Ross County 1—4 Celtic.

We’re in the draw for the next round of the League Cup and it’s Motherwell away. There’s always that anxious wait to see if we get Rangers.

Celtic hit the bar twice in quick succession. A Welsh header from a corner and David Turnbull’s free-kick hitting the defensive wall and then the bar.

But we also scored two goals in the first half. An early scare with Ross County almost scoring in sixty seconds from a ball knocked on from a shy.

Calum McGregor got our opener. He’d held his hands up to show he was unmarked from a corner. Turnbull picked him out. His shot was deflected but went in. Twenty-one minutes gone. A changed Celtic team with Liel Abada and McGregor the only players to remain in the team that beat Dundee United on Sunday. Abada patrolled his usual right-wing beat, but McGregor played a more advanced role, with Aaron Mooy dropping deeper and taking the ball from defence.

Giorgos Giakoumakis missed Sunday’s game. He’d a point to prove, and he usually does, coming up with a goal. He’d a bit of a tussle with Alex Iacovitti and took a few knocks going down injured after a poor first touch. But he got his goal near the half hour mark. Tony Ralston was the provider. A lovely touch on the edge of the box (the full back was in the striker’s position) and he laid it off. Giakoumakis dipped his shoulder and took the ball into his right foot and curled it into the bottom corner. Like the United match, it looked like game over. The Greek striker hobbled through the remainder of the half. He was unlucky with three headers, the last one on the brink of half-time. Three goals for him the season. He’s always looking for more.

Ross County had more of the ball in the second half, but Celtic still dominated. The goal the Staggies scored in sixty-seven minutes was a shocker for the Celtic defence. A long punt from the keeper, Eastman, into the Celtic box. Substitute, Carl Startfelt came on for Welsh, who went off injured. The Swedish International was too easily beaten in the air by Jordan White. Iacovitti took time off from fouling Giakoumakis to wander into the six-yard box and stoop down to header it into the goal. Moritz Jenz was nowhere.

Daizen Maeda restored the two-goal lead five minutes later. McGregor had a shot from the eighteen-yard line spilled by the keeper. Maeda was there to pounce.

Sead Haksabanovic came on for Maeda. His first dribble, he ghosts past Johnstone, his touch and cross of the ball nearly gave us another goal. Even in the short time on the park he looks a class addition.

Just on full time, James Forrest nicked a fourth. Ralston made it (two assist and McGregor having one) with a cutback to Forrest in the box. He too looks sharp.

The worry for Celtic is we still get bullied by big centre forwards. But this is less of a worry in Scottish football because we have more of the ball. In Europe, teams don’t go back to front. Transitions and losing the ball at the back and midfield is the big worry. But out team, our squad is lighting fast.

Team that will play against Rangers: (my guess). No real shocks. Hart, Taylor, Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Hatate, McGregor, O’Riley, Jota, Kyogo, Maeda.

I’m no fan of Startfelt. Jenz has strolled through a few games, but I think Postecoglou prefers Starfelt (what do I know?) Similarly, Reo Hatate edges out Turnbull. The Japanese player is quite simply wonderful and looks to have extra time on the ball, which can be a problem when he loses it. Kygo is on fire. He’ll start ahead of Giakoumakis (that is no longer a debate). Liel Abada scored a hat-trick at Tannadice. He’s made a good case for starting, but Maeda’s closing down work and his pace means he’ll start ahead of the young Israeli. Postocoglou has taken Maeda wherever he goes and obviously rates him highly. Jota, certain started and ace in the pack. Forrest is down the pecking order. Hasbanovic—we’ll wait and see. I guess he could be another cracker. Celtic to win 4—1 against our Glasgow rivals. HH.

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?

Armenia 1—4 Scotland

Good news—we don’t have to watch Scotland until September. Stand-out player, Stuart Armstrong scores a first-half double to give Scotland a first-half lead after a shaky start. Three minutes before half-time Hovhannisyan got two yellows and therefore a red and was sent off for a shocking tackle and sticking the head on John McGinn. Just before the end of the match, David Turnbull—a long term victim of injury—was assaulted by Kamo Hovanisyan. Another red card, but the game was petering out.  It was the kind of break Scotland needed after a disastrous start in which the back three looked like it had been selected from a pub team (no jokes about me playing for pub teams). Scotland lost a goal after four minutes and it could have been more, with balls over the top and any kind of set play causing chaos.

The referee had already rejected a claim for a foul by McGregor on the edge of the Armenian box, when a simple pass forward had Grant Hanley falling on the ball and falling over, hoping for a foul. He didn’t get it. Barseghyan made a simple pass across the six-yard box for Bichakhchyan to knock the ball past Gordon on the sixth minute.

Scotland’s equaliser came eight minutes later. Che Adams hadn’t scored a goal for club or country in sixteen matches. It showed here. He tried a spectacular overhead kick. The ball landed perfectly for Armstrong who stroked it home.

Jack Hendry, who had another horror show after getting bullied in Dublin, somehow got his foot to a ball Barseghyan is just about to pass into the net after rounding Gordon. Another simple over the top ball catches out the Scotland defence. That would have put Armenia ahead after twenty minutes.

Then the Armenians had the ball in the net, but VAR ruled it offside.

Patterson had a swipe at ball at the back post, missing a good chance. The Everton reserve player perhaps wasn’t expecting the ball. After missing so many games he probably wondered what a ball was.  

The game changing moment was the sending off. With three minutes added time in the first-half, Armstrong twisted the knife with a cracker of a goal and made sure Armenia were chasing the game. His first touch took him away from his marker inside the box. His next touch set him up. He fell over but picked out the bottom corner of the net.

As you’d expect, Scotland with an extra man started on the front foot and largely controlled the game. The back three, none of whom got pass marks, where no longer under the same pressure.  

Midfielder, Gilmour, for example, at last finding space and playing in Adams. But it was captain, John McGinn, who got our third. A great take from the Clydebank man, after missing a couple of good chances in the last few matches. Taylor flung in a deep cross that missed everyone, but Patterson on the other wing. He headed back across goal. McGinn took a touch to steady himself and fired home. Ten minutes into the second half and it’s game over for Armenia.   

Three minutes later, Che Adams puts it beyond doubt and it was just a matter of how many for Scotland. The Southampton striker showed strength and guile to take a pass from his Southampton teammate. He could have played Armstrong back in, but held off his marker to fire home. He stung the keeper’s hands with another shot and made a block in the Scotland box, before he was taken off.

Scotland made substitutes as the match became like a training exercise, in which they could and perhaps should have scored more. But Craig Gordon also had to make a few saves.  A double header against Ukraine in our next two matches. Things can change quickly as Ukraine know more than most, but the Eastern Europeans, who play every tie away, look too good for the mixture of average and awful teams in their group. That includes Scotland. I don’t expect Ukraine to lose any of these ties.   

Celtic 6—0 Motherwell

Celtic win the double. Kyogo Furuhashi scores a first-half double as does our Greek striker, Giorgos Giakoumakis, but in the second-half. David Turnbull and Jota add to a six-goal rout. But all eyes were on Tom Rogic and Nir Bitton. They’ve decided to move on. But there was none of the baggage that left us with a squad full of outcasts who didn’t want to play for the club at the beginning of the season. We wish them well, but the Wizard of Oz, in particular, will be a big miss. But we’ve got Matt O’Riley to step in. We’ve got depth and strength we didn’t have at the start of the season—and we’ve got a £40 million Champions League windfall. We’ll be playing with the big boys next season—thanks to Ange—and I absolutely love it.

A long summer of recuperation and recruitment. No more qualifying rounds. Just straight into defending our tenth title in eleven years and straight into the Champions League. Bigger and better. We’re going to take some batterings, but we’ll get better. Let’s make it two-in-a-row under Ange and back up to the ten. Let’s build a dynasty. We all know that managers have a shelf life that’s shortening year on year. Look at Brendan Rodgers. He wanted out. And if he’d done the honourable thing—like Rogic and Bitton—and waited until the end of the season most of us (well me) wouldn’t have begrudged him his move. History now.

It was good to see the Scottish young player of the year, David Turnbull, back in the team and scoring. He’s got a habit of scoring against his old club and did so again, in between Kyogo’s double. Tom Rogic almost had the goal we all wanted him to score, but hit the post.

Kyogo’s double were wonderfully inventive. The first swivelling and somehow getting a shot away through a ruck of players and in off the post, in the twenty-first minute. His second, just before half-time was wonderful. He took a chipped pass from Tony Ralston, which came over the top of the Motherwell defence, and hit it first time into the net.

Giakoumakis came on a substitute, he helps create a debate whether Kyogo is better, whether he should be starting by continually scoring goals. One of them was his trademark overhead kick.

But Jota had already put us four up on fifty-nine minutes. He’s been a bit cagey about whether he’s staying or going. But the on-loan Portuguese player has scored and created opportunities all season. His last-minute goal at Pittodrie got us all three points and helped create a run of games in which we didn’t lose. I’d like to see him stay. But it’s really up to him. We just keep going as the post-match printed T-shirts said (smell the glove, remember that one?)

Celtic romped it against Motherwell, playing incisive one-touch football. Callum McGregor picked up the trophy. And I think this is his best season in a Celtic jersey. He helped carry the team. At the start of the season we were in a vicious cycle. Celtic are in a virtuous circle now, when everything that can go right does and the money flows in. In November of last year I was talking about a dog’s chance in the league. Comparisons have been made with Wim Jensen’s minor miracle and double-winning team. Ange’s team might just have topped that. He’s brought in players and they’ve made a difference. A real team effort.

And no, we don’t wish our Glasgow rivals all the best in their cup finals. We might have been turning Japanese this year, but we’re turning Germanese midweek and Edinburghese on Saturday. Small minded and bigoted. All the words you’d associate with your typical Orange Order. Just holding up a mirror.        

Dundee United 1—1 Celtic.

The league won. Tidying up time and with two games to give some lads a runabout. James Forrest, for example, and Liel Abada. Kyogo on the bench, gets a few minutes of injury time. Giakoumakis comes in. The Greek strike got his goal at the end of the Hearts game to keep his strike rate up—to a very impressive level—and scored again to officially win the title. Great leap from Giakoumakis top power home the header, but the donkeywork was done by Tony Ralston hanging the ball in the air from out in the touchline.

Tony Ralston is a bit like Anton Rogan used to be. He gives his all, but I’m thinking we need better. He was wasteful with the ball in the first half in which Dundee United had one shot on goal. Archie Meekison with fast feet finding space just outside the box and getting a shot away. But Ralston set up a goal and with a tackle saved an almost second Dundee United winner.

We had three-quarters of possession, but didn’t look that deadly. Hatate, for example, skying two half-decent chances.  It was looking like one of those pre-season knockabouts in the first-half.

David Turnbull drops out of the team and Hatate comes back in.  The ever impressive O’Riley keeps his place and Rogic out of the team. We know they’ll all come on for a runabout. After sixty minutes, and the opening goal, Ange brings new legs on. It’s worked fine in the past. Jota come on for James Forrest.

The game opened up after Celtic scored and we looked for a second goal to clinch it. But we almost conceded immediately. Rory MacLeod hit the post. Nicky Clark bundles the ball into the net only for the linesman to flag offside. A close call.

Forrest was tidy, but never a threat. Jota with his first touch, a nutmeg and waltz into the box, with a snapshot forced Benji Siegrist into a save at his near post. Potential candidate for goal of the season if it had went in.

Abada got injured and was taken off to be replaced by Daizen Maeda. Another injection of pace. But it’s substitute Charlie Mulgrew that helps set up the United equaliser. His first touch was a free kick, which he hit into Joe Hart’s arms. But later he simply lays the ball off, a simple pass. Dylan Levitt (on loan from Manchester United) takes the shot on from over 25-yards. He beats Joe Hart with a bit of a wonder goal and with ten minutes to go it’s a nervous finish.

A Tony Watt header has Joe Hart flapping. Jota makes space inside the United box but hits the side-netting. Maeda creates space for himself inside the box, but his finish is well over the bar. Celtic get a corner in the last minute of extra time. But we play the ball back the way, go back the way, in a season where we have been going forward.

Building the team, player by player. A Double in his first season, a minor miracle I prayed for, but just couldn’t see happening.  Ange could:

‘It’s been a hell of a season. Our starting point was a fair way back and the way this group of players and staff has risen to the challenge – I couldn’t be more proud.

It’s fairly overwhelming. It’s taken every ounce of me to get us where we are and when you get to the finish line, you just want to collapse.

We’ve been focused all season, not getting distracted by anything. The players were really good at dealing with what was in front of them – and that’s not easy to do.’

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 1—0 Motherwell

A Tom Rogic goal in injury-time of the first-half was enough to win it, but left us with a nervy finish. The Australian at time looks a class apart. The free-flowing football associated with Ange Postecoglu is still there to see, but the goals have begun to dwindle.  I looked at the Celtic team and wasn’t sure who was playing through the middle in the traditional, number-9 position. The good news is Kyogo’s injury isn’t as serious as we imagined. My first guess was Liel Abada, but he was playing wide. Forrest also started but on the left. Perhaps even Rogic. But it was the same core with Nir Bitton at the base, McGregor further forward, and David Turnbull pushing even further up the park.  When Pep Guardiola does that type of thing we call him a genius, but then again, he has choices—and is a genius.

The surprise was no Mikey Johnston. I’d have thought him to be certain starter (with Jotta out) and the way we normally play. Most of the team stays much the same, which gives a platform to build from. Mikey Johnston did come up for Forrest, who is added to our injury list, only for the substitute to be subbed near the end, for another of our short-term injury candidates to make a welcome return—Anthony Ralston—to make a crucial block on a Tony Watt equaliser.

Celtic dominated early possession, with Motherwell finding it difficult to get out of their half. In other words it was a usual Premier league game, but Motherwell had a bit of bite and a lot of fight. James Forrest really should have put us ahead in nine minutes, racing through on goal with only the keeper to beat, I thought he’d put it past the post. A replay showed Liam Kelly had saved it and it should have been a corner. The referee missed the save and the corner, and a number of harsh tackles that went unpunished.

Callum Slattery, from the edge of the box, hit the crossbar. Kevin Van Veen picked up the first yellow card after stepping in front of Joe Hart, who was trying to take a quick free kick. The Celtic keeper then made a double save, on thirty-minutes, which bettered the Motherwell keeper’s early save. Sean Goss’s shot from the penalty spot came through a ruck of players. Hart got down to push it away, but up in the air. Tony Watt looked odds on to score from three-yards out, but Hart made himself big and blocked his shot. Motherwell were on the ascendency.

Mikey Johnston had what was once for him a typical mazy run into the box, his shot hitting the side-netting. A mis-hit clearance fell to Turnbull, whose shot ricocheted off the back off a Motherwell defender and forced Kelly to adjust his feet and go the other way, and palm the ball over the bar.

Rogic stepped into put us ahead. A free-kick from Turnbull across the box, dummied by McGregor and finished by the Australian.

A topsy-turvy first-half was followed by a more settled performance by Celtic in the second-half, but as the match neared the end, we needed that second goal to settle the nerves and it never came.

Rogic had a quieter second half, but had another few chances to add to his early goal. Mikey Johnson shot high and wide and had a back post header saved. But we expected more from Rogic from a Turnbull pass, but Kelly saved. It was all about seeing it out, and claiming victory. No Forrest. No Kyogo. No Jota.  Next up Ross County.      

Dundee United 0—3 Celtic

A straight-forward victory. Celtic drew with Dundee United at Parkhead in their last meeting which seems so long ago, I’m pretty sure Ismaili Soro would have been playing in midfield. In a first-half which Celtic dominated from the start with seventy-five percent possession, United’s best chances, their only chance of the half, came from Celtic defenders getting caught on the ball. Keeper Joe Hart in the fifth minute, for example, played the ball across the box towards Cameron Carter-Vickers, who had returned to the team for the injured Stephen Welsh. The ball didn’t reach the Celtic defender, but he helped usher it out for a corner.

Kyogo missed a good chance from a corner in six minutes. He peeled off his marker (how often do we need to say that? We’ll just take it as a given) and headed over the bar from close range. Turnbull had a similar chance. Mikey Johnston, looked sharp on his return—five starts since 2020, but Jota with five goals in five games is an enormous miss—hit a free-kick from the edge of the box against the United wall.

 Kyogo also almost played in Tom Rogic with a nifty one-two, which came to nothing as the Australian hoisted the ball over the bar. But the Wizard of Oz, who not so long ago was being encouraged to exit Paradise, did it all himself in twenty-one minutes. A five-a-side goal. Rogic took the ball from wide, near the half-way line, and cut inside towards the penalty area. Nipping in and out of defenders as they retreated. He beat two in the box and picked his spot. All kinds of goals make goal of the season. But this was special, because it put up one up. No more than we deserved. Celtic are always liable to lose a goal. In the game at Parkhead between the teams, for example, we scored and then United scored. We seen it against Hearts. A game we should have been two, three or four ahead, but scrambled to keep our lead.

Celtic had six corners in the first twenty minutes. Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt coming close and giving us yet another corner.

David Turnbull also missed a good chance with a header after thirty-three minutes. The former Motherwell midfielder has been an automatic pick, with his energy and passing ability, but his trademark runs into the box and goals from outside the box dried up of late. He missed another good chance from close in letting the ball hit off him, rather than guiding it into the net. He described it as ‘a sitter’.

Forrest got his feet mixed up and missed another chance in the six-yard box. But Turnbull’s goal, just before half-time, which gave us breathing space, was of the more straightforward variety. A dink over the defence by Callum McGregor. Turnbull juggled the ball over the advancing Siegrist. With his second touch, he volleyed into the empty net, just to make sure that Charlie Mulgrew couldn’t clear. Game over, so we thought, and so it proved.

United had more of the ball in the second-half, with one shot on goal. The kind your granny would have saved, but Barkas would probably have let in, which shows some of the distance we’ve come since the season started. Forrest who’d been holding his calf, late in the first-half, was replaced by Abada. The Israeli forward missed two decent chances.

Ten minutes into the second-half, Calum Butcher came on for Louis Appere. The latter was coming back from a suspension over a red card. The United substitute Butcher by name should have had a red card for his first tackle on Turnbull, ten minutes later. He got yellow. He also lunged into Turnbull again on the edge of the United box. That should have been another yellow.

But Celtic should have already added to their lead. Nir Bitton had replaced Rogic. And with almost fifteen-minutes remaining, Greg Taylor was substituted for former Shamrock Rovers defender, Liam Scales. Taylor has been out for three months. Many, including me, wondered if the former Kilmarnock full back was good enough for Celtic. Adam Montgomery came in but didn’t look the part. Josip Juranovic’s debut at left-back was in an Old Firm game. He looked cool and composed as his penalty panache suggests. But again, I’m not sure about his defensive work. The Croatian was shuttled over to the right-back spot to replace an injured Anthony Ralston. I laughed when the press questioned Ange Postecoglou about Juranovic saying he wanted to play on the right. Ange was quick to slap that one down with the reminder he picks the team, not the Croatian.

He picks the team and Liam Scales made his debut in a league match. He didn’t score the winner, but he did score the third from a shot from the edge of the box in eighty-one minutes of a second-half Celtic had cruised. We’ve a dud European match on Thursday. Maybe I shouldn’t get on the wrong side of Ange, but it would be nice to see Liam Scales starting, but I’m not really fussed. Just keep winning and pray for Jota to come back soon.   

Celtic 2—1 Aberdeen.

Two games a week now until the Rangers game at New Year. It isn’t too early to say—must win. After the disappointment of our defeat in Germany, much the same team. Nir Bitton, who I never rated, made me change my mind, with his last few performances, which bordered on man-of-the match. But with Jota in the team, that’s not going to happen, and he was at it again today.

James McCarthy needs to do the same, simply, to do better. The first few minutes, a terrible ball across the park from Welsh put the defence under pressure. McCarthy foul, gives away a free kick. Joe Hart lay injured for several minutes (four minutes added time at the end of the first half) from Christian Ramirez’s shoulder-barge.

Jota has been the most dangerous player in the last few games and scored many of our goals. Most chances coming from his wing. He scored again, the opener after nineteen minutes.

 Liel Abadda has had a decent start in a Celtic jersey. Now he’s under real pressure from James Forrest. He offered little in attack and was replaced by him after sixty minutes.

Abadda can count himself unlucky to give away the penalty. A foul on Bates, but with little or no contact. Lewis Ferguson equalised and after thirty-seven minutes. And Aberdeen came into the game more before half-time. Joe Hart having to make a decent save.

But Turnbull created the best chance just before the break. He swung in a deep cross to the back post. Stephen Welsh got a head to it, but squaffed it. Behind him was Kyogo, with a much better chance of scoring.

Former Celtic player, Dylan McGeouch was taken off at the start of the second-half. Scott Brown leaving later in the match, to a standing ovation. But in many ways, it’s our former left-back and sometimes winger, Johnny Hayes we can thank for our victory.

Ramirez had stood tall to a blockbuster shot from McGregor, knocking the Aberdeen player over and preventing an almost certain goal. Jota and Josip Juranovic came close as the second half began to mirror the first.

Twenty-four minutes into the second-half and Celtic take the lead. Abada, just before he was substituted, had a shot in the box blocked. The ball spun into the air. Hayes went to clear his lines. He hit the ball off McGregor and it ricocheted into the net.

Unlike the first-half, Celtic kept control of possession and the game. Ralston had a fine effort saved by Lewis. Jota got in behind the defence and hit the post. But with the game petering out, every corner and free-kick offers Aberdeen (and most other teams) the best chance to score.

 Juranovic’s audacious penalty might not have counted for much on Thursday in the Europa League, but his positioning and header off the line on ninety minutes won us three points here. You could just imagine Lewis Fergusson’s celebration if he’d netted a double for Aberdeen and the boys in blue.

Six-added minutes of injury time. Ange Postocoglou takes off Kyogo with a minute of it remaining and brings on Ajeti, which seems about right. The Japanese forward does the hard running for much of the team. In retrospect, we always come up with the right answer, but perhaps in midweek… Callum McGregor’s goal puts us back within four points of Stevie G’s bankrupt old team, whom after winning two games on the trot, claim to be back to where they were before—

Our next game, midweek, Thursday, Hearts. That’s all the matters. Hopefully, Rogic and/or Bitton will be back. I’m certainly not worried about Carl Starfelt. Christopher Julien has become a bit like the Loch Ness Monster, there has been a sighting of his head above the water, or so I’ve heard.