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.  

Eddie Howe for Celtic?

I always thought Eddie Howe looked like my brother’s son Kevin O’Donnell, but only one of them is Celtic daft. Kevin, no doubt, will be asked to sign autographs soon. The deal isn’t done yet, but I guess we’re about ninety-five percent certain based on recent media coverage that Howe will be the next Celtic manager. It’s not inconceivable that Howe’s first job in charge will be Rangers away at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup.

A few years ago, Howe was touted to be the next England manager. He’d brought Bournemouth up through the English second division and into the Premier League—it’s all about the money. He kept them there for a few years while playing an attractive brand of attacking football. Then there were lots of injuries to key players. I’m not saying I was watching them or him, but on Match of the Day before I fell asleep having drunk three pints (Bournemouth was always last on the programme, or thereabouts) I thought he always seemed one of the good guys. He didn’t rant and waken me up, he kept calm and told it as it was. Even when they were sinking, he was thinking ahead to the next game, the next match.

 Playing the Celtic way. The transition shouldn’t be that hard. We all know where we failed. Defensive shambles. Almost fifty percent of goals lost from free kicks of corners. No one needs reminding Morelos breaking his duck at Parkhead from a corner. Another ball lost in the air and we don’t follow the runner and Morelos scores.

Howe is a bit like Brendan Rodgers. Sport scientists and training sessions mapped out. Opposition scrutinised and video-playback evidence. Inevitably, we’ll get the usual stuff about the playing staff being fitter than before (name your own manager here from Ronny Deila on). The media will make it sound like all the other teams have someone like Jim Baxter sitting on ball, smoking a fag and drinking halfs of whisky, while playing cards with Jimmy Johnstone to decide who has to buy the next round.

Players will be fitter and game smarter. They’ll all know their position. A few wins in and we’ll get the Eddie Howe bounce.

First up, we need to beat Rangers. A Celtic team with Howe in charge will be given time if we lose at Ibrox. I think we can win. Of course, I do. I’m a Celtic fan. But I’m also a believer in luck. Celtic have been unlucky not to win the last two games against Rangers. I know we’ll hear the Rangers’ faithful bemoaning the luck Celtic had when we won the League Cup final with Christopher Julien scoring from an offside position and a world-class performance from loan-keeper Fraser Forster. Our luck was in and now it’s out.

Second up, we need to beat Rangers. Rangers have had a season where everything that can go wrong has gone right. That can’t last. While everything that can go wrong in the Celtic dugout to the players on the pitch has gone wrong. It doesn’t help, of course, wasting £20 million in dud transfers and loan signings. It was no surprise when Kieran Tierney went, which just about balances our outgoings. Just the same as it’ll be no surprise when Odsonne Edouard leaves. We want rid of him pronto. Last year of his contract and he goes for nothing. It’s not been a good season for Edouard. He doesn’t score enough goals for me, or Celtic. A great Celtic striker should hit 40 a season, but I’d settle for 30. 20 goals or less is a very poor return. I don’t think he’s got it in him to make it as a top-class striker, and really, I don’t care, when he’s gone, he’s gone. I wish him well. But Celtic need to cash in now.

Similarly, Kristopher Ajer has been told by his Norwegian coaches, he needs to move to a better league. I agree. Cash in now, he’s overrated.  He’s great on the ball. And I’d keep him. But a Celtic defender also needs to be good in the air, as well as being mobile. Ajer loses too many balls in the air. The up-and-coming Stephen Welsh, is smaller, not as quick and better in the air, but still loses out to big, physical players. Perhaps playing with Julien, he’ll be better. I’m optimistic that way, but my preference would be for someone like Nathan Ake.

The deadwood isn’t just in the team, but loanees. Olivier Ntcham wanted away, he got away, but nobody wants to keep him. Jack Henry, anybody? Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo?

Roy Keane was touted as a favourite for the Celtic managerial post. The job looked his. Irish connections, Celtic background and knows Dermot Desmond. In a Yes or No vote, I voted Yes for Keane. All the usual guff about he would be too hard on the players and you couldn’t do that kind of thing anymore—sheer media shite. Celtic have been rotten this year. Anyone like us that have watched every game know that. Neil Lennon wasn’t too hard on them. He wasn’t too soft on them. We lost too many goals. Missed too many chances and Neil Lennon kept asking for more time, even when it was obvious his time was up.

His backroom staff remain in post. John Kennedy now picks the Celtic team. He’s a bit like when Rangers had Graeme Murty as interim manager before he had a meltdown. Murty was touted as the next great thing, just as Kennedy was favourite to get the Celtic top job. The idea of continuity.

Continuity of losing goals and losing games. Kennedy can leave any time, or he can go back to coaching the Under-23 team. From top to bottom, the rot has set in. I’d rather he wasn’t there, especially as a defensive coach his failings are on the pitch. Great Celtic teams should have players waiting to come through. Like shark’s teeth, when one goes another, like David Turnbull, should be ready to add a bit of bite to the team.

The major problem with Kennedy and Roy Keane to a lesser extent is they’re out of the loop. Eddie Howe with all his training notebooks and analysis of training methods lets him see a broader range of players. You couldn’t for example tell Jock Stein about any up-and- coming player in Scottish football. He already knew and had been to see him. He knew where they’d fit in with the Celtic way. 99.9% didn’t. Eddie Howe will have players in mind that he’ll bring in. I’m guessing that’s how we’ve took so long to announce him as manager. He want’s assurances about how big a budget he’ll have to spend. He’s not going to be a Ronny Deila type manager that had no leverage about who was brought into the club. Most great Celtic player leave. We’re a selling club. I look across at Ibrox and don’t see any of their players as worth buying. And I’m not buying into the media coverage that next year is an interregnum year and if we lose the league it doesn’t matter. One-in-a-row matters as much as ten-in-a-row. We’ve got to start somewhere. Win at Ibrox. Get us into the promised land of football riches, The Champions League. Win the league next year. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Couldn’t be easier, Howe? I’ve already told you.

Why we blew ten-in-a-row—answers posted on the internet.

As Jock Stein was fond of reminding us, ‘the game is nothing without fans’. One of the compensations of Celtic blowing the league and Rangers winning it is there’ll be nobody there to see it. Winning the league during lockdown or even the quadruple treble was just another day. No going to the pub with your pals. No mass celebrations. No mass street parties of the kinds we remembered after stopping that mob from winning ten-in-a-row all those years ago. Back pages of the tabloids will be filled with players celebrating, but the next day moving on to the next weather front. It didn’t have so much resonance. I won’t say let Rangers’ fans enjoy it, I’ll say, ‘fuck them as usual’, but it’ll soon be over, just as this season has been over since December, and it’ll be relatively pain free.

The other aspect of there being no fans is would we have won more points with the much quoted 60 000 in Paradise and the multitudes that follow, follow to every away ground in Scotland?

The simple answer is YES, we would have won more points. Nobody doubts that. But Rangers have had an exceptional season. So to compare like with like, it’s not that that killed our dream.

The idea that these kinds of things go in cycles makes a kind of nonsensical sense. It’s a bit like believing in fate. Before Jock Stein Rangers were dominant. We won nine-in-a-row, twice. But they did it too. Wim Jansen brought in a little-known winger from Dutch football, and the rest as they say is history. Rangers were the dominant team, with loads of money, and yet, somehow we found a way past them. As Rangers have done this year.

Having the right manager in place is a good starting point. Neil Lennon came in and won the league, completed the treble, but we were already on the slide. It made sense to appoint him as a stop-gap manager. He didn’t cost anything. He had the tools having been at Parkhead before. He knew what it was all about. But many of us weren’t sure. When he did the job and won the league and completed the job, it was obvious even to us doubters that he would be the appointed one.

Anyone that’s looking at John Kennedy and seeing played one, won one, will see a familiar pattern emerging. When Lennon’s team went on a winning run of five games, it was hardly scintillating, but then we got the usual pish about us being back on track. We’ll get that with Kennedy. He’s our Graeme McMurty. A backroom re-shuffle that doesn’t take us any further forward. When Celtic win a few games and especially if we beat Rangers (which I think we will) then we’ll hear the usual stuff about the players being fitter and more tactically aware. I don’t really get it, as if full-time professionals who are wired up and every breath measured and every kick quantified are hardly going to be unfit. There’s nowhere to hide nowadays. Jim Baxter on his benders or wee Jinky in his rowing boat – these guys trained every day, but they couldn’t hack it now. But you’ll hear it every time. They’re unfit. Or they’re fitter with the new manager’s regime.  

Celtic lost so many games because they can’t defend. I don’t think it surprised many of us when Ross County scored with a header, again. We’ve got a goal-keeping problem. A left-back problem. A right-back problem. And the central pairing is so bad we brought in Shane Duffy. This didn’t happen overnight. It’s been that way for years.

Biscuit-tin mentality. We’re a selling club. Buy cheap. Sell and prosper. You know the players I’m talking about. Kieran Tierney is the obvious example. But we recently sold a player for £11 million and I can’t even remember his name. He was no great loss. I look across at Ibrox and don’t think there are many big sales that would keep them afloat.

The promised land of Champions League is one sure-fire way of paying all the bills. By making the wrong choices, and buying in players that just can’t cut it at Celtic, we’ve opened a door for Rangers and invited them into the promised land. They’ll be able to pay their bills and have that wee bit extra to pay their debtors. They might even do what Celtic did and splash out on their falling apart infrastructure, upgrade it and make it venue for other sporting and entertainment fixtures. Rangers were almost totally reliant on the fans coming into the stadium, even with lockdown, and season book sales.

It’s all about the money. We were so far ahead we didn’t spend the money we should have spent. Now we face a mass player clear-out. I’ve not got a problem with that. Teams always evolve or they die. Ours is already on life support. We need a new manager and six or seven new players. We’ll probably get John Kennedy and one or two new players to fill the gaps left by others leaving at the end of the season.  We’ll think small again and remain small.

Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong this season. I sometimes think managers, like players need a bit of luck. Lennon’s luck had run out a long time ago.  I wasn’t the only one to say he should be sacked in November last year, or even before that with anther Champions League qualifying debacle. I don’t even think that would have made much difference, but it would have allowed a new manager to come in and prepare for next season  (Judas, Brendan Rodgers’s argument).

For Rangers everything that can go right has gone right (apart from losing to St Mirren and being put out of the League Cup). That won’t last. As league champions they’ll need to play their players more money. There’ll be unrest. They’ll even start missing penalties. Wee niggley things.

It wasn’t that long ago that Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was quoted for the England job, in the same way that Stevie G is quoted for the Liverpool job. Let’s not forget his Rangers team before lockdown were losing home and away to teams they were expected to beat. Same team. Same players. What’s different? I’d say, quite simply, they’d all the luck going and the biggest factor by far is they don’t lose goals. They defend well. Ironically, John Kennedy who was appointed to sort out our defence (on the basis he’d played centre-half for a few games all those years ago and has a few coaching badges) has helped oversee a shocking number of goals lost. Most of them at free-kicks of corners. Bad coaching? The wrong kind of players? All of the above.

Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for a reason, when we had a chance to invest in a squad of players we blew it. We cut corners on quality. You get what you pay for, or in our case, don’t pay for. I guess to end on a high-note, the one that didn’t get away, David Turnbull. We could build a team around him. And we’ll need to dig up a Wim Jansen – pronto.