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.  

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.