Rangers 4—1 Celtic.

spot the Ajer swerve?

Rangers 4—1 Celtic.

I expected Celtic to win this one. As I expected them to win the last match against Rangers in the Scottish Cup. I’m Celtic daft that way. Rangers do the clean-sweep of Celtic.  There was talk of John Kennedy getting the Celtic manager’s job. The argument went like this, all he had to do was beat Rangers at Ibrox, win the Scottish Cup and go through the rest of the season unbeaten, and create momentum. Neil Lennon did it after Judas Rodgers left. After the Scottish Cup defeat we went to Pittodrie and got a 1—1 draw. As meaningless fixture as this one you wouldn’t have expected a largely unchanged team. A team that excels in spurning chances and concedes regularly from corners and free kicks. Losing half their goals from most teams in the league that way and before this game, conceding four out of five goals to Rangers in the same manner.

Today was no exception. Where you watching Eddie Howe? For some reason despite Kennedy’s abysmal record, both as a defensive coach and as first-team coach where he’s now being talked up as the next Director of Football. I’m not sure what that entails. But it sounds like flinging good money after bad and creating jobs for the boys, in much the same way as Boris Johnson has done for the English Parliament. It’s getting to the fuck-off point, where we don’t really care, but, of course, we do. That’s the whole point of a pointless match.

I’ll start with the keeper. Scott Bain was OK today. He made one save you’d expect him to make. He’d little chance from Roofe’s opening goal, but when we use terms like should have done better for Morelos’s goal, it’s just another way of saying he should have saved it. Alan McGregor would have. Bain is a bang-average keeper and at best should be used as back-up. Letting Craig Gordon go was one of our many mistakes made this season. Barkas should have played against Aberdeen and today and should also play in the remaining two—even more meaningless—fixtures. Perhaps we’ll have a new manager by then. The most important games next year are the Champions League qualifiers. £30 million the pot could lift us out of below mediocrity.

I’m not a fan of the former Kilmarnock player Greg Taylor. Everything I said about Bain applies equally to Taylor. We should have kept Johnny Hayes. Taylor was OKish today, but that’s never enough.

Jonjoe Kenny is one I’ll be delighted to see going back to his parent club, Everton. Sometimes loan deals don’t work out. This one hasn’t worked out for some time. Yet, Kenny has nailed down the right-back spot despite making more backward passes than a table-tennis player. He was at it again today in the first goal we lost. The obvious signing here was Aaron Hickey, the former Heart’s player, whose Cup Final cameo last year, and in the game before that at Parkhead, should have our Director of Football making an offer.

Stephen Welsh, phew. I’m not sure he’s any better than Tony Ralston.  We want him to do well. A neat enough passer of the ball. Pretty good in the air for his size, but not good enough. Beaten on the edge of the six-yard box when he went head to head with Goldson at a corner when it was just 2—1. The same Goldson that scored a double at Parkhead early in the year. Welsh didn’t fare much better with Roofe. Defoe turned him inside out to score the fourth goal. I don’t think Welsh will do, but then again, I never got my head around the McManus and Caldwell pairing, but at least they could defend when it mattered.

Kristoffer Ajer was given the captain’s armband when he went off. I’m sure Ajer, in his own head, will imagine he had a great game. He helped set up the first goal to make it 1—1 after half an hour by leaping at the back post and heading the ball towards goal, for Edouard to score. He’d a few runs from the half way line that wiped out the Rangers’ midfield and backline and create chances for himself and others. But he failed the Bobo Balde test. When the balls coming towards you, you eat the ball and the man, and bounce back for more. My da used to call such players fanny dancers. I think he meant fan dancers. But I’m sure if he were alive he’d have Ajer in mind. His best position, ironically, has been right back, where he doesn’t need to defend like a man. Ajer will go to a big club, and fail to keep a first-team spot. Little does he know his best years are past.

Scott Brown, good old Broonie, isn’t near as old as Davis or Defoe. His 44th game against Rangers, he’s won most. A loser today. Morelos turned him too easily for the second goal. Brown wasn’t bad. He wasn’t good. He was Broonie. It was pointless to play him, because he’s already pledged his allegiance to another team, and we came away pointless.  

Callum McGregor. I’m a fan of McGregor, he got booked for taking out Kent, after the winger nutmegged him. Then he clattered Kamara. The ref played on, and yet another cross into the box was met by the chest of Roofe for the opening goal to the Ibrox team. Three goals in six minutes and we lost two of them. And we were a man down. I’m old enough to remember when ten men won the league and Murdo’s strike soared into the net, and we all jumped in the Jungle, raising the roof. That was never going to happen here.

James Forrest has become a better player since he’s been injured he’s the stuff of myth-making. What we can say with certainty is he gives 15 to 20 goals a season, and creates double that number. Here, given a decent chance, just before half-time. He fluffed his lines for the equaliser, played in by twinkle toes Ajer. He’ll still be here next season. We’ll need his goals and assists.

David Turnbull has been our chink of light this season. Scores goals and creates chances and he’s young. The type of player to build a team around. He got booked for kicking an ex-Celt at Pittodrie last week. I liked that wee bit of nastiness. It showed he cared. Today, he was largely anonymous. Had a great chance with a header, set up by Forrest, on the 56th minute to equalise but put it wide.

Moi Elyounoussi won’t be here next year. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. He’s scored some amazing goals and is our second-top scorer this season. The strike in Lille springs to mind. Alan McGregor’s fingertip save, putting the ball onto the bar, stopped him claiming the opening goal. I’d give him pass marks today. One of the few.

Odsonne Edouard scored the equaliser. Let the line and looked like doing it for us. But then it just fizzled out and was taken off for Mikey Johnston (which baffled me). The Frenchman is a great player, but not a great Celtic player. As a striker he’s scored 22 goals, some of them penalties. He should have grabbed at least a double in the last Old Firm fixtures. I don’t think he’ll make it to the top, quite simply, he doesn’t score enough goals. Great strikers hit 50 a season for Celtic. Mediocre strikes like Scott McDonald hit at least 30. Edouard has had a poor season. He’ll be missed, but if it was a chance he’d probably take too long and hit it past the post.

Ryan Christie would have started today, as he did at Pittodrie, if Forrest had failed a fitness test. Christie used to play in behind the striker and get us goals. His decampment to the wing shows him falling down the pecking order. He’s on the bench for a reason. I like Christie, and would like to keep him, but he’s off for nothing. His best matches this season have been for Scotland.

Ismaili Soro came on for Brown after sixty minutes. Newspaper reports linked him with a move to Tottenham. Yeh? Twenty million and he’s yours. I’ll need to wait and see how good he can be. He’d a few half- decent games before Christmas. And he should have started today. Gave the ball away for the third Rangers’ goal, which pushed the tie out of reach.

Mikey Johnston is better than Edouard. He got the last 15 minutes to show it. I missed Mikey, he gives you something unpredictable when teams defend deep against Celtic, as all Scottish teams do. He’s shown promise. Next season is the time to deliver for us all.  

Betfred Cup Final: Celtic 1—0 Rangers

Betfred Cup Final (what we used to call the League Cup Final before the rights were sold for hard cash).

I know how Steven Gerrard must feel. I had two quid on Julien for first goal and lost the bookies line. Going further back than that I remember when Celtic used to play Rangers off the park during the Tommy Burns era, only for Brian Laudrup to gallop up the park and score the winner and the flying pig, Andy Goram, to make save after save. Here we had Fraser Foster save a penalty from Alfredo Morelos in the second half, and a world-class save from Ryan Jack in the first half. He also made a fistful of other top-notch saves. Fraser Foster might well have been Neil Lennon’s best signing.

The strange thing about the aftermath of the final is both mangers can feel quietly pleased. Julien was offside when he scored. Rangers did batter Celtic from the first to the last of the 96th minute. By some margin this was Celtic’s worst performance against Rangers in years. Worse than the 2—0 defeat at Ibrox last year under Rodgers. Worse than the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat at Hampden to a Rangers team playing in the First Division. Craig Gordon, Scott Brown, Nir Biton, and Leigh Griffiths played in that game. Callum McGregor and Tom Rogic came on as subs. I was looking for James Forrest’s name, but it was missing. You’d be hard pushed to have noticed he was playing yesterday.

Neil Lennon brought Forrest into the Celtic team and he’s been a consistent presence since then and in the ten domestic trophies won in the last three seasons.   He’s added goals to his game and managers such as Rodgers were quick to tell us how hard he worked. But we’re not digging up bags of coal. Our eyes don’t deceive us. He was rotten yesterday and not much better in the last home game against Hamilton. But his performance was hidden in a team display that never reached the level of mediocrity. Ironically, the miss of the game was not Morelos from twelve yards of the penalty spot (and yes Forster did move off his line) but Mikey Johnston’s. He was played in by Odsonne Edouard and had a one-on-one with McGregor, but put it by the post. That would have given Celtic a 2—0 lead and game over signs would have flashed around the stadium. And despite Ranger’s defenders missing some good chances to score from corners and free kicks, the biggest miss of the afternoon was Kris Ajer’s free header, six yards out, and all he had to do was score.

I was surprised to hear Lennon praising Ajer. I think he must have had on his James Forrest specs on. At one point he tried to play Morelos offside, got nudged aside by the Ibrox psychopath as he ran down the touchline. We knew what was coming next, because Ajer does at least one of these Inspector Gadget tackles every game. Stick a long leg out and hopes to hit the ball. He didn’t, Morelos was in on goal. Only for Fraser Foster to start laughing at the Columbian striker and put him out of his stride. Morelos should have been sent off for kicking Scott Brown, Julien and any other Celtic player within spitting distance when the ball was at the other end of the park.

Lennon had a big call to make before the game, whether to play Edouard or not. Player power. He let the French man decide. He was on the bench and came on to do everything that Lewis Morgan did not and could not. Connor Goldson is not the best centre half in Scottish football, but having Lewis Morgan as an opponent was like having a day off yesterday. Morgan’s not a centre forward and not even the best winger at Celtic. He’s probably fourth or fifth choice.  Vakoun Issouf Bayo, who does not play as a forward for Celtic because he’s either injured or not good enough (probably the latter) wasn’t fit to fill in for Edouard. Neither was Leigh Griffiths deemed not sharp enough or fit enough for a place on the bench. In contrast, Mohamed Elyounoussi was deemed fit enough to start despite missing a few games, but was subbed at half time when the score was 0—0. To use the argument he wasn’t the worst is to invite comparisons for the race to the bottom and there you’ll meet James Forrest, who’ll outpace you and show you his winner’s medals.

Only three Celtic players deserved to pick up a winner’s medal, because individually all the others lost their battles all over the park. Fraser Forster is the giant in which stand the shadows of Edouard, who came on in the second half to cause the Rangers defence problems and Jeremie Frimpong. Little Pingpong might have been the smallest guy on the pitch, he might have given away a penalty—Julien and Ayer sleeping as Morelos got in behind them and Pingpong was the wrong side of the Rangers’ attacker—but the little full back was Celtic’s best defender and attacker. Apart from Forster, Celtic’s best player full stop. He’s a gem of the Kieran Tierney variety and the right back position that was once so troublesome looks sorted.

I’ll take any kind of win over Rangers, whether it’s darts, ludo or pingpong. Yesterday’s final was the tenth on the trot. A marvellous achievement. We have the luxury of a Europa tie against Cluj that is a practice match for Sunday when we play Hibs. I expect us to win there and for Young Boys to beat Rangers and Motherwell to win at Fir Par against Rangers too. Wins like yesterday give a bit of breathing space, but the next game and the one after that are the only ones that matter. Old glory is no glory. Yesterday’s news. Celtic need a replacement and back up for Edouard. Simple. And if they can’t put their foot on the ball and play football, which they didn’t manage yesterday, then the players shouldn’t be at Celtic. Simple. The pleasing thing about yesterday was the win and not the manner in which we won. Quite simply, we didn’t deserve to, but yesterday’s fixture also knocked about twenty million quid off the over-inflated price tag for Morelos. He was that bad yesterday he should have been wearing the green and white hoops.