Dundee United 0—3 Celtic

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.   

Celtic 3—2 Hearts

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?

Nine-in-a-row champions, twice over. Glasgow Celtic.

Kilmarnock was Scottish League Champions in 1965. Celtic won the Scottish Cup that year. In 1966 Celtic won the first of their nine-in-a-row league titles. Rangers won the Scottish Cup. 1967, and Celtic won everything, including the European Cup, with a team of players that lived within a twelve miles radius of Parkhead. Bobby Lennox was the furthest away from Paradise, one of three players, with ‘Caesar’, Billy McNeil, and to have played in all nine Championships between 1965-1974.

Jimmy Johnstone has been often polled as Celtic’s best- ever player, but Stein was ruthless, when his legs were gone, wee Jinky was gone. Celtic also won the Glasgow Cup in 1967. With Rangers in it, the year they got to the Cup Winners Cup final, Celtic had to win it and they did. Nothing has come close to that year, with the added bonus of beating Real Madrid in the Bernebeu, playing in Di Stefano testimonial, but the talk was all of the mighty Jimmy Johnstone.  

Stein had a Quality Street reserve team coming through to maintain standards. Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay, Danny McGrain, Lou Macari. Despite being favourites, Celtic lost the European Cup Final to Feyenoord, after extra-time and having scored first. Ironically at the home of Inter Milan who were first to score and were beaten 2—1.Celtic were also outplayed. Time for a changing of the old guard.

Neil Lennon came in as Celtic manager after Tony Mowbrays’s Celtic team were thrashed by St Mirren and Celtic lost narrowly to Rangers in the league that year. Lennon led us to our first of the current nine-in-a-row titles, but at Rugby Park he looked to be on the way out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtmkHcNlRQQ.

Lennon led us to three league titles in a row and that magnificent win over Barcelona, arguably, the best team ever to arrive at Parkhead.

Ronny Deila was appointed manager of Celtic in June 2014. He was a bright new manager, a gamble on the Celtic board’s part,  who went on to lead Celtic to two consecutive league titles, but never had control of the dressing room. Remember Kris Commons, Scotland’s Player of the Year and a twenty-plus goal a season man, reduced to the bench and flinging his shirt ad Deila after being substituted against Molde in the Europa league, despite having scored. Jimmy Johnstone once did something similar with Jock Stein, he shouted through the door in the manager’s room something—thought to be derogatory—ran away and hid in a dark room for a week, before the other players told him it was safe to come out. Deila was on the way out when Rangers beat us in the Scottish Cup, despite their team being in the First Division. Media talk was of the Rangers being back. (Hibs beat them in the Scottish Cup final).

  In May 2016, Brendan Rodgers was announced as Deila’s replacement and around 12 000 fans turned up at Parkhead to welcome the new manager. He delivered two-and-a-half treble trebles of Scottish League, League and Scottish Cups before turning Judas and leaving for Leicester City. It was no secret he was leaving, but to leave half way through a season lacked Celtic class.

Neil Lennon came in as Celtic caretaker manager and he finished the job of another treble. In his first season in charge he had another treble in his grasp, having won the League Cup, a victory over Rangers. Still in the semi-finals of the Scottish, favourites to win it and 13 points clear of Rangers before being declared Champions once again because of the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

Celitc’s best eleven in the years of Lennon, Delia, Rodgers and Lennon again.

Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster. His European displays under Lennon in his first outing and then as a loan player also in Europe and in the League Cup final against Rangers, where he was head and shoulders above everybody else on the pitch makes this an easy one to pick.

Right back. Mikael Lustig held the spot for most of the nine-in-a-row years. He scored against Rangers a few times and was largely dependable. But his time was up. I wasn’t sad to see him go.

Virgil Van Dijk, European Cup winner with Liverpool. Touted as world player of the year. He oozed class because he was class. Simple.

More difficult to pick who to play beside him. Nobody really stands out. I’ll go with Christopher Jullien, he scored the winner in the League Cup final against Rangers and I think he can go on to great things. Put it this way, I was thinking of Charlie Mulgrew as an alternative.

Left back, easy, easy, Kieran Tierney. Celtic class. His only opposition would come from the man he largely replaced. Emilio Izaguirre under Lennon in his first shift as manager was outstanding.

Scott Brown is the Brownie. He’s had his critics, including me, but against Rangers and everyone else in general, he’s that clichéd 110% man. Leads on the field and off it. He’s been in every Celtic team that won nine-in-a-row and captain for most.

Callum McGregor has played almost every outfield position in the team, because he’s so gifted. Best midfielder in Scotland by some distance. Long may it last he signs another five-year deal. Gives you goals too.  Outstanding.

James Forrest, I’m being a bit hypocritical here. Like Scott Brown he has nine league medals to his name. Neil Lennon used to tell us what a great player he was. We’d watch the match and say, what the fuck? But Forrest scored in big games; he’s got pace and is always a threat. He does the doggies, getting back and helping to defend too. Underrated.

Two strikers up front. Number one striker, Moussa Dembele. Pace, strength, goals. He’s the beast that bullied Rangers. Top class.

Odsonne Edourad can do everything Dembele can do and more, but hasn’t got his strength. It remains to be seen which of the French strikers will go further. We have little chance of keeping Edouard, he’s only 21. But he’s been a joy to watch. Player of the Year in waiting.

Rodger’s played Olivier Ntcham behind the strikers in some matches. The French trio, as you’d expect, were outstanding. But here I’d go for Ryan Christie or Tom Rodgic. Ironically, neither of these two is guaranteed a start in the current team.

Picking between Lennon and Stein is quite a simple choice Jock Stein is the best football manager Scottish football has seen. That includes Alex Ferguson, his understudy in the Scotland job.

Celtic’s nine-in-a-row team under Stein weren’t great for goalkeepers. Ronnie Simpson, John Fallon (never saw him play). Evan William and the rest were distinctly average.

The best of both nine-in-a-row teams.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

Right back is an easy pick: Daniel Fergus McGrain. The best full back in the world was sometimes moved to left back to play for Scotland and give Rangers player Sandy Jardine a game. Danny McGrain could play left back almost as well as he could play right back.

Virgil van Dijk and Billy McNeil, what a central defensive pairing that would have been. In reserve, I’d have Pat Stanton, who was a truly elegant sweeper.

Left back pits Kieran Tierney against Tommy Gemmell who scored in a European Cup final to win the trophy. Need to go for Gemmell. Like Tierney he could defend and get forward and had a bullet-type shot.

Lennon, Auld, Murdoch and Johnstone would fill the midfield slots.

Kenny Dalglish, the best of the Quality Street Kids (apart from McGrain) would also be in the team.

Striker, I’d go with Moussa Dembele and not Stevie Chalmers or Dixie Deans. If I could play Henrik Larsson the pick would be easy. Henrik is King of the non-nine-in-a-row teams. Long may it last. Waiting for ten or more.    Hail, Hail.