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.  

Celtic 1—0 Motherwell

A Tom Rogic goal in injury-time of the first-half was enough to win it, but left us with a nervy finish. The Australian at time looks a class apart. The free-flowing football associated with Ange Postecoglu is still there to see, but the goals have begun to dwindle.  I looked at the Celtic team and wasn’t sure who was playing through the middle in the traditional, number-9 position. The good news is Kyogo’s injury isn’t as serious as we imagined. My first guess was Liel Abada, but he was playing wide. Forrest also started but on the left. Perhaps even Rogic. But it was the same core with Nir Bitton at the base, McGregor further forward, and David Turnbull pushing even further up the park.  When Pep Guardiola does that type of thing we call him a genius, but then again, he has choices—and is a genius.

The surprise was no Mikey Johnston. I’d have thought him to be certain starter (with Jotta out) and the way we normally play. Most of the team stays much the same, which gives a platform to build from. Mikey Johnston did come up for Forrest, who is added to our injury list, only for the substitute to be subbed near the end, for another of our short-term injury candidates to make a welcome return—Anthony Ralston—to make a crucial block on a Tony Watt equaliser.

Celtic dominated early possession, with Motherwell finding it difficult to get out of their half. In other words it was a usual Premier league game, but Motherwell had a bit of bite and a lot of fight. James Forrest really should have put us ahead in nine minutes, racing through on goal with only the keeper to beat, I thought he’d put it past the post. A replay showed Liam Kelly had saved it and it should have been a corner. The referee missed the save and the corner, and a number of harsh tackles that went unpunished.

Callum Slattery, from the edge of the box, hit the crossbar. Kevin Van Veen picked up the first yellow card after stepping in front of Joe Hart, who was trying to take a quick free kick. The Celtic keeper then made a double save, on thirty-minutes, which bettered the Motherwell keeper’s early save. Sean Goss’s shot from the penalty spot came through a ruck of players. Hart got down to push it away, but up in the air. Tony Watt looked odds on to score from three-yards out, but Hart made himself big and blocked his shot. Motherwell were on the ascendency.

Mikey Johnston had what was once for him a typical mazy run into the box, his shot hitting the side-netting. A mis-hit clearance fell to Turnbull, whose shot ricocheted off the back off a Motherwell defender and forced Kelly to adjust his feet and go the other way, and palm the ball over the bar.

Rogic stepped into put us ahead. A free-kick from Turnbull across the box, dummied by McGregor and finished by the Australian.

A topsy-turvy first-half was followed by a more settled performance by Celtic in the second-half, but as the match neared the end, we needed that second goal to settle the nerves and it never came.

Rogic had a quieter second half, but had another few chances to add to his early goal. Mikey Johnson shot high and wide and had a back post header saved. But we expected more from Rogic from a Turnbull pass, but Kelly saved. It was all about seeing it out, and claiming victory. No Forrest. No Kyogo. No Jota.  Next up Ross County.      

Dundee United 0—3 Celtic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celtic 1—0 Hearts

Kyogo Furuhashi scored the winner after thirty-three minutes. Kyogo’s fourteenth of the season in a first-half which Celtic dominated. Rogic came back into the team. No big surprise, and the Australian helped to set up the first goal. He played a pass to Anthony Ralston who was overlapping outside the penalty box, near the touchline. He went off injured after he’d swept in a ball and our Japanese striker pounced. Kyogo has been quiet, by his standards of late, but he’s the man that does the doggies that keeps opposition defences occupied, even when he’s not scoring, he working for the team.

Starfelt back. A tackle inside the Celtic box by the much-maligned Swede in the first half-hour was terrific. He offered a threat up front too. Better from him, long may it continue.

 I take it Cameron Carter-Vickers is injured. Daily Record reports suggest a ten-million pound fee for the Tottenham loan player. The answer is a big fat naw, whatever way you want to look at it. The mystery of Julien’s return remains. Media questions about him are more quickly shut down by Ange Postecoglou than referees pointing to the spot for another Rangers’ penalty in the last ten minutes of games they are drawing.  Will the Frenchman wear a Celtic jersey again?

Starfelt limping towards the end of the match and Welsh off and toiling makes the answer to that question more important.

Ex-Celt Craig Gordon made a few good saves. One from a deflected shot off Hackett the keeper got a hand to. Before the Kyogo opener, James Forrest really should have scored. Jota found some space and his shot was saved by Gordon. The ball arched into the air. One yard from goal, Forrest hit the post. Kyogo also played him in with a few minutes remaining. Facing down the keeper, Forrest blinked first and Gordon saved.

 Hearts were lucky to be only one down at half-time, but they came into it on the second half with far more possession and more chances. Rogic and Turnbull went close with a few efforts. But Hearts really should have scored.

Celtic’s old failing from free kicks and corners resurfaced. Stephen Kingsley had a free header in the six-yard box from a corner, early in the half.

Hackett, from another corner, another great chance, later in the half.

Substitute, Gary MacKay Stevens made an impact in a Heart’s breakaway late in the game that looked sure to gain the Edinburgh team a draw. McGregor halted him inside the box with a slide tackle. Heart’s manager Neilston got booked thinking it was a penalty. But the ball fell for Barry McKay who could—and should— have scored, but slid it past the post.    

Celtic aren’t good at seeing out games. In Europe a two-goal lead has me praying of a draw. We can’t defend and the statistics speak for themselves. Bitton coming on for Welsh helped, perhaps not in terms of tackling and winning balls in the air, but his composure holding the ball, and playing forward passes, bought us time.

Jota, who has been giving us a goal a game in the last five, pulling up and going off with a possible hamstring injury is massive loss any way you look at it.  Mikey Johnston came on, but didn’t shine. Abada has lost his goal scoring ability and seems one dimensional. One of the surprises of this season has been Tony Ralston. His physicality gives us something extra in defence, as does his constant running and hunger to close down. He too will be missed.

In a game in which we were coasting, we struggled, but got there in the end. Missiles were thrown on the pitch supporters in the Celtic end and McKay was struck by an object. A fine will follow; more money wasted, and besmirches our reputation. We need more and better players to come in and do it when brought on. Fingers and toes crossed, Jota, in particular, gets better. Every game is a big game now. Next up, United at Tannadice. Must win. Must win. Must win.  Must win. Must win. Must win.

Celtic 0—0 Livingston

Livingston’s game-plan at Parkhead doesn’t change. They play with eleven men behind the ball and came to take a point. Celtic dominate and are handed three points in the last minute on the ninety, but don’t take them. Obileye inexplicable swiped at Kyogo. He was sent off for gross stupidity and a penalty awarded. Callum McGregor was the last Celtic player to miss a penalty, which was firmly hit and the keeper going the right way. Josip Juranovic has scored two penalties, missed nil, and looked to be our designated penalty taker.  Max Stryjek had to do little more than lie down to save Giakoumakis’ penalty, which tells you all you need to know. The Greek striker had another chance a minute later.

An enforced change with Tom Rogic—who has been brilliant—injured. Bitton comes in at the base of the midfield, which immediately makes it a more defensive set-up with Callum McGregor playing the number-ten role and replacing the Australian playmaker. This kind of game suits Bitton, carpet-slippers and moving the ball with around eight-five percent possession, he doesn’t need to defend, because he’s not a defender, even though he was pushed there when Carl Starfelt off injured with ten minutes remaining. He found it easy, too easy.

Livingston offered nothing in the first-half and little more in the second. Ralston had one of the few chances just before half-time. David Turnbull after an early header towards goal, played him in. Ralston’s swerving left-foot shot was saved on the line by right-back Fitzwater. And Liel Abada had  the final chance of the half, but Stryjek did not had a save to make. The stand-out of the first half was Jota plucking a wayward Ralston pass out of the air. Ralston had a good case for being man on the match. His four early crosses in behind the Livingtson defence put them under pressure. He linked well with Abada and looked in the mood before it became overly predictable.

The gulf in quality between the teams immense, but it doesn’t show in the only statistic that matters—no goals.  Ange Postecoglou tried shaking it up, bring on Kyogo and Mikey Johnston for the last half-hour. He left the Greek striker on (in retrospect, an understandable mistake). Kyogo played the number-ten role. Bringing on James Forest for Jota in the last few minutes of the ninety was the last throw of the dice. These changes would be seen as positive and have worked, if it wasn’t for the Greek striker missing that penalty. After a positive run of results, five wins in five, with some swashbuckling play, a draw. Terrible penalty and terrible result. At the end of the season, these two lost points could haunt us. Massive downer.

Hibernian 1—3 Celtic.

Easter Road has been tough for us in the league. No away wins in eight seasons. But not tonight. Celtic totally dominant in the first-half and see out the second-half. For a change, we score from free-kicks, but true to form, concede too. Fourteen-minutes in, Tony Ralston started the party. Free-kick edge of the box. Ralston unmarked at the back post, keeps his head and powers in David Turnbull’s pass. Great header. Great goal.

Our second goal is another free kick. We don’t score enough from corners, considering we average around ten-to-one against most teams we play. Here David Turnbull simply whips it into the box and Carter-Vickers volleys home. Simple. Half an hour in, two set pieces, and two goals.

Giakoumakis drops to the bench, Kyogo plays through the middle (as expected) and scores, as expected from a Jota cutback after 24 minutes to make it 3—0, and it looks like game over. But yet again, we should have had more. Kyogo himself should have had more, squaring when he should be shooting three minutes later.  It’s great to see Mikey Johnston back—and starting. We’re beginning to pick up a bit of momentum, slicing through the Hib’s defence at will.

Winning four games on the bounce, with no goals conceded, until with Hib’s first corner of the game, and with fifteen minutes of the first-half remaining—and some Hibs’ fans leaving the ground—Boyle scores with a free—scuffed—header.

With almost total domination of the ball, it seems Hibs can’t get up the park. But two minutes after Ralston’s opener, Murphy plays in Joe Newell. From six-yards our goalie makes a crucial save.

Hart made an equally crucial save in the second-half. Hibs were dominant, but unconvincing. Doyle-Hayes plays the ball beyond the last man and gets behind the Celtic line with Ralston playing Murphy on. With 15 minutes to go if Murphy scored it could have been tricky. Hart makes himself tall and saves—yet again.

But the home side’s goal gives Hibs a dog’s chance. They should have been out of the game.

Tom Rogic, who had been running the show, unfortunately, got injured just before half-time and was replaced by the more defensive Nir Bitton.

 The focus in the other end of the city is on Walter Smith with a minute’s silence before the start of the game. We certainly hoped Aberdeen would honour his legacy by sitting in deep and Broonie scoring a breakaway winner after a dour defensive display, with their goalkeeper unbeatable.  But before the game we’d have taken a draw.

Motherwell 0—2 Celtic.

Celtic slick and sloppy. Joe Hart nearly gifted the home team a start in the first five minutes. His Cruyff-turn away from an attacker to try and play another pass out of defence rather than boot it up the park doesn’t inspire confidence. David Turnbull’s wonder goals always help our team to be more of the former rather than the latter. Boli Bolingoli returns to the team during a period of games that sees us, bizarrely, playing a European game on a Tuesday afternoon in the coming week. Rogic replaced Nir Bitton from the team that defeated Aberdeen at Pittodrie, but in role reversal the Australian was subbed for the Israeli after his usual 70 minutes. The nomadic ex-Celt Tony Watt was causing a few problems to our central defence pairing. After ten minutes he whipped a ball across goal after holding Starfelt off on the edge of the box. No takers

Jota hardly had a hit of the ball before he scored in 17 minutes. Celtic stole the ball away from the Motherwell midfield. In a slick breakaway attack, Rogic split the defence. The Portuguese winger, who scored the winner against Aberdeen, continued where he left off. He took the ball in his stride and blasted it in the left-hand side of the goal.

Ange’s Plan A to attack and Plan B to attack even more, is always made easier when we score first. We looked more dangerous when Motherwell attack and left space for the midfield and forwards to work.

Just before half-time we had what seemed a lengthy delay for referee Willie Collum to sub himself—there’s a masonic joke there somewhere.

The second-half had Jota failing to connect properly from a great cross from Tony Ralston. When we play quality teams, I usually say if we get a second we’ve got a fifty-fifty chance of snatching a draw, but usually I’m wrong. In that I’m consistent.

For goal of the season, it’s got to be Turnbull at his old stomping ground. Over 25 yards out, he cut in from the left and let fly. The ball zipped into the top right-hand corner. It’s one of those strikes you see played on computer games. Liam Kelly, in the Motherwell goal, could only turn his head to watch, like the rest of us. Turnbull showed class by refusing to celebrate. But he did crack a smile. He’s not being playing at his best recently, but was neat and tidy here, with a bit of spectacular thrown in.

Celtic looked the team more likely to score, but midway through the second-half, the referee waved away an appeal for a Motherwell penalty after the ball seemed to have struck Bolingoli’s hand in the box. Would Willie Collum have given it? Discuss.

Giorgos Giakoumakis replaced Liel Abada with twenty minutes to shine. The Greek striker had one half chance were he went for the spectacular overhead kick, but was nowhere near scoring. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect was with five minutes remaining was the way he plucked a ball from the air and held off a defender with ease, forcing him to foul. That’s something our attack has been missing. Physicality.

Kyogo went out to the left wing. He was replaced by Mikey Johnstone for the last ten minutes. I like Mikey. And like the Celtic team, he sometimes looks like a world beater or a Keystone Cop wearing someone else’s boots. He was unlucky not to score in the last few minutes. A free header at the back post which sailed over the bar the most noticeable chance for Motherwell.  But the home team looked most dangerous when we gifted them the ball in our half of the park. We had a rub of the green today, long may it continue. Two goals. Two away wins and counting.

Celtic 0—4 Bayer Leverkusen.

None of my mates thought we’d win tonight (perhaps I should use mate, singular). A draw would have delighted us. We can’t score goals and concede at every opportunity. One win in six games. Against a Dundee United, mid-table Scottish team, we looked vulnerable. Against a German team with far better players, we feared we could face the West Ham scenario again. We feared a thrashing. The return of our captain, Callum McGregor a godsend. Kyogo Furuhashi leading the line an unexpected blessing.

In the first few minutes it was end to end. Leverkusen had a goal disallowed for offside. Kyogo rounded the keeper, Hradecky, and looked sure to put Celtic one up. Tah came in on the Japanese international’s blind side and put the ball out for a corner. The Finish keeper was hard to beat all evening—only something exceptional would get past him.

Tom Rogic has a shot that the keeper puts over the bar. Adam Montgomery plays a ball across the Bayer box but Liel Abada doesn’t get on the end of it. Twenty minutes in and even, the much maligned Carl Starfelt, has a descent effort that the Bayer keeper is forced to save.

Twenty-five minutes in and Parkhead is silenced. David Turnbull is caught in two minds clearing a ball on the Celtic touchline. Bakker nips in front of him and plays a diagonal ball across the six-yard box. Hincapie beats Hart, but Montgomery gets a foot to it, but directs it into the net.

Celtic punch-drunk. Commentator Chris Sutton remarks some of our home town players were hiding and it was difficult to argue with him. Unfortunately, Ralston wasn’t hiding. He gifted Bayer the second goal ten minutes after their first. Dithering on the ball in front of a static back-line. Wirtz one-touch finish made it all look too easy. Celtic on the ropes until half-time.

Celtic went for it at the start of the second-half. Kyogo almost pulled a goal back, holding off a defender and bending a ball in at the post. Hradecky got his fingertips to it. Bayer’s keeper followed that up with a good save from Jota. Ten minutes into the second half and Celtic look as if they might have a goal in them.

Thirteen minutes in and Turnbull goes down in the box, after a challenge from ex-Celt Frimpong. Not a penalty. Frimpong didn’t have the easiest night. He created a couple of gilt-edged chances, but Celtic’s best player, Jota, generally, got the best of him—when attacking.

Seventeen minutes into the second-half and it is game over. Leverkusen get a penalty, when the referee decides the ball hit Cameron Carter-Vickers’ arm and booked the central-defender.  Alario makes it 3-0.

Bayer with a game against top-of-the-table Bayern, at the weekend, bring on around six or seven subs (I lost count). Kyogo finds time to miss another sitter, before he’s taken off. Abada misses a good chance too.

Giakoumakis makes his debut for the last fifteen minutes, but barely gets a kick. Hart makes a world-class save from a downward Shick header with a few minutes remaining. The Bayer substitute the ripped Scotland to shreds can think himself unlucky not to score.

Amine Adli scores the fourth goal, four minutes after the ninety, running beyond a static Celtic defence and hammering the ball into the top corner past Hart.

Celtic were simply outclassed, found wanting all over the pitch. Hart and Jota get pass marks. Kyogo? That’s a tough one. Four chances, no goals. Turnbull sold a goal and just didn’t play. Ralston also sold a goal. You could see his effort, but sometimes effort isn’t enough. Hradecky showed him how it should be done. Sheer class, attacking and defending. We want to play like Manchester City, but we can’t defend and aren’t scoring. This was as close to our first team as you’ll get. Certainly, Christopher Julien is better than Starfelt. I’m better than Starfelt. But the problem doesn’t lie with the Swede international. Good teams find it easy to score against us. So do mediocre teams. Livingston, bottom of the Premier league at the time, beat us 1—0. The good news is I’m sure we’ll beat Aberdeen at Pittodrie. Not totally sure, but pretty sure. They’re wide open as well. And if we can score three or four, we might get better than a draw. If we can hang on to Rangers’ slipstream we’ve an outside chance of the league because they too are stuttering, just not as badly as us. In the Europa league we’ll be lucky to pick up more than a point.

A Z Alkmaar 2—1 Celtic.

Celtic got off to the kind of start we can only dream about. Tony Ralston with a perfect pass in behind the Alkmaar defence. Liel Abada rips it up and puts in the slide-rule pass. Kyogo Furuhashi makes it 1—0 on the night and 3—0 on aggregate and there was only three minutes gone. I was still nervous.  Celtic had started well, knocking the ball about and getting into good positions, but Alkmaar often went long. They knocked our centre-halves about and started winning all the second balls in midfield. The Dutch team hasn’t scored this season. Celtic gifted them two goals, and it could have been three, but for a save from Joe Hart just before half-time.

The Celtic keeper has been lauded of late. Here he lost us the first goal. Route one football. AZ keeper Vindahl launched it. The ball came off Welsh. The youngster was poor here. But the former England international waited for the ball on the edge of his penalty area. Zakaria Aboukhla nipped in and tackled him when he tried to swipe it away. He was left with an open goal and put the ball into the net. Celtic were rocking and on their heels.  

Sugawara, the Japanese international right back, who already had a volley past the post, knocked the ball into the box. Nobody in a red shirt was near to stick it away. Starfelt swung at it with his right foot, it came off his left and he knocked it past Hart. Our keeper had no chance. That just about sum up the Swede. He is both Laurel and Hardy. Another fine mess.

Taylor went off injured. Adam Montgomery comes on with most of the game in front of him. I do like the look of the youngster.  I prefer him to Taylor, but the ex-Kilmarnock man has been decent lately.

For the first ten minutes of the second-half it was all Alkmaar. Celtic invited pressure by trying to play it out from the back and losing the ball, immediately, in and around the penalty box. Tom Rogic has been great. Here he was a passenger. I want Edouard away, but he came on and did a job, providing a focal point and holding the ball up. Furuhashi went wide right and came in for some rough treatment. Ironically, when commentators start to talk about ‘weathering storms’, Joe Hart almost sells another. He flew off his line to try and punch a ball at the edge of the box. To be fair, neither Starfelt of Welsh won many of their aerial duals. We were a soft centre. But Hart missed his punch and Martins Indi nods wide from the resultant corner.

Not yet sixty minutes gone. The chance of the match, surely an equaliser. Alkmaar score and there’s only going to be one winner and it won’t be the Glasgow club. But, I clung to the hope this isn’t a team that scores many goals. Substitute Boukema, a centre- half playing centre-forward, brought on to win even more high balls, instead sets up Poku at the back post. He slides into the six-yard box. Montgomery trailing beside him. He puts it over the bar.

Too early to say this was going to be our night, but…with four minutes added on, the AZ keeper is up for a succession of corners. He bundled Joe Hart into the goals. Celtic hold on and go through. It was nervy. It’s not often you can say going with a two goal lead and scoring early and you know it isn’t going to be enough.

 I’m giving man of the match to Ralston again. His pass helped set up our all-important first goal. He was the only Celtic defender that won all of his headers. He was unlucky at the other end, winning a header from a corner that drifted over the bar. Honourable mentions, Adam Montgomery. Yeh, he’s a player. We can certainly score at Ibrox, any number of goals, but our soft centre and inability to defend, means anything can happen. Phewww…we’ll win 3—1 at Ibrox?