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.
Scott Bain in for Barkas, no surprize there, big or otherwise. There’s really no way back for the Greek keeper. We need a new defence, goalkeeper and four defenders. That’s been obvious since last season and even before that. And made more obvious with the hammering we took in the friendly match against West Ham. Edouard will be away shortly. But needs must, he plays today. Christie has been outstanding. I’d like to keep him. From midfield to front we have shown we can be better than our opposite number, but not today. The Midtjylland manager called us ‘one dimensional’—and he’s right. We play from the back and when we get it right we’re unstoppable (in theory). When we get it wrong, we’re a gift from the gaffs. Both Midtjylland’s goals come into that category.
Midtjylland are a big, physical team. Celtic have been a disaster from corners and free kicks, this season and las season. I can even fling in an extra-bonus-season. We held firm until half-time. A few palpitations with Bain dragging the ball back and playing it out, twice (I hate keeper doing that, it look good, but get it wrong and lose a goal). Welsh got booked early for a stupid, needless tackle in the Midtjylland half of the park. Once again, he was found wanting, while other pinpoint his youth. If you are good enough, you’re old enough…
Celtic started this tie better. In the first five minutes, Turnbull had a shot turned over the bar. From the corner, Edouard side-footed over the bar. He just hasn’t showed. Soro was also a major disappointment, giving the ball away, and passing backwards. On the plus side, Tony Ralston gave his all as Celtic faded as an attacking force. Abada was quiet. He was taken off to be replaced by James Forest (I’m not sure about the Israeli, but he gets the benefit of the doubt, for now). But Christie, initially, took most of the plaudits on the other side of the park.
A Turnbull corner, two minutes into the second-half, the sweetest strike by Calum McGregor opens the scoring. A few minutes later, Bain flaps and the ball runs along the goal line. Bain indecisive. He had two late saves in extra-time, when we were behind. Equally, he took on players in his box. Stupid, but we got away with it, initially. Forest, who looked lively when he came on, had two great chances. The first, after McGregor’s goal, was blocked. That looked like putting us two up, and the tie beyond the Danes.
A minute later it was 1-1. A simple punt into the box. The winger Mabil stoops to score. Unmarked, as you’d expect from the defence that is no defence. Midtjylland took the tie into extra time and went on to win the game.
The first three minutes of extra-time, the Danes, finally, take the lead. Turnbull holds his hand up for offside. We’ve seen it before and we see it again. A simple ball over the top. Squared, substitute, Onyedika fires into the roof of the net. The good news was we had almost the whole of the first-half of extra-time to come up with an equaliser and all the second half.
We created nothing. Lind, an 18-year-old substitute, for the Danes misses a sitter. Bain makes another save as the minutes tick away. Midtjylland in control. Celtic brought on three substitutes, Ajeti (that’s how desperate we got). Rogic, and Montgomery. I like Montgomery, I think he’s better than Taylor (the Scottish international has become a bit of a fall guy, but truth told, Johnny Hayes was better than him). None of them made a difference.
Pass marks to Ralston, who burst a gut, and for a problem right-back spot, filled a hole valiantly. McGregor, who scored a worldie, but tired and started giving the ball away in extra-time. Christie, who created most of our chances, with slick passes in behind. I’m tempted to include eighteen-year-old Murray, but that would charitable. Edouard can leave any time soon. Take the money and run. Do it now.
Celtic are an easy touch. We’ve already been charitable enough. Once again we got put out in the first-round of the qualifying rounds for the Champions League. Quite simple. We’re not good enough to beat a Danish team that is itself struggling to stay below average. I know where that leaves us. I’m not even sure we’ll beat Hearts at Tynecastle. And that’s not been dramatic. We can’t defend and we don’t score. We need bodies. Any bodies? Ange Postecoglou has inherited a squad that is crap. All new managers need a bit of luck. Last season anything that could go wrong did. That continues into this campaign. The new manager is under pressure, even this early in the season. That’s the nature of the beast at Celtic. He’s a smart guy. He knows this. He knows what has to be done. This isn’t just about pride. Celtic keep flinging money away. That’s a business model for negative equity. The longer the spiral goes on, the harder it become to stop the decline. Get it wrong this season and next season’s automatic Champions League spot goes to the other side of Glasgow, we’re in deep shit.
I expected Celtic to win this one. As I expected them to win the last match against Rangers in the Scottish Cup. I’m Celtic daft that way. Rangers do the clean-sweep of Celtic. There was talk of John Kennedy getting the Celtic manager’s job. The argument went like this, all he had to do was beat Rangers at Ibrox, win the Scottish Cup and go through the rest of the season unbeaten, and create momentum. Neil Lennon did it after Judas Rodgers left. After the Scottish Cup defeat we went to Pittodrie and got a 1—1 draw. As meaningless fixture as this one you wouldn’t have expected a largely unchanged team. A team that excels in spurning chances and concedes regularly from corners and free kicks. Losing half their goals from most teams in the league that way and before this game, conceding four out of five goals to Rangers in the same manner.
Today was no exception. Where you watching Eddie Howe? For some reason despite Kennedy’s abysmal record, both as a defensive coach and as first-team coach where he’s now being talked up as the next Director of Football. I’m not sure what that entails. But it sounds like flinging good money after bad and creating jobs for the boys, in much the same way as Boris Johnson has done for the English Parliament. It’s getting to the fuck-off point, where we don’t really care, but, of course, we do. That’s the whole point of a pointless match.
I’ll start with the keeper. Scott Bain was OK today. He made one save you’d expect him to make. He’d little chance from Roofe’s opening goal, but when we use terms like should have done better for Morelos’s goal, it’s just another way of saying he should have saved it. Alan McGregor would have. Bain is a bang-average keeper and at best should be used as back-up. Letting Craig Gordon go was one of our many mistakes made this season. Barkas should have played against Aberdeen and today and should also play in the remaining two—even more meaningless—fixtures. Perhaps we’ll have a new manager by then. The most important games next year are the Champions League qualifiers. £30 million the pot could lift us out of below mediocrity.
I’m not a fan of the former Kilmarnock player Greg Taylor. Everything I said about Bain applies equally to Taylor. We should have kept Johnny Hayes. Taylor was OKish today, but that’s never enough.
Jonjoe Kenny is one I’ll be delighted to see going back to his parent club, Everton. Sometimes loan deals don’t work out. This one hasn’t worked out for some time. Yet, Kenny has nailed down the right-back spot despite making more backward passes than a table-tennis player. He was at it again today in the first goal we lost. The obvious signing here was Aaron Hickey, the former Heart’s player, whose Cup Final cameo last year, and in the game before that at Parkhead, should have our Director of Football making an offer.
Stephen Welsh, phew. I’m not sure he’s any better than Tony Ralston. We want him to do well. A neat enough passer of the ball. Pretty good in the air for his size, but not good enough. Beaten on the edge of the six-yard box when he went head to head with Goldson at a corner when it was just 2—1. The same Goldson that scored a double at Parkhead early in the year. Welsh didn’t fare much better with Roofe. Defoe turned him inside out to score the fourth goal. I don’t think Welsh will do, but then again, I never got my head around the McManus and Caldwell pairing, but at least they could defend when it mattered.
Kristoffer Ajer was given the captain’s armband when he went off. I’m sure Ajer, in his own head, will imagine he had a great game. He helped set up the first goal to make it 1—1 after half an hour by leaping at the back post and heading the ball towards goal, for Edouard to score. He’d a few runs from the half way line that wiped out the Rangers’ midfield and backline and create chances for himself and others. But he failed the Bobo Balde test. When the balls coming towards you, you eat the ball and the man, and bounce back for more. My da used to call such players fanny dancers. I think he meant fan dancers. But I’m sure if he were alive he’d have Ajer in mind. His best position, ironically, has been right back, where he doesn’t need to defend like a man. Ajer will go to a big club, and fail to keep a first-team spot. Little does he know his best years are past.
Scott Brown, good old Broonie, isn’t near as old as Davis or Defoe. His 44th game against Rangers, he’s won most. A loser today. Morelos turned him too easily for the second goal. Brown wasn’t bad. He wasn’t good. He was Broonie. It was pointless to play him, because he’s already pledged his allegiance to another team, and we came away pointless.
Callum McGregor. I’m a fan of McGregor, he got booked for taking out Kent, after the winger nutmegged him. Then he clattered Kamara. The ref played on, and yet another cross into the box was met by the chest of Roofe for the opening goal to the Ibrox team. Three goals in six minutes and we lost two of them. And we were a man down. I’m old enough to remember when ten men won the league and Murdo’s strike soared into the net, and we all jumped in the Jungle, raising the roof. That was never going to happen here.
James Forrest has become a better player since he’s been injured he’s the stuff of myth-making. What we can say with certainty is he gives 15 to 20 goals a season, and creates double that number. Here, given a decent chance, just before half-time. He fluffed his lines for the equaliser, played in by twinkle toes Ajer. He’ll still be here next season. We’ll need his goals and assists.
David Turnbull has been our chink of light this season. Scores goals and creates chances and he’s young. The type of player to build a team around. He got booked for kicking an ex-Celt at Pittodrie last week. I liked that wee bit of nastiness. It showed he cared. Today, he was largely anonymous. Had a great chance with a header, set up by Forrest, on the 56th minute to equalise but put it wide.
Moi Elyounoussi won’t be here next year. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. He’s scored some amazing goals and is our second-top scorer this season. The strike in Lille springs to mind. Alan McGregor’s fingertip save, putting the ball onto the bar, stopped him claiming the opening goal. I’d give him pass marks today. One of the few.
Odsonne Edouard scored the equaliser. Let the line and looked like doing it for us. But then it just fizzled out and was taken off for Mikey Johnston (which baffled me). The Frenchman is a great player, but not a great Celtic player. As a striker he’s scored 22 goals, some of them penalties. He should have grabbed at least a double in the last Old Firm fixtures. I don’t think he’ll make it to the top, quite simply, he doesn’t score enough goals. Great strikers hit 50 a season for Celtic. Mediocre strikes like Scott McDonald hit at least 30. Edouard has had a poor season. He’ll be missed, but if it was a chance he’d probably take too long and hit it past the post.
Ryan Christie would have started today, as he did at Pittodrie, if Forrest had failed a fitness test. Christie used to play in behind the striker and get us goals. His decampment to the wing shows him falling down the pecking order. He’s on the bench for a reason. I like Christie, and would like to keep him, but he’s off for nothing. His best matches this season have been for Scotland.
Ismaili Soro came on for Brown after sixty minutes. Newspaper reports linked him with a move to Tottenham. Yeh? Twenty million and he’s yours. I’ll need to wait and see how good he can be. He’d a few half- decent games before Christmas. And he should have started today. Gave the ball away for the third Rangers’ goal, which pushed the tie out of reach.
Mikey Johnston is better than Edouard. He got the last 15 minutes to show it. I missed Mikey, he gives you something unpredictable when teams defend deep against Celtic, as all Scottish teams do. He’s shown promise. Next season is the time to deliver for us all.
I know we’ll get that old line, for the neutral this was a cracking game. A great advertisement for Scottish football. I’d have taken a bog-standard Celtic victory. I know 27 league games to go. We’ll get the standard fare of no need to panic. I’m not panicking. Listen, I was at Love Street that day when Celtic needed to score four or five and we needed Albert Kidd to dig us out of a hole of Heart’s own making. Even early in the ten-in-a-row season, we’re looking at dog’s chances.
Rangers, from what I’ve seen, aren’t going to roll over this year. We need to be better and we need to be better fast.
Be careful what you wish for. Scott Bain in goal was a good start, but like Barkas, he didn’t make a significant save. Two of them were penalties, just before half time, and the extra-time of full-time. You don’t expect keepers to make saves then, but you kinda hope. The other goal, the second for Aberdeen was another Shane Duffy moment. You know the script and we’re getting the jokes, Shane Duffy is an Effie Ambrose waiting to happen. But we’re not laughing. Bring back Effie.
McGregor was in for Scott Brown. And McGregor gave us hope, when we were one down, with one of those dancing feet goals that dragged us back into the game. Good to see Rogic involved. Good to see the Australian back in the team.
Elyounoussi, after his cameo, against Milan, started here. He’d a poor game. But let’s look at the positives, he did get on the end of a cross and got us a penalty. A winning penalty- I’d hoped.
Come back Johnny Hayes (I’d have kept him and played him). He’d Frimpong in his pocket until the ninetieth-third minute when the Celtic youngster finally ran past him.
In a four-four-two and with Frimpong playing full back, we hoped he’d be able to run into space. But although he got lots of the ball, again and again he came inside. Leaving us no width.
Just when we seem to have the left-back position sorted with Laxalt, the right-back position is our weakest point in attack and defence.
McGregor might have dug us out of a half-time hole, but it was the return of the Griff that fired us ahead –and had us thinking we’d win.
Ajeti is a goal scorer, but he needs to hold the ball. He didn’t. He mumped and moaned, looking for fouls.
Griffiths, came on, as he did in the game against St Johnstone, before the international break, and turned the game. He made space for himself in the box. And his strike into the top corner was a thing of beauty.
Game over—I wish. You’ve got to allow for Duffy, wandering out to the left, like a cow returning to pasture. Still in control of the ball. Then that flick. We all make mistakes. But what was it we kept saying about Effie, in the big games, then the Irish Ambrose came to the fore. Ryan Hedges, who was Aberdeen’s best player, scored from a rebound. An almost save, we seem to plagued with almost saves.
Aberdeen’s first penalty—which was a penalty—was a clumsy tackle, that wasn’t even a tackle by Ntcham on Ferguson. Ironically, Ntcham was having one of his better games before that incident.
There was talk, after the international break of the games against Rangers, AC Milan, Aberdeen, Lille, Aberdeen and Motherwell defining our season.
We all know what happened against Rangers. AC Milan was a defeat, but it wasn’t total capitulation. Aberdeen today.
We’re 3—2 up, going into added on time. We’ve dropped back, but we’re patting ourselves on the back, thinking we’ve been lucky here. All teams need a bit of luck.
The game against Lille doesn’t matter than much. I think we’ll beat Aberdeen, comfortably, at Hampden. I’m not sure about Motherwell away. I’m pretty sure Rangers will keep on winning and winning.
I hate saying it, but we look far more less likely to win than them. Here’s hoping, we take any dog chances we get between now and the end of the season. Shane Duffy has been a nightmare. The Greek keeper, an empty jersey, but here’s hoping he turns it around. Frimpong is only eighteen and showing signs of insecurity, taking the easy pass, going backwards in so many ways.
The return of the Griff has been great (anonymous against Milan, but I don’t mind that). Rogic has class. We need more of class. We have the best players in the league—by far—but we make so many amateur mistakes.
In the games that define our season, we’ve lost two and drawn one. Commentators were already adopting that gloomy voice and telling us the last time Celtic lost three games in a row was under Neil Lennon. Ten-in-a-row? I’ll use another cliché. A big ask.
Nah—and neither were the Celtic team. It was that bad we’ve even got Barry Ferguson sympathising with Neil Lennon.
Martin Powell, the only MP I trusted, used to go for long walks when Celtic were playing Rangers. That was during the Martin O’Neil era. I thought that was crazy. But he might well have had a point. I’m old enough now to take up golf.
During Scoreboard, Hugh Keevins asked a Celtic die-hard, are you seriously saying that the league is finished with 28 games to go?
Let’s go for a long walk.
Football management is like a game of poker.
Lennon went incandescent because his team was leaked before the game. Kenny Miller is being fingered as villain-in-chief. He shouldn’t have been. Lennon should know who was going to play for Rangers, in what positions, and what they could do and couldn’t do. And what opportunities it offers Celtic. You’re only as strong as your weakest hand.
No surprises for Celtic. No surprises for Rangers.
Celtic played exactly how Steven Gerrard expected. They were predictable and pedestrian.
Rangers didn’t play well. They didn’t need to. Morelos was petulant, off the pace, and should have been booked earlier than he was for flicking his hand in Scott Brown’s face. Barker ran about, like the majority of the Celtic team, with little direction or purpose. Stevie G said in the post-match interview they needed to stay humble. They’ve a lot to be humble about.
Stevie G knows what cards to play and when to play them. In a game of poker, he’s called Lennon’s bluff and won twice at Parkhead. At Hampden, Stevie G can count himself unlucky. No posturing at the final whistle for the Ibrox manager and players. They know they’ve got the beating of Celtic now.
Goalkeeper makes saves.
We used to have this conversation that no Rangers’ player would get in the Celtic team during the Martin O’Neil era, and more recently. Obviously, we didn’t include Rab Douglas and whether he cost us the final in Seville is a moot point. Goram, the flying pig, Kloss, McGregor and an older and wiser McGregor again are so much better.
If there is still reserve-team football during lockdown, it’s difficult to imagine the current Celtic keeper getting a game in Rangers’ reserves.
Celtic let Craig Gordon leave. The management team kept Scott Bain as back-up. There was talk of signing Scotland, and ex-Celtic keeper, David Marshall. We went for a Greek internationalist, Vasilis Barkas, and paying premium rates for a keeper than doesn’t make saves.
The problem left back spot
Money wasted on buying a dud who flies to Spain and doesn’t tell Lennon.
Taylor is not a dud, neither is he Tierney. Neither is he Andy Lynch, Tosh McKinlay or Anton Rogan. He’s a mixture of the good, the bad and the Anton, I’ll kick everything for the cause, because, but Taylor doesn’t cut it.
We brought in Laxalt on loan because Lennon knows that.
Johnny Hayes, like Craig Gordon, has left the building? Why?
Celtic’s loan-signing policy.
Rangers had no loan signings in the team that outplayed us.
Loan signings are a try before you buy. In, for example, Charly Musonda and another few nameless faces. It’s been great business because you can just return them to their parent club.
Craig Bellamy, Paddy Roberts, and Fraser Forster were guys here in the short-term that made a positive difference. Players we would have kept in a heartbeat.
In the Fergus McCann football business, you don’t have an extra Celtic jersey. Loan signings are giving other teams money. Or in Fergus’s case, other financial institutions. Rangers had no loan signings playing in the Old Firm derby. Glen Kamara only cost £50,000 from Dundee and helped run the show. Remember Didier Agathe £100 000 from Hibs? Bargain basement. Rangers had Steven Davis playing. He was a loan signing that was made a permanent deal and cost zero. Fergus would have liked that. Nobody was slating him because of his age, in the way Scott Brown is hounded. Steven Davis was another that didn’t have a particularly good game, but he was in the winning team.
We’ve come a long way from Jock Stein and the 1967 European Cup winning team. Eleven players that lived within a twelve-mile radius of Glasgow (Bobby Lennox, furthest away in Saltcoats). But Jock Stein wasn’t a cuddly bear that was lucky. He was ruthless. Jimmy Johnstone when his legs were gone was sold. Stein was hesitant to let Johnstone play in a pre-season friendly, and have a final hurrah, before he was sold to Dundee. That too was a must-win Celtic game. As Scotland manager, he told Ipswich player, John Wark, if you can’t go box to box and score goals, you’re no use to me. It’s not difficult to imagine what Stein would have said of a Celtic team that never managed to have a significant shot on goal in an Old Firm derby.
Shane Duffy v Connor Goldson.
We all know how this went Goldson scored two goals, early in the first and second half—game over.
Neither Duffy or Goldson are great passer of the ball with their feet. Duffy had more touches of the ball than anyone else on the field. Their strength is in the air. Duffy was a marquee signing for Celtic. Loan fees and paying his wages was a gamble Celtic were willing to take.
Goldson was the cheaper option. Straight fee. Pennies by Celtic standard. His wages would be laughable. Fergus McCann would be asking hard questions about value for money. Why didn’t we buy the cheap option, sooner?
Why with Celtic’s superior resources, reserve team football and money in the bank do we need loan signings?
Goldson was lauded (not by me, obviously) but it could and should have been different. Elyounoussi easily rolled Goldstone and should have made it 1—1 after twenty minutes.
Elyounoussi is, of course, another loan signing. Is he any better than what we’ve got? Is he better than Rogic? David Turnbull, top midfield scorer for Motherwell, came off the bench, so I was told? Paddy McCourt? Obviously not as good as Paddy. But hey, you’ve got to laugh.
Celtic’s signing policy is related to their resale value (that’s not news)
Virgil van Dijk. That’s all I need to say. He was promised the dream and then he was sold for what we thought was buttons. That will never happen again has coloured our thinking. Players that don’t want to be at Paradise should be sold— not immediately, that’s bad for business, and we are a business, but sooner rather than later.
The French trois. Edouard didn’t play. That wasn’t much of a shock, but a setback. It was mitigated by his form—any scouts turning up looking for a £35 million striker would have been baffled. Sell.
Ntcham wants away and has been engineering a move for the last two seasons. Take the hit. Again, missing in action—let him go.
Christopher Jullien rag dolled by Lyndon Dykes and, more recently, the Kilmarnock centre forward. We bought him for £7 million, hoping for a standout and sell-on profit. His is a longer term deal. And I think there is a player in there. Whether it is as a Celtic player, I don’t know.
Ryan Christie would have started. I think he’s the best midfielder in Scotland (well, apart from McGregor) but he wants away and has been, like the rest of the Celtic team, ineffectual against Rangers in other Old Firm meetings. Keep.
Nir Bitton wants away. See you later, pal.
Tom Rogic. I’m a big fan. I was scared when Brendan Rodgers left he’d come back and take Rogic. Now I’m texting Judas Rodgers, Rogic’s number. The love affair with Celtic is over. Lennon doesn’t fancy him. Ironically, Rodgers might be at the club longer than Lennon. New managers have a different vision.
The game is nothing without fans.
Chris Sutton, former player and pundit, suggests that having no fans favours a Rangers team that are serial bottlers. Stats from the locked-down Bundesliga showed that playing at home wasn’t as much an advantage. Away teams won more. Bayern Munich kept winning. Class tells.
Rangers are not the Barcelona of old, but they’ll win pretty much every week. Celtic seems largely incapable of that. The Old Firm team that won the first game went on to win the title in four out of five seasons. That’s not us. We didn’t even look as if we could manage a draw. Only one team looks like bottlers. Here I hope I’m wrong.
Is it time for Lennon to go?
I’ll put it another way. Stevie G has his number. A novice manager has got the beating of him. As Lennon said, coming second in Glasgow is coming last. Jock Stein or his apprentice, Alex Ferguson, would have had the hairdryer full on at half-time. At full time, well, we know the story. We’re hit with the same managerial clichés.
Celtic’s first eleven against Rangers—who’s in and who’s out?
Goalkeeper is an easy pick. Celtic hired a private jet to bring Vasilos Barkas back from a recent international. He was on the bench for Greece. He’s not really done anything that Scott Bain, or Conor Hazard, or you’d expect any other bog standard goalie to do. He’s certainly not won us matches the way—may he rot in reserve-team-football hell, the Southampton keeper we got on loan last season did. Hope we don’t need him, but time for Barkas to step up and be counted.
Another loan player, Shane Duffy, is going to be in the middle of a back three, back four, or indeed a back five. He’s limited when it comes to passing, but in the air he’s colossus. Just what we needed. Capable of getting us a goal.
Kristopher Ajer will play on Duffy’s left-hand flank. Ajer is a far better ball player than Duffy, but for his size, extremely limited in the air. Pre-Covid, if AC Milan were offering £15 million, I’d have taken it. Overrated.
Here’s where it gets interesting. We paid £7 million for Christopher Jullien. He can be elegant and good in the air, but can be bullied, as he was at Livingston and Kilmarnock. His injury coincided with the arrival of Duffy. Duffy is a number one pick. I expected Jullien to slot into the position on the right flank.
But Nir Bitton held that positon and with a few good performances looked like establishing a run in the team. He too got injured. OK, as Celtic supporters, it’s annoying when the injured Bitton pops up starring for Israel against Scotland. He’s not great in the air, but as a former midfielder, unflappable on the ball. No matter, he’s out.
Hatem Abed Elhamed also starred for an Israel team that outplayed Scotland. He also played well when he replaced Bitton in the Celtic team. He’s also out. Also injured.
Unless Neil Lennon plays a wild card, Julien will start. The problem here is with Julien’s tendency to grab at players and with him likely to be up against Ryan Kent, let’s hope the Celtic defender doesn’t give anything stupid away.
No matter what team Lennon puts out, with James Forrest injured, Jeremie Frimgpong will hug the wide-right touchline and sprint back to mark Ryan Kent. Well, he can. He’s did it before with some aplomb. One of the few Celtic player to get pass marks in the Old Firm fixtures in the pre-split Christmas of 2019. He plays with a smile on his face. He makes things happen. But unlike James Forrest he doesn’t score much. There’s still time. Potential match winner.
Greg Taylor is the kind of player Scotland use when they’re playing meaningless fixtures. His best game was Celtic away, in Riga. Most of his other games are bang-average. Not a bad player. Not a great player in the mould of a Tosh McKinley. I’d have settled for Johnny Hayes.
Lennon’s got a decision to make here. Diego Laxalt, the Uruguayan international on loan from AC Milan, could be thrown in for Greg Taylor. I can’t see it. And I’ve not seen Laxalt, although I can remember him, because of his Henrik-like hair, playing alongside Suarez. Give me a bit of that. Fling him into the mix. Here’s hoping.
It gets a bit boring here. We know Scott Brown and Callum McGregor will start in the central midfield slots.
There is now an outside chance of Ryan Christie starting, but we’ll not dwell on that and say he’s out.
Oliver Ntcham will start in Christie’s place. Terrific and cultured player. Doesn’t want to be at Celtic and has a tendency to disappear during games, but not a bad stand in.
Odsonne Edouard is in quarantine, but unlike Christie, could start. Usually, I’d say, will start. Barry Ferguson, the Ranger’s pundit, rated Edouard in the £35 million bracket. But not on this season’s performances. Lacklustre. Doesn’t look interested. He’s off are a few of the remarks I’ve heard (usually, because it’s me saying it). It’s not really a wild card to play Edouard, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion he’ll be on the bench.
Now it gets difficult to pick one from three to who will play centre-forward. I know it won’t happen, but with no Edouard I’d just go with Leigh Griffiths. We’ll get the usual pish about him not having game time.
That didn’t stop Albian Ajeti putting the ball in the netti and scoring goal a game before he got injured. He’s back too, with the usual stricture, not- match-fit.
Edouard can play with any of these two strikers. Or, if he’s out, Griffiths and Ajeti, pairing.
If we’re going to stuff the midfield and Edourad is out then Partyk Kilma could find himself as lone striker. He’s fed on scraps and came through to score goals. His goal against St Johnstone summed him up. Halved in two, he jumped up, and thumped the ball past the keeper. Kilma is no dud. Ironically, the guys that are half-fit are first picks. Scoring goals can change his prospects. Score against Rangers and it could change his career.
In the absence of Christie the guys that can play in behind the striker (whoever that is) is red hot. Ntcham could be pushed up. And I think that will happen.
Mohammed Elyounoussi playing ahead of Taylor and in behind the striker. He’s on form and scores goals. But I’m not convinced. He disappears.
If we’d got Tom Rogic on loan from Southampton and played him in the same position (as he did under Brendan Rodgers) then I’m sure the Australian internationalist would also have scored goals. He might even start. But don’t put any money on it. It’s the bench and a long wait for Rodgic.
The wildcard here is David Turnbull. The former Motherwell player has looked tidy with the ball, and untidy, giving it away. He takes great free kicks. Has boundless energy and an eye for a goal. He might well replace Christie in the team, in the short and longer term. I’d favour him over Elyounoussi.
Celtic as we all know have won eight games in a row. Don’t be fooled. Unconvincing and wide open at the back. I don’t rate Rangers, but they have shown they could exploit the open space. I expect us to start with one striker and a packed midfield.
Lennon usually plays one wildcard. In this game it will be Diego Laxalt in for Taylor. Celtic will win, if they score first. If not, it’ll be a draw.
Most Celtic supporters I’ve talked to would be happy with another domestic treble, perhaps with a European Cup thrown in for good measure. In Lennie we trust (well kinda).
Lennon got us over the line last year, winning the Scottish Cup and the treble. There was a minimum and maximum as there is this year. I’d guess the minimum is a domestic double, Scottish League and one other trophy. In terms of Europe, qualification for the group stage of the Europa League.
The Europa League is a bit boring. We really want Champions League nights. Money and prestige are stitched together here. If Lenny gets Celtic through four qualifiers and into the Champions League group stages then he’s half way to being able to say job done. Then we can start kidding ourselves that other teams hate coming to Parkhead. The truth is the bigger teams love playing in a packed-out stadium where they always win. Yes, I do remember Tony Watt’s goal against Barcelona, loved every second of it, but freak results do happen. That’s why domestically Celtic are unlikely to win the treble again this year. They are the best team in Scotland, but an off day and we’re out of the cup.
Qualifying for Europe also means the squad is stretched and we’ve more games to play. After Rodger’s first season we began to regularly look vulnerable and drop points to teams like Kilmarnock and Hearts.
Strangely, despite Celtic’s treble-treble Rangers’ fans believe again. Their optimism is based on Celtic not spending and taking two steps backwards in the last two seasons and Rangers finally going four or five games unbeaten. Rangers can win the league this year, but only if Celtic go into meltdown.
Celtic’s biggest buy of the season and long overdue is a centre-half in Christopher Julien. I’ve not seen him, but sometimes you just get that feeling…Kris Ayer will probably play alongside him in the centre of defence. Both are six-foot five, both are good with the ball at their feet. Both are called Chris. If they play to their potential Celtic will continue to monitor all players called Chris/Kris and try and integrate them into the Celtic family for Christmas.
I guess Jozo Simunovic will be the odd man out. He’d a great end of season, scoring that goal in the 67th minute and honouring Billy McNeil while wearing number 5. He looked like a half-decent defender at Parkhead, which must give Jack Hendry hope.
Lustig also had a fine end to the season and his Celtic career, but any winger with pace gave him a chasing, so it was thanks and no thanks. Anthony Ralston, for the moment, holds the jersey. Ironically, it was the young right back for Hearts in the last game of the season and in the Scottish Cup Final, a former Celtic graduate, who showed Ralston how it should be done. I guess Celtic need to strengthen here. The Heart’s boy would be worth a punt, but we’ll go for the tried and tested, although I’m not sure who.
Arsenal and Napoli are interested in Kieran Tierney. He’s injured. He’s been injured quite a lot recently. The selling price is allegedly £25 million. I’d like to see Tierney stay. He’s a Celtic man and the best left back since Anton Rogan of Lisburn Distillery, but that might have been taking things a bit too far. Kieran Tierney is one of us, a fan, blessed with ability. Stay.
Johnny Hayes has been filling in at left back. I like Hayes, he’s street-smart, but never Celtic class (see Anton Rogan) and neither is he good enough to play as an out and out winger.
With Tierney out in the short, and perhaps longer term, Celtic have brought in a replacement. Under Rodgers it tended to be of the loan-deal variety. We paid more than £3 million for Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo. He talks a good game. Telling us he has pace and…we’ll wait and see, but if Tierney stays, he’s our improved model of Emilio Izaguirre (good luck to the Honduran, but never a good idea to bring an old player back, hopefully the same thing doesn’t apply to an old manager).
In midfield we were always stacked with riches. Let’s start with the one that wants away. Olivier Ntcham had a few good games. He had a few bad games. You’ve got to laugh when he comes out with the excuse Scottish football is holding him back excuse. It never held back Henrik Larsson or Harald Brattbakk or Virgil van Dijk. Two of these went on to lift the European Cup. Nitcham looks more of a Harald with every word that comes out of his mouth. He’s decided to go. Celtic want to sell. We’re waiting, but we’ll drop the price until someone takes him.
Ironically, I’m a big fan of Scottish, under-twenty-one international, Ewan Henderson who has fallen down the pecking order. Henderson, like his brother Liam, is Celtic class. I did predict years ago that Celtic would build their team around Liam. I’m not going to predict they’re going to build their team around Ewan (although I am tempted).
Remember Eboue Kouassi? He’s still there. He might do a Ryan Christie, you never know. Nah, he willnae. But wishful thinking is allowed.
Lewis Morgan is of that ilk. He went to Sunderland on loan and came back. We’ll probably send him out again somewhere. Special pre-seaon offer, three-for-one deal with Kouassi and Jack Henry. Not bad players. Just not good enough for Celtic.
Scott Sinclair is on the final year of his contract. Anybody comes in, he can go. He’ll spend a lot of time on the bench if he doesn’t. He’ll be the type of player we bring on in the 85th minute hoping he can reproduce some of his penalty-box poacher- magic of his first two seasons.
Daniel Arzani lasted five minutes at Celtic, before getting injured. He’s got a chance, but only if young Karamoko Dembele is thought too young for the first team.
Maryan Shved is a winger that excited Celtic fans, without playing a game for us. It was all highlights from abroad. Need to wait and see. Here’s hoping.
I’ve not mentioned James Forrest, the Celtic winger, who Lennon played through the middle in friendlies. Lennon brought Forrest into the team when he was here the last time. He used to talk him up and we’d be watching the same game and thinking…Whit? Lennon had a good season. Rodgers loved him. Lennon does too. He’ll play all the big games and most of the little ones. It’s going to be a big season for James Forrest.
Mikey Johnstone looks to be a Forrest stand in. Johnstone has plenty of trickery. He scores goals. He’s a Celt, here’s hoping he follows the Forrest pathway.
Scott Brown does what Scott Brown does. Lennon trusts him as did Rodgers before him. He’ll play the majority of our games.
Nobody played more games for club and country than Callum McGregor. If Forrest was Lennon’s love child, McGregor was Rodger’s. He played in almost every position for Rodgers apart from striker and goalie. I’m sure Rodgers would have handed him the gloves. There’s talk of a £20 million bid from the Leicester manager. That’s a wait and see.
Tom Rogic is another wait and see project. He didn’t look out of place when we played Manchester City in the Champions League under Rodgers. As good as anyone. But prone to injuries. Scores goals in big games, but in the Scottish Cup final (I can’t even remember if he played) and games against Rangers, in fact, most of last season, a wash out. If clubs are offering £9 million or £10 million, I’d be very tempted to take it and bring back Paddy McCourt.
Ryan Christie wrote the script of the forgotten man biding his time. After losing out on John McGinn we were dreadful against a long-ball Hearts team at Tynecastle. Christie came on and scored and turned the game around. He was a goal-a-game man afterwards. Automatic first pick. His energy was of the Stuart Armstrong variety, but he had a better touch, better end product, a better player. But then that dreadful injury. He’s back but what Ryan Christie will emerge?
Luca Connell was coveted by other teams. Here’s hoping Lennie knew of him from his Bolton days. He’s young, which is always good. Is he ready for the first team?
Odsonne Edouard is our main striker. He missed a penalty in our last friendly in Switzerland against Gallen. Nobody cares about that, as long as he scores goals. He can be deceptively brilliant or just deceptive. He’s scored in big games, at crucial times in a match. He won us the league and Scottish Cup, but he doesn’t score enough. Maybe this season?
Leigh Griffiths is back. That’s fucking magic. Remember Griffiths once scored 40 plus goals in one season. He is a striker. No messing. There is a fair chance Lennon will play two strikers in games. Griffiths will get his chance. It’s really up to him. Here’s hoping.
I’d high hopes for the Ivorian international Vakoun Issouf Bayo. His strength is in the air. Lennon knows more than most, when pressed, as we were at Ibrox, a big target man gives you the route out of your half and adds goals. Recently, he’s been injured. That’s been a pattern. We don’t need any more projects. We don’t need another Kouassi. We need Bayo to force his way into the team in the same way Christie did, by scoring goals.
Are we stronger than last year? Yeh, we’ve been crying out for a decent centre-half for the last four years. One man doesn’t make a team, but it’s a start. We need a right-back, pronto. Perhaps Bayo won’t be good enough, then we need another striker. We might need a back-up centre-half for the back-up centre-half. If we sell Rogic or McGregor, we need another midfielder. The joker we have in the pack is Dembele. He looks a player. This might be his season. We’re in Sarajevo, let’s hope we can win and make the second leg a formality.