Shaktar Donetsk 1—1 Celtic

Celtic could have been a goal up inside sixty seconds in a whirlwind start. We dominated much of the game. A ball from O’Riley for Kyogo to run onto. His shot was saved by the keeper’s legs. A minute later, Greg Taylor flashed a ball across goal with no takers.

 Celtic had most of the ball. We pinned Shaktar back in their own half, until they scored an equaliser Then they kept possession better. But in the second half, Celtic created all the chances, but couldn’t find a winner their play deserved.

Sead Haksabanovic was a surprise starter. He won an early free kick. The Montenegro international helped create the first goal for Celtic. A long pass by Juranovic picked Haksabanovic out. He moved into the edge of the box and held the ball until Hatate overlapped. Reo’s shot was scuffed off Bondarenko but found its way past the keeper, with Kyogo following in, but not taking a touch in case he was credited with offside.

Celtic kept pushing.  Anatoli Trubin, the Shaktar keeper, was lucky to get away with a pass back. Kyogo almost catching him and putting the ball into an empty net.

Moritz Jenz came closest to getting Celtic’s second. A ball into the box, flicked on and Jenz steadied himself before firing the ball against the legs of the keeper.

Two minutes later and Shaktar hit Celtic on the counter-attack. Thirty minutes in and their first chance they score. A ball played inside Juranovic. Mykhaylo Mudryk cuts into the box and fires in off the underside of the bar. Our midfield and defence ghosted.  

It could have been worse. Three minutes later Shaktar have a goal chopped off (both offside and the ball was out of play). Former Celtic signing Marian Shved wasn’t to know that. He found himself on the penalty spot, missed the ball, but with his second strike put it past Hart.

Celtic’s sticky spell continued onto the last fifteen minutes of the first half. In the second half, Maeda comes on to replace Haksabanovic. And the Japanese international had two chances to win the game, neither of which he took. But his work rate caused their defence problems.

Jenz made a stupid challenge and got booked. Matt O’Riley arrived in the box and connected with a Jota cross, but the keeper was untroubled.

Jota, after a quiet first-half was becoming more influential. He nearly scored a wonder goal. Robbing a defender outside the box, he bobbed and weaved in past defender after defender and when the goal opened up, scuffed his shot, and his deflected shot winning only a corner.

Turnbull and Mooy came on with twenty minutes remaining. Shaktar even at that stage looked to be content with a point. Giorgos Giakoumakis on for Kyogo, had the chance of the game. The Greek striker had already knocked a ball down for Maeda, who should have scored, but his chance was one he expected to score. Greg Taylor, who had a fantastic game, played him in. The ball fell perfectly. Giakoumakis set himself and bent the ball, but not enough it curved past the post.

In injury time, he almost got the winner. Challenging the keeper, the ball bounced off Giakoumakis’s shoulder and towards the line, but a defender cleared.  A point away is usually a good return, but here we deserved more.

Celtic 4—0 Rangers.

Conundrum? Andy Rat asked if Callum McGregor had scored with that defensive header from the edge of the box, one of Rangers’ best attempts on goal, if that had been an own-goal, would I have got my double up of 4—1 Celtic, and McGregor to score the last goal?

Pat phoned to ask Stevie if he got his line up? Stevie always puts 4—0 on against Rangers. A hangover from the Brendan Rodgers’s era (remember him?) Stevie did.

But for all the other losers out there, just answer these questions honestly (Yes, No, or Don’t Know) Gio can help.  

Do have difficulty falling asleep at night?

Check for any that might apply to you.

Nightmares? (Jon McLaughin, nutmegged and a pass straight to David Turnbull for the fourth).

Tossing/Turning? Where is Liel Abada? Oops. Jota too.

Frequent Wanking. The overweight £40 million El Bullio came on to save the game.

How often do you feel tired and run down.

All of the time? (Steve Davis)

Occasionally, when I can be bothered? (£30 million, Ryan Kent)

Rarely? Glen Kamara. Taken off at half-time, because they couldn’t take Ryan Kent off.

In the last six months have you gained or lost of a lot of weight (not due to dieting)?

Yes?  El Buffalo.

No? Gio. Everything is fine. Absolutely fine. We’ve made the Champions League, after all. We’re five points behind, but Celtic were in a similar stage last season when they had outstanding players like a Crystal Palace substitute, a slow-pony who went to small-time Brentford to raise his game to substitute level and Ryan Christie who went to live on the coast. They never stopped.

Has your sex drive become seriously diminished?

Yes?  I live in Australia now. Women think I’m a strange-looking guy, but I used to be a Celtic regular before AP (Ange Postecoglou). I was framed for sexting. Really, it wasn’t my fault.

No? El Buffalo because nobody in Australia offered £40 million for my stud services.

It fluctuates? Like Boris Barsic tracking Liel Abada’s run, it all ends in tears.

Has a parent of sibling been diagnosed with a serious depressive disorder?

Yes? My father (Kris Boyd senior) was given to parental rages, but sometimes it went the other way when we lost.

No? Gio senior, everything was just fine. The cup is half fool. The treble is still on.

Do you feel that your life is not worth living?

Yes? Two thousand Rangers fans penned in at Paradise at 10am and we were made to wait until Gio and our heroes had left the ground.

No? But Gio did wave at us before he left Paradise. He showed solidarity, which is important. Those fans that burned their strips were trying out new heat-saving alternatives to turning the fire on at home. But we would never burn a Union Jack no matter how many kilowatts it generated.

How would you rate your daily rates of stress or anxiety?

High? I make tackles like that every day? Kyogo was faking it.

Medium? I brought down substitute Maeda because he was too fast and too good for me, not because I was angry about being 4—0 down and getting absolutely horsed again.

Low? If Joe Hart presents me with a ball inside the Celtic box, I’m a Scottish international, but substitute for one of the lesser teams in Glasgow, but I know I’ve got to keep it low, but I put it over the bar because I knew a foul would have been giving against me, and for a change it wasn’t for kicking anybody.

Do you experience any delusions or hallucinations?

No? Gio.

No? You sure?

No?

Does your mood take a turn for the worse as winter approaches?

Yes? We’re usually top of the league, but now we’re five points behind. Their run will last till Christmas.

No? We were written off in nine out of ten seasons. As winter approached Neil Lennon brought in Barkas. It can happen again. Just look at that Greek international keeper, McLaughlin.

Are you in a relationship?

Yes? Rangers until I die, or get my contract terminated with a massive pay-out of other people’s money.  

No? I’m on a rolling contract, yet another Scottish internationalist, and I signed from Hearts for days like this.

Do you ‘put on a happy face’ to hide feelings of sadness?

Yes? Kris Boyd. I’ve got to be honest, Celtic were the better team and fully deserved their victory, but if Alan McGregor was in goals, he’d have saved those three shots on goal, wouldn’t have passed to Turnbull, and we’d have got a penalty, which was long overdue. No, Abada fell over in the box, that wasn’t a real penalty. I’m happy to say I’m unhappy about the performance and everything to do with Celtic, but I would say they were lucky to have caught Rangers on an off day. On another day, I’m far more happy, and happy to admit, we the people can do better.

No? Gio. Everything’s fine. Honest. Fine.

Do you have trouble concentrating or remembering things?

Yes? Boris Barisic. Where is Liel Abada?

No? Oh, no, that’s the fourth. I forgot what the score was and I’m the captain. 4—0.  I didn’t even get to take a penalty. I did get a total doing by that wee Portuguese fella, George Michael, who had me by the balls.

Total your score. And decide whether and when you will have a trophy-less season, again? You might need to make another marque signing that can take a penalty.

Kilmarnock 0—5 Celtic

Celtic go with the same team that started against Ross County. Reo Hatate is still been given time to recover from his injury. And Startfelt wasn’t risked on a plastic pitch.

The Kilmarnock game plan wasn’t to lose a goal. They did after seven minutes. A wonderful pass by Greg Taylor in behind the defence. Maeda squared the ball. Kyogo with his first touch of the game, he scored the first goal of the game in off the post and finished up in the net with the ball. A five-a-side goal, played on a five-a-side pitch.

Turnbull had four shots on goal. Three of which sailed over and one which came off a defender. He was replaced (or rotated) in the second half and Mooy came on to stroll the last twenty minutes. But ironically it was Taylor who had one of the best chances of the first-half, waltzing through the defence but trying to cut the ball back to Kyogo with a shot on goal being the better option.

Jota scored a wonder goal against Aberdeen. He scored another today. 25-yards out, he hit it first time into the top corner. 35 minutes in and the game and the Kilmarnock game plan is ripped up.

 Jenz, I think, it simply better than Starfelt so the team is stronger. He was up against Kyle Lafferty, who plays with his elbows and was finally booked for it in the second-half. Jenz managed to chip in with his second goal in his second game at the end of the half to make it 3—0 and effectively game over. He got away from Lafferty and on the half turn, swivelled and put it into the corner. That goal, and his performances so far, puts him ahead on Starfelt with goals scored for the club, but more importantly in the pecking order.

Starfelt came on, early in the second-half for Jenz, and scored his first league goal for Celtic in the 76th minute to make it four-nil. O’Reily’s corner. Carter-Vicker’s header. Walker palmed the ball out to Starfelt who took two tries before bundling the ball into the net from inside the six-yard box.

A misplace pass by Taylor led to one of Kilmarnock’s only shots on goal in the first-half. Lafferty tried to chip Joe Hart. It will happen at some point this season, but the Northern Irish international hit him with the ball.

  Giakoumakis came on—with Kilmarnock having a ten-minute period when they got up the park—and showed that whatever Jenz can do he can do better (he’s been doing it longer) scoring with an overhead worldy in the 82nd minute.

 Abada, who scored a wonderful goal last week, also came on and had a few shots at goal. Forrest, on the other wing, kept it simple. With Champions League qualifiers no longer with us, we have a full squad ready to go. Postecoglou emphasis is on when a player gets his chance he must seize it—and with two or three games on the horizon that will happen sooner rather than later.

In Ange we trust.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celtic 6—0 Motherwell

Celtic win the double. Kyogo Furuhashi scores a first-half double as does our Greek striker, Giorgos Giakoumakis, but in the second-half. David Turnbull and Jota add to a six-goal rout. But all eyes were on Tom Rogic and Nir Bitton. They’ve decided to move on. But there was none of the baggage that left us with a squad full of outcasts who didn’t want to play for the club at the beginning of the season. We wish them well, but the Wizard of Oz, in particular, will be a big miss. But we’ve got Matt O’Riley to step in. We’ve got depth and strength we didn’t have at the start of the season—and we’ve got a £40 million Champions League windfall. We’ll be playing with the big boys next season—thanks to Ange—and I absolutely love it.

A long summer of recuperation and recruitment. No more qualifying rounds. Just straight into defending our tenth title in eleven years and straight into the Champions League. Bigger and better. We’re going to take some batterings, but we’ll get better. Let’s make it two-in-a-row under Ange and back up to the ten. Let’s build a dynasty. We all know that managers have a shelf life that’s shortening year on year. Look at Brendan Rodgers. He wanted out. And if he’d done the honourable thing—like Rogic and Bitton—and waited until the end of the season most of us (well me) wouldn’t have begrudged him his move. History now.

It was good to see the Scottish young player of the year, David Turnbull, back in the team and scoring. He’s got a habit of scoring against his old club and did so again, in between Kyogo’s double. Tom Rogic almost had the goal we all wanted him to score, but hit the post.

Kyogo’s double were wonderfully inventive. The first swivelling and somehow getting a shot away through a ruck of players and in off the post, in the twenty-first minute. His second, just before half-time was wonderful. He took a chipped pass from Tony Ralston, which came over the top of the Motherwell defence, and hit it first time into the net.

Giakoumakis came on a substitute, he helps create a debate whether Kyogo is better, whether he should be starting by continually scoring goals. One of them was his trademark overhead kick.

But Jota had already put us four up on fifty-nine minutes. He’s been a bit cagey about whether he’s staying or going. But the on-loan Portuguese player has scored and created opportunities all season. His last-minute goal at Pittodrie got us all three points and helped create a run of games in which we didn’t lose. I’d like to see him stay. But it’s really up to him. We just keep going as the post-match printed T-shirts said (smell the glove, remember that one?)

Celtic romped it against Motherwell, playing incisive one-touch football. Callum McGregor picked up the trophy. And I think this is his best season in a Celtic jersey. He helped carry the team. At the start of the season we were in a vicious cycle. Celtic are in a virtuous circle now, when everything that can go right does and the money flows in. In November of last year I was talking about a dog’s chance in the league. Comparisons have been made with Wim Jensen’s minor miracle and double-winning team. Ange’s team might just have topped that. He’s brought in players and they’ve made a difference. A real team effort.

And no, we don’t wish our Glasgow rivals all the best in their cup finals. We might have been turning Japanese this year, but we’re turning Germanese midweek and Edinburghese on Saturday. Small minded and bigoted. All the words you’d associate with your typical Orange Order. Just holding up a mirror.        

Dundee United 1—1 Celtic.

The league won. Tidying up time and with two games to give some lads a runabout. James Forrest, for example, and Liel Abada. Kyogo on the bench, gets a few minutes of injury time. Giakoumakis comes in. The Greek strike got his goal at the end of the Hearts game to keep his strike rate up—to a very impressive level—and scored again to officially win the title. Great leap from Giakoumakis top power home the header, but the donkeywork was done by Tony Ralston hanging the ball in the air from out in the touchline.

Tony Ralston is a bit like Anton Rogan used to be. He gives his all, but I’m thinking we need better. He was wasteful with the ball in the first half in which Dundee United had one shot on goal. Archie Meekison with fast feet finding space just outside the box and getting a shot away. But Ralston set up a goal and with a tackle saved an almost second Dundee United winner.

We had three-quarters of possession, but didn’t look that deadly. Hatate, for example, skying two half-decent chances.  It was looking like one of those pre-season knockabouts in the first-half.

David Turnbull drops out of the team and Hatate comes back in.  The ever impressive O’Riley keeps his place and Rogic out of the team. We know they’ll all come on for a runabout. After sixty minutes, and the opening goal, Ange brings new legs on. It’s worked fine in the past. Jota come on for James Forrest.

The game opened up after Celtic scored and we looked for a second goal to clinch it. But we almost conceded immediately. Rory MacLeod hit the post. Nicky Clark bundles the ball into the net only for the linesman to flag offside. A close call.

Forrest was tidy, but never a threat. Jota with his first touch, a nutmeg and waltz into the box, with a snapshot forced Benji Siegrist into a save at his near post. Potential candidate for goal of the season if it had went in.

Abada got injured and was taken off to be replaced by Daizen Maeda. Another injection of pace. But it’s substitute Charlie Mulgrew that helps set up the United equaliser. His first touch was a free kick, which he hit into Joe Hart’s arms. But later he simply lays the ball off, a simple pass. Dylan Levitt (on loan from Manchester United) takes the shot on from over 25-yards. He beats Joe Hart with a bit of a wonder goal and with ten minutes to go it’s a nervous finish.

A Tony Watt header has Joe Hart flapping. Jota makes space inside the United box but hits the side-netting. Maeda creates space for himself inside the box, but his finish is well over the bar. Celtic get a corner in the last minute of extra time. But we play the ball back the way, go back the way, in a season where we have been going forward.

Building the team, player by player. A Double in his first season, a minor miracle I prayed for, but just couldn’t see happening.  Ange could:

‘It’s been a hell of a season. Our starting point was a fair way back and the way this group of players and staff has risen to the challenge – I couldn’t be more proud.

It’s fairly overwhelming. It’s taken every ounce of me to get us where we are and when you get to the finish line, you just want to collapse.

We’ve been focused all season, not getting distracted by anything. The players were really good at dealing with what was in front of them – and that’s not easy to do.’

Celtic 1—1 Rangers.

Rangers bullied us at Hampden, and our dreams of the treble ended. Probably our best wins this season have been against our rivals. The emphatic win at Parkhead earlier in the season, and after going a goal behind, the satisfaction of picking them apart and quieting Ibrox. We didn’t play well, but still managed a draw that keeps up in line for the double and the glory of the Champions League. I missed it, even when we were getting hammered. It also puts £40 million between the two Glasgow teams. 29 league matches unbeaten, but it was close here.

Fashion Sakala having equalised, ironically, on 67 minutes, and he was through on goal with only Joe Hart to beat in the last few minutes—he hit the post.

At home we usually dominate possession. Here it was around fifty-fifty. Rangers did what they did at Hampden, pushed up, scrapped for loose balls and sometimes went long. Near the end of the game, they had four corners in succession. Rangers player was first to every ball. Joe Hart having to look smartish to save from Scott Arfield, Sakala (not the biggest) heading a ball against the bar and also heading over the bar. Not good enough, but we got away with it.

Jota’s goal in the twenty-first minute was almost identical to Ryan Kent’s miss in the opening five minutes.  Daizen Maeda whipped in a cross and Jota got in front of Borna Barisic and steered the ball in with his thigh. Kent’s effort went past the post.

Maeda had a chance to put us 2—0 up before half-time. In front of goal his header brought about an instinctive save from McGregor. Our Japanese trio weren’t at their best. Celtic weren’t at their best. Early in the season headlines were about Postecoglou needing to work a miracle to deny Rangers another title. The miracle is here. We just need to wait a bit longer. And invest in players with the money we have coming in.  

Manager of the Month, Ange Postecoglou.

Ange Postecoglou wins Manager of the Month award again. If he picks up the same award at the end of April then it’s kerching and £40 million Champions League money guaranteed. The question arises, would you take a draw at Ibrox? Obviously, after say 89 minutes and two goals down and I’d say, aye Ange, go for it, take the draw. But life and fitba doesn’t work out like that.

Last time we were in Govan, Edouard started up front. As we know, he’d scored some great goals against Rangers, but missed some complete sitters. He’s another of those matches. Great to see him, Christie and Ajer leave Paradise. We’d developed a habit of outplaying Rangers and losing—usually to a headed goal from a free kick or corner. Lots have changed, we’ve 5000 defensive coaches, but that remains our major vulnerability, home or away.

Our defence picks itself. Hart, Taylor, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt and Juranovic.  

We’re reminded nine out of ten Glasgow derbies are decided by who scores first. Defend corners and defend free kicks and I think we’ll win. But I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that.

We’ll start on the front foot, Ange’s Plan A is also Plan B. Rangers, despite their European success, don’t defend well. A major boost is that Kyogo is fit. He’ll be on the bench, I’m guessing. Georgios Giakoumakis should start after hitting two hat-tricks in two league games. He’s a poacher in the box.

But it wouldn’t surprise me too much if Ange favours Daizen Maeda. I’m still not convinced with him, but he does the doggies, closing down the opposition and getting in behind, in a Kyogo-lite way. And the Japanese forward scores regularly.

Postecoglou tends to play him, but not always through the middle. He’s featured mostly on the left wing. Jota switching to the right. Abada would therefore drop to the bench. He’s not started the last two games. So my best guess is that’s where he’ll start, but come on for the last thirty minutes.

The midfield carousel is harder to pick. McGregor, our captain, playing in front of the defence. Rogic has been pronounced fit. My guess is he’ll start. Certainly, win, lose or draw, if he doesn’t start, he’ll replace O’Riley.

Reo Hatate had the kind of introduction to the Glasgow derby that harked back to the little known Slovenian, Ľubomír “Lubo” Moravčík. The Japanese midfielder’s form has shaded but he’s a definite maybe (as in the Oasis hit). He works best with Maeda. My guess is Taylor, Hatate, Maeda down the left.

Juranovic, Rogic and the Portuguese wonder boy, Jota on the right. We might see the return of David Turnbull at some point, probably late in the game.

Georgios Giakoumakis to start and score first. Win, win, win.   

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.   

Celtic 4—0 Raith Rovers

The Jota effect carried on from the midweek victory at Pittodrie. Two minutes were added on the end of the first-half here at Parkhead. The referee shouldn’t have bothered. Liam Scales added to his earlier strike in the season against Dundee United, with a well struck shot from the edge of the box in off the post in the twenty-third minute. Tom Rogic picked him out and the Irishmen bent it in off the post. Celtic’s usual first half blitz started as we’d expect, but fizzled out, not at half time, but half time of half time.

Mikey Johnston, in two minutes, got in behind the defence and looked to whip in a cross or shot, and did neither. Later he had a shot on goal. He’s third or fourth choice now with the arrival of sixteen-year-old Doak, and in the second-half pulled up with yet another injury.

Scales is behind Taylor, but there’s not a lot in it. Taylor has more pace, and perhaps a better positional sense, but he doesn’t score goals.

Christopher Jullien, out injured since December 2020,  looked on as Welsh came into the team for the whipping boy, Starfelt (who is a diddy). The Frenchmen doesn’t seem to be in Postecoglou’s immediate plans, but did come on for Carter-Vickers with twenty minutes remaining, and the game already out of sight for the Fife team. And he’s already been told, like Johnson, when he gets his chance he’ll need to take it as Tony Ralston has done. But we expect to see Josip back from Thursday night’s tie.

Raith’s best chance in the first half came from penalty shout. Twenty-eight minutes in and Bitton lost the ball at the edge of the box. It was whipped into the box and headed down by a Raith attacker. Cameron Carter-Vickers moved his arm towards the ball. Stone-wall penalty if VAR had been available.

Celtic had a penalty of their own in eighty-eight minutes. Captain Bitton opting to hit it, and making a hash of it as referee Steven McLean did. The referee had minutes before booked Raith substitute Mackie for wiping out Celtic substitute and goal scorer Maeda. Jota’s shot had been blocked by Mackie, but the referee didn’t book him, in a case of mistaken identity, which would have been a sending off. But Bitton’s penalty was saved by the keeper. But the Israeli was first to the ball and hit it into the ground, but it bounced up over the flailing arms of Jamie McDonald.  

  Girogis Glakoumakis showed good strength in the middle of the park, and got Celtic’s second goal with his last kick of the ball, before he was taken off for Maeda. He’d hit the bar from a Mickey Johnston ball in the first half, but when Jota whipped a ball across the box, after an equally wonderful pass from Hatte. The Greek striker was all alone and it was he couldn’t miss- and tapped it in.

The, as yet, unconvincing Japanese striker work rate is almost Kyogo-lite and—let us face it—he’s scored more goals than the Greek striker in head to head.

Daizen Maede scored our third goal from a double header of a double header, which paradoxically was his first touch of the ball. Flicking on a Stephen Welsh’s header. The Raith keeper parrying his initial shot, only for it to hit him in the head and go over for yet another goal.

With Johnson off injured early in the second half, Jota came on. The effect was instantaneous. Postecoglou made a triple change minutes later, with the ineffectual James Forrest coming off. But none of the five Celtic substitutes’ combined efforts were near as effective as the Portuguese wingers. If, for example, Johnson was on loan, we’d be putting him back in the box, with a ‘no thanks’ note at any price. Battles are being fought all over the squad for a first team jersey. I just hope Jota stays fit until the end of the season. He’s a must have in our first team shirt.