Why we blew ten-in-a-row—answers posted on the internet.

As Jock Stein was fond of reminding us, ‘the game is nothing without fans’. One of the compensations of Celtic blowing the league and Rangers winning it is there’ll be nobody there to see it. Winning the league during lockdown or even the quadruple treble was just another day. No going to the pub with your pals. No mass celebrations. No mass street parties of the kinds we remembered after stopping that mob from winning ten-in-a-row all those years ago. Back pages of the tabloids will be filled with players celebrating, but the next day moving on to the next weather front. It didn’t have so much resonance. I won’t say let Rangers’ fans enjoy it, I’ll say, ‘fuck them as usual’, but it’ll soon be over, just as this season has been over since December, and it’ll be relatively pain free.

The other aspect of there being no fans is would we have won more points with the much quoted 60 000 in Paradise and the multitudes that follow, follow to every away ground in Scotland?

The simple answer is YES, we would have won more points. Nobody doubts that. But Rangers have had an exceptional season. So to compare like with like, it’s not that that killed our dream.

The idea that these kinds of things go in cycles makes a kind of nonsensical sense. It’s a bit like believing in fate. Before Jock Stein Rangers were dominant. We won nine-in-a-row, twice. But they did it too. Wim Jansen brought in a little-known winger from Dutch football, and the rest as they say is history. Rangers were the dominant team, with loads of money, and yet, somehow we found a way past them. As Rangers have done this year.

Having the right manager in place is a good starting point. Neil Lennon came in and won the league, completed the treble, but we were already on the slide. It made sense to appoint him as a stop-gap manager. He didn’t cost anything. He had the tools having been at Parkhead before. He knew what it was all about. But many of us weren’t sure. When he did the job and won the league and completed the job, it was obvious even to us doubters that he would be the appointed one.

Anyone that’s looking at John Kennedy and seeing played one, won one, will see a familiar pattern emerging. When Lennon’s team went on a winning run of five games, it was hardly scintillating, but then we got the usual pish about us being back on track. We’ll get that with Kennedy. He’s our Graeme McMurty. A backroom re-shuffle that doesn’t take us any further forward. When Celtic win a few games and especially if we beat Rangers (which I think we will) then we’ll hear the usual stuff about the players being fitter and more tactically aware. I don’t really get it, as if full-time professionals who are wired up and every breath measured and every kick quantified are hardly going to be unfit. There’s nowhere to hide nowadays. Jim Baxter on his benders or wee Jinky in his rowing boat – these guys trained every day, but they couldn’t hack it now. But you’ll hear it every time. They’re unfit. Or they’re fitter with the new manager’s regime.  

Celtic lost so many games because they can’t defend. I don’t think it surprised many of us when Ross County scored with a header, again. We’ve got a goal-keeping problem. A left-back problem. A right-back problem. And the central pairing is so bad we brought in Shane Duffy. This didn’t happen overnight. It’s been that way for years.

Biscuit-tin mentality. We’re a selling club. Buy cheap. Sell and prosper. You know the players I’m talking about. Kieran Tierney is the obvious example. But we recently sold a player for £11 million and I can’t even remember his name. He was no great loss. I look across at Ibrox and don’t think there are many big sales that would keep them afloat.

The promised land of Champions League is one sure-fire way of paying all the bills. By making the wrong choices, and buying in players that just can’t cut it at Celtic, we’ve opened a door for Rangers and invited them into the promised land. They’ll be able to pay their bills and have that wee bit extra to pay their debtors. They might even do what Celtic did and splash out on their falling apart infrastructure, upgrade it and make it venue for other sporting and entertainment fixtures. Rangers were almost totally reliant on the fans coming into the stadium, even with lockdown, and season book sales.

It’s all about the money. We were so far ahead we didn’t spend the money we should have spent. Now we face a mass player clear-out. I’ve not got a problem with that. Teams always evolve or they die. Ours is already on life support. We need a new manager and six or seven new players. We’ll probably get John Kennedy and one or two new players to fill the gaps left by others leaving at the end of the season.  We’ll think small again and remain small.

Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong this season. I sometimes think managers, like players need a bit of luck. Lennon’s luck had run out a long time ago.  I wasn’t the only one to say he should be sacked in November last year, or even before that with anther Champions League qualifying debacle. I don’t even think that would have made much difference, but it would have allowed a new manager to come in and prepare for next season  (Judas, Brendan Rodgers’s argument).

For Rangers everything that can go right has gone right (apart from losing to St Mirren and being put out of the League Cup). That won’t last. As league champions they’ll need to play their players more money. There’ll be unrest. They’ll even start missing penalties. Wee niggley things.

It wasn’t that long ago that Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was quoted for the England job, in the same way that Stevie G is quoted for the Liverpool job. Let’s not forget his Rangers team before lockdown were losing home and away to teams they were expected to beat. Same team. Same players. What’s different? I’d say, quite simply, they’d all the luck going and the biggest factor by far is they don’t lose goals. They defend well. Ironically, John Kennedy who was appointed to sort out our defence (on the basis he’d played centre-half for a few games all those years ago and has a few coaching badges) has helped oversee a shocking number of goals lost. Most of them at free-kicks of corners. Bad coaching? The wrong kind of players? All of the above.

Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for a reason, when we had a chance to invest in a squad of players we blew it. We cut corners on quality. You get what you pay for, or in our case, don’t pay for. I guess to end on a high-note, the one that didn’t get away, David Turnbull. We could build a team around him. And we’ll need to dig up a Wim Jansen – pronto.

Celtic 3—1 Rosenberg.

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Celtic take a two-goal lead into the second leg next Wednesday and hit the woodwork a few times. It could have been more and quite a comfortable tie. But in a patchy first half, just before the 15-minute mark, Celtic were a goal down.  Jack Hendry gave the ball away outside the opposition’s penalty box. Rosenberg broke forward with pace. Bendtner, who gave the Celtic centre-backs problems, held the ball up and laid it off to the on-running Meling Jensen, who side-footed it through a ruck of players and into the net.

It was against the run of play, but Rosenberg were comfortable at this point and remained so, until a minute before half time. Odsonne Edward, that nine-million pound signing, some of us (including me) weren’t sure about, came up with one of those goals no-one saw coming, including the Rosenberg defender whose legs he seemed to stab the ball between and past the keeper, Hansen.

Jubilation. Half-time 1—1.

A minute into the second half and Ntcham scored a wonder goal. One of those benders that start outside the post and swerve in. He’d tried it a few times in the first half, but his goal, and Celtic’s second, was a thing of beauty. He’d another few efforts the keeper was lucky to keep out and one that hit the bar. Celtic hit the bar a few times, a Hendry header and McGregor dink. Tierney was unlucky with a ball that rattled off the keeper and rebounded out.

Celtic dominated the second-half in the way they hadn’t the first. Midway through Edouard who had been playing on the shoulder of the last defender found himself running in on the keeper. He dinked it, like Henrik in his pomp, over the keeper and gave the hoops a comfortable lead.

It wasn’t quite game over. Celtic looked to add to the score. Edouard won the sponsor’s man of the match, but his French compatriot Ntcham had a champagne performance.

I was worried because Celtic’s best player in these early, but crucial, pre-season games, Moussa Dembele was out of the tie. The team is under enormous pressure and one slip can undo all the good work of the last two seasons. But the French trio look a heavyweight class above everything thrown at them so far. We’re not taking it for granted we’re through to the next round and another gruelling tie against the Greek champions AIK, but vive la France, vive la Celtic.

 

Astana 6 – 0 Celtic

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I see Paddy Power paid out on that result to two, ahem, Kilmarnock supporters that fancied a punt at 500/1. I’m sure they’ll each enjoy their £500 000 windfall. Aye, right. Believe that and you’ll believe Rangers will finish above Celtic in the table.  I was delighted when Rogic waltzed into the box and set up the opening own goal. Although I did have money on Rogic to score the first I don’t really care who scores for Celtic and I should be asking Paddy Power to pay out my bet, even though the wager was in a Ladbrokes’s shop. Sinclair’s double. Forest’s goal, and we’re 4-0 up, and I’m thinking this is the best ever, but is that really going to be enough? We know the Celtic of old specialised in glorious defeat and old habits die hard. The fifth goal, Griffith’s really, killed the tie off. It was one of those nights when everything that could go right did.

There’ll be other nights when everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Ronnie Deila, god bless him, seemed to work on that with the Celtic boys on the training pitch.

After the final whistle, ecstasy. Champions League Football secured. Talk of crazy money, £30 million banked. But the snipers start even before the draw has been made. Bet you don’t get a point. Well, I bet we do. Bet you finish bottom of your group. Maybe. Maybe not. In a way just being there is enough, regardless, it lights up the whole season – and then after Christmas back to reality and totting up more points more record scores. I wonder if Rangers had Brendan Rogers in charge, and we still had Ronnie, who would be mid-table?

Celtic 0—Barcelona 2.

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Lionel Messi was meant to be a sick note, not a seen it, done it message– he only scored two goals in just over ninety minutes here, one a penalty, which doesn’t really count. His first came from another tax dodger currently under investigation by the Spanish authorities (why can’t we do that here?) Up until that point Andy Rat and me had been celebrating each ten minute spell that passed without Barca scoring, me with a pint. Andy with a coke. After all they did beat us 7—0 last time we played. That’s called lulling them into a false sense that we’re shite.  We’d almost hit the 25 minute mark. Celtic had started quite well, by that I mean they sometimes got a hit of the ball, without creating anything. Messi had a couple of half chances he usually scores from, one in particular which he miscontrolled, near the Celtic six-yard box. That was a let off.  But Neymar, from the edge of the Celtic box delicately chipped a ball over static defenders and the other tax dodger whipped it, first time, into the bottom of the net. Craig Gordon, who was Celtic’s best player and later pulled off a stunning save from Suarez, had no chance. Not even I would have saved it.

We all know the rules for these types of games. i) the diddy team’s keeper must be outstanding. Tick there. ii) the other team must be under-par, in other words, play pish. Well, the triumvirate of Messi, Neymar and Messi is as good as it gets, but any midfield without Iniesta is lacking. And when Barcelona where are that very best Xavi and tick and tack was such a beautiful thing to behold that you couldn’t grudge them victory after victory and the great clean sweeps of history. Nobody could stop them. In fact, few teams could get the ball.

Initially, here, Celtic were successful in getting the ball back, pushing high up the pitch and winning throw ins and even corners. Mascherano looking particularly vulnerable to Dembele’s muscularity and skill.  iii) the diddy team must score first and defend to the last.  Celtic went in at half time a goal down. Lustig was being got at on one side of the pitch by Neymar and Jordi Alba and on the other side Messi was prowling, with Iziguerre often in the same time zone. I like Emilio, he’s a great replacement for Tierney, and Scottish football is a bit of breeze, but, like Barca, his best years are behind him (although he’s not that old) and he is liable to get caught. By that time Sinclair was off. That’s a big blow because he’s got pace and, most importantly of all, goals, the top scorer in Scottish football, behind Dembele. And it’s a blow for the league cup final, when Celtic need to play like Barca and Aberdeen not play like Celtic and give away the second goal. Game over.

But we had the dog’s chance. James Forest came on, and played well, and I don’t often say that, and as this level that’s a real compliment. McGregor, for example, was a null and void bet. Rogic missing in action. And Armstrong although he showed great running skills couldn’t pass the pall in a tenement close mouth – he was rubbish. Only Scott Brown could hold his head up and that’s something he rarely does. Forest skinned a few players, flung a cross into the box. Dembele had one of Celtic’s few chances before half time, which he largely created himself and was unlucky, but which produced a great save from Ter Stegen. It wasn’t actually a great save. It was the kind of average save an under-sixteen keeper would have made spectacular, but we lived in hope. Dembele’s big chance replayed again and again until he scores. (iv) Diddy teams must take their big chance. Forest’s ball curved onto Dembele’s napper. Five yards out. Got to score. Doesn’t.

Minutes later Izaguerre caught out by Suarez in the box, no surprise there, you might say, the attacker falling holding onto the defender’s hand so that it looks like a penalty. It was a penalty and Messi scored. Game over. Twenty minutes to go, enough time for Neymar to get petulant and not this time with the tax authorities, but with Lustig and the ref. Barca coaches played safe and took him off. They could have taken off another six or seven (v) Diddy team always loses.

So here Celtic are, the league won, the league cup on Sunday and only the Scottish cup final in May to look forward to. Then, two weeks later, it’s back to the biggest games of the season, the qualifiers for this competition, because not only is it the best it brings out the best. Celtic sit bottom of the group. Barcelona top. Manchester City, who are next up – and I look forward to that game – second. Borussia into the Europa league, where realistically we’d hoped to be. We finished exactly were pundits predicted we would finish, but so what? It’s been brilliant. Loved every minute and we’ve still got ninety to go. The old Scottish champions playing the would-be English champions. Bring it on. Let’s hope the above rules run true and we hit a run of i-v and the other mob don’t score, because we’re the Barca of Scotland, to be shot at and brought down low.  God bless the Celts.

Celtic 0—2 Borussia Monchengladbach

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The better team won and deserved to win, but the Borussia goals were second-half gifts from Kolo Toure. The second goal in 77 minutes, which effectively killed off the tie, was attributed to Andre Hahn and flew into the top corner, leaving Craig Gordon, the Celtic keeper, with no chance, but a more careful viewing might show that Toure’s attempted tackle simply added power and dip to the shot. Twenty minutes earlier he’d been caught dawdling with the ball at his feet trying to let the ball roll out on the Celtic bye line. Hahn poked it backwards; Lars Stindl’s shot went through Gordon’s legs at the near post. Up until that point the keeper had been Celtic’s best player. But in truth Celtic didn’t have a best player. Perhaps the most culpable were Nir Bitton who regressed to a former player Parkhead regulars are familiar with, who, if he didn’t get caught on the ball, picked out a Monchengladbach player with his passes. It was no surprise he was hooked. Patrick Roberts coming on for an anonymous James Forest was also overdue. The German team were slicker in midfield and superior all over the park. There’ll be no Europa league after Christmas. Bottom of the group on one point, it’s difficult to see us getting another. But you know I love the Champions League. We’re not as good as we think we are and it offers the cliché of a much needed reality check.

Next up, Rangers. We may not be as good as we think we are but we are far better than Rangers. Ironically, with Toure’s performance Celtic’s best player might have been Simunovic who was an unused substitute, but might have played himself into contention for Sunday’s League Cup semi-final. Talk up the treble, because it’s coming up to Christmas and hopefully we’ll have the first piece of Rodger’s silverware in the bag.

Celtic 3—Manchester City 3.

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Watching Celtic is like going to chapel, but you want to be there and you’re a believer- even though, secretly, after getting humped 7-0 by Barcelona and facing another squad worth a quarter billion pounds, that’s won ten on the bounce, you don’t really expect miracles. Yet, you do, otherwise you’d be ffafing about watching Coronation Street. Belief isn’t optional, it’s part of the tapestry of football, against all the odds (or even 10/1) your team will win. More than that you can somehow help them win by jumping, screaming and acting like an eejit even though you’re not at the actual game. Seems daft. But without fans going absolutely nuts when Dembele scored that first goal after two and a bit minutes, dancing about like drunk man holding a coat hanger for a telly Ariel,  without an audience there is no spectacle no money to pay the players on the pitch, no Celtic in Paradise. And what a game it was. A wet and windy night to say fuck you to those that delighted in telling you Celtic wouldn’t get a point or score a goal in this Champions League section (although you might have grown horns and believed them).

Manchester City equalised eight minutes after Dembele’s opener, in which the home team had dominated and looked far more likely to score a second, rather than concede. Kolarov’s shot was going nowhere but broke to Fernandinho in a crowded box and he tucked it away leaving Gordon, the recalled Celtic keeper, with no chance. But Celtic rolled with it and took the lead again. Of all the multimillion pound midfielders on show, the pick of the bunch in the first half, was Tom Rogic, and his weighted pass  into the path of Kieran Tierney, whose deflected shot came off Raheem Stirling, gave Celtic the lead again and the stadium was rocking like the Tower of Babel. Dembele was involved in the Manchester City equaliser. After some great hold up play, his pass on the half-way line to Scott Brown was short, and a pass later Stirling was through on the Celtic goal, keeping his cool and wrong footing both Tierney and Gordon to slot the ball in the corner of the net. Celtic were on the back foot and it was good to hear the half-time whistle.

The second-half started much as the first, with an early Celtic goal. Nir Bitton fed Tierney who launched it into the City box. Dembele brought it down with his knee, and took enough time to put another ten million on his valuation, by flipping it over his head and wrong footing Kolarov, Claudio Bravo and the home and away support by somehow putting it to the keeper’s right and scoring. You hadn’t heard such a roar since the moon landing. If there was any justice in the world, the game should have finished them. But we still had another 40 minutes to play, in which Nolitio scored a City equaliser. It’s not often Aguerro is outgunned by an opposition striker. Watch this space.

Barcelona 7—Celtic 0.

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Where’s the ba? In the net…

I must admit I’d a fiver on Celtic to win at 33/1. You know it’s not going to happen, but think it might. And at those odds, you can’t really lose, although you did. We all know how it works. Barcelona need to have an off day as they did on Saturday against a newly promoted team. The Celtic goalkeeper has got to have the game of his life, as David Marshal once did, or even Frazer Foster.  Here De Vries came in to replace Craig Gordon, the latter whom had taken to making a few howlers, most notably bumping into Janko in the Champions-League qualifier. De Vries has been notable by his absence. Since replacing Craig Gordon I can’t remember him making a save. Here he was at it again. Dreadful. Gamboa replaced Janko, but it’s difficult to make an assessment of him. He didn’t seem to touch the ball. Lustig was often in the wrong place at the wrong time and never made a tackle. You can add the other centre-halfs to that list Shevchenko and Toure. The shining light in Celtic’s performances last season, and this, has been Kieran Tierney. His worst performance came in Israel, but this was topped last night. A toss-up between De Vries and Tierney to determine who the worst Celtic player was, but Scott Brown our captain would probably have lost that as well.

Of the midfield four, Scott Brown was Celtic’s man of the match because i) he tackled and ii) he made two passes in a row to his teammates. Bitton was the straw man from the Wizard of Oz and could have been taken off at any time. Sinclair, who up until now, has that magic touch and scored in every game, lost his touch here. Roberts at least tried to get forward, taking people on, but losing the ball.

Dembele missed a penalty that funnily enough would have put us 1-1. Hard to believe that now. When Barcelona are winding down and they bring on Ineista, well that just about says it all. Celtic weren’t expected to win, but they weren’t expected to capitulate in this way. But this game is a freebie. We expected nothing from it and took nothing. A reality check in the same way that the result in Israel was also a reality check. Much work needs to be done, but even now, after the biggest hammering I’ve ever seen Celtic take, we’re finally going in the right direction.