Celtic’s midwinter break

Josip Juranovic is the last man standing in the World Cup. Paper talk tells us he won’t be at Paradise and will be sold in the January window. I’m not particularly worried. He’s a good enough player, but not irreplaceable, he’s not a Henrik Larsson. We know about Tony Ralston.  Alistair Johnston from CF Montreal has come in as cover. He’s been called the spit of Danny McGrain. I wish. Danny was the best. He was like Ginger Rodgers, he could do everything Fred Astaire could do (Sandy Jardine) but do it backwards and both sides of the park.

 We’re well served all over the park having a two-for-one deal on every position. And I understand Juranovic is under contract until 2026. The club hold the aces here.

Giorgos Giakoumakis is under a similar contract. The Greek striker has scored a goal-a-game. We know what he can do. Lots of the time I’d have played him in front of Kyogo. Postecoglou favours the Japanese striker. His judgement has been great. Postecoglou’s witticism that ‘he was more interested in what was for dinner’ that night than the appointment of a manager of the other Glasgow club was laidback and honest, with a bit of dig.

 I’m sure they’ll win more games. There may be a bit of a bounce, but hopefully not. I don’t want them to win anything soon or later. Differences between the two managers isn’t just in terms of experience. Postecoglou came to the club with a to-do list and a fair idea of the players he wanted to help him and Celtic recover from the debacle we put ourselves in.  The market we’ve been shopping in has been bargain basement. As Japan showed in the World Cup, we’ve brought in some real gems that don’t need much polishing.

Kyogo didn’t make it into the squad. Daizen Maeda did. He scored against Croatia and had a goal disallowed earlier in the competition. His main attribute seemed to be (as we have seen) closing down defenders. I don’t think he’s that great. But he’s a useful player to have on the bench and bring on.

Reo Hatate has been, for me, the best player in Scottish football. He faded towards the end of last season. But started this season with a bang. I certainly don’t want to sell, but he’s worth whatever they pay for a top-class midfielder in the top-tier of English football.

Matt O’Riley was a steal. Like Hatate he oozes class. I prefer him further forward. Aaron Mooy had a decent World Cup. I’m glad for him. But these guys are better.

Calum McGregor will be back. The ball moves quicker with him in the team. Cameron Carter-Vickers got a game in the World Cup. The American coach said he selected Carter- Vickers because Iran used ‘a low block’. What he meant by that was they played with ten men behind the ball for most of the match. Carter-Vickers playing for Celtic did that week in, week out. He has an old head for that kind of game.

Carter-Vickers had a good defensive record with Carl Starfelt. I’m not a fan of the Swedish international. I think he’s average at best. Moritz Jenz is not much better. I wouldn’t be too worried if we didn’t pick up on him after the loan deal is done. In contrast, Carter-Vickers and Jota were great business. They agreed to stay and, the good thing about a loan deal—try  before you buy—they added stability and class. But then again, I was a critic of Greg Taylor and he’s been outstanding this season and most of last. I guess this is a hangover of remembering what Kieran Tierney brought to the party. Taylor has seen a slew of others, including Boli Bolingoli (money wasted) and is holding off Alexandro Bernabei. The young Argentinian looks very decent on attack. But like Taylor, he’s tiny, but unlike Taylor, he’s not proven himself defensively.

I don’t think Stephen Welsh is good enough for Celtic, but a good backup.

Yuki Kobayashi has agreed to join Celtic from Vissel Kobe on a five-year contract and it seems he plays on the left side of defence. That would give us balance as Carter-Vickers favours the right. If Kobayashi is half as good as Hatate we’ve got another steal on our hands. He’s played for Japan at under-20 level. I’m sure he’ll be cultured on the ball, but it’s heading the ball he’ll need to be good at. Lumping the ball forward, we lose most of our goals domestically from corner and free-kicks. He’ll need to get used to the nitty gritty, but I’m sure he’ll get his chance, but it’s up to him to take it. I’m hopeful. Japan being so successful during the World Cup has made Postecoglou seem more and more like a genius for his bargain buys.

The exception has been Yosuke Ideguchi. He’s been very unlucky with injuries. He’s been very unlucky Celtic have so many brilliant midfielders. David Turnbull, for example, was first pick week in and week out when Postecoglou inherited a squad that proved itself not fit for purpose. Turnbull was Scotland’s Young Player of the Year. He looked to make that next step. He got injured. He no longer is a first-pick, but that may change, and the only way it will change is if he adds more goals to his game. He looks capable of that, but until he does, he’s behind McGregor, Hatate and O’Riley, but in front of Oliver Abigaard.   

Oliver Abigaard is a more defensive midfielder, he’s big and great in the air. I think he’s on loan, I don’t think he’ll become a permanent fixture. He isn’t in the Celtic team, but probably just in front of Ideguchi and James McCarthy when the manager looks at his bench.

Sead Haksabonovic can play on the left or the right, or drop off into the number ten role. He’s a standout in any position. What a brilliant buy. Now he’s scoring a goal a game.

Jota on the left, Liel Abada on the right. The young Israeli has been a great buy. But he’s not guaranteed a game. Haksabonovic has played there. Jota has too. Maeda has floated from one wing to the other and played through the middle. James Forrest has found himself fit and ready to go, but is least likely than any of the above to start a game, but sometimes he comes on and scores. For Neil Lennon, James Forrest was irreplaceable. The Celtic team has moved on. He’s been replaced.

There’s talk of replacing Georgios Giakoumakis with South Korea international Cho Gue-sun. I don’t know anything about him. Speculation that Al-Ahly playmaker Magdy will also be joining us has made the back pages. I’m not concerned if he does or doesn’t. We seem to be on track. Peter Lawwell’s return as Chief Executive after the ten-in-a-row debacle has been criticised. Dermot Desmond likes him. It’s our football club, but he owns it. He does what he wants. He appoints who he pleases. Celtic is not a democracy. It’s his ball, and if we don’t like it, we can lump it.

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.  

Celtic 6—1 Hibs.

Back to league business after our disappointing defeat to Leipzig on Tuesday. We didn’t hit seven, but we did hit the woodwork three times and James Forrest hit a hat trick to win man of the match. Giorgos Giakoumakis hit a double. And Daizen Maeda ended his goal drought to hit the sixth with two minutes of normal time remaining. Substitute, Kyogo, had time to miss another chance and his relative goal drought continues. He did hit the post and also managed to get in the way of a Mooy shot that looked goal bound. That’s the sort of luck he’s having and until today, Celtic were having, creating lots of chance.

  I only watch Rangers when they’re playing us or they’re going to get beat, which I hope is much the same thing. Most of their balls in the game against Liverpool went back to McGregor. He lumped it forward. Route-1 fitba. It worked against us last year when they bullied us and it worked to a certain extent against Liverpool in the first half. This is the pattern teams on Scotland adopt. It worked for St Mirren. You could see it today with Hibs looking for something from long throws and free kicks. But it didn’t work. They were three goals down, and despite four half-time substitutions lost six goals by full time. For Celtic to lose to opposition using these tactics usually they need to score first.

 Giakoumakis could have put us ahead in the first four minutes with one of his trademark headers. But it was easy for former Celtic keeper. Sead Haksabanovic picked him out with a lovely pass. Two minutes later he pulled a ball out of the air and played in Reo Hatate, who put a ball across the box. Alexandros Bernabei added to the trio of attacking threat, with most of the space being found of the left, but most of the goals coming from the right.

Forrest’s ninth minute goal settled the nerves. Haksabanovich again played a lovely ball in. Forrest lurking at the back post found space to put it away as he’d did in a Celtic shirt for the 98th time in over 400 appearances. He needed a hat-trick to join the 100 club, like Celtic legend Frank McGarvey.

Bernabei’s cutback to Giakoumakis was met perfectly for a first-time finish. The game looked beyond Hibs. After thirty minutes it looked more like how many Celtic would score.

David Marshal had a hand in Celtic’s third and Forrest’s second. Matt O’Riley’s shot was blocked but it fell to Forrest just inside the Hib’s box. His shot was powerful but straight at the keeper. Marshall flung the shot he’d blocked out of the net, but we didn’t need VAR to see it was in.

Ryan Porteous has been linked with Celtic. I can see no good reason why this would be the case, although he did have a good game while playing for Scotland. Here he spent a lot of time falling over. A tug on Giakoumakis just before half-time wasn’t give as a penalty, but it was clumsy.

Saed Haksabanovic was replaced by Maeda at half time. The Montenegrin who can play on either wing or through the middle as number 10 was the pick of the bunch in the first half.  Alexandro Bernabei played the full ninety minutes and he wasn’t that far behind him.

Hibs started the second half better than the first. Their closing down pushed Celtic backwards, but their high line was almost punished when James Forrest missed a good chance, only for substitute Thody Elie Youan to run onto a pass from Celtic fan Martin Boyle and beat Joe Hart at the near post. 3—1 down, they’d thirty-five minutes to make a game of it.

Two minutes later and it was game over, again. Nohan Kenneh miskicked in his own half. Aaron Mooy played Forrest galloping in from the right. A deflection helped it into the corner of the net. 4—1.

Giakoumakis had went down injured. He signalled to the bench he wanted off, but found time to spring up and hit his second and Celtic’s fifth with 17 minutes to go. Let’s hope it’s not another injury.

Kyogo hit the post when he came on and got in the way of Maeda, but not enough to stop the Japanese forward scoring. Celtic were still hunting for that seventh goal in the 92nd minute. When we score early against Scottish teams, we score big.    

Ross County 1—4 Celtic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Ange we trust.

As the song goes, Celtic, Celtic, that’s the team for me. I’ve no great interest in what other teams do or who they play or sign—apart from Rangers.

Even if it’s tiddlywinks, I want Rangers to lose. They’d won the league by 25 points, and stopped us winning the ten. One of the highlights of the season was watching Ryan Kent miss a sitter in the closing minutes and Aaron Ramsey missing that penalty. I joked that my pal’s dad had died, but at least he’d lived long enough to see that. It was a season when Rangers’ fans felt they did well reaching a European final and winning the Scottish Cup.

But when they were giving out awards it was Ange Postecoglou picking them up. Hard to believe, we were chasing Eddie Howe as our new manager and it just seemed a matter of getting the deal over the line. He walked away, citing concerns about having concerns. Ange Postecolgou came in. I’d never heard of him. Most of us agreed he’d need time to rebuild. He didn’t cite concerns about not having his own backroom staff. He was willing to work with the dross that was there. We’d give him time. I was even uttering strange things like he’d have at least a season, or maybe two, in which he wouldn’t be expected to do much, and spluttering into my pint that Rangers were still shite. I was hoping somehow we’d turn it around. In our pre-season games there was little evidence that would be the case. In the qualifiers for Europe, and in Europe, generally, we were out of our depth against mediocre teams (like us).

We lost to Hearts at Tynecastle, Kyogo came on as a sub, played wide, but did nothing of note in the few minutes on the pitch (shades of Henrik Larrson coming on as a winger against Hibs). We were chasing Rangers in the league. It was a race I didn’t expect to win. But the equivalent of muscles-memory of the mind sets in. Odsonne Edouard left for Crystal Palace. I was glad about that. Ryan Christie to Bournemouth. Kristoffer Ayer went to Brentford, where he’d be reduced to talking a good game. He was fine when he didn’t have to defend.

Now here we are again. I’m far more optimistic. We’ve signed seven new players, which include mainstays, Jota and Carter-Vickers. The Portuguese winger dazzled last season and this pre-season. Carter-Vickers in pre-season hasn’t looked great. He got bullied for the second goal against Legia Warsaw, for example, losing a bread-and-butter header I’d expect any centre-half to win and getting turned far too easily. That’s nit-picking. He too has been a success. But you’re only as good as your last game is a truism.

Joe Hart has been a great signing. He’s made vital saves. He’s our number 1, keeper. But we know he’s going to lose stupid goals, when he’s trying to play sweeper-keeper. It’s just a matter of how many and against whom. Teemu Pukki almost caught him out in the friendly match against Norwich. The ex-Celt is not the quickest, and not the best, as we all know. Hart might beat him in a footrace, but I’d rather not find out during a match. Joe Hart, vice-captain, Certain starter.  

  Benjamin Siegrist, of what I remember him, was decent for Dundee United. He’ll push for the number-one spot. Uncertain starter.   

Greg Taylor started against Norwich. I wasn’t a fan of the former Kilmarnock full back. But over last season I’ve come to appreciate him. He wasn’t Kieran Tierney. Emilio Izaguirre when he first came into the team was also a revelation. Taylor is not at that level. And now he has serious competition. *Certain starter when season begins.

Josip Juranović will not be going over to play on the left as he did at Ibrox because Ange doesn’t trust the likes of Liam Scales, for example, to do a job. The Croatian has established himself as our first-pick right back. Certain starter.

Scottish international, Anthony Ralston—and I never thought I’d say that without laughing—is backup. But he too will be pushing for a starting spot. Uncertain starter.

Argentinian, Alexandro Bernabei, I think looks to have more attacking flair than Greg Taylor. *Certain starter as season progresses.

Celtic supposedly paid around £6 million to Tottenham for Cameron Carter-Vickers. A snip based on last season’s performances (and not this pre-season). Certain starter, under Ange.

I heard Carl Starfelt was injured while on international duty with Sweden. He’d miss the start of the season. I wasn’t bothered. Like Ajer, Starfelt is decent when he doesn’t have to defend. He’s too easily bullied by muscular forwards. Most of the goals we lost last season came from free kicks and corners. The most common argument I’ve heard is we’d the best defensive record in the league. We also won the league. Therefore Starfelt must be better than mediocre. He isn’t. But he’s good enough for now. But Ange trusts him. Certain starter.

Christopher Jullien is still at Celtic. For how much longer? He picked up the captain’s armband in the pre-season friendlies. But he’s an uncertain starter. If any club fancies him, he’s free to go.

Back-up to Carter-Vickers and Starfelt has been, until now, under-twenty-one Scotland captain, Stephen Welsh. He’s no better than Starfelt, and often worse. Uncertain starter.  

 Moritz Jenz from Lorient is we hope better than Starfelt and will leapfrog Stephen Welsh into the team. Loan deals like Jota and Carter-Vickers gives us a chance to try before we buy. Uncertain starter, for now, but his time will come. And if he’s good enough, we’ll keep him. Win-win. Uncertain starter, for now.

Callum McGregor, the Celtic captain, and Scottish Player of the Year plays most games. Simple. Never stops. Certain starter.  

Reo Hatate came into the team and started with a bang. Goals against Rangers are often a great way to introduce yourself to adoring fans. He didn’t disappoint. But the end of the season he was disappointing. He was never rubbish, but didn’t shine. Pre-season he’s looked at back to the level he was when we hammered Rangers 3—0, and that old joke, they were lucky to get the nil. This was the pivotal moment in the season, when we leapfrogged them in the league. We did it in Celtic style. Hatate was the man. Certain starter.

Matt O’Riley played in that number-ten role when Tom Rogic didn’t. Usually, they switched like doppelgangers, with one getting sixty minutes, the other thirty minutes, or thereabout.  A terrific acquisition. He has added goals to his game. Certain starter.

David Turnbull played every game for Celtic under Ange, until he got that injury, just before the League Cup final, which Kyogo won for us. Turnbull has had a good pre-season, scoring two goals. Sharp and strong. Goal scorer. Ready to step in and stake a place. Uncertain starter, for now.

  Daizen Maeda starts most games under Ange. He’s played at centre-forward, most recently when Kyogo was taken off against Legia Warsaw and Giorgos Giakoumakis wasn’t available for selection. But Ange prefers to play him on the wing. Usually it’s the left wing. His pace troubles defences, but his closing down work is also a stand out. He scores goals. Certain starter.

Jota has a problem when Maeda starts on the left, because he’s pushed to the right wing. Maeda is all pace. Jota is an old-fashioned winger. He ties defenders in knots and scores for fun. It was a long and protracted deal with Benfica, with shades of the Eddie Howe haunting us.  Bargain buy at £6 million. Certain starter, on right or left wing.

Kyogo Furuhashi hit the ground running. Apart from his injury, he’s not stopped running since. His speed of thought and movement would give any defence problems. The first and best of the Japanese internationals to arrive. Certain starter.

Giorgos Giakoumakis was the opposite of Kyogo. He hit the ground not running. Then he took the ball off Juranovic (I think it was against Aberdeen) in the last minute and missed a penalty which cost us two points. Without actually being Albian Ajeti (or Pukki), he’d all the makings of a dud. But he scored twenty league goals. When Kyogo was out, we didn’t miss him. The Greek international did the business. Uncertain starter, for now.

Under Neil Lennon’s tutelage James Forrest could do no wrong. He was brought through the ranks. Made his debut in season 2009-10.  He was hitting twenty goals a season and has more Celtic medals than anyone at the club and has now signed a new contract. It’s hard to believe he’s not fifty-five. But for the first time in his Celtic career he’s not an automatic pick. Jota is ahead of him. Arguably, Liel Abada is also ahead of him. Uncertain starter.

Liel Abada scored a stack of goals and assists. Let’s for a minute consider the way he sneaked in behind the Rangers’ backline and scored at Paradise. Even now, it brings a smile. He’s ahead of Forrest, but not Jotta or Maeda. He will get game time, most often as a substitute. Uncertain starter.  

Aaron Mooy plays for Australia. Ange knows him and brought him in. Whether he is to replace Tom Rogic or to sit in as a defensive midfielder for Callum McGregor is unclear. Maybe a bit of both? I’ve not seen him play. Uncertain starter.  

 Yosuke Ideguchi (Guchi) the Japanese internationalist picked up an injury early in his Celtic career. He’s not been able to find a spot in the congested Celtic midfield. A very decent showing in our pre-season friendlies. Uncertain starter.

James McCarthy was said to have struggled in training when he arrived. Might be lies. He has struggled to get into the Celtic team. Not sure he adds much. But that might change, as it did with Giakoumakis. He’s been brought on very late in pre-season games, usually to replace McGregor. Uncertain starter.

Mikey Johnston, remember him? Tricky winger, could go outside, could go inside? Scored goals? Had that wow factor? Looked rotten in pre-season matches. He’s still got an outside chance, but he’s fading fast.

Scott Bain. Backup keeper, for the backup keeper. Ball boy. Uncertain starter.

We’ve got enough to win the league. Games against Rangers will decide the title. They bullied us in two games last year, both of which we lost, one, admittedly, in extra-time. We can’t let that happen again. The real beauty of winning the title is no qualifiers for the Champions League. £40 million in the bank. We’ll play some fantastic teams. We’ll take some terrible doings, but it’s not that I don’t care, the glory is being there and we’ll get better. We won’t win the Champions League and we won’t win the treble. But I’ve been wrong before. I didn’t imagine winning the league this time, last season. Eddie Who?

Celtic 1—0 Motherwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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.

Nine-in-a-row champions, twice over. Glasgow Celtic.

Kilmarnock was Scottish League Champions in 1965. Celtic won the Scottish Cup that year. In 1966 Celtic won the first of their nine-in-a-row league titles. Rangers won the Scottish Cup. 1967, and Celtic won everything, including the European Cup, with a team of players that lived within a twelve miles radius of Parkhead. Bobby Lennox was the furthest away from Paradise, one of three players, with ‘Caesar’, Billy McNeil, and to have played in all nine Championships between 1965-1974.

Jimmy Johnstone has been often polled as Celtic’s best- ever player, but Stein was ruthless, when his legs were gone, wee Jinky was gone. Celtic also won the Glasgow Cup in 1967. With Rangers in it, the year they got to the Cup Winners Cup final, Celtic had to win it and they did. Nothing has come close to that year, with the added bonus of beating Real Madrid in the Bernebeu, playing in Di Stefano testimonial, but the talk was all of the mighty Jimmy Johnstone.  

Stein had a Quality Street reserve team coming through to maintain standards. Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay, Danny McGrain, Lou Macari. Despite being favourites, Celtic lost the European Cup Final to Feyenoord, after extra-time and having scored first. Ironically at the home of Inter Milan who were first to score and were beaten 2—1.Celtic were also outplayed. Time for a changing of the old guard.

Neil Lennon came in as Celtic manager after Tony Mowbrays’s Celtic team were thrashed by St Mirren and Celtic lost narrowly to Rangers in the league that year. Lennon led us to our first of the current nine-in-a-row titles, but at Rugby Park he looked to be on the way out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtmkHcNlRQQ.

Lennon led us to three league titles in a row and that magnificent win over Barcelona, arguably, the best team ever to arrive at Parkhead.

Ronny Deila was appointed manager of Celtic in June 2014. He was a bright new manager, a gamble on the Celtic board’s part,  who went on to lead Celtic to two consecutive league titles, but never had control of the dressing room. Remember Kris Commons, Scotland’s Player of the Year and a twenty-plus goal a season man, reduced to the bench and flinging his shirt ad Deila after being substituted against Molde in the Europa league, despite having scored. Jimmy Johnstone once did something similar with Jock Stein, he shouted through the door in the manager’s room something—thought to be derogatory—ran away and hid in a dark room for a week, before the other players told him it was safe to come out. Deila was on the way out when Rangers beat us in the Scottish Cup, despite their team being in the First Division. Media talk was of the Rangers being back. (Hibs beat them in the Scottish Cup final).

  In May 2016, Brendan Rodgers was announced as Deila’s replacement and around 12 000 fans turned up at Parkhead to welcome the new manager. He delivered two-and-a-half treble trebles of Scottish League, League and Scottish Cups before turning Judas and leaving for Leicester City. It was no secret he was leaving, but to leave half way through a season lacked Celtic class.

Neil Lennon came in as Celtic caretaker manager and he finished the job of another treble. In his first season in charge he had another treble in his grasp, having won the League Cup, a victory over Rangers. Still in the semi-finals of the Scottish, favourites to win it and 13 points clear of Rangers before being declared Champions once again because of the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

Celitc’s best eleven in the years of Lennon, Delia, Rodgers and Lennon again.

Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster. His European displays under Lennon in his first outing and then as a loan player also in Europe and in the League Cup final against Rangers, where he was head and shoulders above everybody else on the pitch makes this an easy one to pick.

Right back. Mikael Lustig held the spot for most of the nine-in-a-row years. He scored against Rangers a few times and was largely dependable. But his time was up. I wasn’t sad to see him go.

Virgil Van Dijk, European Cup winner with Liverpool. Touted as world player of the year. He oozed class because he was class. Simple.

More difficult to pick who to play beside him. Nobody really stands out. I’ll go with Christopher Jullien, he scored the winner in the League Cup final against Rangers and I think he can go on to great things. Put it this way, I was thinking of Charlie Mulgrew as an alternative.

Left back, easy, easy, Kieran Tierney. Celtic class. His only opposition would come from the man he largely replaced. Emilio Izaguirre under Lennon in his first shift as manager was outstanding.

Scott Brown is the Brownie. He’s had his critics, including me, but against Rangers and everyone else in general, he’s that clichéd 110% man. Leads on the field and off it. He’s been in every Celtic team that won nine-in-a-row and captain for most.

Callum McGregor has played almost every outfield position in the team, because he’s so gifted. Best midfielder in Scotland by some distance. Long may it last he signs another five-year deal. Gives you goals too.  Outstanding.

James Forrest, I’m being a bit hypocritical here. Like Scott Brown he has nine league medals to his name. Neil Lennon used to tell us what a great player he was. We’d watch the match and say, what the fuck? But Forrest scored in big games; he’s got pace and is always a threat. He does the doggies, getting back and helping to defend too. Underrated.

Two strikers up front. Number one striker, Moussa Dembele. Pace, strength, goals. He’s the beast that bullied Rangers. Top class.

Odsonne Edourad can do everything Dembele can do and more, but hasn’t got his strength. It remains to be seen which of the French strikers will go further. We have little chance of keeping Edouard, he’s only 21. But he’s been a joy to watch. Player of the Year in waiting.

Rodger’s played Olivier Ntcham behind the strikers in some matches. The French trio, as you’d expect, were outstanding. But here I’d go for Ryan Christie or Tom Rodgic. Ironically, neither of these two is guaranteed a start in the current team.

Picking between Lennon and Stein is quite a simple choice Jock Stein is the best football manager Scottish football has seen. That includes Alex Ferguson, his understudy in the Scotland job.

Celtic’s nine-in-a-row team under Stein weren’t great for goalkeepers. Ronnie Simpson, John Fallon (never saw him play). Evan William and the rest were distinctly average.

The best of both nine-in-a-row teams.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

Right back is an easy pick: Daniel Fergus McGrain. The best full back in the world was sometimes moved to left back to play for Scotland and give Rangers player Sandy Jardine a game. Danny McGrain could play left back almost as well as he could play right back.

Virgil van Dijk and Billy McNeil, what a central defensive pairing that would have been. In reserve, I’d have Pat Stanton, who was a truly elegant sweeper.

Left back pits Kieran Tierney against Tommy Gemmell who scored in a European Cup final to win the trophy. Need to go for Gemmell. Like Tierney he could defend and get forward and had a bullet-type shot.

Lennon, Auld, Murdoch and Johnstone would fill the midfield slots.

Kenny Dalglish, the best of the Quality Street Kids (apart from McGrain) would also be in the team.

Striker, I’d go with Moussa Dembele and not Stevie Chalmers or Dixie Deans. If I could play Henrik Larsson the pick would be easy. Henrik is King of the non-nine-in-a-row teams. Long may it last. Waiting for ten or more.    Hail, Hail.