Hamilton 0—3 Celtic

Hamilton 0—3 Celtic.

Celtic start with Griffiths and Edouard up front. Turnball and Soro keep their place in the team, as does Conor Hazard. The debate goes on to whether Soro will play at Ibrox, or Lennon will bring in Scott Brown. My guess is Brown will play at Ibrox and Soro against United. I can’t say the young keeper has impressed, but that tells you all you need to know about our goal-keeping reserves. Bitton comes in for an injured Jullien and Greg Taylor for Laxalt. We’ve a strong bench, but it’s the players on the pitch that matter. Rangers were nineteen points clear coming into the game. Our chance of ten-in-a-row looks unlikely and hanging by the thinnest thread, even with games in hand. Every game until the end of the season is a must win. We’ve struggled on the plastic pitch in recent seasons and it’s wet and windy, in other words, normal Scottish weather. Neil Lennon settled for a diamond formation in midfield.

Griffiths had a chance after two minutes. Bitton had two headers from corners and almost scored. Frimpong getting the touchline and hanging up for Griffiths again, with fifteen minutes gone. The Celtic striker hit the post. Turnball and  Christie both had speculative shots from outside the box. Celtic, as you’d expect, dominate possession (86% at one point) at the midpoint of the half. Edouard in the 33rd minute weaved into the box and his shot was saved by the Hamilton keeper, Gourlay. After 47 minutes Edouard’s magic feet allowed him once more to get a shot away. But he didn’t score. Hamilton, with a decimated squad, offered little in attack. Celtic’s track record of losing every kind of goal from corners and free kicks, in particular, means the home team were still in it.  

Edouard made the difference. Frimmpong, who looks more comfortable at full-back, with space to run into, got to the bye-line and fired in a ball. Edouard’s touch was good and he tried to dink it over Gourlay, but it didn’t go in and the referee awarded a penalty. 1—0 Celtic and that Edouard penalty made a huge difference. Edouard set up the second goal for Griffiths. A side-foot shuffle into Griffith’s path. From the edge of the box, Griffiths slotted it away. We can no longer assume it’s game over, even with a two goal lead. But it was game over. Turnball got his third goal in three games. Again it was Edouard who set it up, hitting the post from a McGregor cut back. Turnball followed in with the rebound.

With twenty minutes to play Lennon could bring on a slew of substitutes. This kinda tells you the pecking order. Adjeti for Griffiths. Griffiths is number 2, to Edouard. Klmala for Edourad (well, that tells us nothing). Johnson for Turnball. You’d expect to see Elyounoussi, our top scorer, coming on before Johnson. And he did, eventually, for Christie. And Elyounoussi was unlucky not to score at the end of the game.

We need to beat Dundee United on Wednesday. Then Rangers at Ibrox on the 2nd January. We’ll still be underdogs, but will have a chance of ten-in-a-row. It was easy today. Our defence didn’t lose a goal, which is unusual this season. Griffiths is certainly sharper. Edouard back to something like his best. Stating the obvious, we need Rangers to lose and us to win. And we need to stop losing daft goals to do that.

Celtic 3—2 Lille

Celtic start with a 4-4-2 formation. Conor Hazard in goals. Scott Bain and the £5- million-signing Vasilis Barkas on the bench. The young Irish keeper didn’t have any chance with the two goals we lost. The first was a rare mistake from an attempted lob backward by Calum McGregor to a static central defence. And Yazıcı races into the box and squares to an unmarked Ikone to equalise and make it 1-1, after Julien’s header put us ahead three minutes earlier. Lille’s second equalising goal came from another poorly defended free kick. Shane Duffy headed the ball out. Timothy Weah (remember him from our loan deal under Rodgers) scored with a volley from inside the box.

 Elyounoussi should have been marking him, but wasn’t. That’s been the story of Celtic’s slide into ignominy, bottom of the charts in the Europa group and the goal’s lost column, and generally, in Europe. (I’ve zero interest in the Champions League draw).  But the Swiss midfielder had a fine game. Hazard, finally, had a chance to make a save in the 80th minute, Ihaji from around the penalty spot fluffed his chance, and the Celtic keeper was glad to gather a trickler. We needed a bit of luck.

  I don’t think many would argue with the way David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro played in midfield they deserve another chance. Turnbull scored the winner, to make it 3-2, after Ajer galloped down the touch line and whipped in a cross. And the former Motherwell midfielder created the first with a whipped in corner and the second. Turnbull was an easy pick for man of the match.

Soro wasn’t far behind him. He broke up play and kept the ball. He had to go off with cramp in the ninety-second minute. That shows how much running he did. He created the second goal by winning the ball and passing it to Turnbull. The midfielder toe-poked it to Frimpong who was clattered inside the box. Stonewaller.

Calum McGregor took the penalty and made up for his earlier error by scoring.

Ewan Henderson came on early for Jeremie Frimpong who smashed his head against an advertising board. I’m a big fan of Ewan (and his brother Liam, the ex-Celt) but it was difficult to see how he would get into such a talented midfield. He showed brio here and no-little skill. He’s an outstanding talent.

Up front Patryk Kilmala worked hard, which always sounds like a put-down. His only shot on goal after twenty minutes was saved the keeper, but led to the corner from which we scored. Any striker that doesn’t score is never happy, nor should he be.  Ajeti came on for the last ten minutes but managed to embarrass himself (and by association Celtic) by rolling around on the touchline for no reason.  

Duffy came in to partner Julien in a defence that has leaked more goals than any other team in the European competition. The French man has a decent record scoring goals from free kicks. But recently we tend to lose far more goals that we score. We’re keeping Julien, for the present, but the jury is out on Duffy. You can’t really blame him for the second goal here. He won his header. But he also misjudged a header when he was on a booking. He could have been sent off for hand ball. I don’t need to work very hard to make a case for sending him back to Brighton in the January window. We’re out of Europe. The Scottish Premier League gone. Duffy was not the answer, nor the player we thought he would be.

I’m not a fan of Ajer. He’s not a central defender. And if AC Milan had put the cash up I’d have been glad to see him go. But I can remember him having a stormer at right back against Aberdeen. Here he created the third, and winning goal. But that leaves a gap because if we’re playing 4-4-2 and Ajer is at right back then Julien needs a partner. Answers on a postcard. Perhaps Scott Brown should take a step backwards. Neil Lennon might surprise everyone by picking the same team that started tonight on Sunday. We’re playing catch-up, and it doesn’t matter because we’re not going to catch them, but it does hurt. It does hurt. The ten is gone. Let’s think about next season, this season. Get rid of the dross now.

Possible picks, Celtic v Rangers

Celtic’s first eleven against Rangers—who’s in and who’s out?

Goalkeeper is an easy pick. Celtic hired a private jet to bring Vasilos Barkas back from a recent international. He was on the bench for Greece. He’s not really done anything that Scott Bain, or Conor Hazard, or you’d expect any other bog standard goalie to do. He’s certainly not won us matches the way—may he rot in reserve-team-football hell, the Southampton keeper we got on loan last season did. Hope we don’t need him, but time for Barkas to step up and be counted.

Another loan player, Shane Duffy, is going to be in the middle of a back three, back four, or indeed a back five. He’s limited when it comes to passing, but in the air he’s colossus. Just what we needed. Capable of getting us a goal.

Kristopher Ajer will play on Duffy’s left-hand flank. Ajer is a far better ball player than Duffy, but for his size, extremely limited in the air. Pre-Covid, if AC Milan were offering £15 million, I’d have taken it. Overrated.

Here’s where it gets interesting. We paid £7 million for Christopher Jullien. He can be elegant and good in the air, but can be bullied, as he was at Livingston and Kilmarnock. His injury coincided with the arrival of Duffy. Duffy is a number one pick. I expected Jullien to slot into the position on the right flank.

But Nir Bitton held that positon and with a few good performances looked like establishing a run in the team. He too got injured. OK, as Celtic supporters, it’s annoying when the injured Bitton pops up starring for Israel against Scotland. He’s not great in the air, but as a former midfielder, unflappable on the ball. No matter, he’s out.

Hatem Abed Elhamed also starred for an Israel team that outplayed Scotland. He also played well when he replaced Bitton in the Celtic team. He’s also out. Also injured.

Unless Neil Lennon plays a wild card, Julien will start. The problem here is with Julien’s tendency to grab at players and with him likely to be up against Ryan Kent, let’s hope the Celtic defender doesn’t give anything stupid away.

No matter what team Lennon puts out, with James Forrest injured, Jeremie Frimgpong will hug the wide-right touchline and sprint back to mark Ryan Kent. Well, he can. He’s did it before with some aplomb. One of the few Celtic player to get pass marks in the Old Firm fixtures in the pre-split Christmas of 2019. He plays with a smile on his face. He makes things happen. But unlike James Forrest he doesn’t score much. There’s still time. Potential match winner.

Greg Taylor is the kind of player Scotland use when they’re playing meaningless fixtures. His best game was Celtic away, in Riga. Most of his other games are bang-average. Not a bad player. Not a great player in the mould of a Tosh McKinley.  I’d have settled for Johnny Hayes.

Lennon’s got a decision to make here. Diego Laxalt, the Uruguayan international on loan from AC Milan, could be thrown in for Greg Taylor. I can’t see it. And I’ve not seen Laxalt, although I can remember him, because of his Henrik-like hair, playing alongside Suarez. Give me a bit of that. Fling him into the mix. Here’s hoping.

It gets a bit boring here. We know Scott Brown and Callum McGregor will start in the central midfield slots.

There is now an outside chance of Ryan Christie starting, but we’ll not dwell on that and say he’s out.

Oliver Ntcham will start in Christie’s place. Terrific and cultured player. Doesn’t want to be at Celtic and has a tendency to disappear during games, but not a bad stand in.

Odsonne Edouard is in quarantine, but unlike Christie, could start. Usually, I’d say, will start. Barry Ferguson, the Ranger’s pundit, rated Edouard in the £35 million bracket. But not on this season’s performances. Lacklustre. Doesn’t look interested. He’s off are a few of the remarks I’ve heard (usually, because it’s me saying it). It’s not really a wild card to play Edouard, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion he’ll be on the bench.

Now it gets difficult to pick one from three to who will play centre-forward. I know it won’t happen, but with no Edouard I’d just go with Leigh Griffiths. We’ll get the usual pish about him not having game time.

That didn’t stop Albian Ajeti putting the ball in the netti and scoring goal a game before he got injured. He’s back too, with the usual stricture, not- match-fit.

Edouard can play with any of these two strikers. Or, if he’s out, Griffiths and Ajeti, pairing.

If we’re going to stuff the midfield and Edourad is out then Partyk Kilma could find himself as lone striker. He’s fed on scraps and came through to score goals. His goal against St Johnstone summed him up. Halved in two, he jumped up, and thumped the ball past the keeper. Kilma is no dud. Ironically, the guys that are half-fit are first picks. Scoring goals can change his prospects. Score against Rangers and it could change his career.

In the absence of Christie the guys that can play in behind the striker (whoever that is) is red hot. Ntcham could be pushed up. And I think that will happen.

Mohammed Elyounoussi playing ahead of Taylor and in behind the striker. He’s on form and scores goals. But I’m not convinced. He disappears.

If we’d got Tom Rogic on loan from Southampton and played him in the same position (as he did under Brendan Rodgers) then I’m sure the Australian internationalist would also have scored goals. He might even start. But don’t put any money on it. It’s the bench and a long wait for Rodgic.

The wildcard here is David Turnbull. The former Motherwell player has looked tidy with the ball, and untidy, giving it away. He takes great free kicks. Has boundless energy and an eye for a goal. He might well replace Christie in the team, in the short and longer term. I’d favour him over Elyounoussi.

Celtic as we all know have won eight games in a row. Don’t be fooled. Unconvincing and wide open at the back. I don’t rate Rangers, but they have shown they could exploit the open space. I expect us to start with one striker and a packed midfield.

Lennon usually plays one wildcard. In this game it will be Diego Laxalt in for Taylor. Celtic will win, if they score first. If not, it’ll be a draw.  

Barkas

Duffy

Ajer

Julien

Brown

McGregor

Ntcham

Frimpong

Laxalt

Elyounoussi

Ajeti