Livingston 0—3 Celtic

Kyogo’s super strike inside ten minutes did little to change the home team’s game-plan (and that of the other teams in the Scottish League, including Rangers), which was to defend deep and hope to win something from corners, free-kicks and long throws into the box from Livingston full-back Devlin. Celtic with on average eighty-five percent possession limited Livingston’s chances to one Shinnie shot on goal, which was easily saved by Joe Hart.  

A year ago, Georgios Giakoumakis brought the world to a halt (or at least that’s what it felt like) when he missed an injury-time penalty that would have given us three points. We were chasing Rangers in the League. And even that early in the season it felt like league over.

The Greek striker also missed an 83rd minute penalty today, which was given after substitute Jota’s cross was given as hand ball after a VAR intervention. It wasn’t as clear cut as the non-penalty not given by VAR in Tynecastle last week.  But it was a chance for Giakoumakis to add to his goal-a-game status after he came on to replace Kyogo. He hit the outside of the post. But it was a game in which it didn’t affect the result or league position.

It’s difficult to imagine saying goal-a-game Greg Taylor, but in the 53rd minute he was at it again. His shot from outside a crowded box went through goalkeeper Hamiliton’s legs. The keeper should have done better. But it was equally difficult to imagine Taylor doing better. His performances this season have had me eating my words. He’s first pick on merit. And make the memory of Bolingoli seem like a distant nightmare.

Jota’s injury meant he’s missed the last five games. He returned to score an 83rd minute goal that better reflected Celtic’s superiority. Substitute David Turnbull, also back from injury, put it on the plate for him.  

Livingston have bullied us in the past (remember Lyndon Dykes against Julien, I wonder what happened to the Scottish international?) But without the ball the success of back-to-front football never looked like happening today. We remain four points clear of that other Glasgow team and will go into the transition with the World Cup looming at top of the league. I can’t see us getting eighty-five-percent possession when we play Real Madrid on Wednesday. They picked us apart at Parkhead under the lights.  I was at the game in 1980 when we beat them 2—0 at Parkhead. Johnny Doyle, the diminutive Celtic die-hard, scoring two goals, in a game in which we were totally outplayed, with Laurie Cunnigham, in particular, standing out. I’ll take a two nil win on Wednesday and a similar win against Dundee United next week before our Australian tour. Georgios Giakoumakis should also be taken off the list on penalty takers.

Hearts 3—4 Celtic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scotland 2—1 Republic of Ireland.

At home, Scotland started as favourites and there was talk of topping the group. But Ireland had a good record here. They created most of the chances in the first half and went in at the break a goal ahead.

Scotland were outmuscled and outfought in Dublin. And the Irish were at it again. Tony Parrot had the ball in the net, but it was chopped off for offside. He also outjumped Tierney and forced a save from Craig Gordon, but he was penalised for a foul. Tierney was to go off shortly afterwards after going down in the opposition box. The Arsenal full back was replaced by his Celtic replacement, Greg Taylor. But like many of his colleagues he played too many of his passes sideways and backwards making it easy for Ireland to fall back and counter.

Scotland lost a goal in fifteen minutes, also giving the Irish defence something to hang onto. A simple corner (as in Dublin) which wasn’t defended. Lyndon Dykes did his job, winning the cross ball and heading it out. But Jayson Mulumby got in front of McGregor to win the second header. John Egan was the first to react. Spinning to put his shot in past Gordon.  

Steve Clarke’s men were outclassed by Ukraine at Hampden in their World Cup Play-off tie. They came back to make them think again and did a job on them, scored three and conceding none. The equalising goal in fifty minutes was made and finished by Jack Hendry. He played a ball wide to Taylor at the edge of the box. He nudged it on to Christie. The Bournemouth player flung it into the box. Hendry got up and headed into the corner of the goals.

Scotland were on top. McGregor got caught short on a number of occasions. He gave the ball away and Matt Doherty curled an effort wide. But Ireland’s best chance of the second-half came minutes later. McGregor lost the ball at the edge of the opposition box after a Scotland corner. Obefemi’s pace took him away from Christie, who tried to wipe him out (a certain red card had he connected) but he played in Tony Parrot. He ran in on goal, but his shot was poor and Gordon got down, parrying it away for a corner.  

Anthony Ralston and Ryan Fraser come on for Aaron Hickey, who was injured and Stuart Armstrong. That gave Scotland a lift.

Ireland made a triple substitution. It was end to end. McGregor chested down the ball at the edge of the Ireland box. His shot came off a defender and went for a corner. The ball came in and Browne flung up an arm to get in front of McTominay. Scotland players shouted for hand ball. The referee gave it and checked on VAR. Christie coolly slotted it away in the eighty-second minute.

 Kenny McLean and Che Adams replaced Ryan Christie and Lyndon Dykes and it was Scotland that had something to hang onto. The Bournemouth player with an assist and goal wins my man of the match. Small margins. If he’d connected with Obefemi he wouldn’t have been on the park.

Ireland tried to pressure the Scottish back line. But it was Ryan Fraser who had perhaps the best chance after McGinn had sprung the midfield and fed him with a one on one. His shot went past the post. Jack Henry got booked after the final whistle. But he wasn’t bothered. Neither were we. Rode our luck.

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?

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 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.  

Celtic 6—0 St Mirren

Ange Postecoglou makes two changes from the mid-week fixture. James Forrest dropping out with a knock. He said he’s giving Tommy Rogic a rest, with some big matches coming up. Ryan Christie and Edouard coming in. Our main man—and goal threat—Kyogo, plays wide. He had two chances he should have converted at the front and back post. He missed the target, but it didn’t matter much. Our manager took him off with twenty minutes to go. Resting him. Six goals in seven games. And 6—0 today without him scoring. We’ll not label him a slacker.  

St Mirren won on their last visit to the East End of Glasgow, but it was as easy as it gets today. A stroll in the Parkhead rain. A Premier League training match on matchday. Another victory.

Celtic dominated early possession (as you’d expect). St Mirren came to defend and hit on the break. It worked last season for many teams, the Paisley side being one of them. But Celtic are simply better. Sure Main bullied Starfelt a bit and had a goal disallowed for offside that wasn’t, with Ralston on the touchline playing him on, but Joe Hart could have nipped off for the half-time pies and not came back and nobody much would have noticed.

Turnbull got into the groove early, hitting the inside of the post inside eight minutes. On another day that would have went in.

Not to worry, he scored three anyway and was the sponsor’s man of the match. Edouard had a free-kick from the semi-circle of the penalty box blocked out for a corner. But Liel Abada got our first just after 20 minutes. He’s direct and likes to shoot. The commentator compared him with Joe Miller. The Israeli’s deflected shot beat bearded St Mirren keeper, Jak Alnwick. He’d a shocker (*aye, we’ve been there with our own Greek tragedy) and should have saved it.

Two minutes later Alan Power got a red card for a shocking tackle on David Turnbull. He halfed him on the touchline, nowhere near the ball. (The kind of meaty challenges that used to be made by Tam Forsyth and be called legal.)  

Celtic punished them with a goal within a few minutes. It was an attack of the killer dwarves.  Number 7, Kyogo Furuhashi slipped the ball to wee Greg Taylor. His cross was met by the smallest man on the park, Liel Abada who powered a downward header beyond Alnwick. The St Mirren keeper was blameless. A big goal that mean the game was over, with twenty-five minutes gone.

 Callum McGregor, whose ability to move the ball quickly from defence to midfield to attack, has been so important in the Celtic resurgence, found himself on the edge of the box. He curled it just beyond the top corner.

David Turnbull scored the third just past the thirty-minute mark. Stephen Walsh played a pass inside, and from just outside the box, where he’s proved so deadly. It swerved up and over Jak Alnwick and into the keeper’s right-hand post. Turnbull should be looking at over twenty goals this season. As should many other of our midfielders. But with his shooting ability from distance, and with packed defences, he’s our main threat, but not our only one.

Ryan Christie, whose more than capable of scoring from inside and outside the box, and who is back to something like his best form, was lucky not to get booked. He made a wild sliding challenge on a Buddie’s player going nowhere. I’ll put that down to enthusiasm, but he’s previous here.

Kyogo missed the first of his two sitters shortly afterwards. And a Celtic combination of Greg Taylor with a backheel and Edouard’s improvisation looked to make it a fourth. The crowd were sure it was over the line, but it was scrambled away.

Turnbull added his second and Celtic’s fourth just before halftime.  Jak Alnwick parried an Abada cross into the path of Turnbull, and he finished. Keeper at fault.

Celtic didn’t let the pace slip in the second half, and St Mirren made two changes, but it was still one-sided. Kyogo missed his chance at the front post. Then he set up Edouard for his only goal of the afternoon. He made way for Tom Rogic. Ismaila Soro came on for Callum McGregor. It was a runabout for the young Israeli.

 Alnwick made a couple of saves from Rogic, Ralston, Edouard and Christie. But, arguably, Alan Power had a better game than the St Mirren keeper and the ref had sent him off after twenty minutes.

It was all about seeing it out. We’d even time to bring on Ajeti, who looked decent for his last six minutes cameo. He helped create the sixth goal. He won the ball outside the box, and fed it to Rogic, which is always a good idea. The Australian nutmegged the defender. Turnbull finished. Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic team were hunting for a seventh.

Easy, easy, it’s been great. But can we defend? Midweek in Holland and at Ibrox next week. Two away games. I don’t think Edouard will start either of them. Rogic will come back in. Angeball’s been exciting and effective. We’ve had a rub of the green, we didn’t have last season. Long may it continue.

CELTIC 3—0 JABLONEC (7—2 aggregate win).

James Forrest comes in for Liel Abada. Much the same team that thrashed Dundee at Parkhead on Sunday. We’ll take much the same score and performance. Kyogo Furuhashi is in on goal after less than thirty seconds. One-on-one with the Jablonec keeper on the edge of the box. But the keeper stands tall and sticks a foot out to make a save.

Kyogo had the ball in the net after 20 minutes. Forrest drifted across the box and played him in. The linesman called it offside, but the ball was already in the net and the almost 60 000 crowd in the air before it was called. Replays show it was close, very close. More onside than off.

Tom Rogic’s twinkle toes had been hard at work. He picked out Christie, who played in Kyogo. This time he was offside. Welsh also had a chance from a cross, but the defender nudged him and he headed over.

David Turnbull had a speculative shot from the edge of the box, which the keeper palmed out. A minute later, Greg Taylor pushed up to get a rebound and played in Turnbull. Our player of the season (last season) scored with the outside of his boot in the 26th minute. Turnbull, like McGregor and Rogic, looks back to his best.

Celtic a class above the Czech team, but they have a few chances from the edge of the box, without troubling the keeper.

There was still time for Rogic to play Kyogo in with a ball over the top, but the Czech keeper is quickly out and clears with his head. Kyogo ends the first-half with a booking, trying too hard. Never a bad thing.

Celtic dropped down the gears at the start of the second-half. Starfelt, five minutes in, almost gave the opposition a penalty. (I thought it was a penalty). He jumped into the tackle—minimal—but unnecessary contact. We’ve been lucky recently, and this is a good example. The German ref didn’t give it.

Ten minutes into the second half, Turnbull finished the tie. A strike from 25- yards into the corner of the net. A bumper of a goal. He won man of the match. It was a toss-up between him and McGregor. McGregor moves the ball so much quicker than Soro. The team look far slicker.

Ironically, McGregor set up the best chance of the night for the Jablonec attackers by playing a terrible back pass. The loudest cheer of the night came from Joe Hart’s save. A minute later he made an even better save. But the Celtic keeper did make a complete howler out of a pass back, getting caught on the ball, only to be helped out by his defence. We got lucky again there.

A number of changes for the last twenty-five minutes. Edouard, one of our subs, (let’s hope he leave soon and isn’t running down his contract as some of the tabloids suggest) missed a great chance. He tried to chip the keeper, but Forrest followed in with the rebound to score in seventy-two minutes. A good night’s work for the winger. He was given the captain’s armband when McGregor went off. But it’s a toss-up between him or Abada for the position on the wing. The young Israeli is averaging a goal a game.  

Montgomery got booked for a terrible tackle and Ajeti missed with a header in the final ten minutes. Celtic play Hearts on Sunday, I’m sure we’ll win in the league cup game. But I’ve not seen the Eredivisie outfit AZ Alkmaar. We play them on Wednesday.

McGregor, Rogic, Turnbull, outstanding. Kyogo, was very good. Christie pass marks, his performance not hitting the heights of recent matches. Our two full backs were good. Let’s hope the soft centre doesn’t return. It’s easy against teams like this we’re so much slicker and better than. Harder when there’s not much in it. Won three in a week. Rangers lost three. That’s always good news, even for an old cynic like me.   

Jablonec 2—4 Celtic

I was hoping Joe Hart would have a halo effect on our defence. We’ve been here before, of course, with Shane Duffy. The Irishman came in and scored a goal on his debut and we thought, great—we’re sorted. Hart conceded two goals and made a couple of bog-standard saves. John Hartson, on Sportscene,  got agitated at the goals we conceded here. ‘Sunday League defending,’ he called it.

In a game we dominated and scored four goals, which could have been quite easily six or eight—I should be happy. We seemed destined to play AZ Alkmaar in the play-off round of the Europa league. But if we fail to beat the Dutch we drop into the Conference league. I’m not sure what that is or means, but we’ll stick with what we know. I hope I don’t have to find out, but kinda thing I will.

Kyogo Furuhashi’s movement looks good. He looks to get in behind the defence. His link up play is excellent, best of all he looks a finisher. He scored the second of Celtic’s goals tonight after taking a pass from Bitton and dinking it over the keeper. Edouard did not start. That’s a bonus. The sooner the French man is away, the better.

I’ve been critical of Liel Abada’s  inability to dribble past players. But his goal to game and shoot on sight ratio is brilliant. He netted our first. Greg Taylor whipped a ball. The Israeli drifting in from the wing, and in behind Furuhashi. He hit it first time. The keeper palmed it up and back out to him and he scored on the second attempt.

Five minutes later, Furuhashi hits a second.

Two minutes later, it’s 2—1. Dreadful defending.  Looped ball over the top and Vaclav Pilar ran through a static central defence before firing past Joe Hart.

It remains 2—1 in the first-half. Turnbull had another shot, which he put wide.

 Jablonec had a ten minute spell in which they dominated possession, without creating much. Nir Bitton with slack passing lost the ball and Vojtech Kubista with a chance, hooked it well over the bar.

Abada, in a breakaway, carried the ball forward and cut in to the edge of the penalty box. His shot was saved, but James Forrest followed up to finish.

Less than twenty minutes to go, and Ange brought on fresh legs and made three substitutions. Tom Rogic, Ryan Christie and Odsonne Edouard. Furuhashi, Turnbull and, man-of-the-match Abada go off.

But with Celtic comfortable in possession and with a few minutes remaining they do that shoot themselves in the foot thing they’ve become so adept at. With any kind of ball into the box with this backline it’s going to be dangerous. Tomas Malinsky turns Carl Starfelt inside out with a dummy, before dinking a ball over Joe Hart and in off the post and into the net. Hart got a finger to it, should he have saved it? Emmmmmmm? Here we go again. Let’s be positive and say he made a save at the end of extra time.

Ryan Christie, just before the end of the match, put a sheen back on the score line. He ghosted in front of the defender and scored with a header from a Forrest cross. Christie, unlike Edouard, can rightly feel hard done to. He’s been one of our best players in every game he started. Ironically, it’s Abada—who is doing a Christie of two seasons ago—and scoring and creating chances that’s keeping him out of the team. But if Turnbull doesn’t turn up soon, it’s his place he’ll be taking. James McCarthy can take Soro’s shirt and place in the team. But to be fair to Soro, he was pretty good tonight. The whole team played slick, attractive football. The downside remains a defence that there is no defence for. Better teams will tear us to shred. With little evidence, I think Starfelt can get better. I’ve seen enough of Bitton to know he won’t. Let’s hope Hart brings out the best in our team.

Celtic 1—1 Midtyland.

Ex-Celtic keeper, Craig Gordon tells a story (perhaps apocryphal) about when he was number-1 keeper at Sunderland. He went into training, Roy Keane, the manager, took the gloves off him and went in goals. He told Gordon to shoot in at him, because he would have saved a shot Gordon had missed in the previous game. You know what I’m getting at here. £5 million signing Barkas is money wasted. He wins fanny of the night award, for Evander’s curled free kick. Roy Keane would have been pulling his hair out, and would have surely have pulled on the gloves.

Second prize goes to another diddy, Nir Bitton. Welsh, who was having no too bad a game, also gets pelters for giving away the free kick that led to the goal. A needless challenge is a stupid challenge (although he did get a touch on the ball). We watched the Hoops last year. No player in the Celtic back line was good enough for Celtic. We kept giving away goals from free kicks and corners. It was open season.  Ralston was best of a poor bunch here. And I’m exonerating substitute Dean Murray. Perhaps his chance has come, when Bitton goes, as he surely must.

Some familiar faces in the Celtic team. Bitton, Christie and the big one here, Edouard. Needs must. With little room for error, Nir Bitton pokes Dreyer in the face after the Dane had got in behind the Celtic defence and went down on the box, hoping for a penalty. He was booked, as was the Israeli, who had already been booked. Red card coming up for us before half time.

It was another Israeli, Liel Abada, who gave us the opening goal. He was first to react to a shot from Christie, parried by the keeper, Lossi.  Christie had already hit the post and looked back to his best. McGregor also showed for the ball, and played a real captain’s role. On the bright side, Barkas, in the first half, never had a save to make, which meant we never lost a goal. Good to see Dean Murray in the team. Pity it wasn’t earlier when Bitton was off injured for 10 minutes.  

Dreyer evened up the red-card count in the second half and for the next ten minutes we looked to add to our goal tally. Then that stupid tackle. And the non-save. There was an inkling of what was to come when Barkas dropped a simple cross ball and got a foul for it. Celtic has one mediocre keeper in Scott Bain. I’m not counting Connor, one for the future, because he isn’t (when on loan at Partick Thistle they sent him back). Man of the match went to McGregor, but I thought want-away Christie edged it. He’d the most shots on goal and an assist.

With away goals not counting in aggregate terms, Celtic’s mission is simply to win in Denmark. That’s certainly do-able. I suppose the merry-go-round of keepers will continue. I’d hope Bain would come in, until we get somebody better. I’d also prefer Montgomery for Taylor. Dean Murray should keep his place. It wasn’t a total disaster. Everything that could have went wrong last season—did. The hangover continues. We’ve got to shake it off. I know we’ve got better players than the Danes. Edouard had his usual miss, but his hold-up play was OKish. I’m sure he’ll play next Wednesday.  We’ve just got to show for the ball and shift it quicker. All the good things our new manager is trying to bring to the team. There are some things he can’t control and that was shown by two useless B’s. Both are fixable.