Rangers 2—2 Celtic

As usual I was drunk by halftime, blootered by fulltime. We debated who would start, before I fell off the chair. Hatate would go back into midfield where he is more effective. Of course, he was lauded as a great right back—he’s a great player—but he just can’t defend. A bit like Josip Juranovic when he came on at left back after 21 minutes. Greg Taylor had started well. He usually does. I used to slate him, the same way I did Starfelt and Forrest. The latter was a surprise starter. Any more performances like this and it will be a surprise he gets a start.

Alistair Johnson slotted in at right back and looked assured. But then when he looked up to pick a pass, he’d Forrest in front of him and brought the ball back. More punters backed Celtic to win than the fat Columbian to lose some weight. Morelos played a great pass to Daizen Maeda. The Japanese forward zipped through the Rangers’ backline and scored like a World Cup hero. A goal up inside five minutes.

For much of the first half Celtic played football. Rangers reverted to long-ball, kick and rush tactics that had worked in the past. With Starfelt in the Celtic team, they’ve always got a chance. Most of the goals we lose come from free-kicks and corners. Rangers in the first-half, despite being unable to play three concurrent passes had three chances.

Joe Hart was culpable. He dithered on the ball. The fat man blocked his clearance with the ball coming off the post before being scrambled away. Then the fat Columbian had benefited from poor marking, Starfelt and then Juranovic found wanting, as he headed two great chances over the bar from just outside the six-yard box. The fat Columbian also found time to heckle Greg Taylor before he went off injured. Perhaps he was just saying, I hope Postecoglou brings on Juranovic, who had a shocker, and not Bernabei. The little Argentinian has actually played at left back. He’s very impressive going forward, but has that usual Celtic foible of being unable to defend.

Half-time, we were one up. Just after half-time, it was 1—1. Juranovic was found wanting. The ball was shuttled to the left and Ryan Kent bent it into the top corner in the way Jota used to.

The Rangers penalty followed a few minutes later. Starfelt dived in on Fashion Sakala. Pundit, and paid Celtic hater, Kris Boyd, said he wasn’t sure if it was a penalty. Sakala seemed to be standing on Starfelt’s trailing leg. He had pulled out of the tackle. James Tavenier dispatched the penalty like a player that gets practice taking them every match day.

The Celtic non-penalty. Call it soft. Call it what you like. 99% of pundits called it as a penalty including Kris Boyd. The VAR referee had a look. Match referee, decided not to have a look at Connor Goldson’s handball in the box.

Postecoglou made his usual changes to the team. Forrest coming off for Liel Abada was a no-brainer. As always, Maeda could be pleased with his work rate. He’d went past Tavenier a few times in the first half. One ball in particular was just crying to get stuck away, but with no takers as Celtic’s first-half dominance wasn’t converted into goals. Jota added guile.

Giakoumakis for O’Riley gave us a big front man. O’Riley is a class player, but he went missing for large chunks of this game. Not good enough.

Hatate for Mooy, was one good player, replacing another. Mooy’s two goals and man-of- the match performance against Hibs was not enough to get him a start. Mooy and Jota helped create the equaliser.    

Mooy found Giakoumakis inside the Rangers’ box. His flick coming off Scott Wright. Kyogo, who was largely anonymous, popped up to score the equaliser in 87 minutes. That sobered up the Ibrox horde. We remain nine points clear with eighteen games to play.

Pass marks for Carter-Vickers, Johnson, McGregor, Hatate and Maeda.

Found wanting, Hart, O’Reily and Kyogo (despite his goal, which kind of excuses him).

Shockers, Starfelt, Juranovic, Forrest.

A kick in the balls for Bernabei. Here’s hoping Kobyashi comes into the team and Startfelt drops out. Jenz not even on the bench. The beauty of a loan deal is it’s a try before you buy. I don’t think we’ll be buying him. Sead Haksabanvonic is a class player that missed out on the derby. He’ll come back into the team, sooner, rather than later.

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.

Celtic 2—1 Motherwell

Not a game to remember. But at least we won. Motherwell started with attacking intent, but then the game fell into a pattern we’re familiar with as they fell back to ten men behind the ball. We were bullied and lost in Paisley to corners and free-kicks. Another familiar pattern.

Jota missed a good chance early on, but Kyogo got an early goal in sixteen minutes to settle the nerves. But it was more like O’Riley’s.  McGregor had made a bursting run. He fed Jota wide. He whipped the ball in, and O’Riley outjumped the defender near the penalty spot. Keeper, Liam Kelly, made a save, but the ball may have been going in. Kyogo made sure. One up and coasting.

But the nerves were still there. McGregor was first to a cutback from Jota around the penalty spot. His shot was tame. A good chance missed. Twenty-five minutes in and we’re still waiting for that second.

Ricki Lamie was cautioned for hauling Kyogo back out at the touchline. We’re getting closer to half-time.

Reo Hatate ballooned a shot over the bar from the edge of the box, and later hit the inside of the post. He was getting closer. We were edging closer. Barry McGuire halved him in two. O’Riley and Josip Juranovic lined up to take it. The Croatian’s shot came off the bar with the keeper beaten.

Two minutes later, Juranovic scores an own-goal. A corner came in and out again, and he chested the ball back to Hart. But the keeper had come out of his goal and it trickled over the line.  

Deflated. The first half ended with Jota slating a ball over and around the six-yard box No takers. Juranovic tries his luck, but gets nowhere.

Motherwell started the second-half as they did the first, having more of the ball. Their main threats come from free-kicks and corners. Their first corner of the second-half flashes across goal. No takers.

Kevin van Veen misses a good chance. Joe Hart came out to claim a cross ball. Sondre Solhom Johansen backs into him and he falls to the ground. The referee plays on.

Twenty minutes in and Kyogo looks for a penalty after colliding with a defender and going down in the box. Not given and would have been soft. A later effort from a corner was clear handball and was of the stonewall variety. Not given.

Twenty-two minutes into the second half. Short corner (again), played to Reo Hatate at the edge of the box. He’s pummelled one against the inside of the post in the first-half. Here he picked his spot and fired home from twenty-five yards.  

Daizen Maieda was anonymous. He was taken off after half-time. Kyogo also had one of those games. He scored the first. Was unlucky with a header that went the wrong side of the post after Hatate’s superb strike in the first-half. But missed a sitter from three yards when we were 2—1 up.

Then two minutes later, a superb defence-splitting pass from substitute David Turnbull had him running in on goal. He looked to get past Kelly, but the keeper got his hand on the ball. Another sitter from Kyogo.

A nervy last 15 minutes to the game with five Celtic substitutes coming on.  Sead Haksabanovic replaces Kyogo and with almost the last kick of the ball, the Montenegrin had a pop at goal. Kelly flapped at the ball. Fellow substitute, Liel Abada missed from two yards.

Reo Hatate with the winning goal and a good shout for man of the match performance, but almost sold the game. His pass back was anticipated by Ross Tierney. He was running in on goal. Callum McGregor with a professional foul brought him down. Twenty-five yards from goal, free kick, and a red card. McGregor took one for the team. He misses the next league match against St Johnstone.  Josh Morris’s feeble attempt flies over the bar.

Celtic scored three goals, including one for the opposition. St Mirren’s game plan was nothing new. We see it every week in Scotland. Defeat was. The game should be finished, but the referee adds five-minute’s injury time. Oliver Abildgaard makes his Celtic debut along with Aaron Mooy as Postecoglou looks to shut the game down. We see it out. Next up, R.B. Leipzig on Wednesday. We need to be better.    

Celtic 2—0 St Mirren.

Giorgos Giakoumakis misses out again, which is disappointing after the lack-lustre goal display at Easter Road. A carousel in which Matt O’Riley returns and replaces Tom Rogic, or vice-versa. Both are class player. Celtic had a free-kick in the first minute, 30 yards out, which was wasted by O’Riley, with not even a shot on goal. St Mirren offering no threat other than a Scott Tanser cross which Joe Hart had to fall on, early in the first half. No surprise they camped in and played for a no-score draw. That’s a given for most teams in Scotland.

Charles Dunne, who was lucky not to escape an early booking, came closest to scoring an own-goal after 15 minutes, and was booked just before half-time. A Jota cross and Dunne’s mis-hit clearance hitting the bar. He almost sliced another ball into his goal.

Daizen Maeda had a few headers, none of which looked like scoring. But Liel Abada had the best chance of the first-half, Maeda missing a Jota cutback and the ball falling for the Israeli. He’d ghosted in and outside the six-yard box hit the ball first time, but hit the keeper.

Jack Alnwick saved from Jota and a  Josip Juranovic shot powered over his bar. It’s been all defence for the Buddies, but our attack finding it hard to create chances.

Our centre-half, Cameron Carter-Vicker won man on of the match for a performance where our central pairing got more of the ball than their teammates. Ten minutes into the second half he got the goal we needed. Abada taken out by Tanser, who limped off after getting booked. As a general rule, we don’t score from free kicks or corners, until we do. Ball whipped in, Carl Starfelt jostled with the defender and the ball broke to Carter-Vickers, his measured control and left-foot volley from six-yards broke St Mirren’s resistance.

Maeda almost made it two with an acrobatic volley from an O’Riley cross a few minutes later. Celtic brought on three substitutes. Forrest, Rogic and Nir Bitton. All added urgency to the Celtic team. Forrest flung in a ball for Maeda which was just too high at the back post. He also came close to getting us a penalty, getting to the bye-line and getting tackled but he didn’t go down. With Hattate and O’Riley off, Callum McGregor pushed higher up the pitch after picking up a booking.

Our captain put us on easy street with nine minutes remaining in the ninety. He drove a clearance through a ruck of defenders into the bottom corner. With a few minutes remaining he came off to a standing ovation to be replaced by Ideguchi. Job done. Dembele came on for a cameo after his horrendous pre-season injury. Jota went off. Nine game to go. Let’s hope and pray, nine-in-a-row.   

Aberdeen 2—3 Celtic

Daizen Maeda leads the front line in a first half in which Aberdeen didn’t have a shot on goal—didn’t even look like having a shot on goal. The Don’s fans jeered the home team off the park, but they were applauded off in the end.

Maeda had our first chance after twelve minutes. A ball into the back post. A free header from four yards, which he fluffed. Top scorer in the J-League looks ineffectual playing the channels. He was played in a few times and failed to convert or look convincing.

 Liel Abada continues to be our most potent threat, but didn’t get a chance to score here.

I have a bit of sympathy for Giakoumakis—he’s not played badly, but he has failed to score in his last three (and-a-bit) games. The Japanese forward is more lucky scoring twice so far. But we don’t really care. As long as the ball ends in the opposition goals. The Greek striker came on as a substitute and did well enough, again, without scoring. But there were mitigating factors.

Jota starts, and showed the goal form and threat he did, before his injury, which he did after seventeen minutes. He swept away an O’Riley cross that left the Portuguese winger unmarked in the six yard box at the back post.

O’Riley went from provider to scorer. Rogic scored two in his last game and also drops to the bench. Not only is the Australian the hammer of the Steelmen, but also of the Dons. But we’re kept him in reserve. O’Riley has been everything we hoped he would be, but unlike the other midfielders he hasn’t added goals to his game—until his shot was deflected off the heel of (ex-Hun) David Bates and into the net.

A pitch invaded got closer to the Celtic goal than the Don’s attack. But just as earlier in the season when a two goal lead didn’t seem enough, and a three goal lead is the sweet point, our defence showed the same old deficiencies. Get the ball into the box and Celtic concede. It’s not finger pointing. Statistics tell you one thing. Watching the match tells you the truth. Just bad defending and being bullied.  

Christian Ramirez in 61 minutes gave the Don’s a life-life. The usual stuff about one from the training pitch will be rolled out. Simply, he was unmarked between the penalty and six-yard box. The ball was rolled across to him from a free kick. He scored.

He had the ball in the net minutes later to equalise. But was ruled, rightly, offside.

Lewis Ferguson loves playing against Celtic, because he scores against us almost every time, seven times in total. He was at it again. Corner swung in, Ferguson gets his header away. Goal.

Celtic were in trouble. Jota got us out of it with his second goal, and Celtic’s third, a in the sixty-third minute. A minute after the Don’s equalised.  A ball over the top. Abada looked offside, but Jota didn’t hang about. He smashed the ball into the ground and it looped over keeper Woods. Our Portuguese winger won it for us.  

Our bench is strong. But no Josip Juranovic? Must be injured. The enigma that is Mikey Johnston once more comes into the mix. He’s still a boy, but with Doak also coming on and into the first team at sixteen this is no longer the old Bhoy’s network. Ship up or ship out. Simple. Most of us love that philosophy, not only of attacking football, but if you don’t want to be here—fuck off.

Bitton and Forest came on to see it out. Goal scorer, O’Riley replaced by Rogic in the last few minutes.

The longer Ange Postcoglou’s winning run continues the more our belief grows. The league is everything, because Champions League qualification is added and with it a bumper payday. Every game is a must win.  A virtuous circle. The kind the Celtic manager keeps talking about. We don’t want to think of the alternative. Celtic were coasting at Pittodrie. Then suddenly we bottled it and a moment of Jota magic won it.   

Celtic 1—0 Dundee United.

High winds in Dingwall. And memories of twenty-four years ago: Wim Jansen (1946-2022).  Just win. That’s all we asked of Celtic before the Old Firm game on Wednesday. The performance and lots of goals didn’t really matter. Just win. And for ninety minutes it looked just out of reach. Then Josip Juranovic down the right wing, Jota into the box and Liel Abada scores. Late goals count double.

 The spine or our team remains largely the same from the midweek (and let’s remember, well-deserved) victory against Hearts. Our talisman Jota drops to the bench, but comes on at half-time for Forest. Ralston and Scales come in as attacking full backs, but both were replaced in the second half. Taylor and Juranovic coming back into the team. Let’s face it, everyone in the current team is an attacking player, including Joe Hart who creeps forward beyond his box at every opportunity, but had little to do.

Early in the game, United broke from their defensive set-up with pace. I guess Rangers will try and do the same. And United had the first big chance on six minutes, with Sporle bending a shot past Joe Hart’s right-hand post. A minute later a big chance. O’Riley played a ball in behind the United defence. Giakoumakis, from eight-yards out, waited too long for the ball to come down, and a defender came in to take the ball away. Great chance, not taken. That was the story of his afternoon, before he was taken off. Abada played a ball into the front post towards the end of the first half, which Giakoumakis and a United defender got on the end of and it spun agonisingly past the post. He scuffed a shot from the edge of the box, well past the post. And in almost eighty minutes contrived to miss a sitter from six yards from a cut-back from Jota. Let’s hope his form picks up for Wednesday’s meeting. He was replaced by teenage winger Ben Doak, with Abada coming central.

 Liel Abada, who looked Celtic’s most likely player to score, was unlucky with an effort on thirty-one minutes. Ralston had let the ball get away from him on the edge of the United box. His two footed challenge took the ball and took out a defender. Ralston’s touch looks poor, and he seems to have regressed. But Abada slinked pass the defender and got his shot away. But Siegrist made himself big and the ball came off his hip and went out for yet another corner.

The best chance of the first-half came to the best player on the park in 40 minutes. A cut back from Forest to the penalty spot. O’Riley caught the ball, but bent it past the post. Celtic looked like scoring, but not from the fourteen or fifteen corners, or from free kicks. O’Riley, late on, for example, hitting the bottom of the defensive wall.  Our best chance from a dead-ball coming when Siegrist dropped the ball in front of Carter-Vickers from an in-swinging corner.

 At the start of the second-half O’Riley could count himself unlucky not to score from a ball swung in from deep in the half by Jota. Siegrist making a finger-tip save and pushing it past the post. It had the look of being one of those long afternoons when regret becomes anger.

Bitton, the Celtic captain, was booked in the first half. He stuck a foot out to bring down Tony Watt and break up a quick United attack with Joe Hart out of his goal. And he was sent off, with ten minutes of the ninety remaining, and misses the Rangers game. Taylor seemed to have been fouled on the edge of the Celtic box several times, but the referee played on. Bitton brought the United attacker down. The Israeli can count himself unlucky.

But it was the other Israeli that got on the end of the cross and shook the stadium when he calmly brought it down and stuck it away. He too got booked for taking his Celtic top off and celebrating with the fans. He capped a fine afternoon’s work. O’Riley was our most dangerous midfielder. But Abada was our most dangerous attacker. Jota coming on also made the difference. But sometimes, all you need is a rub of the green. We got it today.   

Celtic 2—0 Hibs.

No Kyogo, but a good night’s work. Before the winter break he was our go-to-man for goals. He almost single-handedly won us the League Cup final against Hibs. That was a game we dominated but lost a sloppy goal. Our defence is the weakest part of our team. Don’t quote me statistics. And although he got pass marks tonight, let’s not talk about Starfelt. We’re looking good going forward. Giorgos Giakoumakis missed his chance to impress with Kyogo injured. Now, although he came on and is likely to start against Alloa in the Scottish Cup, the Greek striker in on the bench and moved down the pecking order. Maeda starting ahead of him and scored the opening goal within four minutes.

Tom Rogic had a decent chance from kick off. But Celtic were lucky not to be a goal down in three minutes. Martin Boyle used his pace wide and swung a ball across the six-yard box. Joe Hart was nowhere. Nisbett at the back post missed a sitter. He swung a foot and hit the inside of the near post and the ball was scrambled clear.

Celtic’s opener came from their closing down play. You can see they’ve been working hard on the training pitch, with everybody knowing where they should be. Liel Abada won the ball high up the pitch. He gave the ball to Rogic, who picked out Daizen Maeda just outside the six-yard box and he finished.

Josip Juranovic scored the second on twenty-five minutes from the penalty spot. A cool finish. And there was no doubt it was a penalty. James Forrest shot was blocked. Abada went on the outside and attempted a chip pass. Josh Doig clearly handled.

Hatate brought the ball down on his chest and had a volley easily saved by Macey. Then, before half-time, Forrest was played in by Hatate and looked to make it 3—0, but the shot was deflected past the post. Hibs tried to play from the back and it suited Celtic, who dominated. But the tempo dropped in the second-half and Hibs came more into it, without looking threatening.

Starfelt had a few decent headers from corners. And he created a chance for Abada, in which the little Israeli hit the post with the ball and his body. Luckily, he wasn’t injured. Carter Vickers also had the ball in the net, getting onto a Starfelt header. But the Swede was penalised for a push.

Nir Bitton, who so impressed before the winter break, must be injured, he’s not on the bench. Hatate starts ahead of James McCarthy and won man of the match. The ex-Hamilton prodigy looks set for a long spell on the side-lines. With twenty minutes to go, Yosuke Ideguchi got his first-team debut spot. He came on with a raft of five substitutions from Hibs and Celtic. The game flickered to life again and quietly died.  

I don’t know anything much more than paper talk about the Japanese players. But we’ve seen Kyogo. And the impact he’s had. We seen James Forrest speaking Japanese to Reo Hatate in the dugout, which I must admit, surprised me, but such is the depth of preparation, it really shouldn’t. We’ve seen Jota, and it’s a blessing he’s on the bench tonight. The loudest cheer of the night, apart from the goals, was when the Portuguese winger came on. Ange Postecoglou came in with a list of players and they were bargain-basement signings. Even if every one of them was a dud it wouldn’t touch the money we’ve wasted in the last two years. And we know the opposite is on tonight’s performance is more likely to be players on the pitch and money in the bank. Six points behind Rangers. Narrowed to three tonight. And before the winter break we always seemed to be playing second, putting extra pressure on our team. The league is everything. Before the season started, many, myself included, thought it may be beyond Celtic. We know we’re going to play attacking football. We know teams are going to sit in, and we’re not going to act shocked and horrified when they do. We need to kick on and keep winning. Hibs, under Sean Maloney, gave it a go, but were outclassed. Simple.    

Dundee United 0—3 Celtic

A straight-forward victory. Celtic drew with Dundee United at Parkhead in their last meeting which seems so long ago, I’m pretty sure Ismaili Soro would have been playing in midfield. In a first-half which Celtic dominated from the start with seventy-five percent possession, United’s best chances, their only chance of the half, came from Celtic defenders getting caught on the ball. Keeper Joe Hart in the fifth minute, for example, played the ball across the box towards Cameron Carter-Vickers, who had returned to the team for the injured Stephen Welsh. The ball didn’t reach the Celtic defender, but he helped usher it out for a corner.

Kyogo missed a good chance from a corner in six minutes. He peeled off his marker (how often do we need to say that? We’ll just take it as a given) and headed over the bar from close range. Turnbull had a similar chance. Mikey Johnston, looked sharp on his return—five starts since 2020, but Jota with five goals in five games is an enormous miss—hit a free-kick from the edge of the box against the United wall.

 Kyogo also almost played in Tom Rogic with a nifty one-two, which came to nothing as the Australian hoisted the ball over the bar. But the Wizard of Oz, who not so long ago was being encouraged to exit Paradise, did it all himself in twenty-one minutes. A five-a-side goal. Rogic took the ball from wide, near the half-way line, and cut inside towards the penalty area. Nipping in and out of defenders as they retreated. He beat two in the box and picked his spot. All kinds of goals make goal of the season. But this was special, because it put up one up. No more than we deserved. Celtic are always liable to lose a goal. In the game at Parkhead between the teams, for example, we scored and then United scored. We seen it against Hearts. A game we should have been two, three or four ahead, but scrambled to keep our lead.

Celtic had six corners in the first twenty minutes. Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt coming close and giving us yet another corner.

David Turnbull also missed a good chance with a header after thirty-three minutes. The former Motherwell midfielder has been an automatic pick, with his energy and passing ability, but his trademark runs into the box and goals from outside the box dried up of late. He missed another good chance from close in letting the ball hit off him, rather than guiding it into the net. He described it as ‘a sitter’.

Forrest got his feet mixed up and missed another chance in the six-yard box. But Turnbull’s goal, just before half-time, which gave us breathing space, was of the more straightforward variety. A dink over the defence by Callum McGregor. Turnbull juggled the ball over the advancing Siegrist. With his second touch, he volleyed into the empty net, just to make sure that Charlie Mulgrew couldn’t clear. Game over, so we thought, and so it proved.

United had more of the ball in the second-half, with one shot on goal. The kind your granny would have saved, but Barkas would probably have let in, which shows some of the distance we’ve come since the season started. Forrest who’d been holding his calf, late in the first-half, was replaced by Abada. The Israeli forward missed two decent chances.

Ten minutes into the second-half, Calum Butcher came on for Louis Appere. The latter was coming back from a suspension over a red card. The United substitute Butcher by name should have had a red card for his first tackle on Turnbull, ten minutes later. He got yellow. He also lunged into Turnbull again on the edge of the United box. That should have been another yellow.

But Celtic should have already added to their lead. Nir Bitton had replaced Rogic. And with almost fifteen-minutes remaining, Greg Taylor was substituted for former Shamrock Rovers defender, Liam Scales. Taylor has been out for three months. Many, including me, wondered if the former Kilmarnock full back was good enough for Celtic. Adam Montgomery came in but didn’t look the part. Josip Juranovic’s debut at left-back was in an Old Firm game. He looked cool and composed as his penalty panache suggests. But again, I’m not sure about his defensive work. The Croatian was shuttled over to the right-back spot to replace an injured Anthony Ralston. I laughed when the press questioned Ange Postecoglou about Juranovic saying he wanted to play on the right. Ange was quick to slap that one down with the reminder he picks the team, not the Croatian.

He picks the team and Liam Scales made his debut in a league match. He didn’t score the winner, but he did score the third from a shot from the edge of the box in eighty-one minutes of a second-half Celtic had cruised. We’ve a dud European match on Thursday. Maybe I shouldn’t get on the wrong side of Ange, but it would be nice to see Liam Scales starting, but I’m not really fussed. Just keep winning and pray for Jota to come back soon.   

Celtic 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 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.