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 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 4—0 Rangers.

Conundrum? Andy Rat asked if Callum McGregor had scored with that defensive header from the edge of the box, one of Rangers’ best attempts on goal, if that had been an own-goal, would I have got my double up of 4—1 Celtic, and McGregor to score the last goal?

Pat phoned to ask Stevie if he got his line up? Stevie always puts 4—0 on against Rangers. A hangover from the Brendan Rodgers’s era (remember him?) Stevie did.

But for all the other losers out there, just answer these questions honestly (Yes, No, or Don’t Know) Gio can help.  

Do have difficulty falling asleep at night?

Check for any that might apply to you.

Nightmares? (Jon McLaughin, nutmegged and a pass straight to David Turnbull for the fourth).

Tossing/Turning? Where is Liel Abada? Oops. Jota too.

Frequent Wanking. The overweight £40 million El Bullio came on to save the game.

How often do you feel tired and run down.

All of the time? (Steve Davis)

Occasionally, when I can be bothered? (£30 million, Ryan Kent)

Rarely? Glen Kamara. Taken off at half-time, because they couldn’t take Ryan Kent off.

In the last six months have you gained or lost of a lot of weight (not due to dieting)?

Yes?  El Buffalo.

No? Gio. Everything is fine. Absolutely fine. We’ve made the Champions League, after all. We’re five points behind, but Celtic were in a similar stage last season when they had outstanding players like a Crystal Palace substitute, a slow-pony who went to small-time Brentford to raise his game to substitute level and Ryan Christie who went to live on the coast. They never stopped.

Has your sex drive become seriously diminished?

Yes?  I live in Australia now. Women think I’m a strange-looking guy, but I used to be a Celtic regular before AP (Ange Postecoglou). I was framed for sexting. Really, it wasn’t my fault.

No? El Buffalo because nobody in Australia offered £40 million for my stud services.

It fluctuates? Like Boris Barsic tracking Liel Abada’s run, it all ends in tears.

Has a parent of sibling been diagnosed with a serious depressive disorder?

Yes? My father (Kris Boyd senior) was given to parental rages, but sometimes it went the other way when we lost.

No? Gio senior, everything was just fine. The cup is half fool. The treble is still on.

Do you feel that your life is not worth living?

Yes? Two thousand Rangers fans penned in at Paradise at 10am and we were made to wait until Gio and our heroes had left the ground.

No? But Gio did wave at us before he left Paradise. He showed solidarity, which is important. Those fans that burned their strips were trying out new heat-saving alternatives to turning the fire on at home. But we would never burn a Union Jack no matter how many kilowatts it generated.

How would you rate your daily rates of stress or anxiety?

High? I make tackles like that every day? Kyogo was faking it.

Medium? I brought down substitute Maeda because he was too fast and too good for me, not because I was angry about being 4—0 down and getting absolutely horsed again.

Low? If Joe Hart presents me with a ball inside the Celtic box, I’m a Scottish international, but substitute for one of the lesser teams in Glasgow, but I know I’ve got to keep it low, but I put it over the bar because I knew a foul would have been giving against me, and for a change it wasn’t for kicking anybody.

Do you experience any delusions or hallucinations?

No? Gio.

No? You sure?

No?

Does your mood take a turn for the worse as winter approaches?

Yes? We’re usually top of the league, but now we’re five points behind. Their run will last till Christmas.

No? We were written off in nine out of ten seasons. As winter approached Neil Lennon brought in Barkas. It can happen again. Just look at that Greek international keeper, McLaughlin.

Are you in a relationship?

Yes? Rangers until I die, or get my contract terminated with a massive pay-out of other people’s money.  

No? I’m on a rolling contract, yet another Scottish internationalist, and I signed from Hearts for days like this.

Do you ‘put on a happy face’ to hide feelings of sadness?

Yes? Kris Boyd. I’ve got to be honest, Celtic were the better team and fully deserved their victory, but if Alan McGregor was in goals, he’d have saved those three shots on goal, wouldn’t have passed to Turnbull, and we’d have got a penalty, which was long overdue. No, Abada fell over in the box, that wasn’t a real penalty. I’m happy to say I’m unhappy about the performance and everything to do with Celtic, but I would say they were lucky to have caught Rangers on an off day. On another day, I’m far more happy, and happy to admit, we the people can do better.

No? Gio. Everything’s fine. Honest. Fine.

Do you have trouble concentrating or remembering things?

Yes? Boris Barisic. Where is Liel Abada?

No? Oh, no, that’s the fourth. I forgot what the score was and I’m the captain. 4—0.  I didn’t even get to take a penalty. I did get a total doing by that wee Portuguese fella, George Michael, who had me by the balls.

Total your score. And decide whether and when you will have a trophy-less season, again? You might need to make another marque signing that can take a penalty.

Ross County 1—4 Celtic.

We’re in the draw for the next round of the League Cup and it’s Motherwell away. There’s always that anxious wait to see if we get Rangers.

Celtic hit the bar twice in quick succession. A Welsh header from a corner and David Turnbull’s free-kick hitting the defensive wall and then the bar.

But we also scored two goals in the first half. An early scare with Ross County almost scoring in sixty seconds from a ball knocked on from a shy.

Calum McGregor got our opener. He’d held his hands up to show he was unmarked from a corner. Turnbull picked him out. His shot was deflected but went in. Twenty-one minutes gone. A changed Celtic team with Liel Abada and McGregor the only players to remain in the team that beat Dundee United on Sunday. Abada patrolled his usual right-wing beat, but McGregor played a more advanced role, with Aaron Mooy dropping deeper and taking the ball from defence.

Giorgos Giakoumakis missed Sunday’s game. He’d a point to prove, and he usually does, coming up with a goal. He’d a bit of a tussle with Alex Iacovitti and took a few knocks going down injured after a poor first touch. But he got his goal near the half hour mark. Tony Ralston was the provider. A lovely touch on the edge of the box (the full back was in the striker’s position) and he laid it off. Giakoumakis dipped his shoulder and took the ball into his right foot and curled it into the bottom corner. Like the United match, it looked like game over. The Greek striker hobbled through the remainder of the half. He was unlucky with three headers, the last one on the brink of half-time. Three goals for him the season. He’s always looking for more.

Ross County had more of the ball in the second half, but Celtic still dominated. The goal the Staggies scored in sixty-seven minutes was a shocker for the Celtic defence. A long punt from the keeper, Eastman, into the Celtic box. Substitute, Carl Startfelt came on for Welsh, who went off injured. The Swedish International was too easily beaten in the air by Jordan White. Iacovitti took time off from fouling Giakoumakis to wander into the six-yard box and stoop down to header it into the goal. Moritz Jenz was nowhere.

Daizen Maeda restored the two-goal lead five minutes later. McGregor had a shot from the eighteen-yard line spilled by the keeper. Maeda was there to pounce.

Sead Haksabanovic came on for Maeda. His first dribble, he ghosts past Johnstone, his touch and cross of the ball nearly gave us another goal. Even in the short time on the park he looks a class addition.

Just on full time, James Forrest nicked a fourth. Ralston made it (two assist and McGregor having one) with a cutback to Forrest in the box. He too looks sharp.

The worry for Celtic is we still get bullied by big centre forwards. But this is less of a worry in Scottish football because we have more of the ball. In Europe, teams don’t go back to front. Transitions and losing the ball at the back and midfield is the big worry. But out team, our squad is lighting fast.

Team that will play against Rangers: (my guess). No real shocks. Hart, Taylor, Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Hatate, McGregor, O’Riley, Jota, Kyogo, Maeda.

I’m no fan of Startfelt. Jenz has strolled through a few games, but I think Postecoglou prefers Starfelt (what do I know?) Similarly, Reo Hatate edges out Turnbull. The Japanese player is quite simply wonderful and looks to have extra time on the ball, which can be a problem when he loses it. Kygo is on fire. He’ll start ahead of Giakoumakis (that is no longer a debate). Liel Abada scored a hat-trick at Tannadice. He’s made a good case for starting, but Maeda’s closing down work and his pace means he’ll start ahead of the young Israeli. Postocoglou has taken Maeda wherever he goes and obviously rates him highly. Jota, certain started and ace in the pack. Forrest is down the pecking order. Hasbanovic—we’ll wait and see. I guess he could be another cracker. Celtic to win 4—1 against our Glasgow rivals. HH.

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 St Mirren.

Giorgos Giakoumakis misses out again, which is disappointing after the lack-lustre goal display at Easter Road. A carousel in which Matt O’Riley returns and replaces Tom Rogic, or vice-versa. Both are class player. Celtic had a free-kick in the first minute, 30 yards out, which was wasted by O’Riley, with not even a shot on goal. St Mirren offering no threat other than a Scott Tanser cross which Joe Hart had to fall on, early in the first half. No surprise they camped in and played for a no-score draw. That’s a given for most teams in Scotland.

Charles Dunne, who was lucky not to escape an early booking, came closest to scoring an own-goal after 15 minutes, and was booked just before half-time. A Jota cross and Dunne’s mis-hit clearance hitting the bar. He almost sliced another ball into his goal.

Daizen Maeda had a few headers, none of which looked like scoring. But Liel Abada had the best chance of the first-half, Maeda missing a Jota cutback and the ball falling for the Israeli. He’d ghosted in and outside the six-yard box hit the ball first time, but hit the keeper.

Jack Alnwick saved from Jota and a  Josip Juranovic shot powered over his bar. It’s been all defence for the Buddies, but our attack finding it hard to create chances.

Our centre-half, Cameron Carter-Vicker won man on of the match for a performance where our central pairing got more of the ball than their teammates. Ten minutes into the second half he got the goal we needed. Abada taken out by Tanser, who limped off after getting booked. As a general rule, we don’t score from free kicks or corners, until we do. Ball whipped in, Carl Starfelt jostled with the defender and the ball broke to Carter-Vickers, his measured control and left-foot volley from six-yards broke St Mirren’s resistance.

Maeda almost made it two with an acrobatic volley from an O’Riley cross a few minutes later. Celtic brought on three substitutes. Forrest, Rogic and Nir Bitton. All added urgency to the Celtic team. Forrest flung in a ball for Maeda which was just too high at the back post. He also came close to getting us a penalty, getting to the bye-line and getting tackled but he didn’t go down. With Hattate and O’Riley off, Callum McGregor pushed higher up the pitch after picking up a booking.

Our captain put us on easy street with nine minutes remaining in the ninety. He drove a clearance through a ruck of defenders into the bottom corner. With a few minutes remaining he came off to a standing ovation to be replaced by Ideguchi. Job done. Dembele came on for a cameo after his horrendous pre-season injury. Jota went off. Nine game to go. Let’s hope and pray, nine-in-a-row.   

Aberdeen 2—3 Celtic

Daizen Maeda leads the front line in a first half in which Aberdeen didn’t have a shot on goal—didn’t even look like having a shot on goal. The Don’s fans jeered the home team off the park, but they were applauded off in the end.

Maeda had our first chance after twelve minutes. A ball into the back post. A free header from four yards, which he fluffed. Top scorer in the J-League looks ineffectual playing the channels. He was played in a few times and failed to convert or look convincing.

 Liel Abada continues to be our most potent threat, but didn’t get a chance to score here.

I have a bit of sympathy for Giakoumakis—he’s not played badly, but he has failed to score in his last three (and-a-bit) games. The Japanese forward is more lucky scoring twice so far. But we don’t really care. As long as the ball ends in the opposition goals. The Greek striker came on as a substitute and did well enough, again, without scoring. But there were mitigating factors.

Jota starts, and showed the goal form and threat he did, before his injury, which he did after seventeen minutes. He swept away an O’Riley cross that left the Portuguese winger unmarked in the six yard box at the back post.

O’Riley went from provider to scorer. Rogic scored two in his last game and also drops to the bench. Not only is the Australian the hammer of the Steelmen, but also of the Dons. But we’re kept him in reserve. O’Riley has been everything we hoped he would be, but unlike the other midfielders he hasn’t added goals to his game—until his shot was deflected off the heel of (ex-Hun) David Bates and into the net.

A pitch invaded got closer to the Celtic goal than the Don’s attack. But just as earlier in the season when a two goal lead didn’t seem enough, and a three goal lead is the sweet point, our defence showed the same old deficiencies. Get the ball into the box and Celtic concede. It’s not finger pointing. Statistics tell you one thing. Watching the match tells you the truth. Just bad defending and being bullied.  

Christian Ramirez in 61 minutes gave the Don’s a life-life. The usual stuff about one from the training pitch will be rolled out. Simply, he was unmarked between the penalty and six-yard box. The ball was rolled across to him from a free kick. He scored.

He had the ball in the net minutes later to equalise. But was ruled, rightly, offside.

Lewis Ferguson loves playing against Celtic, because he scores against us almost every time, seven times in total. He was at it again. Corner swung in, Ferguson gets his header away. Goal.

Celtic were in trouble. Jota got us out of it with his second goal, and Celtic’s third, a in the sixty-third minute. A minute after the Don’s equalised.  A ball over the top. Abada looked offside, but Jota didn’t hang about. He smashed the ball into the ground and it looped over keeper Woods. Our Portuguese winger won it for us.  

Our bench is strong. But no Josip Juranovic? Must be injured. The enigma that is Mikey Johnston once more comes into the mix. He’s still a boy, but with Doak also coming on and into the first team at sixteen this is no longer the old Bhoy’s network. Ship up or ship out. Simple. Most of us love that philosophy, not only of attacking football, but if you don’t want to be here—fuck off.

Bitton and Forest came on to see it out. Goal scorer, O’Riley replaced by Rogic in the last few minutes.

The longer Ange Postcoglou’s winning run continues the more our belief grows. The league is everything, because Champions League qualification is added and with it a bumper payday. Every game is a must win.  A virtuous circle. The kind the Celtic manager keeps talking about. We don’t want to think of the alternative. Celtic were coasting at Pittodrie. Then suddenly we bottled it and a moment of Jota magic won it.   

Celtic 3—0 Rangers

Celtic go top. Even a few weeks ago that would have seemed ridiculous. Our captain Callum McGregor starting is a massive bonus. Maeda being on the bench gives us options. But it’s all about the other Japanese Bhoy. Reo Hatate scored in the fourth minute from a Matt O’Riley corner. The Japanese midfielder hit the clearance from the edge of the box, which took a nick of a Rangers player, before ending in the back of the net. Calvin Bassey and Joe Aribo bumped into each other and were lying in front of the goal. McGregor waved his arms about and tried to get the goal disallowed, but the referee, Mr Madden, gave the goal. Perfect start.

 We moved up a gear, and started with our usual high-pressing game and hunted Rangers down. All over the park we were better. Giorgos Giakoumakis led the line well, and was unlucky not to score one of his four chances. He also looked for a penalty. It was soft, but I’d have given it.

No need. Hatate struck again in the 42nd minute. He bent this one in off the post.

And then just before half-time looped a ball into the back post. Liel Abada did what he’s been doing for his thirteenth goal of the season. He left Barisic searching for him and McGregor standing as the ball went into the back of the net. The first half was all we could have hoped for. But we murdered Hearts in much the same way at Tynecastle and were left clinging on.

But there was never any chance of that here. Ryan Jack had a shot that hit the bar. And in injury time Connor Goldson found himself in front of goal with a free header, but put it over the bar. It was Celtic’s night.

Abada scored, but on the other wing, Jota was outstanding. He too was unlucky not to score, hitting a short Tavernier pass towards goal and forcing McGregor to make yet another save. Giakoumakis ghosting in and getting up above the centre-half was unlucky not to score.

O’Riley in midfield gives us guile and solidity. Hatate wins man of the match for his goals and assists. Our full backs were excellent. I’ve been critical of Taylor, but his work rate was impressive and he kept the ball well and his relationship with Jota flourished. Juranovic looks cool on the ball and off it. He was probably out best defender and best defensive attacker. If Barasic is worth £30 million then Juranovic is worth £60 million.

Gio made a triple change at half-time, but he got no change out of Ange Postecoglou. Rangers had more of the ball. Celtic made a handful of changes of their own to see out the game (Maeda, McCarthy, Forest, Soro and Doak for Giakoumakis, O’Riley, Jota and Abada who seemed to pick up an injury). The result was the same and we remained three goals ahead. Jota probably had the best chance to make if four, but tried to take on the defender inside the box and losing the ball, instead of shooting or passing to Forrest. A minor quibble.

We’ve been hearing all that shit about not beating Rangers since 2019, in a seven-game- unbeaten run. What many forget is how lucky there were to win many of the Old Firm games in which they were outplayed. They were smashed to pieces here in a pulsating first half. And the game was over. Bobby Madden didn’t give them a penalty. Other teams in the league will be looking at this Rangers team and think they can take something. Celtic have moved up and gear and moved ahead. Fourteen games to go. Just keep winning. Perfect day, even though it was night.    

Celtic 1—0 Dundee United.

High winds in Dingwall. And memories of twenty-four years ago: Wim Jansen (1946-2022).  Just win. That’s all we asked of Celtic before the Old Firm game on Wednesday. The performance and lots of goals didn’t really matter. Just win. And for ninety minutes it looked just out of reach. Then Josip Juranovic down the right wing, Jota into the box and Liel Abada scores. Late goals count double.

 The spine or our team remains largely the same from the midweek (and let’s remember, well-deserved) victory against Hearts. Our talisman Jota drops to the bench, but comes on at half-time for Forest. Ralston and Scales come in as attacking full backs, but both were replaced in the second half. Taylor and Juranovic coming back into the team. Let’s face it, everyone in the current team is an attacking player, including Joe Hart who creeps forward beyond his box at every opportunity, but had little to do.

Early in the game, United broke from their defensive set-up with pace. I guess Rangers will try and do the same. And United had the first big chance on six minutes, with Sporle bending a shot past Joe Hart’s right-hand post. A minute later a big chance. O’Riley played a ball in behind the United defence. Giakoumakis, from eight-yards out, waited too long for the ball to come down, and a defender came in to take the ball away. Great chance, not taken. That was the story of his afternoon, before he was taken off. Abada played a ball into the front post towards the end of the first half, which Giakoumakis and a United defender got on the end of and it spun agonisingly past the post. He scuffed a shot from the edge of the box, well past the post. And in almost eighty minutes contrived to miss a sitter from six yards from a cut-back from Jota. Let’s hope his form picks up for Wednesday’s meeting. He was replaced by teenage winger Ben Doak, with Abada coming central.

 Liel Abada, who looked Celtic’s most likely player to score, was unlucky with an effort on thirty-one minutes. Ralston had let the ball get away from him on the edge of the United box. His two footed challenge took the ball and took out a defender. Ralston’s touch looks poor, and he seems to have regressed. But Abada slinked pass the defender and got his shot away. But Siegrist made himself big and the ball came off his hip and went out for yet another corner.

The best chance of the first-half came to the best player on the park in 40 minutes. A cut back from Forest to the penalty spot. O’Riley caught the ball, but bent it past the post. Celtic looked like scoring, but not from the fourteen or fifteen corners, or from free kicks. O’Riley, late on, for example, hitting the bottom of the defensive wall.  Our best chance from a dead-ball coming when Siegrist dropped the ball in front of Carter-Vickers from an in-swinging corner.

 At the start of the second-half O’Riley could count himself unlucky not to score from a ball swung in from deep in the half by Jota. Siegrist making a finger-tip save and pushing it past the post. It had the look of being one of those long afternoons when regret becomes anger.

Bitton, the Celtic captain, was booked in the first half. He stuck a foot out to bring down Tony Watt and break up a quick United attack with Joe Hart out of his goal. And he was sent off, with ten minutes of the ninety remaining, and misses the Rangers game. Taylor seemed to have been fouled on the edge of the Celtic box several times, but the referee played on. Bitton brought the United attacker down. The Israeli can count himself unlucky.

But it was the other Israeli that got on the end of the cross and shook the stadium when he calmly brought it down and stuck it away. He too got booked for taking his Celtic top off and celebrating with the fans. He capped a fine afternoon’s work. O’Riley was our most dangerous midfielder. But Abada was our most dangerous attacker. Jota coming on also made the difference. But sometimes, all you need is a rub of the green. We got it today.