Celtic 0—0 Livingston

Livingston’s game-plan at Parkhead doesn’t change. They play with eleven men behind the ball and came to take a point. Celtic dominate and are handed three points in the last minute on the ninety, but don’t take them. Obileye inexplicable swiped at Kyogo. He was sent off for gross stupidity and a penalty awarded. Callum McGregor was the last Celtic player to miss a penalty, which was firmly hit and the keeper going the right way. Josip Juranovic has scored two penalties, missed nil, and looked to be our designated penalty taker.  Max Stryjek had to do little more than lie down to save Giakoumakis’ penalty, which tells you all you need to know. The Greek striker had another chance a minute later.

An enforced change with Tom Rogic—who has been brilliant—injured. Bitton comes in at the base of the midfield, which immediately makes it a more defensive set-up with Callum McGregor playing the number-ten role and replacing the Australian playmaker. This kind of game suits Bitton, carpet-slippers and moving the ball with around eight-five percent possession, he doesn’t need to defend, because he’s not a defender, even though he was pushed there when Carl Starfelt off injured with ten minutes remaining. He found it easy, too easy.

Livingston offered nothing in the first-half and little more in the second. Ralston had one of the few chances just before half-time. David Turnbull after an early header towards goal, played him in. Ralston’s swerving left-foot shot was saved on the line by right-back Fitzwater. And Liel Abada had  the final chance of the half, but Stryjek did not had a save to make. The stand-out of the first half was Jota plucking a wayward Ralston pass out of the air. Ralston had a good case for being man on the match. His four early crosses in behind the Livingtson defence put them under pressure. He linked well with Abada and looked in the mood before it became overly predictable.

The gulf in quality between the teams immense, but it doesn’t show in the only statistic that matters—no goals.  Ange Postecoglou tried shaking it up, bring on Kyogo and Mikey Johnston for the last half-hour. He left the Greek striker on (in retrospect, an understandable mistake). Kyogo played the number-ten role. Bringing on James Forest for Jota in the last few minutes of the ninety was the last throw of the dice. These changes would be seen as positive and have worked, if it wasn’t for the Greek striker missing that penalty. After a positive run of results, five wins in five, with some swashbuckling play, a draw. Terrible penalty and terrible result. At the end of the season, these two lost points could haunt us. Massive downer.

Celtic 2—0 St Johnstone

Josip Juranovic comes into the problematic left-back spot, he handled so well at Ibrox. After Callum McGregor’s midweek miss from the penalty spot, it was Juranovic who once again picked up the ball, held his nerve, and sent Clark the wrong way with the second goal in 80 minutes that calmed nerves.

Another clean sheet and another victory. Joe Hart didn’t have a save to make. Celtic dominated the game. St Johnstone had pockets of possession in the first five minutes of each half, without threatening the Celtic goal.

  But the real thrill comes in seeing the Greek striker Giorgos Giakoumakis starting— flanked by Kyogo and Jota. Makes me think back to Celtic’s Three Amigos of the Tommy Burns’ era—Van Hooidjdonk, Cadette, and Di Canio—but hopefully, with a happier ending.

Our new number seven got us and himself off the mark. Jota’s shot is blocked. The ball loops into the air. Callum Booth ball watches allowing Tony Ralston to get the other side of him and fire the ball across goal. It’s taken thirty-four minutes for Giakoumakis to find himself unmarked in front of goal. He finishes with aplomb with a volley.

St Johnstone rely on free-kicks, corners and throw-ins to get them back into the match—it’s worked for them in the past—but even here they fail. Celtic’s defence is a match for them.

Ambrose and Bryson are booked to prevent Celtic breakaways. But bizarrely, the referee books Carter Vickers and Chris Kane, when the latter is clearly seen booting into the Celtic defender when he’s lying on the ground and the ball away from both of them. He should have been off.

Attack against defence, as it often is when teams come to Parkhead and put ten men behind the ball. The difference here was we had so many attacking options. With the game at 1—0 we could take out goal scorer off, Giakoumakis, at the start of the second half and bring on Mikey Johnstone. He was unlucky not to score, hitting the post with almost the last kick of the ball. But it also allowed us to push our icon, Kyogo, through the middle, and it was the Japanese star who won the penalty, being floored in the box.  We can even take him off with a few minutes reaming and the game secured and bring on Abada, who hit the ground running when he first came to the club, with a few well-taken goals. Sympathy vote?  Ajeti for Jota. Attack had by that time created so many chances it was just a matter of how many. We settled for 2—0, clean sheet and next up Hibs away on Wednesday night. Another away win would be nice.

Celtic 1—1 Dundee United

Two similar goals in two minutes were the story of the first-half—and the second. Jota looked to be Celtic’s most dangerous player. A cross from the right and the smallest man on the park, Liel Abada, nicked across his marker and headed it into the net, for the opening goal after sixteen minutes. Two minutes later Dundee United equalised. Ralston lost a tackle. The ball was whipped into the box by Niskanen. Ian Harkes got in front of Startfelt and left Joe Hart no chance with his header.

Albian Ajeti could consider himself unlucky not to score after eight minutes. A ball fizzed in by Ralston and the striker headed it over the bar. He had a similar chance from a Rogic cross in the second-half of a largely anonymous performance. The non-scoring striker missed a sitter from two yards, a minute after United had equalised. The ball played across the goal by Abada and somehow Ajeti scooped it over the bar, when it was easier to score. He skied another chance after being played  in by Jota, but that wasn’t unexpected.

Carter-Vickers bundled into Clark two minutes after Ajeti’s sitter. A clear penalty that wasn’t given.

Josip Juranovic went down injured after twenty-five minutes. Adam Montgomery replaced him. I like the nineteen-year-old Academy prospect, but his first few passes were wayward, and apart from one driving run in the second-half, he offered little. Perhaps, quite simply, like this game, I was expecting too much, too soon. We picked up another few injuries with McCarthy going off at half-time for Soro. More worryingly, goal-scorer Liel Abada also required treatment after a horrendous challenge from the United keeper at the end of ninety minutes. Our two winger’s performances offered supporters hope today.  

Jota, in particular, lights the team up. He whipped a few balls across the six-yard box with no takers. And he looked to get the Celtic win with two shots on goal in the dying minutes of the game, one of them looping onto the bar. The other a weak effort, easily saved.

David Turnbull also hit the bar, just before the half-time whistle. With ten minutes of the game to go, the woodwork denied Rogic. A cross for Abada, a downward header from Jota,  Rogic gets on the end of, and another chance gone.

In the four minutes of extra-time, added to the ninety, United went up the park and had a two-in-one inside the box. Better teams would have scored. A few United players tried to chip Joe Hart in the first and second half, because he played so far out of his goal. Hart also did a fancy half turn to beat a United player closing him down. I hate that kind of stuff. Terrible result, but not unexpected. I’m getting the kind of queasy feeling playing Bayer Leverkusen that I got when West Ham came to play us in our pre-season friendly. Ironically, I predicted Aberdeen, our opponents at Pittodrie next weekend, would finish mid-table because they were too open. Previous manager Derek McInnes took the Walter Smith mould up North. Ten men behind the ball at all times. Celtic are also there for the taking, but with better players. I expect the Germans to win on Thursday, but hope to be wrong. But, on the bright side, I think we’ll be good enough to beat Aberdeen and end our away-day malaise. I certainly hope so. Rangers are stuttering, but we’re falling further behind. That tells its own story.   

Celtic 3—0 Raith Rovers.

Celtic play St Johnstone, the holders, at Hampden in the semi-final. I’m old enough to remember when Raith Rovers beat us in the League Cup in 1994. After the dismal defeat at Livingston, the most important thing wasn’t our performance, but quite simply we win.

 Anthony Ralston comes in, Josip Juranovic drops to the bench, as does Stephen Welsh and Bolingoli. Only Carter-Vickers retains his place in the back-line that lost at Livingston. The much maligned (by me) Starfelt comes back to partner the American international. Adam Montgomery, who I think is our best option, plays on the left with man-on-the-match Jota.

Jota scored in just under 30 minutes. A few minutes earlier, Turnbull had an early free-kick from the edge of the box, which hit the wall. A poor effort. But McCarthy played in Jota, inside the box and he took it on and scored his first goal for Celtic. McCarthy was a surprise selection. He was so poor on Sunday, he wouldn’t have gotten into the Livingston team. Tonight he got pass marks, because his passing was better.

Jota created the second, just before half-time, cutting in and driving it at goal.  MacDonald palms the ball up into the air and Abada in 40 minutes, nipped in and headed the ball into an empty goal. Against a lower division team that had seen little of the ball this should have been game over—and so it proved to be.

David Turnbull picked up the ball and drove at the Raith box, he bent the ball into the net, but McDonald was poor. Three minutes into the second-half, it’s just a matter of how man Celtic will score.

Zanatta booked after a foul on Rogic, and minutes later it’s from yellow to red as he chopped down Ralston on the touchline. Two soft bookings, but he’s off and with half-an-hour to go. We expect to see Giakoumakis—even for this Celtic defence, the game was over.

 But Liam Scales made his Celtic debut. He comes on alongside Josip Juranovic, for Ajeti and Abada. Bitton and Soro replace McCarthy and Rogic. The game peters out with no Greek striker.  Ange Postecoglou explained why, in his post-match interview. Giakoumakis had injured his calf in the warm up, and left for hospital at half-time. Perhaps a cautionary scan and we’ll see him against Dundee United? Ajeti remains our only fit striker, and is holding the line. Playing Jota through the middle didn’t work as was shown here tonight. We lost much of our attacking flair with him in the centre, and he didn’t look comfortable. But needs must. The semi-final is at Hampden. I’m not sure that counts as an away game. With our recent record… well, you know as well as me. Wait and see what Celtic team turns up.  Hopefully, an all-green final before Christmas.