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.

Livingston 0—3 Celtic

Kyogo’s super strike inside ten minutes did little to change the home team’s game-plan (and that of the other teams in the Scottish League, including Rangers), which was to defend deep and hope to win something from corners, free-kicks and long throws into the box from Livingston full-back Devlin. Celtic with on average eighty-five percent possession limited Livingston’s chances to one Shinnie shot on goal, which was easily saved by Joe Hart.  

A year ago, Georgios Giakoumakis brought the world to a halt (or at least that’s what it felt like) when he missed an injury-time penalty that would have given us three points. We were chasing Rangers in the League. And even that early in the season it felt like league over.

The Greek striker also missed an 83rd minute penalty today, which was given after substitute Jota’s cross was given as hand ball after a VAR intervention. It wasn’t as clear cut as the non-penalty not given by VAR in Tynecastle last week.  But it was a chance for Giakoumakis to add to his goal-a-game status after he came on to replace Kyogo. He hit the outside of the post. But it was a game in which it didn’t affect the result or league position.

It’s difficult to imagine saying goal-a-game Greg Taylor, but in the 53rd minute he was at it again. His shot from outside a crowded box went through goalkeeper Hamiliton’s legs. The keeper should have done better. But it was equally difficult to imagine Taylor doing better. His performances this season have had me eating my words. He’s first pick on merit. And make the memory of Bolingoli seem like a distant nightmare.

Jota’s injury meant he’s missed the last five games. He returned to score an 83rd minute goal that better reflected Celtic’s superiority. Substitute David Turnbull, also back from injury, put it on the plate for him.  

Livingston have bullied us in the past (remember Lyndon Dykes against Julien, I wonder what happened to the Scottish international?) But without the ball the success of back-to-front football never looked like happening today. We remain four points clear of that other Glasgow team and will go into the transition with the World Cup looming at top of the league. I can’t see us getting eighty-five-percent possession when we play Real Madrid on Wednesday. They picked us apart at Parkhead under the lights.  I was at the game in 1980 when we beat them 2—0 at Parkhead. Johnny Doyle, the diminutive Celtic die-hard, scoring two goals, in a game in which we were totally outplayed, with Laurie Cunnigham, in particular, standing out. I’ll take a two nil win on Wednesday and a similar win against Dundee United next week before our Australian tour. Georgios Giakoumakis should also be taken off the list on penalty takers.

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.