Celtic 2021-2022. Story of our season so far.

We’re six points behind Rangers in the league. Many of us—myself included—was willing to give the incoming manager Ange Postecoglou a free hit this season, especially considering the Eddie Howe and boardroom debacle. A squad not fit-for purpose. Want-aways, from two seasons ago, such as Edouard, Christie and Ayer talking the talk before they walked. We’re in the C-League of European football, which is about the level we’re at. But we’re playing some scintillating football. And if we could defend, the way we attacked, we’d be in the B-League of European football and top of the league. Our soft centre remains a major hangover. Running more, does not mean defending less. There’s been a spate of injuries to our key players. Despite this, we won the League Cup, and the winter-break has come at the right time for us. We’re bringing in reinforcements, predominantly, we’ve been told players from the J-League from which we brought Kyogo Furuhashi. We can beat Rangers, but whether we can win the league is a moot point. I’d guess around 50/50 and we’d need a bit of luck.

Win the league this year and the £40 million Champions League money and the team from Govan will be in financial freefall (I know, they already are), but if they win it, they can pay their debtors and it’s game on. It’s all about the money—we wasted on sub-standard players. Postecoglou tells it like it is. We have no plan B, but plan A might well be enough. The league is everything. All that stuff about giving him time is based on logic. The flipside is giving Rangers more respect than they deserve. And I come from the give them fuck-all school of the true believer. 8-10.  

Stars/Flops. Kyogo is king. Without his goals, particularly, the equaliser less than a minute after the opening against Hibs in the League Cup final, and we’d have been struggling. Jota, who missed the final, is not far behind Kyogo. The Portuguese winger scored five goals in five games before he was injured. Joe Hart has made vital saves and we’ve not had that since Fraser Forster. Tony Ralston has also been a revelation, scoring five goals. The goal against Ross County in 97 minutes tells you all you need to know about him. I didn’t rate him. In the same way, I didn’t rate Nir Bitton. Humble-pie for Boxing-Day’s fixture with a man-of-the-match performance, and a goal, from the stand-in captain.

Carl Startfelt is the accident that’s already happened, a gift to the opposition that keeps giving.

Remember at the start of the campaign there was a debate about whether Leigh Griffiths would or should start. That’s how far we’ve come. Albian Ajeti is still here, in the meantime. A major disappointment had been the injury to our Greek striker, Giorgos Giakoumakis. Little has been seen of him since his missed penalty against Livingston cost us two points. With Kyogo out, this was his big chance to show what he’s about. It’s uphill for him now. A real delight to see eighteen-year-old Joey Dawson, from the Academy, coming on and almost scoring.  Any talk about Christopher Julien return to the first-team is shut down. James Forrest comes and goes. Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo was on the bench against St Johnston. Left back, like the softs centres, is proving as difficult to fill as Kieran Tierney’s boots. Liam Scales has played a few games in that position and even scored a goal. We’re awaiting another Japanese import.  

Cameron Carter-Vickers isn’t a flop, but is average. I’d big hopes for Mikey Johston (I’m still waiting). Liel Abada, with ten goals, has the numbers on his back to suggest promise rather than substance. James McCarthy started very poorly against his old team, Hamilton, but has improved. But it’s difficult to offering him a four-year contract as anything other than wishful thinking.  

Ange Postecoglou reminds us that the team isn’t what he wants it to be. He’s handled whatever has been flung at him with aplomb, while reminding detractors he’s managed in the World Cup, he’s been a success wherever he goes. Kyogo is his signing. Jota a lucky turn of the transfer cards. Starfelt an unlucky turn. With no plan B and a soft centre, Ange needs to keep the poker face and keep turning over aces. We had reminders that new Celtic managers who come in and win the League Cup go on to win the league. Let’s hope for 2022 that doesn’t change. We’re certainly a lot stronger than 2021. Mate, in Ange we trust. Give him the money.  

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 2—0-FERENCVAROS

3.30pm kick-off on a Thursday afternoon seems a time for school-football matches or reserve-team fixtures, but an almost full Parkhead showed how much we love European competitions. We’re in the second tier and whoever wins the head-to-head between both teams is likely to drop into the third-tier of European competition. Adam Montgomery came in for Bolingoli, the only change in the team that won at Motherwell. Celtic had similar possession here in the first-half, with two-thirds possession, but with far fewer chances. Jota came closest, with almost twenty minutes gone, with an angled drive Dibuzo tipped over the bar. Stacks of corners. But here’s the rub, we don’t look like scoring from corners, but we look like conceding.  Ferencvaros created a chance of their own, with a little help from Montgomery. The defence backed off and Montgomery gave Uzuni a chance to shoot from inside the box. Joe Hart made a decent save. It was a warning.

Samy Mmaee and Tony Ralston were both booked when the former kicked out at Kyogo. He didn’t kick him hard enough to get sent off. Sutton argued ‘a kick is a kick’ meaning a red card, but it was yellow.

The Japanese icon opened the scoring for us, fourteen minutes into the second half. Jota created it with a sweeping pass from the Celtic half. An exquisite first touch, a look up, and he dinked it in past the keeper and near the right-hand post.

We’ve had a couple of clean sheets recently, but were at our Keystone Cops best here as we almost conceded an equaliser immediately. Uzuni whips a dangerous ball into the six-yard box. Carl Starfelt is standing off Mmaee as he looks ready for the tap-in. But Ralston slides in to clear. Joe Hart also bailed him out when he dithered and made a back pass picked up by Uzuni. 2—0 up by then and there was more room for these kind of errors we’ve come to expect from Starfelt.

  Montgomery got us a penalty when he was brought down just inside the area by Wingo. Despite Celtic’s dominance, he too, didn’t have a great game. He’d earlier been booked after being on the wrong side of a winger, and his passing was erratic. When he limped off to be replaced by Liam Scales, it wasn’t a bad substitution.

Callum McGregor misses from the spot, or the keeper makes a good save? Either way, mid-way through the second-half, Celtic miss a glorious opportunity to put themselves out of the away team’s reach. His next pass went to the opposition. But Cameron Carter-Vickers does enough to prevent the counter-attack.

Most Celtic managers choose to substitute Tom Rogic after around 70 minutes, especially when we’re protecting a lead. Nir Bitton seems to be the man chosen for the job now. James McCarthy seems simply to have disappeared. But we also had a big substitution in us—Giorgos Giakoumakis. He replaced Liel Abada, who worked hard (that’s the minimal).  Giakoumakis gives us physical presence. Hart also took to pinging some balls from his goal mouth.

The Greek striker showed what he’s all about with a chest down in the box, holding off a defender and a shot that ballooned over the bar. He’ll score goals. Lots of goals.

With fifteen minutes remaining, with Giakoumakis lurking, David Turnbull scored after going to hit the ball with his right foot, the ball hitting his left foot. The keeper coming out of the goal and he’s tackled by a Ferencvaros defender and the ball ends up in the net. After his wonder goal at Fir Park, this was the antithesis. Not that it matters.

Turnbull should have scored another. Jota played him in. He’s one-on-one with the keeper, but slides it past the post.

Kyogo goes off and Mikey Johnston comes on, and he looked lively. With the game going to added time he played in Jota. But the Portuguese winger hit the side netting, when he should have scored.   

Fine margins. Celtic deserved to win and they did. Certainly we’ll go to Hungary next Thursday and attack. Kyogo will start through the middle, but there is a case for Giakoumakis. Jota is first pick, but Abada is going to feel the pressure of Mikey Johnston, or a tactical switch with Kyogo moving wide. We await Christopher Julien’s return. Starfelt looks the obvious candidate to go, but Carter-Vickers isn’t a loan signing I’d particularly want to keep.   

Celtic 2—0 AZ Alkmaar

Kyogo Furuhashi with six goals in his first six games gets the sponsor’s man of the match (again). Edouard was left on the bench and Furuhashi played through the middle. His energy gave us that little bit extra. Edouard has been a drain, and his body language earlier in the season was off-putting and we wanted him to leave. (I still do.) Kyogo’s goal was spectacular. Tom Rogic set it up while playing keepie-up on the left, darting (well for Rogic a slowish foxtrot) to the right and swinging in a cross to the back post. Kyogo got a foot on it as it left the keeper with no chance. Celtic are a goal up ten minutes into the first half, but they could easily have been a goal (or more) down.

I keep going on about luck. Carl Starfelt is either the luckiest defender, or the unluckiest, since Shane Duffy. Five minutes in and Starfelt gets nutmegged and  Aboukhlal takes the ball into the box. The Swedish international pulls him back, but it’s soft and no penalty. Then minutes later Starfelt gets caught square and Pavlidis nips in front of him. He’s six-yards out and sure to score. Joe Hart makes an unorthodox save, diverting it with his toes onto the post. Last season that would have went in. But Hart picked the ball up.

Celtic took the game to Alkmaar. AZ goalkeeper, Verhulst, made two save in a minute. He parried a raking show from Liel Abada, who’d surges down the right and drove into the box. Then he kept out a Rogic shot, tipping it over. (One of those shots Barkas might even have saved, if he wasn’t playing for us).

But Rogic had three or more curling and bending shots on goal. His link-up play was outstanding, and he looks back to his best.  

Celtic had a let off after half an hour. Aboukhlal found himself free inside the penalty box. He looked to knock a low cross into the goal. But he did a Starfelt and got his feet mixed up and the ball spun away from him. But he didn’t have long to wait before Starfelt gave him the ball again, losing the ball near the half-way line. The Swedish defender had a better second half.

And Celtic went in at half-time a goal ahead. And what a goal it was.

Most of the second half Alkmar were the better team. They attacked more and looked to equalise. They’d a stack of corners, which we defended well. But nine minutes in and 1—1 looked odds on. Stephen Welsh, who had another excellent game and was unlucky at the other end of the field not to score with a header, stuck a foot in with  a last-gasp tackle to prevent a goal. But the ball spun out to Oosting who had the whole goal to hit, but miskicked it up and over.

Edouard comes on for Abada and plays through the middle. James McCarthy and Adam Montgomery replace Rogic and Furuhashi, but not before he’d skinned his countryman Sugawara and took the ball to the byline and whipped it across.  

The Japanese international helped make it 2—0. He came in from the left and played the ball to Forrest cutting in on the right. His shot was deflected into the Letschert from around ten-yards. Lucky again. But we’ll take it every time.

How we didn’t get a third is difficult to say. Unlucky. There’s a good case for making Tony Ralston man of the match. He’d almost a goal-line clearance to make it 2—1.  Sugawara got forward and whipped a low cross across the box. Pavlidis had a tap in, but Ralston cleared from almost underneath the bar. Then at  the other end of the park he almost created the third. Taking two defenders on, breezing past them and getting to the byline. He picked out Edouard, who should have scored, but Verhulst saves. The ball spins into the air. Edouard tries to head it over the line, but he saves it again. Montgomery fires in the rebound, but the defence scrambles it clear.

Five minute of added time Ralston went down after buying a foul with a clever intervention. The Croatian right-back we’ve bought will find it difficult to displace Ralston. And I never thought I’d say that. On the other side Taylor has picked up his game (but I still prefer Montgomery). Welsh didn’t make any rash tackles and give away needless free kicks. He was a threat in the opposition box. Starfelt is a worry. But all over the team is coming good. And we feel good. I’m not sure 2—0 will be enough, but maybe, just maybe, with Joe Hart in goal and breaking at pace, in Kyogo Furuhashi  we trust. The feel-good factor continues until Saturday’s tie with St Mirren. We can’t really afford to rest players, but James McCarthy can step in and play his role. Ryan Christie will hopefully be fit. I still want Edouard away, but in the meantime, use him. Everything is good.

Celtic 3—2 Hearts

No Celtic supporter needs reminding that Hearts beat us at Tynecastle in the opening fixture of the Premier league. Celtic dominated large parts of the game. Today, even more so.  We went a goal down in typical fashion from a cross ball in the league game. Then we lost a late goal in a similar manner. Our defenders bullied. This season and last. We’d have been calling for Neil Lennon’s head, but he was already away. Then we won three games in a week and Rangers lost three. It was almost like old times.

I sat in my brother’s house and watched the second-half of the Dundee United versus Rangers game. My brother shouted through to ask what the score was. I didn’t want to tell him, in case it jinxed it. I remember Charlie Mulgrew falling on the ball in his own penalty box. Last season that would have been given as a penalty. This season—apparently not.

Then midweek, I turned on the Rangers game again. Malmo were winning. I thought of turning the match off, straight away, in case I jinxed the ten-man Swedes.

Then against our Czech rivals in midweek, Callum McGregor made a shocking pass back. Joe Hart save it, and saved us. He did the same thing two minutes later. The irony here is we won 3—0. We were so far ahead that score-line flattered them. Yet they could and perhaps should have had a penalty. And Joe Hart went walkabouts and our defence had to clear the ball for him. Last season they might well have snatched a draw. We’ve become lucky again, as our rivals have become unlucky. But against better teams, we will be punished. We showed that laxness, yet, again today.

We’re better because we have a goalie that makes saves. Soro has been jettisoned and Callum McGregor takes the ball and makes forward passes. And, most importantly, we have a centre-forward in Kyogo Furuhashi that is hungry, talented and scores goals. Too often we dominated games but didn’t score, to be undone by a late corner or free kick. We’re scoring goals, lots of them, 13 in recent matches. But our defence is still, wide open. It’s a roller-coaster we’ll be on to the end of the season, but there’s hope now. In Kyogo we trust to hit forty or fifty goals this season. Today he was pushed wide, filling in for an injured Ryan Christie, but still created the first goal. A splendid pass into Forrest’s feet. He darted into the box. His cut back left Edouard with an easy finish. The Frenchman should and could have had another. He created space and hit Gordon from six yards. He was booked for diving. I want him away, but if he stays he needs to do more. Score more. Our midfielders to hit at least twenty.

The good news extended to our second goal. A short corner and Stephen Welsh scored with a header, a ball whipped in be Edouard, with ten minutes to go to half-time. I think the last central defender to score was Jullien.  2—0 at half-time. Total dominance. Hearts only menance coming after 30 seconds, with a corner. I held my breath. It was cleared. Joe Hart the proverbial spectator until half-time. Celtic with over 80 percent possession and 21 shots on goal.

Yet, Hearts made changes at half-time and scored two goals. Andy Halliday went off, which is always bad news for Celtic. Remember how we cheered him when he played for Rangers at Parkhead. Dumpling of the team award. Josh Ginnelly, on for Halliday, had a great claim for being Heart’s man on the match (ours was the more elegant Tom Rogic). Ginnelly continued where he left off at Tynecastle by putting the frighteners on Carl Starfelt. The Swedish international was the worst player on the park, yet again. First, he mistimed a header with Liam Boyce behind him, which he should have cleared, but forced Hart to make a save. Then he gave away a penalty. Starfelt got his feet mixed up with a clearance, in the same way he’d got mixed up with his header, but this time Boyce nipped in front of him. Stone-wall penalty. Liam Boyce stepped up to sends Joe Hart the wrong way from the penalty spot.

Celtic flapped. This had me thinking of the Scottish Cup final two years ago. Celtic in that game were so far ahead they should have been three or more goals ahead. With such a soft-centre  in defence anything was possible.

Kyogo Furuhashi dug us out of a hole with a little help from ex-Celt Craig Gordon. Kyogo was offside, but Turbull waited until he came back on again, before slipping the ball to him. He scored in off the near post, Gordon diverting it into the goal. With 25 minutes to go it looked, once again, like game over.

Kyogo went off and we brought on Celtic fan James McCarthy. McCarthy allowed McGregor to go further forward and fill the space behind the striker. Man of the match Tom Rogic was also taken off. Young Adam Montgomery brought on. He played as a winger, but I prefer him as a full back in preference to Greg Taylor. Montgommery had a chance from which he should have scored, but was unlucky. Ange Postecoglou, like the rest of us, probably thought the game was finished when he brought on Albian Ajeti and Soro. Ajeti had a great chance to claim a goal in the last few minutes, but opted to pass the ball inside the box.

But in injury time Stephen Kingsley got wide and flung in a cross. It was deflected into the path of unmarked substitute Aaron McEneff who scored from close range. 3—2.

McGregor took centre and kicked the ball out for a shy in the opposition half. Unbelievable as it seemed, we were playing for time. All the good and bad in this current Celtic side was here to see today. We’re sharper, quicker and scoring more goals. But like a hole in a water-filled bucket, we need to, because we’re liable to lose them almost as quickly. Stephen Welsh had a good game. His one blemish a crazy and stupid tackle. I wish I could say the same for his more senior colleague. I’m not hanging Carl Starfelt out to dry just yet, but using the word unconvincing would flatter him. In an ideal world it would be better if Edouard left, but we’ll wait and see on that front. I prefer Kyogo through the middle, but Edouard scored, missed a sitter or two and contributed. I guess that’s all you can ask. Big game on Wednesday night. I just hope our defence is up to it. The rest of the team look it, if that makes sense?

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.