England 0—0 Scotland.

Scotland fans celebrated this 0—0 draw like Rangers’ fans invading George Square and mistaking it for the centre of Manchester, where they went on the rampage a few years ago. I got into the spirit by being late into the Albion, drowning my sorrows before I was sorry, and having to play catch-up by downing a pint in a oner (well kinda). It’s thirsty work hating the English. Before the game, we thought Steve Clarke had got the team selection wrong. No Rangers players, the Scottish Champions in a Scottish team. O’Donnell, who I admit has a suspiciously Irish Catholic tang to it, was playing (not that one), the diddy that plays for Motherwell, but played for Clarke at Kilmarnock.  My argument was O’Donnell was good at taking shys. It’s not much, but Steve Clarke’s cunning plan was to revert to type and turn Scotland into Kilmarnock. Go long and defend in numbers. It worked great.

Lyndon Dykes won every high ball. In the first few minutes, he and Che Adams was making the English backline nervous by being in their faces. We were on top. Inexplicably, we had the kind of defending that has marked Celtic’s season. At a corner John Stones was left a free header—it bounced off the post.

European Cup winner Mason Mount also slashed across goal after being played in by Raheem Sterling. The ball being given to the European Cup loser by Scott McTominay, who temporarily forgot he was a Scot. He flapped a bit after that mistake, but then upped his game to Kilmarnock levels.

That was about it for England. Harry Kane didn’t feature before getting subbed late on. Phil Foden, touted, and rightly so, as one of the most exciting talents in world football, was outshone by the likes Billy Gilmour (even though he’s an ex-Hun—I’m sure glad he’s at Chelsea and not Rangers).

Even the diddy O’Donnell had us lapping up his performance. He almost scored from a Kieran Tierney cross in the first half. The England keeper Pickford got a block, but the ball went up in the air and it looked as if Che Adams might header it in—but he didn’t.

England dominated the early period of the second-half, and this was the way many of us believed the game would pan out. But Scotland held firm and didn’t look to concede and slowly, like Manchester City in the European final, they began to run out of routes to goal. Dykes shot at goal had us all on our feet (that’s the kind of lie short-sighted people use who can’t see their feet) when he beat the England keeper. But somehow Chelsea defender James got a heel onto the ball and kept it from going over the line. Bastard.

Scotland didn’t exactly pile forward, but we grew more comfortable, and dangerous when getting forward. Adams had a chance to hit the stand or goal, and being an Englishman in a Scottish jersey, he opted for the former. (He did have a good game, although Dykes, with lesser ability was more effective.) No one is the Scottish shirt let us down. Our fans celebrated at the end. And we tried to work out how (a) to get home and what pub was still open (b) how we can just mix out on the qualifying rounds by losing a late goal, or getting a draw when we needed victory. The kind of glorious victory in defeat Scotland as excelled at over the years. It’s been a long time since we went down to Wembley and ripped up the turf and ate it, just to show how tough we were. C’mon Scotland—but don’t expect too much.    

Kilmarnock 1—1 Celtic

Celtic would have been expected to pick up three points here (and everywhere else in Scottish football). On paper they have better players in every position. On the plastic pitch they were paper-tigers. Kilmarnock deserved their draw. No Celtic player got pass marks, apart from the new Celtic goalkeeper, Barakas. The Greek international was beaten by a Chris Burke penalty, but he wasn’t culpable, barely having a shot to save. That falls to Julien. With Celtic a goal up from a long-range Christie free-kick, which the Kilmarnock rookie keeper Rogers should have saved, Celtic weren’t cruising, but they were in control. The best player on the pitch, Kabanaba was giving the Celtic centre-half and his partner, Ayer, a torrid time. He was also giving a Kilmarnock team based on getting everybody behind the ball, and defending deep, an outball. Kabamaba totally dominated Jullien, who had one of those games were he could do nothing right. A nothing ball in behind him. A stramash between Scott Brown and Kabamba who held him and Jullien off. He spun away the Celtic centre-back on the touchline. Jullien pulled him down. Stone-wall penalty. Stupidity of the first order. But Celtic still have some of the first-half and the whole of the second half to make amends.

Let’s cut to the usual shite about how many blocks the Kilmarnock defenders, in particular, made. Power, for example, making two million blocks and taking a booking for the team. Rogers the Kilmarnock keeper was slightly more worked than Barkas, but without having to do much more than punt the ball up the park and pick out poor crosses and scuffed shots.

When you bring on Bolingoli in the dying minutes then you know how terrible your team must have been. Elyounoussi looked dangerous pre-season. Another performance like this we’ll pay Southampton to keep him. Edouard, who often as not been our saviour, did nothing. Christie got a goal, but was posted missing for most of the match. Forrest had the kind of game were you’re asking if he was on the park. McGregor was slightly better than Brown and might even have got pass marks, but he didn’t pass the ball enough to achieve that. Frimpong, who has been so good of late, couldn’t conjure a trick. Taking him off for Elhmad didn’t hurt anybody, didn’t change anything. Ntcham on for Brown didn’t add anything either. Kimala on for Elyounoussi was a change that might have worked on another day. The Polish striker at least looked lively and might have got on the end of a fluffed cross. Ajer had a poor game and if he’s worth thirty million, grab the money. But then again, his defensive partner stole the show, we paid seven million for him, generally, money well spent. On this showing, today (and he’d previous as Livingstone against a physical centre-forward) he was inept, poor, merde or shite, take your pick.

Every point counts and this was two points flung away against a Kilmarnock team whom Lennon knew exactly how they would play. But, to be fair, the Celtic manager couldn’t have known his own players could play collectively and individually as badly. Shades of Ibrox here.  It’ll give him something to think about in the away fixture to St Mirren, who were brushed aside by Rangers. I can tell you exactly how St Mirren will play—the same as Kilmarnock—and if we play the same then ten in a row…I know, I know…I know…

Celtic 5—1 Kilmarnock.

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A surprize selection for Emilo Iziguirre, who whipped in the ball for James Forest to score after four minutes and even that early it looked like a victory. Forest, with another man of the match performance did what he’s been doing recently for Celtic and Scotland, helping out in defence, but more importantly, drifting in from the touchline and scoring as he showed again today, he’s that quick defenders are left standing. His second goal to make it 5-1 was at the end of a long move and stopped the Kilmarnock keeper from being sent off after Ryan Christie had went one on one with him and nipped the ball past, only to be taken down. Forest, from an acute angle did what he does, whipped the ball into the net. Forest also hit the base of the post.

The emergence of Christie has also been a revelation. He scored again today, after scoring in midweek and in the League Cup Final and the game before that and the game before that. Christie is in the kind of goal a game form that made Sinclair such a valuable player in his first season. And Sinclair here had a good performance, turning and going at players, linking up well with Izzy, and winger was unlucky, a number of times not to score, in particular with a first-half run that was scintillating, but his finishing not as good. Late on he hit the bar.

Rogic also was unlucky not to score. Twice the Kilmarnock keeper made great saves. In between that Jozo Simunovic was unlucky with a couple of close efforts and he was hauled down for what should have been a penalty.

Filip Benkovic, the other Baltic defender, strolled it here. He’s pushed himself to the first pick choice at Celtic. It’s a pity he’s not our player and we can’t afford him. The best centre half in Scottish football and comparisons have been made with Virgil van Dijk. His long-range passing in the first half was a joy. And much the same as van Dijk made anyone playing in the centre of defence’s job easier. But it was Benkovic’s rash tackle that led to the Kilmarnock penalty that wasn’t a penalty, as the offence was outside the box.

Lustig replaced Christian Gamboa in the starting eleven and scored a goal with his studs. And Odsonne Edouard scored a brilliant goal, with neat footwork inside the box and a brilliant finish.

Griffiths came on late for Edouard and it’s still not clear who will be Celtic’s number nine. What is clear is the mid-week experiment at Firhill and the late Motherwell goal was an experiment that didn’t work.

Gamboa just isn’t good enough. Scott Brown, once the heartbeat of Celtic, but no longer, the ball goes in a quicker rhythm with Calumn McGregor and the latter can also get forward and score goals. All the midfielders are now goal scorers.  The odd man out is Oliver Ntcham, who at one stage looked first pick of the midfield, but Rodgers did him no favours playing in Sinclair’s position on the wing, and in midfield, against Motherwell. Ntcham was dreadful and hooked at half time. And he looks to have regressed back to the position he was when he first came to Celtic, some of his passing also a bit off today, when he came on. Minus Kieren (and Boyatta for Jozo) this is the Celtic first team that will win another treble. Let’s hope it’s enough to get us that result on Thursday that will take us into the knockout stages of the Europa League. Here’s hoping.

 

Tommy Burns, BBC Alba 9pm, BBCiPlayer.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0000fk0/tommy-burns?suggid=m0000fk0

In the week of another lacklustre Celtic performance in Europe, and, ironically, when Celtic visit Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park on Sunday,  this is a wonderful tribute to the evergreen Tommy Burns who died ten years ago, at the age of 51, of skin cancer, who managed both teams. Why a boy from the Carlton was on Gaelic telly I don’t know, and don’t care, I loved it. Tommy loved his family, who appear here talking about how great their dad was –and I’m not arguing- he loved his fitba and Celtic and he loved his Roman Catholic faith. His life revolved around his beliefs. A true Celtic diehard, but not a bigot.

Former Ranger’s managers Walter Smith and Ally McCoist helped carry his coffin. All the football greats were in attendance of this humble man. Billy Stark his former teammate and assistant manager at Kilmarnock broke down in tears as he talked about Tommy, and how grateful he was to have played for and followed in the footsteps of the great Jock Stein and managed Celtic.

Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain and Davy Hay the Quality Street team of the Stein nine-in-a-row era all loved Tommy. Gordon Strachan stayed an extra year in the gold-fish bowl of Celtic because he knew Burns was dying. Paddy Bonner shared a room with the young Burns and a love of Celtic. George McCluskey talked about signing a contract with Kilmarnock because of Burns, a friend he trusted – to slag him off – but not rip him off.

But to imagine this is a programme about football would be a mistake. This is a programme about family and uncommon humanity. Burns wasn’t the cream of the Quality Street team, but in a new era where we have Kieran Tierney, a boy who is Celtic daft, playing for the Hoops, he would do well to follow in the footsteps of the late-great Tommy Burns, who oozed joy in living and may he rest in peace in Paradise. All Celtic players should be made to watch this programme. Then, maybe, some shysters, like Dembele, would understand, there’s no king of Glasgow, we are a republican team, but the passing on of a true Carlton heritage of Brother Wilfred and helping each other be the best we can be. Hail, Hail, Tommy Burns.