Celtic’s midwinter break

Josip Juranovic is the last man standing in the World Cup. Paper talk tells us he won’t be at Paradise and will be sold in the January window. I’m not particularly worried. He’s a good enough player, but not irreplaceable, he’s not a Henrik Larsson. We know about Tony Ralston.  Alistair Johnston from CF Montreal has come in as cover. He’s been called the spit of Danny McGrain. I wish. Danny was the best. He was like Ginger Rodgers, he could do everything Fred Astaire could do (Sandy Jardine) but do it backwards and both sides of the park.

 We’re well served all over the park having a two-for-one deal on every position. And I understand Juranovic is under contract until 2026. The club hold the aces here.

Giorgos Giakoumakis is under a similar contract. The Greek striker has scored a goal-a-game. We know what he can do. Lots of the time I’d have played him in front of Kyogo. Postecoglou favours the Japanese striker. His judgement has been great. Postecoglou’s witticism that ‘he was more interested in what was for dinner’ that night than the appointment of a manager of the other Glasgow club was laidback and honest, with a bit of dig.

 I’m sure they’ll win more games. There may be a bit of a bounce, but hopefully not. I don’t want them to win anything soon or later. Differences between the two managers isn’t just in terms of experience. Postecoglou came to the club with a to-do list and a fair idea of the players he wanted to help him and Celtic recover from the debacle we put ourselves in.  The market we’ve been shopping in has been bargain basement. As Japan showed in the World Cup, we’ve brought in some real gems that don’t need much polishing.

Kyogo didn’t make it into the squad. Daizen Maeda did. He scored against Croatia and had a goal disallowed earlier in the competition. His main attribute seemed to be (as we have seen) closing down defenders. I don’t think he’s that great. But he’s a useful player to have on the bench and bring on.

Reo Hatate has been, for me, the best player in Scottish football. He faded towards the end of last season. But started this season with a bang. I certainly don’t want to sell, but he’s worth whatever they pay for a top-class midfielder in the top-tier of English football.

Matt O’Riley was a steal. Like Hatate he oozes class. I prefer him further forward. Aaron Mooy had a decent World Cup. I’m glad for him. But these guys are better.

Calum McGregor will be back. The ball moves quicker with him in the team. Cameron Carter-Vickers got a game in the World Cup. The American coach said he selected Carter- Vickers because Iran used ‘a low block’. What he meant by that was they played with ten men behind the ball for most of the match. Carter-Vickers playing for Celtic did that week in, week out. He has an old head for that kind of game.

Carter-Vickers had a good defensive record with Carl Starfelt. I’m not a fan of the Swedish international. I think he’s average at best. Moritz Jenz is not much better. I wouldn’t be too worried if we didn’t pick up on him after the loan deal is done. In contrast, Carter-Vickers and Jota were great business. They agreed to stay and, the good thing about a loan deal—try  before you buy—they added stability and class. But then again, I was a critic of Greg Taylor and he’s been outstanding this season and most of last. I guess this is a hangover of remembering what Kieran Tierney brought to the party. Taylor has seen a slew of others, including Boli Bolingoli (money wasted) and is holding off Alexandro Bernabei. The young Argentinian looks very decent on attack. But like Taylor, he’s tiny, but unlike Taylor, he’s not proven himself defensively.

I don’t think Stephen Welsh is good enough for Celtic, but a good backup.

Yuki Kobayashi has agreed to join Celtic from Vissel Kobe on a five-year contract and it seems he plays on the left side of defence. That would give us balance as Carter-Vickers favours the right. If Kobayashi is half as good as Hatate we’ve got another steal on our hands. He’s played for Japan at under-20 level. I’m sure he’ll be cultured on the ball, but it’s heading the ball he’ll need to be good at. Lumping the ball forward, we lose most of our goals domestically from corner and free-kicks. He’ll need to get used to the nitty gritty, but I’m sure he’ll get his chance, but it’s up to him to take it. I’m hopeful. Japan being so successful during the World Cup has made Postecoglou seem more and more like a genius for his bargain buys.

The exception has been Yosuke Ideguchi. He’s been very unlucky with injuries. He’s been very unlucky Celtic have so many brilliant midfielders. David Turnbull, for example, was first pick week in and week out when Postecoglou inherited a squad that proved itself not fit for purpose. Turnbull was Scotland’s Young Player of the Year. He looked to make that next step. He got injured. He no longer is a first-pick, but that may change, and the only way it will change is if he adds more goals to his game. He looks capable of that, but until he does, he’s behind McGregor, Hatate and O’Riley, but in front of Oliver Abigaard.   

Oliver Abigaard is a more defensive midfielder, he’s big and great in the air. I think he’s on loan, I don’t think he’ll become a permanent fixture. He isn’t in the Celtic team, but probably just in front of Ideguchi and James McCarthy when the manager looks at his bench.

Sead Haksabonovic can play on the left or the right, or drop off into the number ten role. He’s a standout in any position. What a brilliant buy. Now he’s scoring a goal a game.

Jota on the left, Liel Abada on the right. The young Israeli has been a great buy. But he’s not guaranteed a game. Haksabonovic has played there. Jota has too. Maeda has floated from one wing to the other and played through the middle. James Forrest has found himself fit and ready to go, but is least likely than any of the above to start a game, but sometimes he comes on and scores. For Neil Lennon, James Forrest was irreplaceable. The Celtic team has moved on. He’s been replaced.

There’s talk of replacing Georgios Giakoumakis with South Korea international Cho Gue-sun. I don’t know anything about him. Speculation that Al-Ahly playmaker Magdy will also be joining us has made the back pages. I’m not concerned if he does or doesn’t. We seem to be on track. Peter Lawwell’s return as Chief Executive after the ten-in-a-row debacle has been criticised. Dermot Desmond likes him. It’s our football club, but he owns it. He does what he wants. He appoints who he pleases. Celtic is not a democracy. It’s his ball, and if we don’t like it, we can lump it.

Motherwell 1—2 Celtic

Kyogo in fifteen minutes gave Celtic a half-time lead. Matt O’Riley created the tap in. He lost the ball at the edge of the box and then took it off O’Donnell’s foot inside the box with a sliding challenge. His cross gave Kyogo his eleventh goal of the season and there won’t be any easier.

His fellow Japanese striker made it two-nil on the 84th minute and that looked as if the game was safe. Maeda ran on to a lovely thorough ball from fellow substitute Turnbull to beat the keeper.

But it was a nervy ending. Ross Tierney got in front of Juranovic from a free kick. VAR deduced he was onside when he fired past Hart.

But I’d like to have seen the lines come out for Jota’s ‘goal’ earlier in the first half which VAR claimed was offside.  

Celtic are seven points clear. Alleluia. That gives a little wiggle room. But this time last year we were the underdogs. We needed to win all our games and we did. The worst team in Champion League history need to do that too. But we just need to keep doing what we’re doing, improving. We know we need to score more from the chances we create. We need to defend better. I’m not a fan of Carl Starfelt, who started tonight. Jenz seems no better. And listen, Carter-Vickers has pace, but he’s not great in the air. Van Veen has troubled him in past games. He got in early and rounded Joe Hart but hit the post. His fellow striker, substitute Moult headed just over the bar when the score was 1-0. We’ve been gifting lots of goals recently.   

I hear there’s a young player coming from Japan in the next transfer window. That pleases me. Apart from Gucchi, who does look decent, the others have made an impact. Reo Hatate, in particular, is an absolute bumper. When we play friendlies in Sydney, next week, Frank Lampard, with the cash they have must be looking, but I don’t want him to leave, any more than I want O’Riley to go. I just want them to stay and get better and better. Money in the bank is nice. Great footballers on the park is what we’re all about. Giakoumakis and Haksabanovic came off the bench for the last twenty minutes. The Greek striker, normally so deadly missed a very decent chance with fifteen minutes of the match to go, taking far too long to shoot from a Jota pass.  Turnbull has a good scoring record against his former team. He set up the all-important second goal.  These are great players. They will come on and try and make a difference. We know now how Postecoglou works. We never stop. But I just wish we could defend better. Club before country. Absolutely.  

Hearts 3—4 Celtic

This was a twelve can game. Four cans before half-time. Six in the second-half (when my can counting gets muddled). Ange Posecoglou makes changes to the team that started against Motherwell. He usually does. He calls it having a squad. During an interview when a reporter asked him about his best team, he replied, ‘maybe, you’ll let me know’.

His best team for today includes Ralston, Bernabei, Maeda, Forrest and Giakoumakis. All of them have a case for being in our starting eleven. They have to prove their point on the park.

And it was Forrest yet again who scored the first goal in 14 minutes. The ball popped up in front of him after a Ralston cross from the bye-line was whipped up into the air by a defender and took out ex-Celtic keeper Craig Gordon.

Celtic had dominated possession and continued to do so. Hearts fed on scraps and loose balls. Ironically, a minute before Forrest had put us ahead, Robert Snodgrass rode a challenge and came in at the near post and toe poked it, but Hart came out to make a save. He’d also to make a save from an early Barry McKay shot.

Postecoglou said he wasn’t a fan of VAR. The Hearts fans certainly were after they were awarded a penalty just before half-time. Carter-Vickers was late in the tackle on Devlin. Referee Walsh allowed the game to go on, before calling it back. There was just enough time for another few renditions of the Billy Boys, before Shankland scored from the spot.

What is VAR is for?Anthony Ralston had also scored a goal from ball into the box which would have made it 2—0, midway through the first-half, which was chopped off for some infringement, who or what wasn’t clear, but the game went on.

In VAR added time of the first-half, Celtic should have had a penalty. Postecoglou, who isn’t given to be overly dramatic couldn’t believe it. Forrest put a ball into the box and Smith clearly handled. No penalty.

At the start of the second half, Hearts took the lead. Lawrence Shankland scored his second goal of the game, but his only goal not from the penalty spot. Bernabei failed to stop Ginnelli from putting a cross into the six-yard box. The Argentine defender struggled at Tynecastle to do the basics and defend. I thought Ginnelli got the better of him. He was replaced by Greg Taylor, who went on to score the winner. And I never thought I’d be saying that.

Carter-Vickers held his hand up for offside. Shankland got in front of him to bundle the ball home. VAR showed he was onside.

Five minutes later Mooy missed a sitter. Played in by Hatate. Open goal. But he put it wide of the post.

In a crazy five-minute spell, we scored another two goals to take the lead and gave away another penalty.

Giakoumakis hadn’t been in the game, but he’s a goal-a-game man, and he always scores against Hearts. One chance, one goal, like all good strikers he got away from his marker at a corner and powered a header into the net.

Level and then ahead, two minutes later. Mooy’s shot from the edge of the box was parried by Craig Gordon. Poor goalkeeping. Maeda was first to react. Bundling it into the net.

Celtic ahead for two minutes and then Hearts leveller. Like Carter-Vickers, Jenz was late and caught Devlin in the box. Penalty.

Joe Hart saved Shankland’s  penalty, but like Maeda’s goal, Ginnelli followed up to score. VAR showed he’d encroached. Penalty retake and Shankland sent Hart the wrong way to level the game at 3—3 with twenty minutes of normal time remaining.

Postecoglou made the changes that won us the game. Maeda, Bernabei and Forrest substituted, Abada, Giakoumakis and Taylor come on.

Abada’s shot it deflected into the path of an onward rushing Taylor in the six-yard box. He makes it 4—3 with 76 minutes gone.

There was time for a Abada goal to be ruled offside by the referee and VAR on injury time, but it was close. Hearts almost snatched a draw. Their fans chanted VAR before half-time as if it was an onfield player. I think overall it will help Celtic get more decisions. Today an obvious penalty was overlooked and what I thought was a good goal also chopped off. That old saying, it’s only as good as those watching and analysing. But there are no longer any hiding places. Chris Sutton’s prophecy that VAR is run by amateurs proved true. But transparency favours the attacking rather than defending teams. And we are by far the most attacking team in Scotland.  

Celtic 6—1 Hibs.

Back to league business after our disappointing defeat to Leipzig on Tuesday. We didn’t hit seven, but we did hit the woodwork three times and James Forrest hit a hat trick to win man of the match. Giorgos Giakoumakis hit a double. And Daizen Maeda ended his goal drought to hit the sixth with two minutes of normal time remaining. Substitute, Kyogo, had time to miss another chance and his relative goal drought continues. He did hit the post and also managed to get in the way of a Mooy shot that looked goal bound. That’s the sort of luck he’s having and until today, Celtic were having, creating lots of chance.

  I only watch Rangers when they’re playing us or they’re going to get beat, which I hope is much the same thing. Most of their balls in the game against Liverpool went back to McGregor. He lumped it forward. Route-1 fitba. It worked against us last year when they bullied us and it worked to a certain extent against Liverpool in the first half. This is the pattern teams on Scotland adopt. It worked for St Mirren. You could see it today with Hibs looking for something from long throws and free kicks. But it didn’t work. They were three goals down, and despite four half-time substitutions lost six goals by full time. For Celtic to lose to opposition using these tactics usually they need to score first.

 Giakoumakis could have put us ahead in the first four minutes with one of his trademark headers. But it was easy for former Celtic keeper. Sead Haksabanovic picked him out with a lovely pass. Two minutes later he pulled a ball out of the air and played in Reo Hatate, who put a ball across the box. Alexandros Bernabei added to the trio of attacking threat, with most of the space being found of the left, but most of the goals coming from the right.

Forrest’s ninth minute goal settled the nerves. Haksabanovich again played a lovely ball in. Forrest lurking at the back post found space to put it away as he’d did in a Celtic shirt for the 98th time in over 400 appearances. He needed a hat-trick to join the 100 club, like Celtic legend Frank McGarvey.

Bernabei’s cutback to Giakoumakis was met perfectly for a first-time finish. The game looked beyond Hibs. After thirty minutes it looked more like how many Celtic would score.

David Marshal had a hand in Celtic’s third and Forrest’s second. Matt O’Riley’s shot was blocked but it fell to Forrest just inside the Hib’s box. His shot was powerful but straight at the keeper. Marshall flung the shot he’d blocked out of the net, but we didn’t need VAR to see it was in.

Ryan Porteous has been linked with Celtic. I can see no good reason why this would be the case, although he did have a good game while playing for Scotland. Here he spent a lot of time falling over. A tug on Giakoumakis just before half-time wasn’t give as a penalty, but it was clumsy.

Saed Haksabanovic was replaced by Maeda at half time. The Montenegrin who can play on either wing or through the middle as number 10 was the pick of the bunch in the first half.  Alexandro Bernabei played the full ninety minutes and he wasn’t that far behind him.

Hibs started the second half better than the first. Their closing down pushed Celtic backwards, but their high line was almost punished when James Forrest missed a good chance, only for substitute Thody Elie Youan to run onto a pass from Celtic fan Martin Boyle and beat Joe Hart at the near post. 3—1 down, they’d thirty-five minutes to make a game of it.

Two minutes later and it was game over, again. Nohan Kenneh miskicked in his own half. Aaron Mooy played Forrest galloping in from the right. A deflection helped it into the corner of the net. 4—1.

Giakoumakis had went down injured. He signalled to the bench he wanted off, but found time to spring up and hit his second and Celtic’s fifth with 17 minutes to go. Let’s hope it’s not another injury.

Kyogo hit the post when he came on and got in the way of Maeda, but not enough to stop the Japanese forward scoring. Celtic were still hunting for that seventh goal in the 92nd minute. When we score early against Scottish teams, we score big.    

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 4—1 Hearts.

Manager of the year. Player of the year. Young player of the year. One change from the team that drew with Rangers (and we don’t need to ask if we wish our Glasgow rivals well in Seville, but we do wish our rivals, Hearts, all the best in their final). Best for Hearts today, Craig Gordon which tells its own story.

 Our generosity extended to giving them the opening goal in three minutes. A shy, a Boyce touch and Ellis Simms lashed it into the corner of the net.

David Turnbull in for Hatate. The Japanese midfielder has looked jaded in recent games. And it wasn’t that long ago that the Scottish young player of the year was a first pick for Celtic. His first start since December. He looked sharp and had our first chance to equalise, chesting the ball down and shooting from just inside the box, but an easy enough save from Craig Gordon.

 Competition for places has made us stronger. Matt O’Riley starts ahead of Rogic. But we all know the Australian will come on. Just as we know that Giakomoukis will come on for Kyogo. Abada, perhaps even Forrest or Bitton, will get a run out. It was our on loan Portuguese winger who created both goals in the first-half.

Half-hour in and he played a ball for Kyogo, who was coming back from an offside position. Jota picked it up himself and squared the ball to Daizen Maeda. His shot went between Gordon’s legs.

Seven minutes later Kyogo got his goal. O’Riley out wide created space and whipped in a cross. Jota’s headed cut back and Kyogo’s header was over the line, despite Gordon palming it out. We were in front for the first time and dominating possession. McGregor, in particular, looked to be everywhere.

Kyogo had an earlier chance saved and O’Riley had a header easily saved by Gordon. There might even have been a penalty, just on half-time with Taylor going down in the box after a flailing arm from Ginnelly. But the Japanese duo helped put us ahead after a strong Heart’s opening.  

Matt O’Riley gets my vote for man of the match. At the start of the second-half he got away from Moore in the box, but rather than shoot he squared the ball and it was cut out, but that apart, flawless.

Gordon almost scored an own goal. Palming a ball off Kingsley from a Maeda cross. Then O’Riley found some space in the box, hit it with his left foot which was blocked, and hit the inside of the post, with the rebounded right-footed shot.

Hatate, Abada and Giakoumakis come on for Turnbull, Maeda and Kyogo.

Hearts began to dominate possession and had several crossed and corners. O’Riley’s size and strength allowed him to defend and clear from Boyce and other attackers. When it was getting a bit nervy, O’Riley effectively finished the game for us. With around 15 minutes of the 90 remaining, he picked up the ball at the back post and guided a shot into the corner of the net—Champions.

O’Riley found space from a Greg Taylor cross to the back post to almost grab a second and a third goal for Celtic. Gordon saved. Tom Rogic came on for O’Riley.

Jota, who was also man of the match (since we’re Champions, I can nominate two man of the matches), thought he’d scored, taking the ball through and dinking it past Gordon. He went away to celebrate, but realised he was offside. He was replaced for a James Forrest cameo. He set up, fellow substitute, Hatate who had a couple of near misses from the edge of the box.  Forrest also had a couple of strikes on goal, before helping set up our poacher supreme, Giakoumakis. He got the goal he craved on the 90th minute. We got the victory we deserved. Celtic do the huddle after a 25 point swing from last season and a poor opening spell. Celtic do the double. Ange Postecoglou takes us to where we want to be. Guarantees us £40 million Champions League money. Alleluia.   

Abada had time for another effort on goal, but missed. He picked up an injury in the dying seconds.

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.   

Celtic 2—0 St Mirren.

Giorgos Giakoumakis misses out again, which is disappointing after the lack-lustre goal display at Easter Road. A carousel in which Matt O’Riley returns and replaces Tom Rogic, or vice-versa. Both are class player. Celtic had a free-kick in the first minute, 30 yards out, which was wasted by O’Riley, with not even a shot on goal. St Mirren offering no threat other than a Scott Tanser cross which Joe Hart had to fall on, early in the first half. No surprise they camped in and played for a no-score draw. That’s a given for most teams in Scotland.

Charles Dunne, who was lucky not to escape an early booking, came closest to scoring an own-goal after 15 minutes, and was booked just before half-time. A Jota cross and Dunne’s mis-hit clearance hitting the bar. He almost sliced another ball into his goal.

Daizen Maeda had a few headers, none of which looked like scoring. But Liel Abada had the best chance of the first-half, Maeda missing a Jota cutback and the ball falling for the Israeli. He’d ghosted in and outside the six-yard box hit the ball first time, but hit the keeper.

Jack Alnwick saved from Jota and a  Josip Juranovic shot powered over his bar. It’s been all defence for the Buddies, but our attack finding it hard to create chances.

Our centre-half, Cameron Carter-Vicker won man on of the match for a performance where our central pairing got more of the ball than their teammates. Ten minutes into the second half he got the goal we needed. Abada taken out by Tanser, who limped off after getting booked. As a general rule, we don’t score from free kicks or corners, until we do. Ball whipped in, Carl Starfelt jostled with the defender and the ball broke to Carter-Vickers, his measured control and left-foot volley from six-yards broke St Mirren’s resistance.

Maeda almost made it two with an acrobatic volley from an O’Riley cross a few minutes later. Celtic brought on three substitutes. Forrest, Rogic and Nir Bitton. All added urgency to the Celtic team. Forrest flung in a ball for Maeda which was just too high at the back post. He also came close to getting us a penalty, getting to the bye-line and getting tackled but he didn’t go down. With Hattate and O’Riley off, Callum McGregor pushed higher up the pitch after picking up a booking.

Our captain put us on easy street with nine minutes remaining in the ninety. He drove a clearance through a ruck of defenders into the bottom corner. With a few minutes remaining he came off to a standing ovation to be replaced by Ideguchi. Job done. Dembele came on for a cameo after his horrendous pre-season injury. Jota went off. Nine game to go. Let’s hope and pray, nine-in-a-row.   

Aberdeen 2—3 Celtic

Daizen Maeda leads the front line in a first half in which Aberdeen didn’t have a shot on goal—didn’t even look like having a shot on goal. The Don’s fans jeered the home team off the park, but they were applauded off in the end.

Maeda had our first chance after twelve minutes. A ball into the back post. A free header from four yards, which he fluffed. Top scorer in the J-League looks ineffectual playing the channels. He was played in a few times and failed to convert or look convincing.

 Liel Abada continues to be our most potent threat, but didn’t get a chance to score here.

I have a bit of sympathy for Giakoumakis—he’s not played badly, but he has failed to score in his last three (and-a-bit) games. The Japanese forward is more lucky scoring twice so far. But we don’t really care. As long as the ball ends in the opposition goals. The Greek striker came on as a substitute and did well enough, again, without scoring. But there were mitigating factors.

Jota starts, and showed the goal form and threat he did, before his injury, which he did after seventeen minutes. He swept away an O’Riley cross that left the Portuguese winger unmarked in the six yard box at the back post.

O’Riley went from provider to scorer. Rogic scored two in his last game and also drops to the bench. Not only is the Australian the hammer of the Steelmen, but also of the Dons. But we’re kept him in reserve. O’Riley has been everything we hoped he would be, but unlike the other midfielders he hasn’t added goals to his game—until his shot was deflected off the heel of (ex-Hun) David Bates and into the net.

A pitch invaded got closer to the Celtic goal than the Don’s attack. But just as earlier in the season when a two goal lead didn’t seem enough, and a three goal lead is the sweet point, our defence showed the same old deficiencies. Get the ball into the box and Celtic concede. It’s not finger pointing. Statistics tell you one thing. Watching the match tells you the truth. Just bad defending and being bullied.  

Christian Ramirez in 61 minutes gave the Don’s a life-life. The usual stuff about one from the training pitch will be rolled out. Simply, he was unmarked between the penalty and six-yard box. The ball was rolled across to him from a free kick. He scored.

He had the ball in the net minutes later to equalise. But was ruled, rightly, offside.

Lewis Ferguson loves playing against Celtic, because he scores against us almost every time, seven times in total. He was at it again. Corner swung in, Ferguson gets his header away. Goal.

Celtic were in trouble. Jota got us out of it with his second goal, and Celtic’s third, a in the sixty-third minute. A minute after the Don’s equalised.  A ball over the top. Abada looked offside, but Jota didn’t hang about. He smashed the ball into the ground and it looped over keeper Woods. Our Portuguese winger won it for us.  

Our bench is strong. But no Josip Juranovic? Must be injured. The enigma that is Mikey Johnston once more comes into the mix. He’s still a boy, but with Doak also coming on and into the first team at sixteen this is no longer the old Bhoy’s network. Ship up or ship out. Simple. Most of us love that philosophy, not only of attacking football, but if you don’t want to be here—fuck off.

Bitton and Forest came on to see it out. Goal scorer, O’Riley replaced by Rogic in the last few minutes.

The longer Ange Postcoglou’s winning run continues the more our belief grows. The league is everything, because Champions League qualification is added and with it a bumper payday. Every game is a must win.  A virtuous circle. The kind the Celtic manager keeps talking about. We don’t want to think of the alternative. Celtic were coasting at Pittodrie. Then suddenly we bottled it and a moment of Jota magic won it.   

Celtic 2—0 Hibs.

No Kyogo, but a good night’s work. Before the winter break he was our go-to-man for goals. He almost single-handedly won us the League Cup final against Hibs. That was a game we dominated but lost a sloppy goal. Our defence is the weakest part of our team. Don’t quote me statistics. And although he got pass marks tonight, let’s not talk about Starfelt. We’re looking good going forward. Giorgos Giakoumakis missed his chance to impress with Kyogo injured. Now, although he came on and is likely to start against Alloa in the Scottish Cup, the Greek striker in on the bench and moved down the pecking order. Maeda starting ahead of him and scored the opening goal within four minutes.

Tom Rogic had a decent chance from kick off. But Celtic were lucky not to be a goal down in three minutes. Martin Boyle used his pace wide and swung a ball across the six-yard box. Joe Hart was nowhere. Nisbett at the back post missed a sitter. He swung a foot and hit the inside of the near post and the ball was scrambled clear.

Celtic’s opener came from their closing down play. You can see they’ve been working hard on the training pitch, with everybody knowing where they should be. Liel Abada won the ball high up the pitch. He gave the ball to Rogic, who picked out Daizen Maeda just outside the six-yard box and he finished.

Josip Juranovic scored the second on twenty-five minutes from the penalty spot. A cool finish. And there was no doubt it was a penalty. James Forrest shot was blocked. Abada went on the outside and attempted a chip pass. Josh Doig clearly handled.

Hatate brought the ball down on his chest and had a volley easily saved by Macey. Then, before half-time, Forrest was played in by Hatate and looked to make it 3—0, but the shot was deflected past the post. Hibs tried to play from the back and it suited Celtic, who dominated. But the tempo dropped in the second-half and Hibs came more into it, without looking threatening.

Starfelt had a few decent headers from corners. And he created a chance for Abada, in which the little Israeli hit the post with the ball and his body. Luckily, he wasn’t injured. Carter Vickers also had the ball in the net, getting onto a Starfelt header. But the Swede was penalised for a push.

Nir Bitton, who so impressed before the winter break, must be injured, he’s not on the bench. Hatate starts ahead of James McCarthy and won man of the match. The ex-Hamilton prodigy looks set for a long spell on the side-lines. With twenty minutes to go, Yosuke Ideguchi got his first-team debut spot. He came on with a raft of five substitutions from Hibs and Celtic. The game flickered to life again and quietly died.  

I don’t know anything much more than paper talk about the Japanese players. But we’ve seen Kyogo. And the impact he’s had. We seen James Forrest speaking Japanese to Reo Hatate in the dugout, which I must admit, surprised me, but such is the depth of preparation, it really shouldn’t. We’ve seen Jota, and it’s a blessing he’s on the bench tonight. The loudest cheer of the night, apart from the goals, was when the Portuguese winger came on. Ange Postecoglou came in with a list of players and they were bargain-basement signings. Even if every one of them was a dud it wouldn’t touch the money we’ve wasted in the last two years. And we know the opposite is on tonight’s performance is more likely to be players on the pitch and money in the bank. Six points behind Rangers. Narrowed to three tonight. And before the winter break we always seemed to be playing second, putting extra pressure on our team. The league is everything. Before the season started, many, myself included, thought it may be beyond Celtic. We know we’re going to play attacking football. We know teams are going to sit in, and we’re not going to act shocked and horrified when they do. We need to kick on and keep winning. Hibs, under Sean Maloney, gave it a go, but were outclassed. Simple.