Celtic’s midwinter break

Josip Juranovic is the last man standing in the World Cup. Paper talk tells us he won’t be at Paradise and will be sold in the January window. I’m not particularly worried. He’s a good enough player, but not irreplaceable, he’s not a Henrik Larsson. We know about Tony Ralston.  Alistair Johnston from CF Montreal has come in as cover. He’s been called the spit of Danny McGrain. I wish. Danny was the best. He was like Ginger Rodgers, he could do everything Fred Astaire could do (Sandy Jardine) but do it backwards and both sides of the park.

 We’re well served all over the park having a two-for-one deal on every position. And I understand Juranovic is under contract until 2026. The club hold the aces here.

Giorgos Giakoumakis is under a similar contract. The Greek striker has scored a goal-a-game. We know what he can do. Lots of the time I’d have played him in front of Kyogo. Postecoglou favours the Japanese striker. His judgement has been great. Postecoglou’s witticism that ‘he was more interested in what was for dinner’ that night than the appointment of a manager of the other Glasgow club was laidback and honest, with a bit of dig.

 I’m sure they’ll win more games. There may be a bit of a bounce, but hopefully not. I don’t want them to win anything soon or later. Differences between the two managers isn’t just in terms of experience. Postecoglou came to the club with a to-do list and a fair idea of the players he wanted to help him and Celtic recover from the debacle we put ourselves in.  The market we’ve been shopping in has been bargain basement. As Japan showed in the World Cup, we’ve brought in some real gems that don’t need much polishing.

Kyogo didn’t make it into the squad. Daizen Maeda did. He scored against Croatia and had a goal disallowed earlier in the competition. His main attribute seemed to be (as we have seen) closing down defenders. I don’t think he’s that great. But he’s a useful player to have on the bench and bring on.

Reo Hatate has been, for me, the best player in Scottish football. He faded towards the end of last season. But started this season with a bang. I certainly don’t want to sell, but he’s worth whatever they pay for a top-class midfielder in the top-tier of English football.

Matt O’Riley was a steal. Like Hatate he oozes class. I prefer him further forward. Aaron Mooy had a decent World Cup. I’m glad for him. But these guys are better.

Calum McGregor will be back. The ball moves quicker with him in the team. Cameron Carter-Vickers got a game in the World Cup. The American coach said he selected Carter- Vickers because Iran used ‘a low block’. What he meant by that was they played with ten men behind the ball for most of the match. Carter-Vickers playing for Celtic did that week in, week out. He has an old head for that kind of game.

Carter-Vickers had a good defensive record with Carl Starfelt. I’m not a fan of the Swedish international. I think he’s average at best. Moritz Jenz is not much better. I wouldn’t be too worried if we didn’t pick up on him after the loan deal is done. In contrast, Carter-Vickers and Jota were great business. They agreed to stay and, the good thing about a loan deal—try  before you buy—they added stability and class. But then again, I was a critic of Greg Taylor and he’s been outstanding this season and most of last. I guess this is a hangover of remembering what Kieran Tierney brought to the party. Taylor has seen a slew of others, including Boli Bolingoli (money wasted) and is holding off Alexandro Bernabei. The young Argentinian looks very decent on attack. But like Taylor, he’s tiny, but unlike Taylor, he’s not proven himself defensively.

I don’t think Stephen Welsh is good enough for Celtic, but a good backup.

Yuki Kobayashi has agreed to join Celtic from Vissel Kobe on a five-year contract and it seems he plays on the left side of defence. That would give us balance as Carter-Vickers favours the right. If Kobayashi is half as good as Hatate we’ve got another steal on our hands. He’s played for Japan at under-20 level. I’m sure he’ll be cultured on the ball, but it’s heading the ball he’ll need to be good at. Lumping the ball forward, we lose most of our goals domestically from corner and free-kicks. He’ll need to get used to the nitty gritty, but I’m sure he’ll get his chance, but it’s up to him to take it. I’m hopeful. Japan being so successful during the World Cup has made Postecoglou seem more and more like a genius for his bargain buys.

The exception has been Yosuke Ideguchi. He’s been very unlucky with injuries. He’s been very unlucky Celtic have so many brilliant midfielders. David Turnbull, for example, was first pick week in and week out when Postecoglou inherited a squad that proved itself not fit for purpose. Turnbull was Scotland’s Young Player of the Year. He looked to make that next step. He got injured. He no longer is a first-pick, but that may change, and the only way it will change is if he adds more goals to his game. He looks capable of that, but until he does, he’s behind McGregor, Hatate and O’Riley, but in front of Oliver Abigaard.   

Oliver Abigaard is a more defensive midfielder, he’s big and great in the air. I think he’s on loan, I don’t think he’ll become a permanent fixture. He isn’t in the Celtic team, but probably just in front of Ideguchi and James McCarthy when the manager looks at his bench.

Sead Haksabonovic can play on the left or the right, or drop off into the number ten role. He’s a standout in any position. What a brilliant buy. Now he’s scoring a goal a game.

Jota on the left, Liel Abada on the right. The young Israeli has been a great buy. But he’s not guaranteed a game. Haksabonovic has played there. Jota has too. Maeda has floated from one wing to the other and played through the middle. James Forrest has found himself fit and ready to go, but is least likely than any of the above to start a game, but sometimes he comes on and scores. For Neil Lennon, James Forrest was irreplaceable. The Celtic team has moved on. He’s been replaced.

There’s talk of replacing Georgios Giakoumakis with South Korea international Cho Gue-sun. I don’t know anything about him. Speculation that Al-Ahly playmaker Magdy will also be joining us has made the back pages. I’m not concerned if he does or doesn’t. We seem to be on track. Peter Lawwell’s return as Chief Executive after the ten-in-a-row debacle has been criticised. Dermot Desmond likes him. It’s our football club, but he owns it. He does what he wants. He appoints who he pleases. Celtic is not a democracy. It’s his ball, and if we don’t like it, we can lump it.

Celtic 2—1 Ross County.

Defence against attack. Fifty goals scored. Nine points clear.

Kyogo missed the two best chances of the first-half. After a quarter hour, he got on the end of a cross and the ball floated harmlessly over the bar. Carter-Vickers had taken a pot-shot form twenty-odd yards. The keeper, Laidlaw spilled the ball and Kyogo was unable to get on the rebound. Then almost on the half-hour mark, Kyogo was played clean through by Matt O’Riley. The Japanese forward put his shot past the post.  

We looked at the team selection and then we look across the city to see if the worst team in Champions League history are due another penalty in Paisley. I was on the terracing, all those years ago, when Mo Johnston was in the team and there was a miracle as Love Street. The other Glasgow team will need to do something similar. There’s still that element of doubt.

Carter-Vickers captains the team before heading off the World Cup. Jenz comes in but goes off before half-time with a head knock. Carl Starfelt coming on. I’ve not being a fan of the Swede, but neither was I a fan of Taylor, who has been exceptional. Alexandro Bernabei started and played 85 minutes.  The young Argentinean looks a good prospect. He got a bit of a chasing at Hearts and he was hooked at half-time at home last week against Dundee United. But that was good management. He’d been booked. He lost out as you’d expect to long balls played out to Jordan White. But, one run, in particular from our half in to the last third of the field, took out most of the Ross County midfield. There’s nothing wrong with his attacking play.  

Hatate and O’Riley provide their usual elegant pairing. Further forward, Sead Hakšabanović got booked just before half time in a first half Ross County tried to frustrate. David Munro, the referee helped with some strange decisions. Laidlaw, for example, picking the ball up after dropping it as his feet. And O’Riley, as he did later in the game, making a good tackle in the box, and taking the ball off a Ross County player, but is penalised. But the VAR decision, wasn’t even the referees. I’m not sure Matt O’Riley was in the box. But three Celtic players seem to have got the job done of ushering the ball out and into attack.  Callum Johnson’s challenge meant the ball bobbled up and stuck his arm.

Penalty and job done for David Cancola and Ross County. They’re a goal ahead after 50 minutes in a game they never threatened to score.

Celtic poured forward looking for an equaliser. David Turnbull’s shot from outside the box the pick of the bunch.

Ten minutes after County’s VAR penalty, Celtic had a shout for one which was ignored. Ralston taking a dunt in the back inside the box and going down. It would have been soft. But it wasn’t given.

It didn’t affect the final score. Reo Hatate created the two goals. His turn inside the box was superb and just as he looked as if he was going to shoot he drifted toward the six-yard box and cut it back. David Turnbull took a touch and nutmegged the keeper. There was still thirty minutes of the match left to get a winner.

Eight minutes later,  Sead Haksabanovic got us it with a classy finish. Hatate played him in with a cushioned pass in a one-two movement. The Montenegrin had lots of defenders in front of him, but he bent the ball, almost in slow-motion inside the post.

This was his last action as Postecoglou replaced our front three. Giorgos Giakoumakis had a couple of chances when he came on and can think himself unlucky not to score. Jota and Abada also had decent efforts on goal.  Ross County didn’t create anything in the last twenty. They didn’t create anything in the other seventy, but they were given a goal. It didn’t prove to be enough. Celtic are in a good place. Champions and Champion elect.

Motherwell 1—2 Celtic

Kyogo in fifteen minutes gave Celtic a half-time lead. Matt O’Riley created the tap in. He lost the ball at the edge of the box and then took it off O’Donnell’s foot inside the box with a sliding challenge. His cross gave Kyogo his eleventh goal of the season and there won’t be any easier.

His fellow Japanese striker made it two-nil on the 84th minute and that looked as if the game was safe. Maeda ran on to a lovely thorough ball from fellow substitute Turnbull to beat the keeper.

But it was a nervy ending. Ross Tierney got in front of Juranovic from a free kick. VAR deduced he was onside when he fired past Hart.

But I’d like to have seen the lines come out for Jota’s ‘goal’ earlier in the first half which VAR claimed was offside.  

Celtic are seven points clear. Alleluia. That gives a little wiggle room. But this time last year we were the underdogs. We needed to win all our games and we did. The worst team in Champion League history need to do that too. But we just need to keep doing what we’re doing, improving. We know we need to score more from the chances we create. We need to defend better. I’m not a fan of Carl Starfelt, who started tonight. Jenz seems no better. And listen, Carter-Vickers has pace, but he’s not great in the air. Van Veen has troubled him in past games. He got in early and rounded Joe Hart but hit the post. His fellow striker, substitute Moult headed just over the bar when the score was 1-0. We’ve been gifting lots of goals recently.   

I hear there’s a young player coming from Japan in the next transfer window. That pleases me. Apart from Gucchi, who does look decent, the others have made an impact. Reo Hatate, in particular, is an absolute bumper. When we play friendlies in Sydney, next week, Frank Lampard, with the cash they have must be looking, but I don’t want him to leave, any more than I want O’Riley to go. I just want them to stay and get better and better. Money in the bank is nice. Great footballers on the park is what we’re all about. Giakoumakis and Haksabanovic came off the bench for the last twenty minutes. The Greek striker, normally so deadly missed a very decent chance with fifteen minutes of the match to go, taking far too long to shoot from a Jota pass.  Turnbull has a good scoring record against his former team. He set up the all-important second goal.  These are great players. They will come on and try and make a difference. We know now how Postecoglou works. We never stop. But I just wish we could defend better. Club before country. Absolutely.  

Celtic 4—2 Dundee United.

Carter-Vickers is back. No surprise there. I’m not sure he was missed, after losing two goals from two penalties involving VAR. Three including the one we missed. We’ve been missing lots of penalties. Four penalty takers and four straight misses. The reign of Spanish and European champions wasn’t about to be changed be a wee team from Glasgow. Seven changes from the team that started in the Bernabeu. Victory would take us seven points clear. The other team from Glasgow play tomorrow. But until the end of the end we looked like giving them a gift.  

Celtic started the game as if they could score nine again. Sead Haksabanovic got us the early goal our play deserved in the sixth minute. Jota already had a shot on goal, but he miscued shot or cross had the same result. The Montenegrin knocked the ball into the net at the back post. He’s been a great signing. Can play left or right, or through the middle. He hasn’t got the pace of Maeda, for example, but he can take a man on.

His second goal, almost half an hour later, he too advantage of a cleared cross and drove the ball into the ground, from the left- wing this time. Birighitti had made a couple of saves, but was poor here. He palmed the ball over the line. Celtic were back in front.

But Steven Fletcher’s twelfth minute penalty changed the game. United’s first attack led to the first goal. Even in the nine nil rout at Tanadice, Fletcher had won most of his aerial duels. He did that again today.

We know we’ve got a soft centre. And in a game United were hardly in they looked like snatching a draw.

Going back to the penalty, commentator Simon Donnelly was unhappy with the award. I take his point. Alexandro Bernabei is tiny. Why he was jumping to challenge for cross ball with the best header of the ball on the park wasn’t mentioned? Fletcher got there first, as expected. On the way down his headed ball and it hit Bernabei’s arm. He’d no way of getting out of the way. Was it intentional? No. Was it a penalty? I’d be shouting for it. Because Fletcher’s header was going towards the goal. Hart’s not been in great form, but I’m sure he would have plucked it out of the air if it hadn’t hit the Argentinian’s arm. It wasn’t like O’Reilly’s midweek ‘handball’ which skiffed off his elbow, with the ball heading for the stands. Fletcher scored that’s all that mattered.

Beranbei was booked, unfairly, and hooked at half-time. A bit unfair, but I think a good call from the manager. No point in taking chances with referees. But the problem with the penalty was it penalised Celtic twice. It gave United a foothold in the game (undeserved, but that’s football, that’s the kind of foothold we’d have liked Juranovic to give us midweek) but it also broke the game up. It knocked the early dynamism off stride. We never really recovered that full fluidity.

Obviously there were flashes.  Giakoumakis hit the post and the keeper made a few descent saves from the Greek striker most of them from headers. Turnbull had a few efforts. Jota. O’Riley. James Forrest when he came on. The usual suspects.  

 Postecoglou’s double substitution around the hour mark paid late dividends. Sead Haksabanovic and Giorgios Giakoumais make way for Liel Abada and Kyogo Furuhashi.

Tony Watt also coming on as a substitute at the same time seemed to have got that nick on the ball that went past Hart from an in-swinging cross. It wasn’t all one way. Glen Middleton picked up a through-ball that took out fellow substitute Forrest. His toe poke beat Joe Hart. Greg Taylor scrambled the ball off the line for a corner.

United then hit the post from the resulting corner. United captain, Dylan Levitt beating the Celtic captain Carter-Vickers in the air (again), highlighting how slim a one goal margin is for this defence of our title.

We know it all worked out in the end. With three minutes to go and injury time, the narrative goes either United are plucky or Celtic show character. Kyogo won it for us. After a succession of corners, Ralston got a touch at the near post. Kyogo, unmarked, headed home.

Liel Abada added another in injury time (he always scores against United) to add to his personal tally, and to make the game, at last, safe. Phew. What should have been easy was made hard. VAR didn’t help. Neither did our defending or the missing of numerous chances, in that order. Motherwell up next in midweek, Fir Park. Then Ross County at home. Should be six points. But I thought today’s match would be a canter.   

Motherwell 0—4 Celtic.

Motherwell ran us close recently at Paradise. But at Fir Park, in a cup-tie, Liel Abada popped up just before half-time to score—yet again—from inside the six-yard box to put us ahead from a Greg Taylor pass. It wasn’t game over, but game over.

Greg Taylor had been guilty of passing when he’s been in good positions to shoot. But that’s being picky in a free-flowing Celtic attacking team in which Benjamin Seigrist didn’t have to make a decent save. Mooy who, dictated much of the game from his advanced role, played it back in. Juranovich had another shot. Kelly palmed it into Abada’s path. He found the corner of the net.

The Israeli put the game beyond Motherwell at the start of a second-half in which the home team saw more of the ball, but left spaces at the back for Celtic’s pace to exploit. Ping-pong in the box. O’Riley shot was pushed out by Kelly.

His compatriot Hatate, showed him how is should be done with the third goal of the night. Juranovich got to the touchline. His pass was inside the six-yard box. Hatate rolled the defender and as the keeper came out he dribbled past him. A moment of brilliance.   

Abada had what’s called an assist in the fourth goal. In other words, he’s looking for his hat trick from inside the box. His shot hits the inside of the post and rolls across the six-yard box. Kyogo pounces. He’s missed chance after chance. And his goals have been as rare as a Celtic clean sheet. The first in eight games.

Siegrist, our back-up keeper, takes that bit longer than Hart to play it out. While that makes for better possession, it also means when Celtic get caught losing a goal is a distinct possibility. Jenz, for example, tried to play the ball up the line and his pass was blocked. Shields played the ball to the penalty spot. McKinstry ballooned it over.

Kyogo had a hat-trick of first-half chances, missing from inside the six-yard box, from outside the area, but hitting the bar and the ball dropping down from Abada, who also failed to score. The Japanese forward was also played in by Mooy, who’d an excellent first-half, but he failed to go around or past Kelly. Kyogo started the second-half with another fluffed shot.  

Slick Celtic in such form it seems the only team that can beat them are themselves. Haksabanovic makes you forget Jota is injured. What another brilliant buy. The Montenegrin international can play anywhere and he’s a joy to watch. Giakoumakis came on with ten minutes to go and went down injured. That’s a worry in a game that went to plan.  

Carter-Vickers played a shocking pass inside our box, but the game was over by then and we were 4—0 up.  As we’ve seen in Europe, better teams will punish you. But our European adventure looks over barring upsets to the equivalent of  the shock value of St Mirren beating Celtic. If we play like this against Hearts we’ll be too good, but Kyogo really needs to start scoring more than he misses. Here’s hoping.

Celtic 2—1 Motherwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celtic 2—0 Hearts

A great weekend for Celtic. Ange Postecoglou went with the same team that beat Kilmarnock last week. And the same Japanese duo got our first goal. This time is was a bit later in the game, thirteen minutes when Kyogo tapped the ball into the net from a Maeda cutback. Good work from O’Riley and Turnbull helped unlock the Hearts defence.

Hearts won at Tynecastle in Postecoglou’s first competitive game last season. But it’s 2007 since Hearts last won a league game at Parkhead. And they offered little to suggest that they would win here, but in the first ten minutes of the first-half saw more of the ball and had five corners in relatively quick succession.

But it was 33 minutes when they had their first serious attempt on goal in which they’d seen little of the ball. Former Celt, Mackay-Stevens found space in the middle of the park for the first time and his pass found its way in behind the Celtic defence. Joe Hart came out to narrow the angle, but it was a poor attempt from frontman, Ginnelly, who really should have scored.

Celtic had stacks of first-half chances, but with that one goal lead, Hearts were always in the game. Greg Taylor, early in the match, opted to try to pass to Kyogo, rather than shoot. Later in the half he was clean through on goal, but took too long to shoot and was tackled by Haring.

Kyogo had a few damp squibs and an offside goal chopped off. Linesmen were often too quick to penalise his darting runs.

O’Reily had a spectacular half-turn-volley which went past the post. A header with which he should have scored.

Maeda had a few headers which were off target or too near the keeper. He arrived too late for simple tap-ins for balls flashed across the goal.

Jota had a few digs, none of which troubled the keeper. His nearest effort hit the side-netting.

And even Juranovic lead the line in a late break in  the first-half, but  he was pulled down by Mackay-Stevens.

Jenz has dealt well with the more usual pugilistic approach by Hearts. He looks like a fixture in the team.

Celtic were flat in the second-half and we’ve come to expect a raft of changes in the last twenty or thirty minutes. Maeda going off and Abada coming on. And lately, Mooy for O’Riley. This allowed McGregor to push further forward. These changes helped tilt the game back towards Celtic.

Giakoumakis to replace Kyogo. The Greek striker usually produces and he did so in the 94th minute to seal the points. His shot rebounding off Lewis Neilson. Before that he was unlucky with a header and had a scuffed shot that was well saved by the second-choice Heart’s keeper.

Rangers went down to nine men at Easter Road and dropped two points. Hearts also went down to nine men and made the last ten minutes comfortable for Celtic. Both were for second yellow offences.

Alex Cochrane pulled McGregor back when the ball was flicked over his head.  And in the closing minutes of the game, Alex Sibbick clearly pushed Abada after the second winger got ahead of him.

It was comfortable for Celtic in the end and that takes us two points clear of Rangers. Hatate did his chances of getting in front of Turnbull no harm with his substitute performance. But that’s not to say the former Motherwell man had a bad game. He didn’t.  Let’s hope PSV win on Wednesday and make it a bad week for the Ibrox club and help deprive them of the £40 million Champions League funds we are guaranteed. We’re away to Dundee United next week and then it’s the big one. Two wins—and would it be too early to say the league is over? Premature perhaps, but I’ll take it. Changed days from the doom and gloom of this time last season.

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 2—0 Hibs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celtic 2021-2022. Story of our season so far.

We’re six points behind Rangers in the league. Many of us—myself included—was willing to give the incoming manager Ange Postecoglou a free hit this season, especially considering the Eddie Howe and boardroom debacle. A squad not fit-for purpose. Want-aways, from two seasons ago, such as Edouard, Christie and Ayer talking the talk before they walked. We’re in the C-League of European football, which is about the level we’re at. But we’re playing some scintillating football. And if we could defend, the way we attacked, we’d be in the B-League of European football and top of the league. Our soft centre remains a major hangover. Running more, does not mean defending less. There’s been a spate of injuries to our key players. Despite this, we won the League Cup, and the winter-break has come at the right time for us. We’re bringing in reinforcements, predominantly, we’ve been told players from the J-League from which we brought Kyogo Furuhashi. We can beat Rangers, but whether we can win the league is a moot point. I’d guess around 50/50 and we’d need a bit of luck.

Win the league this year and the £40 million Champions League money and the team from Govan will be in financial freefall (I know, they already are), but if they win it, they can pay their debtors and it’s game on. It’s all about the money—we wasted on sub-standard players. Postecoglou tells it like it is. We have no plan B, but plan A might well be enough. The league is everything. All that stuff about giving him time is based on logic. The flipside is giving Rangers more respect than they deserve. And I come from the give them fuck-all school of the true believer. 8-10.  

Stars/Flops. Kyogo is king. Without his goals, particularly, the equaliser less than a minute after the opening against Hibs in the League Cup final, and we’d have been struggling. Jota, who missed the final, is not far behind Kyogo. The Portuguese winger scored five goals in five games before he was injured. Joe Hart has made vital saves and we’ve not had that since Fraser Forster. Tony Ralston has also been a revelation, scoring five goals. The goal against Ross County in 97 minutes tells you all you need to know about him. I didn’t rate him. In the same way, I didn’t rate Nir Bitton. Humble-pie for Boxing-Day’s fixture with a man-of-the-match performance, and a goal, from the stand-in captain.

Carl Startfelt is the accident that’s already happened, a gift to the opposition that keeps giving.

Remember at the start of the campaign there was a debate about whether Leigh Griffiths would or should start. That’s how far we’ve come. Albian Ajeti is still here, in the meantime. A major disappointment had been the injury to our Greek striker, Giorgos Giakoumakis. Little has been seen of him since his missed penalty against Livingston cost us two points. With Kyogo out, this was his big chance to show what he’s about. It’s uphill for him now. A real delight to see eighteen-year-old Joey Dawson, from the Academy, coming on and almost scoring.  Any talk about Christopher Julien return to the first-team is shut down. James Forrest comes and goes. Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo was on the bench against St Johnston. Left back, like the softs centres, is proving as difficult to fill as Kieran Tierney’s boots. Liam Scales has played a few games in that position and even scored a goal. We’re awaiting another Japanese import.  

Cameron Carter-Vickers isn’t a flop, but is average. I’d big hopes for Mikey Johston (I’m still waiting). Liel Abada, with ten goals, has the numbers on his back to suggest promise rather than substance. James McCarthy started very poorly against his old team, Hamilton, but has improved. But it’s difficult to offering him a four-year contract as anything other than wishful thinking.  

Ange Postecoglou reminds us that the team isn’t what he wants it to be. He’s handled whatever has been flung at him with aplomb, while reminding detractors he’s managed in the World Cup, he’s been a success wherever he goes. Kyogo is his signing. Jota a lucky turn of the transfer cards. Starfelt an unlucky turn. With no plan B and a soft centre, Ange needs to keep the poker face and keep turning over aces. We had reminders that new Celtic managers who come in and win the League Cup go on to win the league. Let’s hope for 2022 that doesn’t change. We’re certainly a lot stronger than 2021. Mate, in Ange we trust. Give him the money.