Celtic 1—2 Ferencvaros

Celtic are becoming overly familiar with Champion League elimination at the qualifying stages. But we’re getting earlier and earlier.  Last year it was Cluj, who did a job at Parkhead. The year before that AEK Athens. The Hungarian champions managed to eliminate Celtic with two shots on goal and two goals. Rather than playing the attacking threat at right, full-back, Frimpong, Elhamad who was meant to be more defensive option, sold the second goal, allowing the ball to bounce and substitute Tokmac to skip past him without about ten minutes remaining. The Hungarian forward running in on goal at an acute angle, put the ball through the Celtic goalkeeper’s legs. Game on. Game over.

Barkas can be counted as unlucky with the first goal after seven minutes. Midfielder Siger, outside the Celtic box, looking up and finding the corner of the net. But I’ve watched Barkas playing four games and I’ve still to see him make a save. If anyone asked me how good he is, the answer is quite simply, I don’t know.

Celtic are soft centres, that I do know. The Hungarian’s first goal was a case in point, no closing down in the centre of the goal. While Celtic tended to dominate possession almost every time they lost the ball, the opposition flooded forward and looked dangerous on the flanks and in the centre of the park.  Ferencvaros, like Cluj before them and like AEK Athens, before that, they’re no great shakes, but they don’t need to be.

Celtic fall into the qualifying pot for the Europa League and with two qualifying rounds, but with no guarantee they will qualify. Whisper it, they might not even win the league.

We started the game without Edouard, our talisman. So what? We should be bigger than that and we have two strikers on the bench (three if you want to include Griffiths). Christie played at centre-forward and he did get us back into the game with a deflected shot at the start of the second half. Great player, but never a centre-forward. But it allowed Lennon to squeeze in Ntcham for his second consecutive match. The French player had a couple of shots on target and his passing was pretty good.  But it was Elyounoussi with a delightful touch in the box after twenty minutes who looked most likely to score. Then towards the end of the game Elyounoussi does that disappearing thing. You see less and less of him. He’s like James Forest on an off day. Christie cutback behind Elyounoussi was perhaps the loan-stars best chance to score, but he didn’t.

A few cameos and the running down of the match in the last ten minutes. The usual Scott Brown booking that wasn’t a booking. Perhaps taking off a holding midfielder when hunting for an equaliser would have been an idea. Managers need to make hard decision. The season has just begun and Celtic are already out of the Champions League and behind in the big one, the Scottish league.

Goalkeeper—don’t know if he’s good, bad, or indifferent. He’s not Fraser Forster that’s for sure.

We need a left back. Taylor, the ex-Kilmarnock player is sometimes good, sometimes bad. Here he got caught defensively and was alright going forward, without doing much.

Elhammad for Frimpong? Didn’t work here, indeed in terms of spectacular misjudgements, the Israeli had a howler defensively, while not adding much in attack. Celtic were much better with Frimpong on the park, but the clock was ticking and the countdown to another disastrous result looked inevitable.

Here’s where we need to get creative. Julien and Ayer. Julien and Bitton. We keep losing balls in the air. We keep losing goals. The Hungarians pressed hard up the park knowing mistakes would be made. Cluj, Copenhagen (and Rangers) figured that out too. Fling in Kilmarnock. The soft centre is really the centre of defence. Both of them can go.

Scott Brown—warrior.  If Lennon is desperate to play Ntcham, then he should play him in Brown’s positon, simple.

McGregor, hmmmm? Yeh, good player, but

James Forest? Discuss?

Elyounoussi would I thought get us as many goals as Sinclair, but…

Ryan Christie is a bumper, but he’s not a centre-forward. He’s played behind Edouard and on both wings. But he also has some terrible games. Most noticeably against Kilmarnock. His off days tend to come with the team having an off day.

No Edouard, the future is now. The Frenchman is a joy to watch. No guarantee he’ll be fit for the season or he’ll stay at Celtic. If Ajeti is able to put the ball in the net-y then we might do something this season. We might even get ten. Really, it’s a toss of the coin. Not a matter of who is best in Scottish football, but who isn’t the worst. Right now that looks like us. Problems running from centre forward to centre midfield (Brown must go) to centre-backs (both can go) and a goalkeeper that is yet to make a competitive save. Put your money on us beating Motherwell on Saturday and getting carried away with the usual pish. This result leaves me with a heavy sense of foreboding. Not because we got beat. That happens. But the way we got beat. That happens too much and in the same way. Lennon needs to fix that. I hope he does. I hope it’s soon.

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.

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.