Conundrum? Andy Rat asked if Callum McGregor had scored with that defensive header from the edge of the box, one of Rangers’ best attempts on goal, if that had been an own-goal, would I have got my double up of 4—1 Celtic, and McGregor to score the last goal?
Pat phoned to ask Stevie if he got his line up? Stevie always puts 4—0 on against Rangers. A hangover from the Brendan Rodgers’s era (remember him?) Stevie did.
But for all the other losers out there, just answer these questions honestly (Yes, No, or Don’t Know) Gio can help.
Do have difficulty falling asleep at night?
Check for any that might apply to you.
Nightmares? (Jon McLaughin, nutmegged and a pass straight to David Turnbull for the fourth).
Tossing/Turning? Where is Liel Abada? Oops. Jota too.
Frequent Wanking. The overweight £40 million El Bullio came on to save the game.
How often do you feel tired and run down.
All of the time? (Steve Davis)
Occasionally, when I can be bothered? (£30 million, Ryan Kent)
Rarely? Glen Kamara. Taken off at half-time, because they couldn’t take Ryan Kent off.
In the last six months have you gained or lost of a lot of weight (not due to dieting)?
Yes? El Buffalo.
No? Gio. Everything is fine. Absolutely fine. We’ve made the Champions League, after all. We’re five points behind, but Celtic were in a similar stage last season when they had outstanding players like a Crystal Palace substitute, a slow-pony who went to small-time Brentford to raise his game to substitute level and Ryan Christie who went to live on the coast. They never stopped.
Has your sex drive become seriously diminished?
Yes? I live in Australia now. Women think I’m a strange-looking guy, but I used to be a Celtic regular before AP (Ange Postecoglou). I was framed for sexting. Really, it wasn’t my fault.
No? El Buffalo because nobody in Australia offered £40 million for my stud services.
It fluctuates? Like Boris Barsic tracking Liel Abada’s run, it all ends in tears.
Has a parent of sibling been diagnosed with a serious depressive disorder?
Yes? My father (Kris Boyd senior) was given to parental rages, but sometimes it went the other way when we lost.
No? Gio senior, everything was just fine. The cup is half fool. The treble is still on.
Do you feel that your life is not worth living?
Yes? Two thousand Rangers fans penned in at Paradise at 10am and we were made to wait until Gio and our heroes had left the ground.
No? But Gio did wave at us before he left Paradise. He showed solidarity, which is important. Those fans that burned their strips were trying out new heat-saving alternatives to turning the fire on at home. But we would never burn a Union Jack no matter how many kilowatts it generated.
How would you rate your daily rates of stress or anxiety?
High? I make tackles like that every day? Kyogo was faking it.
Medium? I brought down substitute Maeda because he was too fast and too good for me, not because I was angry about being 4—0 down and getting absolutely horsed again.
Low? If Joe Hart presents me with a ball inside the Celtic box, I’m a Scottish international, but substitute for one of the lesser teams in Glasgow, but I know I’ve got to keep it low, but I put it over the bar because I knew a foul would have been giving against me, and for a change it wasn’t for kicking anybody.
Do you experience any delusions or hallucinations?
No? You sure?
Does your mood take a turn for the worse as winter approaches?
Yes? We’re usually top of the league, but now we’re five points behind. Their run will last till Christmas.
No? We were written off in nine out of ten seasons. As winter approached Neil Lennon brought in Barkas. It can happen again. Just look at that Greek international keeper, McLaughlin.
Are you in a relationship?
Yes? Rangers until I die, or get my contract terminated with a massive pay-out of other people’s money.
No? I’m on a rolling contract, yet another Scottish internationalist, and I signed from Hearts for days like this.
Do you ‘put on a happy face’ to hide feelings of sadness?
Yes? Kris Boyd. I’ve got to be honest, Celtic were the better team and fully deserved their victory, but if Alan McGregor was in goals, he’d have saved those three shots on goal, wouldn’t have passed to Turnbull, and we’d have got a penalty, which was long overdue. No, Abada fell over in the box, that wasn’t a real penalty. I’m happy to say I’m unhappy about the performance and everything to do with Celtic, but I would say they were lucky to have caught Rangers on an off day. On another day, I’m far more happy, and happy to admit, we the people can do better.
No? Gio. Everything’s fine. Honest. Fine.
Do you have trouble concentrating or remembering things?
Yes? Boris Barisic. Where is Liel Abada?
No? Oh, no, that’s the fourth. I forgot what the score was and I’m the captain. 4—0. I didn’t even get to take a penalty. I did get a total doing by that wee Portuguese fella, George Michael, who had me by the balls.
Total your score. And decide whether and when you will have a trophy-less season, again? You might need to make another marque signing that can take a penalty.
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.
A great weekend for Celtic. Ange Postecoglou went with the same team that beat Kilmarnock last week. And the same Japanese duo got our first goal. This time is was a bit later in the game, thirteen minutes when Kyogo tapped the ball into the net from a Maeda cutback. Good work from O’Riley and Turnbull helped unlock the Hearts defence.
Hearts won at Tynecastle in Postecoglou’s first competitive game last season. But it’s 2007 since Hearts last won a league game at Parkhead. And they offered little to suggest that they would win here, but in the first ten minutes of the first-half saw more of the ball and had five corners in relatively quick succession.
But it was 33 minutes when they had their first serious attempt on goal in which they’d seen little of the ball. Former Celt, Mackay-Stevens found space in the middle of the park for the first time and his pass found its way in behind the Celtic defence. Joe Hart came out to narrow the angle, but it was a poor attempt from frontman, Ginnelly, who really should have scored.
Celtic had stacks of first-half chances, but with that one goal lead, Hearts were always in the game. Greg Taylor, early in the match, opted to try to pass to Kyogo, rather than shoot. Later in the half he was clean through on goal, but took too long to shoot and was tackled by Haring.
Kyogo had a few damp squibs and an offside goal chopped off. Linesmen were often too quick to penalise his darting runs.
O’Reily had a spectacular half-turn-volley which went past the post. A header with which he should have scored.
Maeda had a few headers which were off target or too near the keeper. He arrived too late for simple tap-ins for balls flashed across the goal.
Jota had a few digs, none of which troubled the keeper. His nearest effort hit the side-netting.
And even Juranovic lead the line in a late break in the first-half, but he was pulled down by Mackay-Stevens.
Jenz has dealt well with the more usual pugilistic approach by Hearts. He looks like a fixture in the team.
Celtic were flat in the second-half and we’ve come to expect a raft of changes in the last twenty or thirty minutes. Maeda going off and Abada coming on. And lately, Mooy for O’Riley. This allowed McGregor to push further forward. These changes helped tilt the game back towards Celtic.
Giakoumakis to replace Kyogo. The Greek striker usually produces and he did so in the 94th minute to seal the points. His shot rebounding off Lewis Neilson. Before that he was unlucky with a header and had a scuffed shot that was well saved by the second-choice Heart’s keeper.
Rangers went down to nine men at Easter Road and dropped two points. Hearts also went down to nine men and made the last ten minutes comfortable for Celtic. Both were for second yellow offences.
Alex Cochrane pulled McGregor back when the ball was flicked over his head. And in the closing minutes of the game, Alex Sibbick clearly pushed Abada after the second winger got ahead of him.
It was comfortable for Celtic in the end and that takes us two points clear of Rangers. Hatate did his chances of getting in front of Turnbull no harm with his substitute performance. But that’s not to say the former Motherwell man had a bad game. He didn’t. Let’s hope PSV win on Wednesday and make it a bad week for the Ibrox club and help deprive them of the £40 million Champions League funds we are guaranteed. We’re away to Dundee United next week and then it’s the big one. Two wins—and would it be too early to say the league is over? Premature perhaps, but I’ll take it. Changed days from the doom and gloom of this time last season.
Celtic go with the same team that started against Ross County. Reo Hatate is still been given time to recover from his injury. And Startfelt wasn’t risked on a plastic pitch.
The Kilmarnock game plan wasn’t to lose a goal. They did after seven minutes. A wonderful pass by Greg Taylor in behind the defence. Maeda squared the ball. Kyogo with his first touch of the game, he scored the first goal of the game in off the post and finished up in the net with the ball. A five-a-side goal, played on a five-a-side pitch.
Turnbull had four shots on goal. Three of which sailed over and one which came off a defender. He was replaced (or rotated) in the second half and Mooy came on to stroll the last twenty minutes. But ironically it was Taylor who had one of the best chances of the first-half, waltzing through the defence but trying to cut the ball back to Kyogo with a shot on goal being the better option.
Jota scored a wonder goal against Aberdeen. He scored another today. 25-yards out, he hit it first time into the top corner. 35 minutes in and the game and the Kilmarnock game plan is ripped up.
Jenz, I think, it simply better than Starfelt so the team is stronger. He was up against Kyle Lafferty, who plays with his elbows and was finally booked for it in the second-half. Jenz managed to chip in with his second goal in his second game at the end of the half to make it 3—0 and effectively game over. He got away from Lafferty and on the half turn, swivelled and put it into the corner. That goal, and his performances so far, puts him ahead on Starfelt with goals scored for the club, but more importantly in the pecking order.
Starfelt came on, early in the second-half for Jenz, and scored his first league goal for Celtic in the 76th minute to make it four-nil. O’Reily’s corner. Carter-Vicker’s header. Walker palmed the ball out to Starfelt who took two tries before bundling the ball into the net from inside the six-yard box.
A misplace pass by Taylor led to one of Kilmarnock’s only shots on goal in the first-half. Lafferty tried to chip Joe Hart. It will happen at some point this season, but the Northern Irish international hit him with the ball.
Giakoumakis came on—with Kilmarnock having a ten-minute period when they got up the park—and showed that whatever Jenz can do he can do better (he’s been doing it longer) scoring with an overhead worldy in the 82nd minute.
Abada, who scored a wonderful goal last week, also came on and had a few shots at goal. Forrest, on the other wing, kept it simple. With Champions League qualifiers no longer with us, we have a full squad ready to go. Postecoglou emphasis is on when a player gets his chance he must seize it—and with two or three games on the horizon that will happen sooner rather than later.
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 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.
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 started 2/7 favourites and that’s the way it looked. No Jota. Giorgos Giakoumakis after his hat-trick against Dundee leads the line. He hit a double and he’s scored nine so far. He’s not great outside the box. But he’s a poacher. I like that. Who doesn’t?
Daizen Maeda pushes wide. His work rate is always impressive; his touch less so. James Forrest retains his place. Win, lose or draw, usually, we expect him to come off and Abada to come on, but he too is missing from the bench. That leaves a space for Karamoko. O’Riley is in for Rogic, but the switch we expected never came. Hatate replaced at half-time. Caution when needed. That’s something no often associate with Postecoglou.
Juranovic in for Ralston. Hatate for Bitton. The Japanese midfielder started with a bang, but is no longer an automatic first-choice pick in the way Callum McGregor is. Both featured heavily here. Hatate picked up a booking, but looked back to his elegant best. McGregor, from a short corner, and via a deflection got us the lead in twelve minutes. Later in the half, he had a run from the middle of the park and a shot on goal that just whizzed past the post. The spine of the Celtic defence remains largely the same. And despite the wobbles, when we lead, we usually win.
United despite an opening flurry offered nothing in attack. A long-range effort, a shout for a penalty, Starfelt on McNulty, and a dodgy back pass from, ahem, our keeper, Hart wide to Startfelt. We’ve cause ourselves more problems than United. It’s got to the stage where sometimes I feel sorry for Starfelt. He sees more of the ball than any of his teammates
Maeda sometimes looks ungainly. His speed is his main asset. Balls over the top finds him outpacing most defenders. Early in the opening minutes he found himself in behind, but his cross turned into a shot and looped just over Siegrist and the bar. The second goal was down to him getting in behind the defence. His cross into the box was lame, but Siegrist allowed the ball to bobble away from him. Giakoumakis nipped in to knock the ball into the net. After a spirited second-half start from United, its game over.
Maeda also had the ball in the net in the first half, only for it to be chopped off for handball from Giakoumakis. His swipe and shot on goal had hit his hand, but the commentator suggested it wasn’t a foul and should have been a goal. I didn’t know that. Celtic controlled the first half. That second goal put us on easy street.
The third goal a few minutes from the end of normal time summed up the kind of night United were having. Forrest, who looked at times as if he was carrying an injury, was replaced by Dembele, who got the last fifteen minutes. The nineteen-year-old, who, for a variety of reasons, has promised much but so far has provided little, had a hand in the third goal. His shot at goal took a deflection. Giakoumakis didn’t hit it cleanly either, but the ball ended up in the net.
Mikey Johnson also came on for a cameo. Another that has promised much. Doak, the next-big-thing is seemingly on his way to Liverpool. I never quite get that how untested young players on the verge of the first team take the money and go. Fuck off, I say. And, no, I don’t wish him well. I wish ex-Celtic players like Kieran Tierney well for obvious reasons. This was an easy win. United didn’t have a shot on goal. Giakoumakis, quite simply, for being the right man in the right place, wins man of the match for me.
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.
Celtic welcome back ex-Celt and new Dundee manager, Mark McGhee, in the stands. Top against bottom. Thursday’s defeat was a sore one, but we’re building for the future, not the past. The other Dundee team present a United front and draw with Rangers (I watched the last thirty seconds and it was nerve wracking). Giorgos Giakoumakis comes back to lead the attack. He scores a double in the first-half to dig us out of a defensive hole. Late on, with five minutes of the ninety remaining, he scores the winner and gets booked for celebrating. The referee could have booked every fan in the stadium, and millions outside. Left foot, right foot header. The Greek striker wins man of the match and keeps the match ball. More importantly he keeps us in front in the title race. This is one that looked like slipping away.
When Celtic score first in Scotland, we win. Dundee scored first from a solitary corner. We could blame the swirling winds. We could blame that most of our goals in Scottish football are lost from free-kicks and corners. We could blame O’Riley getting blocked. Paul McMullan’s corner. Danny Mullen found himself alone in the six-yard box. The ball at his feet and he poked it home. What we can’t claim is this isn’t a pattern going back to Neil Lennon’s era. Twenty-six minutes and I was hoping we could get a goal before half-time.
We want to see our strikers ready to react to balls dropping in the box. Starfelt goes for a ball and it comes off him. Giakoumakis gets first to it, swivels, and in thirty-four minutes gets our equaliser.
Maeda pushes wide and Abada is on the bench. Jota switches to the right. But it’s the Japanese internationalist that creates the second goal, three minutes later. He flies past the full back and smashes in a cross. Lawlor in the Dundee goal catches it and drops it in front of Giakoumakis. Goal.
Two decent penalty claims were turned down the referee. The second with the ball following to Maeda who hit the keeper with a header from six-yards.
No changes for the start of the second-half. Ralston takes the right-back spot. Juranovic does what he’s done before and plays on the left. Taylor on the bench. Rogic comes on for the last half hour. Hatate comes back into the team, but is replace by Abada. Competition all over the park. But the most important thing is too win.
Dundee are camped on their eighteen-yard line for most of the game. Celtic keep the ball for around five minutes without a Dundee player having a touch. Seventeen minutes into the second half and Jota scores a brilliant volley from a Ralston cross. But he’s called offside. The goal that would have put us out of reach eludes us.
Worse, Dundee got up the park, a minute later, and score. A foul be Starfelt inside the Celtic half. Our defence lines up on the edge of the eighteen-yard box. Substitute Neil McGinn (ex-Celt) puts a ball into the box. Ryan Sweeney outjumps Carter-Vickers and scores with a header. Ironically, in a game in which Joe Hart had nothing much to do, we lose two goals.
The clock is ticking. Despite Rangers drawing, we looked like finishing the day where we started it. Juranovic nicked a ball and played it quickly to Ralston. Cross balls have flashed across the six-yard box countless times. The difference here was Giakoumakis’s bravery. He put his head in where it hurts. With three minutes remaining he got us the winner. The Greek striker with four goals before this match, now he has seven. None more important that his winner.
Dundee created a final chance in added time. If this was a training exercise it would be attack against defence. Jordan McGhee and Luke McCowan against Carter-Vickers. Carter-Vickers wins the foot race and puts it out for a shy. It comes into the box. Dundee players shout for a hand ball against Jota.
Final whistle. We snatched a victory from a draw. Giakoumakis the hero, he moves up the pecking order and sits behind Kyogo. Let’s hope he overtakes him. We got to Norway and play on Thursday. I’m more worried about Hibs at Easter Road. But one game at a time. Nearly, very nearly, another unseen blip here mars the road to the title.