Scotland 3—2 Israel

Watching Scotland is a duty, rather than a pleasure. This game was the exception to the general rule that we play Israel every other game and snatch a bore draw. I’ve only ever been to Hampden once for a Scotland game. Needless to say Russia beat us. I remember ex-Scotland manager Craig Levein was in the team. That’s about it. Steve Clarke went against the grain and sent out an attacking Scottish team. Up top, he played Che Adams and Lyndon Dykes.

Lyndon Dykes missed a penalty, just before half-time to level the score at 2—2. It was identical to the penalty he scored against Austria. And anybody that watched that one winced, but we struck lucky in that qualifier.

Ex-Hibernian goalkeeper, Ofir Marciano who has a habit of making penalty saves, will mark that one down as one his granny would have caught.

Scotland were a goal down in the first five minutes. We had started well with long balls into Dykes and Adams, forcing the Israeli defence to sit in. Nir Bitton, six-foot-five, but as much chance of winning a ball in the air against any of these forwards as Julie Andrews climbing every mountain and becoming a nun in The Sound of Music. Austin MacPhee, Scotland’s new attacking coach at free-kicks, corners and throw-ins, had Tierney using a towel to dry the ball before flinging it long into the box. Inexplicably, Dykes, who you’d imagine would want to on the end of these long throw-ins, started taking throw-ins on the other side.  The Celtic defender and makeshift midfielder is good at playing simple balls beyond the Scotland midfield into the strikers.

Nathan Patterson, in for Stephen O’Donnell, was poor in the first-half, and a bit better in the second-half. He kept giving the ball away. And we’re often reminded you get punished at this level.

Solomon robbed him of the ball wide. Ex-Celt Jack Hendry brought down Zahavi twenty yards out.

PSV striker, Zahavi lifted it up and over the wall. Co-commentator, Ally McCoist, rhapsodised about what a wonderful free-kick it was, leaving our keeper, Craig Gordon, with no chance. It was a good goal, but perhaps a better keeper might have saved it.

Scotland’s equaliser was of the Robertson and Tierney variety. Just over thirty minutes gone. They held more than their own down the left, while on the right wing, Patterson and McTominay were slack in possession and turned far too easily. Robertson’s lay off at the edge of the box found John McGinn. He bent it into the top corner. This really was of the keeper having no chance school.

Israel went up the park and regained their lead in the next attack, two minutes later. This was of the Celtic school of defending. Hendry on the wrong side of the attacker. It comes off the Israeli player’s head. Gordon scoops the ball up into the air, which was poor goalkeeping. But equally, several Israeli players are ready to pounce. Dabbur from two-yard can hardly miss and pokes it home.

Scotland’s support deflated with that half-time penalty miss from twelve-yards after Billy Gilmour is brought down inside the box. In the second-half, Scotland dominated the ball, with McGregor, McGinn and Gilmour, in particular, picking the right passes.

Patterson upped his game, but went down far too easily in the Israel box after five minutes looking for another penalty and was lucky not to be booked. McGinn was booked for wiping out Soloman, after Scotland’s go-to man, lost the ball.

On the quarter-hour mark, Tierney whipped a ball into the box. Dykes gets in front of his marker and studs the ball into the net. The referee is quick to give it as a foul and book Dykes. The equaliser is chalked off. One acronym, VAR. He has a look and the goal is given. 2—2 and half-an-hour to go, Scotland in the ascendency. The question being asked by the drunk and sober was can we win it?   Being sober, I doubted it.  

Zahavi, for example, once again got in behind a static defence, only for his goal to be chopped off by VAR. VAR turned out to be our best defender, but having so much of the ball we limited their chances.

Patterson, for example, did what he was brought into the team to do and attacked their defence and got to the bye-line. Adams was waiting for his cut back at the back post. He remained waiting.

Then Dykes, who could easily have had a hat-trick, had one of those balls he’s got to score from. That’s co-commentator, Ally McCoist’s words, not mine. Tierney pinged it in, the QPR strike is above his marker with enough pace from the ball for him to guide it into the net. He headed it straight at Marciano.

John McGinn, who scored a wonder goal, missed what for him would have been even more of a sitter. Ryan Christie, who came on for Adams, picked him out. From ten-yards he can’t find the net.

That looks about it. Six-minutes added time—Fergie time, and he was in attendance, in the stands, giving conspiracy theorist some slack to play with—and Manchester United player McTominay ghosts in at the back post to chest the ball home from a Jack Hendry flick on. I rarely enjoy a Scotland game. The last time Leigh Griffiths scored two late free kicks against England and Celtic keeper, Joe Hart. There was still enough time for England to grab a draw. Here there wasn’t. Great game. Great win. (Whisper it, terrible defending).

Can we beat the Faroes? Can we finish second in this group? Only if we go back to being boring old Scotland and dragging things out to our opponents concede. Safe to say, Dykes will no longer be taking Scotland penalties or Stephen Clarke’s an Englishman. Cue the QPR striker stepping up in our next match? Possibly.

Celtic 1—1 Midtyland.

Ex-Celtic keeper, Craig Gordon tells a story (perhaps apocryphal) about when he was number-1 keeper at Sunderland. He went into training, Roy Keane, the manager, took the gloves off him and went in goals. He told Gordon to shoot in at him, because he would have saved a shot Gordon had missed in the previous game. You know what I’m getting at here. £5 million signing Barkas is money wasted. He wins fanny of the night award, for Evander’s curled free kick. Roy Keane would have been pulling his hair out, and would have surely have pulled on the gloves.

Second prize goes to another diddy, Nir Bitton. Welsh, who was having no too bad a game, also gets pelters for giving away the free kick that led to the goal. A needless challenge is a stupid challenge (although he did get a touch on the ball). We watched the Hoops last year. No player in the Celtic back line was good enough for Celtic. We kept giving away goals from free kicks and corners. It was open season.  Ralston was best of a poor bunch here. And I’m exonerating substitute Dean Murray. Perhaps his chance has come, when Bitton goes, as he surely must.

Some familiar faces in the Celtic team. Bitton, Christie and the big one here, Edouard. Needs must. With little room for error, Nir Bitton pokes Dreyer in the face after the Dane had got in behind the Celtic defence and went down on the box, hoping for a penalty. He was booked, as was the Israeli, who had already been booked. Red card coming up for us before half time.

It was another Israeli, Liel Abada, who gave us the opening goal. He was first to react to a shot from Christie, parried by the keeper, Lossi.  Christie had already hit the post and looked back to his best. McGregor also showed for the ball, and played a real captain’s role. On the bright side, Barkas, in the first half, never had a save to make, which meant we never lost a goal. Good to see Dean Murray in the team. Pity it wasn’t earlier when Bitton was off injured for 10 minutes.  

Dreyer evened up the red-card count in the second half and for the next ten minutes we looked to add to our goal tally. Then that stupid tackle. And the non-save. There was an inkling of what was to come when Barkas dropped a simple cross ball and got a foul for it. Celtic has one mediocre keeper in Scott Bain. I’m not counting Connor, one for the future, because he isn’t (when on loan at Partick Thistle they sent him back). Man of the match went to McGregor, but I thought want-away Christie edged it. He’d the most shots on goal and an assist.

With away goals not counting in aggregate terms, Celtic’s mission is simply to win in Denmark. That’s certainly do-able. I suppose the merry-go-round of keepers will continue. I’d hope Bain would come in, until we get somebody better. I’d also prefer Montgomery for Taylor. Dean Murray should keep his place. It wasn’t a total disaster. Everything that could have went wrong last season—did. The hangover continues. We’ve got to shake it off. I know we’ve got better players than the Danes. Edouard had his usual miss, but his hold-up play was OKish. I’m sure he’ll play next Wednesday.  We’ve just got to show for the ball and shift it quicker. All the good things our new manager is trying to bring to the team. There are some things he can’t control and that was shown by two useless B’s. Both are fixable.     

Rangers 4—1 Celtic.

spot the Ajer swerve?

Rangers 4—1 Celtic.

I expected Celtic to win this one. As I expected them to win the last match against Rangers in the Scottish Cup. I’m Celtic daft that way. Rangers do the clean-sweep of Celtic.  There was talk of John Kennedy getting the Celtic manager’s job. The argument went like this, all he had to do was beat Rangers at Ibrox, win the Scottish Cup and go through the rest of the season unbeaten, and create momentum. Neil Lennon did it after Judas Rodgers left. After the Scottish Cup defeat we went to Pittodrie and got a 1—1 draw. As meaningless fixture as this one you wouldn’t have expected a largely unchanged team. A team that excels in spurning chances and concedes regularly from corners and free kicks. Losing half their goals from most teams in the league that way and before this game, conceding four out of five goals to Rangers in the same manner.

Today was no exception. Where you watching Eddie Howe? For some reason despite Kennedy’s abysmal record, both as a defensive coach and as first-team coach where he’s now being talked up as the next Director of Football. I’m not sure what that entails. But it sounds like flinging good money after bad and creating jobs for the boys, in much the same way as Boris Johnson has done for the English Parliament. It’s getting to the fuck-off point, where we don’t really care, but, of course, we do. That’s the whole point of a pointless match.

I’ll start with the keeper. Scott Bain was OK today. He made one save you’d expect him to make. He’d little chance from Roofe’s opening goal, but when we use terms like should have done better for Morelos’s goal, it’s just another way of saying he should have saved it. Alan McGregor would have. Bain is a bang-average keeper and at best should be used as back-up. Letting Craig Gordon go was one of our many mistakes made this season. Barkas should have played against Aberdeen and today and should also play in the remaining two—even more meaningless—fixtures. Perhaps we’ll have a new manager by then. The most important games next year are the Champions League qualifiers. £30 million the pot could lift us out of below mediocrity.

I’m not a fan of the former Kilmarnock player Greg Taylor. Everything I said about Bain applies equally to Taylor. We should have kept Johnny Hayes. Taylor was OKish today, but that’s never enough.

Jonjoe Kenny is one I’ll be delighted to see going back to his parent club, Everton. Sometimes loan deals don’t work out. This one hasn’t worked out for some time. Yet, Kenny has nailed down the right-back spot despite making more backward passes than a table-tennis player. He was at it again today in the first goal we lost. The obvious signing here was Aaron Hickey, the former Heart’s player, whose Cup Final cameo last year, and in the game before that at Parkhead, should have our Director of Football making an offer.

Stephen Welsh, phew. I’m not sure he’s any better than Tony Ralston.  We want him to do well. A neat enough passer of the ball. Pretty good in the air for his size, but not good enough. Beaten on the edge of the six-yard box when he went head to head with Goldson at a corner when it was just 2—1. The same Goldson that scored a double at Parkhead early in the year. Welsh didn’t fare much better with Roofe. Defoe turned him inside out to score the fourth goal. I don’t think Welsh will do, but then again, I never got my head around the McManus and Caldwell pairing, but at least they could defend when it mattered.

Kristoffer Ajer was given the captain’s armband when he went off. I’m sure Ajer, in his own head, will imagine he had a great game. He helped set up the first goal to make it 1—1 after half an hour by leaping at the back post and heading the ball towards goal, for Edouard to score. He’d a few runs from the half way line that wiped out the Rangers’ midfield and backline and create chances for himself and others. But he failed the Bobo Balde test. When the balls coming towards you, you eat the ball and the man, and bounce back for more. My da used to call such players fanny dancers. I think he meant fan dancers. But I’m sure if he were alive he’d have Ajer in mind. His best position, ironically, has been right back, where he doesn’t need to defend like a man. Ajer will go to a big club, and fail to keep a first-team spot. Little does he know his best years are past.

Scott Brown, good old Broonie, isn’t near as old as Davis or Defoe. His 44th game against Rangers, he’s won most. A loser today. Morelos turned him too easily for the second goal. Brown wasn’t bad. He wasn’t good. He was Broonie. It was pointless to play him, because he’s already pledged his allegiance to another team, and we came away pointless.  

Callum McGregor. I’m a fan of McGregor, he got booked for taking out Kent, after the winger nutmegged him. Then he clattered Kamara. The ref played on, and yet another cross into the box was met by the chest of Roofe for the opening goal to the Ibrox team. Three goals in six minutes and we lost two of them. And we were a man down. I’m old enough to remember when ten men won the league and Murdo’s strike soared into the net, and we all jumped in the Jungle, raising the roof. That was never going to happen here.

James Forrest has become a better player since he’s been injured he’s the stuff of myth-making. What we can say with certainty is he gives 15 to 20 goals a season, and creates double that number. Here, given a decent chance, just before half-time. He fluffed his lines for the equaliser, played in by twinkle toes Ajer. He’ll still be here next season. We’ll need his goals and assists.

David Turnbull has been our chink of light this season. Scores goals and creates chances and he’s young. The type of player to build a team around. He got booked for kicking an ex-Celt at Pittodrie last week. I liked that wee bit of nastiness. It showed he cared. Today, he was largely anonymous. Had a great chance with a header, set up by Forrest, on the 56th minute to equalise but put it wide.

Moi Elyounoussi won’t be here next year. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. He’s scored some amazing goals and is our second-top scorer this season. The strike in Lille springs to mind. Alan McGregor’s fingertip save, putting the ball onto the bar, stopped him claiming the opening goal. I’d give him pass marks today. One of the few.

Odsonne Edouard scored the equaliser. Let the line and looked like doing it for us. But then it just fizzled out and was taken off for Mikey Johnston (which baffled me). The Frenchman is a great player, but not a great Celtic player. As a striker he’s scored 22 goals, some of them penalties. He should have grabbed at least a double in the last Old Firm fixtures. I don’t think he’ll make it to the top, quite simply, he doesn’t score enough goals. Great strikers hit 50 a season for Celtic. Mediocre strikes like Scott McDonald hit at least 30. Edouard has had a poor season. He’ll be missed, but if it was a chance he’d probably take too long and hit it past the post.

Ryan Christie would have started today, as he did at Pittodrie, if Forrest had failed a fitness test. Christie used to play in behind the striker and get us goals. His decampment to the wing shows him falling down the pecking order. He’s on the bench for a reason. I like Christie, and would like to keep him, but he’s off for nothing. His best matches this season have been for Scotland.

Ismaili Soro came on for Brown after sixty minutes. Newspaper reports linked him with a move to Tottenham. Yeh? Twenty million and he’s yours. I’ll need to wait and see how good he can be. He’d a few half- decent games before Christmas. And he should have started today. Gave the ball away for the third Rangers’ goal, which pushed the tie out of reach.

Mikey Johnston is better than Edouard. He got the last 15 minutes to show it. I missed Mikey, he gives you something unpredictable when teams defend deep against Celtic, as all Scottish teams do. He’s shown promise. Next season is the time to deliver for us all.  

Celtic 4—0 Rangers

craig gordon.jpg

Craig Gordon was questioned by Department of Employment officials yesterday over allegations that he had been working. He offered as evidence a second-half save from Bruno Alves (£30 000 something quid a week man that can’t get a start in this Rangers team) and other saves from the £8 million rated Morelos. The Department of Employment officials just started laughing when they heard Morelos had been involved and ripped up the paperwork.

There had been burst balloons all over the pitch. Halliday, for one, had a shouting match with his manager and the bench, when taken off before half time. Celtic’s stats were impressive. Two goals up, Rogic and McGregor and they were so far ahead that an ice cream van parked in the Celtic box to sell blue-and-white pokie hats with raspberry topping to Ranger’s diehards leaving the stadium.

Dembele’s penalty, a cheeky little dink, to make it 3-0 and the sending off of McCrorie made it a fun day out of the green-and-white brigade. Madden should have taken a leaf out of one of our old drunken Welfare league referees that had warned me he was going to leave me on the pitch as an abject lesson to the other players. Candeias was hooked and like Halliday took turns shouting at his manager and staff.

Celtic send on Paddy Roberts for a wee run about in the Hampden sun. He was brought down for the second penalty and Dembele passed the ball to his mate Nitcham and told him to back-heel it in with his eyes shut. Nitcham, being a spoil sport, whipped it into the bottom corner. Sinclair came on for a run about and Leigh Griffiths did a bit of ball juggling when taking a corner. The party hats were on. You’d think we’d won the final. Motherwell will give us a game.

Whatever Happened to Paddy Roberts?

patrick roberts.jpg

A wee cameo, Hampden in the sun, this time last year. Celtic win the treble. Unbeatable. Kieran Tierney comes back from the hospital in crutches to pick up his medal. Paddy Roberts is waiting for him. The Likely Lads. It was a glorious sight to see wee Paddy in full flow and we were sad to see him go. Many of us thought he might even be good enough to play for his parent club Manchester City.

Not that I cared the only team that interests me is Celtic. Rodgers brought in Aberdeen’s best player that day and most other days, Johnny Hayes. Shame about his injury, but he doesn’t look good enough for Celtic.

Paddy does. He doesn’t. Simple. So when we hear the Paddy and Kieran bromance is back on over the summer. And it turns out to be true. Well, overjoyed, whoopee.

I just hope Paddy makes it back from injury. It’ll not be at Celtic. His season-long loan almost done.  He got the last 20 minutes in the 3—0 victory at Parkhead over Ross County. Midweek, when most commentators were salivating over the Manchester City-Liverpool European clash, us Bhoys were watching real fitba. Celtic v Dundee.

Gordon was back in goals for his 200th appearance. Great to see him. Tierney is injured. Calum McGregor playing left back. McGregor quite simply has proved he can play anywhere. Rodgers says he doesn’t give the ball away.

Let’s talk Boyata. He does give the ball away. Remember that game against Bayern, ball straight down the middle. Same again against Dundee. Boyata and ex-Dundee player Jack Hendry get into a kerfuffle. Just before half-time a Boyata tackle hits the inside of the Celtic goalpost, but doesn’t go in. It rolls along the line. Boyata makes more mistakes the Effe Ambrose and it’s nothing to do with skin colour, just ability. Neither is good enough. It needs to be asked, where is Marvin Compper?

We know where Paddy is, on the bench. A lightweight like Charly Musonda. Their place in the Celtic pecking order was shown after sixty turgid minutes against Dundee. Off goes Dembele, off goes Sinclair and off goes Armstrong. Rodgers makes three substitutions, throws the dice, but doesn’t call Paddy’s number.

That’s where Paddy is. The Celtic team regressing from the highs of last year. The league is won. The league cup is won. Only the Scottish Cup remains for back to back trebles. But for the first time in two years I think Rangers have a chance at Hampden on Sunday. Our big player, our best players, just haven’t turned up this season and the ones brought in to replace them are sub-Celtic standard. Paddy, Paddy, prove me wrong.