubes and bring them back to the craft.
  10. Use a specially designed rocket to send the metal tubes into orbit around Mars.
  11. Send a third spaceship to intercept the orbiter with soil samples on board.
  12. Bring the spaceship back to Earth.
  13. Break through the Earth’s atmosphere.
  14. Release the capsule by parachute to a spot on the Utah desert.

Not really that difficult is it? Now imagine for a minute that you are Boris Johnson and somebody asks you how difficult it would be to bring a handful of children from camps in Syria.

Rennes 1—1 Celtic

ayer.jpg

This is a tale of three penalties. Two of which were give. One for Rennes, in the first-half, and two for Celtic in the second-half. Celtic started well. That’s always a bit worrying, usually, after a bright start, they usually concede, especially when playing away from home. Rennes had beaten PSG in the French Cup final last year and in the league this year. They sit second to PSG in the French league. In other words, they are no mugs.

The under-twenty-one French striker Edouard, the media darling of the French and Parkhead die-hards, had the first good chance of the game. Early in the game, James Forest picked him out at the back post, but his shot was skewed and didn’t trouble the keeper or hit the target.

Next up, Mohamed Elyounoussi was a toe-poke from getting on the end of Bolingoli’s cross and scoring the first goal.

Edouard thought he had a penalty, forcing his way into the box, nutmegging the defender and tumbling before he was tackled. He got a yellow card for diving.

Rennes had a few efforts on goal too, but Fraser Foster only had to make one save, which didn’t trouble him too much.

Then with five minutes to go before half-time, with Celtic easily ahead on possession and chances on goal, Ayer conceded a needless penalty. Replays showed it was clear cut. Ayer had been hauling at Niang’s jersey and his tackle whipped the legs from the attacker. The referee looked at the linesman then pointed to the spot. Niang scored.

1—0 down at half time and playing quite well, the game was bound to open up. Rennes, as a counter-attacking team were bound to come into it. That was the script.

It didn’t work out that way. Celtic dominated, in the way they would against lesser teams in the Scottish Premier league. But it was all huff and puff and no end product. Decent display and no end-result is Celtic’s calling card in Europe.

Scott Brown, for example, had a decent chance with a header at the back post. But he missed the target.

Then midway through the half, a big call for the referee. Ryan Christie was taken out by Renness’s defender Joris Gnagnon. Replays show the Celtic attacker was clearly in the box. It was an obvious penalty, that wasn’t given.

About five-minutes later James Forest wrong-footed Damien da Silva and fell over after the defender connected with a foot. Christie’s penalty was far clearer cut. The two of them were penalties, but this was of the softer variety. Christie took the penalty and scored, adding to his goal-a-game tally.

Rennes and Celtic made substitutions. The home team had another penalty claim turned down. Vakoun Bayo came on for Edouard and managed to get a red car. The second-string Celtic striker can think himself unlucky. But Celtic managed to see the game out and claim a point. They almost claimed three points in the last few minutes of added time. An away point in Europe doesn’t happen very often, so is reason to celebrate. Celtic are on a domestic and European high.