In Ange we trust.

As the song goes, Celtic, Celtic, that’s the team for me. I’ve no great interest in what other teams do or who they play or sign—apart from Rangers.

Even if it’s tiddlywinks, I want Rangers to lose. They’d won the league by 25 points, and stopped us winning the ten. One of the highlights of the season was watching Ryan Kent miss a sitter in the closing minutes and Aaron Ramsey missing that penalty. I joked that my pal’s dad had died, but at least he’d lived long enough to see that. It was a season when Rangers’ fans felt they did well reaching a European final and winning the Scottish Cup.

But when they were giving out awards it was Ange Postecoglou picking them up. Hard to believe, we were chasing Eddie Howe as our new manager and it just seemed a matter of getting the deal over the line. He walked away, citing concerns about having concerns. Ange Postecolgou came in. I’d never heard of him. Most of us agreed he’d need time to rebuild. He didn’t cite concerns about not having his own backroom staff. He was willing to work with the dross that was there. We’d give him time. I was even uttering strange things like he’d have at least a season, or maybe two, in which he wouldn’t be expected to do much, and spluttering into my pint that Rangers were still shite. I was hoping somehow we’d turn it around. In our pre-season games there was little evidence that would be the case. In the qualifiers for Europe, and in Europe, generally, we were out of our depth against mediocre teams (like us).

We lost to Hearts at Tynecastle, Kyogo came on as a sub, played wide, but did nothing of note in the few minutes on the pitch (shades of Henrik Larrson coming on as a winger against Hibs). We were chasing Rangers in the league. It was a race I didn’t expect to win. But the equivalent of muscles-memory of the mind sets in. Odsonne Edouard left for Crystal Palace. I was glad about that. Ryan Christie to Bournemouth. Kristoffer Ayer went to Brentford, where he’d be reduced to talking a good game. He was fine when he didn’t have to defend.

Now here we are again. I’m far more optimistic. We’ve signed seven new players, which include mainstays, Jota and Carter-Vickers. The Portuguese winger dazzled last season and this pre-season. Carter-Vickers in pre-season hasn’t looked great. He got bullied for the second goal against Legia Warsaw, for example, losing a bread-and-butter header I’d expect any centre-half to win and getting turned far too easily. That’s nit-picking. He too has been a success. But you’re only as good as your last game is a truism.

Joe Hart has been a great signing. He’s made vital saves. He’s our number 1, keeper. But we know he’s going to lose stupid goals, when he’s trying to play sweeper-keeper. It’s just a matter of how many and against whom. Teemu Pukki almost caught him out in the friendly match against Norwich. The ex-Celt is not the quickest, and not the best, as we all know. Hart might beat him in a footrace, but I’d rather not find out during a match. Joe Hart, vice-captain, Certain starter.  

  Benjamin Siegrist, of what I remember him, was decent for Dundee United. He’ll push for the number-one spot. Uncertain starter.   

Greg Taylor started against Norwich. I wasn’t a fan of the former Kilmarnock full back. But over last season I’ve come to appreciate him. He wasn’t Kieran Tierney. Emilio Izaguirre when he first came into the team was also a revelation. Taylor is not at that level. And now he has serious competition. *Certain starter when season begins.

Josip Juranović will not be going over to play on the left as he did at Ibrox because Ange doesn’t trust the likes of Liam Scales, for example, to do a job. The Croatian has established himself as our first-pick right back. Certain starter.

Scottish international, Anthony Ralston—and I never thought I’d say that without laughing—is backup. But he too will be pushing for a starting spot. Uncertain starter.

Argentinian, Alexandro Bernabei, I think looks to have more attacking flair than Greg Taylor. *Certain starter as season progresses.

Celtic supposedly paid around £6 million to Tottenham for Cameron Carter-Vickers. A snip based on last season’s performances (and not this pre-season). Certain starter, under Ange.

I heard Carl Starfelt was injured while on international duty with Sweden. He’d miss the start of the season. I wasn’t bothered. Like Ajer, Starfelt is decent when he doesn’t have to defend. He’s too easily bullied by muscular forwards. Most of the goals we lost last season came from free kicks and corners. The most common argument I’ve heard is we’d the best defensive record in the league. We also won the league. Therefore Starfelt must be better than mediocre. He isn’t. But he’s good enough for now. But Ange trusts him. Certain starter.

Christopher Jullien is still at Celtic. For how much longer? He picked up the captain’s armband in the pre-season friendlies. But he’s an uncertain starter. If any club fancies him, he’s free to go.

Back-up to Carter-Vickers and Starfelt has been, until now, under-twenty-one Scotland captain, Stephen Welsh. He’s no better than Starfelt, and often worse. Uncertain starter.  

 Moritz Jenz from Lorient is we hope better than Starfelt and will leapfrog Stephen Welsh into the team. Loan deals like Jota and Carter-Vickers gives us a chance to try before we buy. Uncertain starter, for now, but his time will come. And if he’s good enough, we’ll keep him. Win-win. Uncertain starter, for now.

Callum McGregor, the Celtic captain, and Scottish Player of the Year plays most games. Simple. Never stops. Certain starter.  

Reo Hatate came into the team and started with a bang. Goals against Rangers are often a great way to introduce yourself to adoring fans. He didn’t disappoint. But the end of the season he was disappointing. He was never rubbish, but didn’t shine. Pre-season he’s looked at back to the level he was when we hammered Rangers 3—0, and that old joke, they were lucky to get the nil. This was the pivotal moment in the season, when we leapfrogged them in the league. We did it in Celtic style. Hatate was the man. Certain starter.

Matt O’Riley played in that number-ten role when Tom Rogic didn’t. Usually, they switched like doppelgangers, with one getting sixty minutes, the other thirty minutes, or thereabout.  A terrific acquisition. He has added goals to his game. Certain starter.

David Turnbull played every game for Celtic under Ange, until he got that injury, just before the League Cup final, which Kyogo won for us. Turnbull has had a good pre-season, scoring two goals. Sharp and strong. Goal scorer. Ready to step in and stake a place. Uncertain starter, for now.

  Daizen Maeda starts most games under Ange. He’s played at centre-forward, most recently when Kyogo was taken off against Legia Warsaw and Giorgos Giakoumakis wasn’t available for selection. But Ange prefers to play him on the wing. Usually it’s the left wing. His pace troubles defences, but his closing down work is also a stand out. He scores goals. Certain starter.

Jota has a problem when Maeda starts on the left, because he’s pushed to the right wing. Maeda is all pace. Jota is an old-fashioned winger. He ties defenders in knots and scores for fun. It was a long and protracted deal with Benfica, with shades of the Eddie Howe haunting us.  Bargain buy at £6 million. Certain starter, on right or left wing.

Kyogo Furuhashi hit the ground running. Apart from his injury, he’s not stopped running since. His speed of thought and movement would give any defence problems. The first and best of the Japanese internationals to arrive. Certain starter.

Giorgos Giakoumakis was the opposite of Kyogo. He hit the ground not running. Then he took the ball off Juranovic (I think it was against Aberdeen) in the last minute and missed a penalty which cost us two points. Without actually being Albian Ajeti (or Pukki), he’d all the makings of a dud. But he scored twenty league goals. When Kyogo was out, we didn’t miss him. The Greek international did the business. Uncertain starter, for now.

Under Neil Lennon’s tutelage James Forrest could do no wrong. He was brought through the ranks. Made his debut in season 2009-10.  He was hitting twenty goals a season and has more Celtic medals than anyone at the club and has now signed a new contract. It’s hard to believe he’s not fifty-five. But for the first time in his Celtic career he’s not an automatic pick. Jota is ahead of him. Arguably, Liel Abada is also ahead of him. Uncertain starter.

Liel Abada scored a stack of goals and assists. Let’s for a minute consider the way he sneaked in behind the Rangers’ backline and scored at Paradise. Even now, it brings a smile. He’s ahead of Forrest, but not Jotta or Maeda. He will get game time, most often as a substitute. Uncertain starter.  

Aaron Mooy plays for Australia. Ange knows him and brought him in. Whether he is to replace Tom Rogic or to sit in as a defensive midfielder for Callum McGregor is unclear. Maybe a bit of both? I’ve not seen him play. Uncertain starter.  

 Yosuke Ideguchi (Guchi) the Japanese internationalist picked up an injury early in his Celtic career. He’s not been able to find a spot in the congested Celtic midfield. A very decent showing in our pre-season friendlies. Uncertain starter.

James McCarthy was said to have struggled in training when he arrived. Might be lies. He has struggled to get into the Celtic team. Not sure he adds much. But that might change, as it did with Giakoumakis. He’s been brought on very late in pre-season games, usually to replace McGregor. Uncertain starter.

Mikey Johnston, remember him? Tricky winger, could go outside, could go inside? Scored goals? Had that wow factor? Looked rotten in pre-season matches. He’s still got an outside chance, but he’s fading fast.

Scott Bain. Backup keeper, for the backup keeper. Ball boy. Uncertain starter.

We’ve got enough to win the league. Games against Rangers will decide the title. They bullied us in two games last year, both of which we lost, one, admittedly, in extra-time. We can’t let that happen again. The real beauty of winning the title is no qualifiers for the Champions League. £40 million in the bank. We’ll play some fantastic teams. We’ll take some terrible doings, but it’s not that I don’t care, the glory is being there and we’ll get better. We won’t win the Champions League and we won’t win the treble. But I’ve been wrong before. I didn’t imagine winning the league this time, last season. Eddie Who?

Celtic 6—0 Motherwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Manager of the Month, Ange Postecoglou.

Ange Postecoglou wins Manager of the Month award again. If he picks up the same award at the end of April then it’s kerching and £40 million Champions League money guaranteed. The question arises, would you take a draw at Ibrox? Obviously, after say 89 minutes and two goals down and I’d say, aye Ange, go for it, take the draw. But life and fitba doesn’t work out like that.

Last time we were in Govan, Edouard started up front. As we know, he’d scored some great goals against Rangers, but missed some complete sitters. He’s another of those matches. Great to see him, Christie and Ajer leave Paradise. We’d developed a habit of outplaying Rangers and losing—usually to a headed goal from a free kick or corner. Lots have changed, we’ve 5000 defensive coaches, but that remains our major vulnerability, home or away.

Our defence picks itself. Hart, Taylor, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt and Juranovic.  

We’re reminded nine out of ten Glasgow derbies are decided by who scores first. Defend corners and defend free kicks and I think we’ll win. But I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that.

We’ll start on the front foot, Ange’s Plan A is also Plan B. Rangers, despite their European success, don’t defend well. A major boost is that Kyogo is fit. He’ll be on the bench, I’m guessing. Georgios Giakoumakis should start after hitting two hat-tricks in two league games. He’s a poacher in the box.

But it wouldn’t surprise me too much if Ange favours Daizen Maeda. I’m still not convinced with him, but he does the doggies, closing down the opposition and getting in behind, in a Kyogo-lite way. And the Japanese forward scores regularly.

Postecoglou tends to play him, but not always through the middle. He’s featured mostly on the left wing. Jota switching to the right. Abada would therefore drop to the bench. He’s not started the last two games. So my best guess is that’s where he’ll start, but come on for the last thirty minutes.

The midfield carousel is harder to pick. McGregor, our captain, playing in front of the defence. Rogic has been pronounced fit. My guess is he’ll start. Certainly, win, lose or draw, if he doesn’t start, he’ll replace O’Riley.

Reo Hatate had the kind of introduction to the Glasgow derby that harked back to the little known Slovenian, Ľubomír “Lubo” Moravčík. The Japanese midfielder’s form has shaded but he’s a definite maybe (as in the Oasis hit). He works best with Maeda. My guess is Taylor, Hatate, Maeda down the left.

Juranovic, Rogic and the Portuguese wonder boy, Jota on the right. We might see the return of David Turnbull at some point, probably late in the game.

Georgios Giakoumakis to start and score first. Win, win, win.   

Midtjylland 2—1 Celtic (after extra-time).

Scott Bain in for Barkas, no surprize there, big or otherwise. There’s really no way back for the Greek keeper. We need a new defence, goalkeeper and four defenders. That’s been obvious since last season and even before that. And made more obvious with the hammering we took in the friendly match against West Ham. Edouard will be away shortly. But needs must, he plays today. Christie has been outstanding. I’d like to keep him. From midfield to front we have shown we can be better than our opposite number, but not today. The Midtjylland manager called us ‘one dimensional’—and he’s right. We play from the back and when we get it right we’re unstoppable (in theory). When we get it wrong, we’re a gift from the gaffs. Both Midtjylland’s goals come into that category.  

Midtjylland are a big, physical team. Celtic have been a disaster from corners and free kicks, this season and las season. I can even fling in an extra-bonus-season. We held firm until half-time. A few palpitations with Bain dragging the ball back and playing it out, twice (I hate keeper doing that, it look good, but get it wrong and lose a goal). Welsh got booked early for a stupid, needless tackle in the Midtjylland half of the park. Once again, he was found wanting, while other pinpoint his youth. If you are good enough, you’re old enough…

Celtic started this tie better. In the first five minutes, Turnbull had a shot turned over the bar. From the corner, Edouard side-footed over the bar. He just hasn’t showed. Soro was also a major disappointment, giving the ball away, and passing backwards. On the plus side, Tony Ralston gave his all as Celtic faded as an attacking force. Abada was quiet. He was taken off to be replaced by James Forest (I’m not sure about the Israeli, but he gets the benefit of the doubt, for now). But Christie, initially, took most of the plaudits on the other side of the park.  

A Turnbull corner, two minutes into the second-half, the sweetest strike by Calum McGregor opens the scoring. A few minutes later, Bain flaps and the ball runs along the goal line. Bain indecisive. He had two late saves in extra-time, when we were behind. Equally, he took on players in his box. Stupid, but we got away with it, initially. Forest, who looked lively when he came on, had two great chances. The first, after McGregor’s goal, was blocked. That looked like putting us two up, and the tie beyond the Danes.

A minute later it was 1-1. A simple punt into the box. The winger Mabil stoops to score. Unmarked, as you’d expect from the defence that is no defence. Midtjylland took the tie into extra time and went on to win the game.

The first three minutes of extra-time, the Danes, finally, take the lead. Turnbull holds his hand up for offside. We’ve seen it before and we see it again. A simple ball over the top. Squared, substitute, Onyedika fires into the roof of the net. The good news was we had almost the whole of the first-half of extra-time to come up with an equaliser and all the second half.

We created nothing. Lind, an 18-year-old substitute, for the Danes misses a sitter. Bain makes another save as the minutes tick away.  Midtjylland in control. Celtic brought on three substitutes, Ajeti (that’s how desperate we got). Rogic, and Montgomery. I like Montgomery, I think he’s better than Taylor (the Scottish international has become a bit of a fall guy, but truth told, Johnny Hayes was better than him). None of them made a difference.

Pass marks to Ralston, who burst a gut, and for a problem right-back spot, filled a hole valiantly. McGregor, who scored a worldie, but tired and started giving the ball away in extra-time. Christie, who created most of our chances, with slick passes in behind. I’m tempted to include eighteen-year-old Murray, but that would charitable. Edouard can leave any time soon. Take the money and run. Do it now.

Celtic are an easy touch. We’ve already been charitable enough. Once again we got put out in the first-round of the qualifying rounds for the Champions League. Quite simple. We’re not good enough to beat a Danish team that is itself struggling to stay below average. I know where that leaves us. I’m not even sure we’ll beat Hearts at Tynecastle.  And that’s not been dramatic. We can’t defend and we don’t score. We need bodies. Any bodies? Ange Postecoglou has inherited a squad that is crap. All new managers need a bit of luck. Last season anything that could go wrong did. That continues into this campaign. The new manager is under pressure, even this early in the season. That’s the nature of the beast at Celtic. He’s a smart guy. He knows this. He knows what has to be done. This isn’t just about pride. Celtic keep flinging money away. That’s a business model for negative equity. The longer the spiral goes on, the harder it become to stop the decline. Get it wrong this season and next season’s automatic Champions League spot goes to the other side of Glasgow, we’re in deep shit.

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.