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.  

Celtic 3—0 Ross County.

We hoped for goals, but in the first-half we didn’t see any. Ross County came with the Rangers’ game-plan, win a corner and win the game. Celtic made several changes to the team that lost at Ibrox. No Kyogo, no Edouard, no Christie,  no Ralston and no Welsh. Taylor came back into the team, but was replaced in the second-half by Adam Montgomery. Kyogo’s goals in recent matches have given us the edge, so obviously he was a big miss. But Albian Ajeti hit two striker’s goals.

Ajeti had a clear sight of goal, a one-on-one with Ross Laidlaw, which he missed after twenty-five minutes. Turnbull also hit the side netting. Abada hit the bar twice and should have scored with a superb pass inside from Rogic. Jota cut inside, after 40 minutes and the keeper made a comfortable save from his shot.

In the first-half, the former Benfica player looked the best of the newcomers. Cameron Carter-Vickers looks comfortable on the ball and he’s a big boy, although not the tallest, which is how we’ve been found out in most of the games last season (and this season at Ibrox). Juranovic played on the right, and Taylor went back to the left-back slot. The Croatian, as he showed at Ibrox, isn’t fazed on the ball and is a quality addition. Starfelt, however, remains Starfelt.

Ross County, like Rangers at our last away game, had around twenty-percent-possession in the first-half, but created three chances—that weren’t corners of free-kicks—and required toe pokes into the net. Breakaways, usually down the left. Their game plan to frustrate Celtic was working.

Albian Ajeti’s first goal, a flying header inside the six-yard box, from an Abada cross on the seventieth-minute, put us 2—0 up, and made sure the game was safe.  

But in many ways, the game hinged on a deflected long-range shot from Cameron Carter-Vickers, which looped over the Ross County keeper, after sixty-four minutes, when the away team were beginning to look comfortable.

Then a save from Joe Hart minutes before our second goal. Ross County forward, Charles-Cook had switched from the left wing to the right wing. He got the better of Juranovic a few times (which hints at defensive worries) and he hung a ball up at the back post. The County forward should have scored, but Hart kept us ahead. We went up the park and got the second goal. Massive.

Hart took the captain’s armband from Tom Rogic—who’d be given it be McGregor—when the Australian went off. Hart wore John Thompson’s name on his back today, in remembrance of the Celtic keeper who died after a head knock from Rangers player Sam English at Ibrox, 5th September 1931. The story of three captains shows who’s who in the Celtic pecking order.

I’m a fan of Montgomery and he created the third goal for Ajeti with five minutes of the ninety minutes remaining. A surging run from the young Scot, a ball into the box. Ajeti with a striker’s finish. He’s holding the centre-forward jersey now, and I’m trying on my old chant for size, ‘Ajeti puts the ball in the net-ti.’

We were exposed at the back a few times. And looked lethargic before the first goal. Jota faded out of the game in the second-half. Cameron Carter-Vickers won man-of-the-match. A good day for the debutants, overall—and Ajeti. Any victory is a good victory. We’ll be more tested in Seville on Thursday, Europa League duty, where, ironically, twenty-one-years ago we lost, but remember fondly.  

Lille 2—2 Celtic.

Celtic get a Europa League away point. We’d have probably taken it before the game, but it’s disappointing. I’m just glad we weren’t beaten. A second-half siege had Celtic players camped in their own box. Lille had sixty-eight percentage possessions at one point. The kind of stats Barcelona used to chart in their pomp. But the Lille goals were, oh-so, preventable. Celtic are a big team, with big players, yet they keep losing goals from cross balls. A cross ball from a corner is blocked. We lost the first header and it falls to Celik, unmarked at the back post.

For their second a long ball into the box is cut back, mishit by Iknoe, although it might have hit Shane Duffy on the way into the net

There’s little point in going on about Shane Duffy. He did give away a penalty when he made a rash tackle outside the box. That’s the kind of luck he’s been having. It was given inside the box. I wonder when, or if, we’ll start resting him. Unlikely. And with Ayer out, we’ll just need to get on with it.

Wonder of wonders, a Celtic goalkeeper makes a save. Well done Scott Bain.

Elyounoussi, who sometimes does that disappearing trick, hit two cracking goals here to put us on easy street. On this form he looks a steal at £16 million. After half time, he disappeared, only to turn up with a potential third goal from a breakaway. Unlucky.

Ntcham, with a point to prove on French soil, also started well. But had a bit of a huff when taken off in the second half. That was an easy call. He kept getting caught on the ball. Giving it away. It was an easy choice for Lennon.

The diamond in these rough times is Diego Laxalt. He didn’t lose a tackle. Outstanding, again. He’s not had a bad game for Celtic. Even when the players downed tools against Rangers, Laxalt gave his all. He’s perhaps the only Celtic player in modern times to have played for Celtic four times and still not had a win in a Celtic shirt.

Hopefully, Sunday, when we beat Aberdeen. I’m pretty sure we will. But it’s the league that matters most. And it’s the hope that kills you. Here’s hoping. Hail Hail.    

Celtic 2—1 Lazio.

Celtic got lucky last night and I got unlucky, with my three quid bet on Christopher Julien to score the first goal, odds 40/1. Julien popped up with the winner on the last minute of the ninety. But there was still time for the Italians to fling players forward. Celtic held out. Prior to the nail-biting finale, with some stout defending, but for two wonder saves by Fraser Forster victory could and perhaps should have went to the Italian visitors.

Fraser Forster does what goalkeepers are meant to do. Win you games. Scott Bain stopped doing it, prior to his injury. Craig Gordon is so out of the picture he’s grew a beard and is auditioning for seasonal shifts as Santa in his local supermarket. Forster has his limitations. He’s not a goalkeeper that’s going to keep the ball and play dinky little passes to his midfield or defenders. He’s a humper of balls and that’s the way I like it. Forster also had a howler this season, if you look back at the second goal against Livingstone. The ball was kicked from one end of the park to the other and into his box. Stay or go. Forster stayed and went too late. It was his goal to lose and his fault. Simple.

But remember when Barcelona tagged him the big yellow banana, or something stupid. It might have been barrier. He was that good that world-class players, who would never remember the name Scott Brown, kinda remembered who he was. Forster took the iconic number 67 and put it on his back. He knows what that means.

Ryan Christie took the place of Tom Rogic, scored in 67 minutes to equalise a tie that looked to be slipping away from the Celts.

Celtic with a capacity crowd behind them—and me screaming from the pub couch, with a pint of Guinness in my hand—started brightly. Forest set up Odsonne Edouard, but the Celtic striker took too long to hit it and was blocked by the Italian defender Denis Vavro. Hatem Abd Elhamed was in for Jeremy Frimpong, the Dutch wonder kid, who played so well in the six-nil defeat of Ross County.  I’m tempted to quote Bruce Lee when he spotted somebody karate-ing their way through lumps of wood, ‘boards don’t hit back’. Lazio weathered these early setbacks. Our wingers, James Forest and Mohamed Elyounoussi, largely disappeared as attacking threats. The latter, was replaced late in the game by Tom Rogic, but it could have just as easily been Forest. And everybody that knows if you’re a winger and you get replaced by Rogic, you’re having a stinker.

Ryan Christie had shaved the outside of the post. Callum McGregor then came close with a dipping drive. There were shouts for a penalty. I was shouting anyway. We didn’t get a penalty, but we did lose a goal. That shut me up.

Boli Bolingoli was too high up the park. I’m not blaming him, although I’m tempted. He’s redeemed himself somewhat, after his performance at Ibrox, but he’s still the weakest link. A pass in behind Boli split the Celtic defence. Kristoffer Ajer went too late to block Lazarri. The Italian zipped the ball into the net at Forster’s near post. All three Celtic players were culpable, but despite his late heroics, perhaps the goalkeeper should have done better.

Celtic were a goal down at half-time and Lazio were the more dangerous and better team. Celtic didn’t offer the same energy at the start of the second half. Lazio looked the team more likely to score the second goal and win the tie. We got lucky again.

We’d almost scored. Edouard chased the ball down and worked his way into the box. Closed down by defenders he back-heeled the ball to Elyounoussi who had a clear shot on goal, but fluffed it. The ball broke to Christie who hit it at an on-rushing defender.

At the other end of the park, time seemed to stop as Joaquin Correa went through a one-on-one with Forster. The human banana blocked him and he flicked a shot off the base of the post. Celtic were still in the game.

And in 67 minutes Christie again scored in Europe, hitting the ball first time and curling it by the keeper.

Lazio looked the more likely team to get a winner. Forster made two world-class wonder saves. Lazarri had, once again, left Bolingoli needing a drone delivery to get back in, and Parlo met his nemesis in Forster. Parlo was in again later, to shank wide.

Julien popped up with that winner. Raising the roof. I’d like to say the best team won. Aye, we did. Kinda.  

Rennes 1—1 Celtic

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This is a tale of three penalties. Two of which were give. One for Rennes, in the first-half, and two for Celtic in the second-half. Celtic started well. That’s always a bit worrying, usually, after a bright start, they usually concede, especially when playing away from home. Rennes had beaten PSG in the French Cup final last year and in the league this year. They sit second to PSG in the French league. In other words, they are no mugs.

The under-twenty-one French striker Edouard, the media darling of the French and Parkhead die-hards, had the first good chance of the game. Early in the game, James Forest picked him out at the back post, but his shot was skewed and didn’t trouble the keeper or hit the target.

Next up, Mohamed Elyounoussi was a toe-poke from getting on the end of Bolingoli’s cross and scoring the first goal.

Edouard thought he had a penalty, forcing his way into the box, nutmegging the defender and tumbling before he was tackled. He got a yellow card for diving.

Rennes had a few efforts on goal too, but Fraser Foster only had to make one save, which didn’t trouble him too much.

Then with five minutes to go before half-time, with Celtic easily ahead on possession and chances on goal, Ayer conceded a needless penalty. Replays showed it was clear cut. Ayer had been hauling at Niang’s jersey and his tackle whipped the legs from the attacker. The referee looked at the linesman then pointed to the spot. Niang scored.

1—0 down at half time and playing quite well, the game was bound to open up. Rennes, as a counter-attacking team were bound to come into it. That was the script.

It didn’t work out that way. Celtic dominated, in the way they would against lesser teams in the Scottish Premier league. But it was all huff and puff and no end product. Decent display and no end-result is Celtic’s calling card in Europe.

Scott Brown, for example, had a decent chance with a header at the back post. But he missed the target.

Then midway through the half, a big call for the referee. Ryan Christie was taken out by Renness’s defender Joris Gnagnon. Replays show the Celtic attacker was clearly in the box. It was an obvious penalty, that wasn’t given.

About five-minutes later James Forest wrong-footed Damien da Silva and fell over after the defender connected with a foot. Christie’s penalty was far clearer cut. The two of them were penalties, but this was of the softer variety. Christie took the penalty and scored, adding to his goal-a-game tally.

Rennes and Celtic made substitutions. The home team had another penalty claim turned down. Vakoun Bayo came on for Edouard and managed to get a red car. The second-string Celtic striker can think himself unlucky. But Celtic managed to see the game out and claim a point. They almost claimed three points in the last few minutes of added time. An away point in Europe doesn’t happen very often, so is reason to celebrate. Celtic are on a domestic and European high.