Eddie Howe for Celtic?

I always thought Eddie Howe looked like my brother’s son Kevin O’Donnell, but only one of them is Celtic daft. Kevin, no doubt, will be asked to sign autographs soon. The deal isn’t done yet, but I guess we’re about ninety-five percent certain based on recent media coverage that Howe will be the next Celtic manager. It’s not inconceivable that Howe’s first job in charge will be Rangers away at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup.

A few years ago, Howe was touted to be the next England manager. He’d brought Bournemouth up through the English second division and into the Premier League—it’s all about the money. He kept them there for a few years while playing an attractive brand of attacking football. Then there were lots of injuries to key players. I’m not saying I was watching them or him, but on Match of the Day before I fell asleep having drunk three pints (Bournemouth was always last on the programme, or thereabouts) I thought he always seemed one of the good guys. He didn’t rant and waken me up, he kept calm and told it as it was. Even when they were sinking, he was thinking ahead to the next game, the next match.

 Playing the Celtic way. The transition shouldn’t be that hard. We all know where we failed. Defensive shambles. Almost fifty percent of goals lost from free kicks of corners. No one needs reminding Morelos breaking his duck at Parkhead from a corner. Another ball lost in the air and we don’t follow the runner and Morelos scores.

Howe is a bit like Brendan Rodgers. Sport scientists and training sessions mapped out. Opposition scrutinised and video-playback evidence. Inevitably, we’ll get the usual stuff about the playing staff being fitter than before (name your own manager here from Ronny Deila on). The media will make it sound like all the other teams have someone like Jim Baxter sitting on ball, smoking a fag and drinking halfs of whisky, while playing cards with Jimmy Johnstone to decide who has to buy the next round.

Players will be fitter and game smarter. They’ll all know their position. A few wins in and we’ll get the Eddie Howe bounce.

First up, we need to beat Rangers. A Celtic team with Howe in charge will be given time if we lose at Ibrox. I think we can win. Of course, I do. I’m a Celtic fan. But I’m also a believer in luck. Celtic have been unlucky not to win the last two games against Rangers. I know we’ll hear the Rangers’ faithful bemoaning the luck Celtic had when we won the League Cup final with Christopher Julien scoring from an offside position and a world-class performance from loan-keeper Fraser Forster. Our luck was in and now it’s out.

Second up, we need to beat Rangers. Rangers have had a season where everything that can go wrong has gone right. That can’t last. While everything that can go wrong in the Celtic dugout to the players on the pitch has gone wrong. It doesn’t help, of course, wasting £20 million in dud transfers and loan signings. It was no surprise when Kieran Tierney went, which just about balances our outgoings. Just the same as it’ll be no surprise when Odsonne Edouard leaves. We want rid of him pronto. Last year of his contract and he goes for nothing. It’s not been a good season for Edouard. He doesn’t score enough goals for me, or Celtic. A great Celtic striker should hit 40 a season, but I’d settle for 30. 20 goals or less is a very poor return. I don’t think he’s got it in him to make it as a top-class striker, and really, I don’t care, when he’s gone, he’s gone. I wish him well. But Celtic need to cash in now.

Similarly, Kristopher Ajer has been told by his Norwegian coaches, he needs to move to a better league. I agree. Cash in now, he’s overrated.  He’s great on the ball. And I’d keep him. But a Celtic defender also needs to be good in the air, as well as being mobile. Ajer loses too many balls in the air. The up-and-coming Stephen Welsh, is smaller, not as quick and better in the air, but still loses out to big, physical players. Perhaps playing with Julien, he’ll be better. I’m optimistic that way, but my preference would be for someone like Nathan Ake.

The deadwood isn’t just in the team, but loanees. Olivier Ntcham wanted away, he got away, but nobody wants to keep him. Jack Henry, anybody? Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo?

Roy Keane was touted as a favourite for the Celtic managerial post. The job looked his. Irish connections, Celtic background and knows Dermot Desmond. In a Yes or No vote, I voted Yes for Keane. All the usual guff about he would be too hard on the players and you couldn’t do that kind of thing anymore—sheer media shite. Celtic have been rotten this year. Anyone like us that have watched every game know that. Neil Lennon wasn’t too hard on them. He wasn’t too soft on them. We lost too many goals. Missed too many chances and Neil Lennon kept asking for more time, even when it was obvious his time was up.

His backroom staff remain in post. John Kennedy now picks the Celtic team. He’s a bit like when Rangers had Graeme Murty as interim manager before he had a meltdown. Murty was touted as the next great thing, just as Kennedy was favourite to get the Celtic top job. The idea of continuity.

Continuity of losing goals and losing games. Kennedy can leave any time, or he can go back to coaching the Under-23 team. From top to bottom, the rot has set in. I’d rather he wasn’t there, especially as a defensive coach his failings are on the pitch. Great Celtic teams should have players waiting to come through. Like shark’s teeth, when one goes another, like David Turnbull, should be ready to add a bit of bite to the team.

The major problem with Kennedy and Roy Keane to a lesser extent is they’re out of the loop. Eddie Howe with all his training notebooks and analysis of training methods lets him see a broader range of players. You couldn’t for example tell Jock Stein about any up-and- coming player in Scottish football. He already knew and had been to see him. He knew where they’d fit in with the Celtic way. 99.9% didn’t. Eddie Howe will have players in mind that he’ll bring in. I’m guessing that’s how we’ve took so long to announce him as manager. He want’s assurances about how big a budget he’ll have to spend. He’s not going to be a Ronny Deila type manager that had no leverage about who was brought into the club. Most great Celtic player leave. We’re a selling club. I look across at Ibrox and don’t see any of their players as worth buying. And I’m not buying into the media coverage that next year is an interregnum year and if we lose the league it doesn’t matter. One-in-a-row matters as much as ten-in-a-row. We’ve got to start somewhere. Win at Ibrox. Get us into the promised land of football riches, The Champions League. Win the league next year. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Couldn’t be easier, Howe? I’ve already told you.

Why we blew ten-in-a-row—answers posted on the internet.

As Jock Stein was fond of reminding us, ‘the game is nothing without fans’. One of the compensations of Celtic blowing the league and Rangers winning it is there’ll be nobody there to see it. Winning the league during lockdown or even the quadruple treble was just another day. No going to the pub with your pals. No mass celebrations. No mass street parties of the kinds we remembered after stopping that mob from winning ten-in-a-row all those years ago. Back pages of the tabloids will be filled with players celebrating, but the next day moving on to the next weather front. It didn’t have so much resonance. I won’t say let Rangers’ fans enjoy it, I’ll say, ‘fuck them as usual’, but it’ll soon be over, just as this season has been over since December, and it’ll be relatively pain free.

The other aspect of there being no fans is would we have won more points with the much quoted 60 000 in Paradise and the multitudes that follow, follow to every away ground in Scotland?

The simple answer is YES, we would have won more points. Nobody doubts that. But Rangers have had an exceptional season. So to compare like with like, it’s not that that killed our dream.

The idea that these kinds of things go in cycles makes a kind of nonsensical sense. It’s a bit like believing in fate. Before Jock Stein Rangers were dominant. We won nine-in-a-row, twice. But they did it too. Wim Jansen brought in a little-known winger from Dutch football, and the rest as they say is history. Rangers were the dominant team, with loads of money, and yet, somehow we found a way past them. As Rangers have done this year.

Having the right manager in place is a good starting point. Neil Lennon came in and won the league, completed the treble, but we were already on the slide. It made sense to appoint him as a stop-gap manager. He didn’t cost anything. He had the tools having been at Parkhead before. He knew what it was all about. But many of us weren’t sure. When he did the job and won the league and completed the job, it was obvious even to us doubters that he would be the appointed one.

Anyone that’s looking at John Kennedy and seeing played one, won one, will see a familiar pattern emerging. When Lennon’s team went on a winning run of five games, it was hardly scintillating, but then we got the usual pish about us being back on track. We’ll get that with Kennedy. He’s our Graeme McMurty. A backroom re-shuffle that doesn’t take us any further forward. When Celtic win a few games and especially if we beat Rangers (which I think we will) then we’ll hear the usual stuff about the players being fitter and more tactically aware. I don’t really get it, as if full-time professionals who are wired up and every breath measured and every kick quantified are hardly going to be unfit. There’s nowhere to hide nowadays. Jim Baxter on his benders or wee Jinky in his rowing boat – these guys trained every day, but they couldn’t hack it now. But you’ll hear it every time. They’re unfit. Or they’re fitter with the new manager’s regime.  

Celtic lost so many games because they can’t defend. I don’t think it surprised many of us when Ross County scored with a header, again. We’ve got a goal-keeping problem. A left-back problem. A right-back problem. And the central pairing is so bad we brought in Shane Duffy. This didn’t happen overnight. It’s been that way for years.

Biscuit-tin mentality. We’re a selling club. Buy cheap. Sell and prosper. You know the players I’m talking about. Kieran Tierney is the obvious example. But we recently sold a player for £11 million and I can’t even remember his name. He was no great loss. I look across at Ibrox and don’t think there are many big sales that would keep them afloat.

The promised land of Champions League is one sure-fire way of paying all the bills. By making the wrong choices, and buying in players that just can’t cut it at Celtic, we’ve opened a door for Rangers and invited them into the promised land. They’ll be able to pay their bills and have that wee bit extra to pay their debtors. They might even do what Celtic did and splash out on their falling apart infrastructure, upgrade it and make it venue for other sporting and entertainment fixtures. Rangers were almost totally reliant on the fans coming into the stadium, even with lockdown, and season book sales.

It’s all about the money. We were so far ahead we didn’t spend the money we should have spent. Now we face a mass player clear-out. I’ve not got a problem with that. Teams always evolve or they die. Ours is already on life support. We need a new manager and six or seven new players. We’ll probably get John Kennedy and one or two new players to fill the gaps left by others leaving at the end of the season.  We’ll think small again and remain small.

Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong this season. I sometimes think managers, like players need a bit of luck. Lennon’s luck had run out a long time ago.  I wasn’t the only one to say he should be sacked in November last year, or even before that with anther Champions League qualifying debacle. I don’t even think that would have made much difference, but it would have allowed a new manager to come in and prepare for next season  (Judas, Brendan Rodgers’s argument).

For Rangers everything that can go right has gone right (apart from losing to St Mirren and being put out of the League Cup). That won’t last. As league champions they’ll need to play their players more money. There’ll be unrest. They’ll even start missing penalties. Wee niggley things.

It wasn’t that long ago that Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was quoted for the England job, in the same way that Stevie G is quoted for the Liverpool job. Let’s not forget his Rangers team before lockdown were losing home and away to teams they were expected to beat. Same team. Same players. What’s different? I’d say, quite simply, they’d all the luck going and the biggest factor by far is they don’t lose goals. They defend well. Ironically, John Kennedy who was appointed to sort out our defence (on the basis he’d played centre-half for a few games all those years ago and has a few coaching badges) has helped oversee a shocking number of goals lost. Most of them at free-kicks of corners. Bad coaching? The wrong kind of players? All of the above.

Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for a reason, when we had a chance to invest in a squad of players we blew it. We cut corners on quality. You get what you pay for, or in our case, don’t pay for. I guess to end on a high-note, the one that didn’t get away, David Turnbull. We could build a team around him. And we’ll need to dig up a Wim Jansen – pronto.

Ten-in-a-row? Nah.

Celtic play a double-header, home and away, against Livingston. Must-win games. Jim Leishman reminded us that the last time Livingston won at Parkhead some of his player were on £175 a week. Celtic’s stand-in captain, Calum McGregor comes out with the usual stuff about, ‘Don’t stop believing’. Does anyone believe this stuff?

The league is gone. Ten-in-a-row gone. Even the dog’s chance we had of winning went when we lost at Ibrox.  The Scottish Cup is our only chance of silverware this season. We’ve gone from a team whose fans used to (ironically) cheer when a Rangers’ player got a touch of a ball, or laugh when their so called thirty-million-pound frontman, Alfredo Morelos, missed another sitter—to the team that has went backwards and blew it.

Rangers have come back from the dead. Media savvy men told them not to focus on preventing ten in a row, which reflected back on Celtic’s accomplishments, but to shift the focus on #going-for-55. That’s why we hear that drumbeat now.

When Neil Lennon had his first spell in charge, Charlie Adams, who was shipped off to Blackpool because Rangers thought he was a dud (and they might have been right) was asked about Celtic’s achievements. His reply was they should have won more trebles stuck with me. It wasn’t often I agreed with Charlie Adams. But after four quadruple trebles, the answer now speaks for itself.

And it’s not often I agree with Ally McCoist.  Super Ally in a spat with a pundit that Nir Bitton shouldn’t have had a red card and that Morelos wouldn’t have scored—give his track record against Celtic in the previous fourteen Old Firm games. But Ally’s one-liner killed the argument; he’s never played against Barkas. The Celtic keeper may not turn out to be a dud, but to me he looks like the scouting system plucked him from the same money-tree as Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo

Celtic are in a classic destructive cycle in which everything the club, directors and players do goes wrong. Rangers are in a virtuous cycle. Both won’t last.

I don’t look with envy at the Ibrox players. We can play the usual game of who would you take from their team? Their goalie, obviously, but after that nobody springs to mind. But our Celtic team has regressed, while their team has gotten better. In the game at Ibrox, we played them off the park in the way they did to us at Hampden when we won the League Cup, the difference that day was we had a goalkeeper that made saves in Fraser Forster.

If the league was called now, as it was called last year, Rangers would be champions. I don’t like it, but I’d accept that. We blew it.

The question now is when Lennon should go? There was a case for sacking him at the beginning of December, but bringing in a new manager would symbolically suggest we were in deep trouble. The Celtic support pay Peter Lawwell well over a million quid a year to act as Dermot Desmond’s  go to ‘Yes man’. Lennon was their man. Lawwell is a politician and politicians don’t like to admit they make mistakes. We don’t get a vote on this. The biscuit tin mentality referred to a time when Celtic directors like the White’s quietly dipped into the profits of the first nine-in-a-row team to pay for their lifestyle. We didn’t get a vote then either. Nine flags that flew over the old main stand weren’t there the following season.  

Dermot Desmond is part of the Irish mafia that cashed in his chips at the right time at Manchester United, took his profit and invested in Celtic. It’s his club. Lawwell is his man. Lennon is their manager. But he won’t be here next season. Many of our player will also be sold or out of contract. I’d sell Edouard now, cash in. Other players that are looking to leave should be shown the door, such as Ajer and Ntcham.

Roughly, seventy-percent of our income is based on supporters turning up on match days. Around ninety-percent of Rangers’ income. As league champions next year their players will demand to be paid more. They’ll be sucked into the same downward spiral as Celtic, paying an increasingly high wage bill, with a largely fixed income stream. We all know about their massive debts and hush-hush loans that need to be paid back. But as of now, they are a going concern, and we should be concerned. Champions’ League cash of around £30 million if they qualify for the groups stages puts them on par with us. That’s the golden ticket that’s eluded us the last few years. Indication of our decline, the Dermott Desmond’s of this world chose to ignore. Football is a hard business, Lennon should go now. It would make the transition to one-in-row easier. The only consolation is when Rangers do win it, they’ll be screaming into a void. With lockdown, like our quadruple winning team, we’ll quickly move on to something else. Let’s hope we do have a plan for next year. Celtic are literally taking money from fans for next to nothing and promises of change. That’s a business model that is sure to fail.

Hamilton 0—3 Celtic

Hamilton 0—3 Celtic.

Celtic start with Griffiths and Edouard up front. Turnball and Soro keep their place in the team, as does Conor Hazard. The debate goes on to whether Soro will play at Ibrox, or Lennon will bring in Scott Brown. My guess is Brown will play at Ibrox and Soro against United. I can’t say the young keeper has impressed, but that tells you all you need to know about our goal-keeping reserves. Bitton comes in for an injured Jullien and Greg Taylor for Laxalt. We’ve a strong bench, but it’s the players on the pitch that matter. Rangers were nineteen points clear coming into the game. Our chance of ten-in-a-row looks unlikely and hanging by the thinnest thread, even with games in hand. Every game until the end of the season is a must win. We’ve struggled on the plastic pitch in recent seasons and it’s wet and windy, in other words, normal Scottish weather. Neil Lennon settled for a diamond formation in midfield.

Griffiths had a chance after two minutes. Bitton had two headers from corners and almost scored. Frimpong getting the touchline and hanging up for Griffiths again, with fifteen minutes gone. The Celtic striker hit the post. Turnball and  Christie both had speculative shots from outside the box. Celtic, as you’d expect, dominate possession (86% at one point) at the midpoint of the half. Edouard in the 33rd minute weaved into the box and his shot was saved by the Hamilton keeper, Gourlay. After 47 minutes Edouard’s magic feet allowed him once more to get a shot away. But he didn’t score. Hamilton, with a decimated squad, offered little in attack. Celtic’s track record of losing every kind of goal from corners and free kicks, in particular, means the home team were still in it.  

Edouard made the difference. Frimmpong, who looks more comfortable at full-back, with space to run into, got to the bye-line and fired in a ball. Edouard’s touch was good and he tried to dink it over Gourlay, but it didn’t go in and the referee awarded a penalty. 1—0 Celtic and that Edouard penalty made a huge difference. Edouard set up the second goal for Griffiths. A side-foot shuffle into Griffith’s path. From the edge of the box, Griffiths slotted it away. We can no longer assume it’s game over, even with a two goal lead. But it was game over. Turnball got his third goal in three games. Again it was Edouard who set it up, hitting the post from a McGregor cut back. Turnball followed in with the rebound.

With twenty minutes to play Lennon could bring on a slew of substitutes. This kinda tells you the pecking order. Adjeti for Griffiths. Griffiths is number 2, to Edouard. Klmala for Edourad (well, that tells us nothing). Johnson for Turnball. You’d expect to see Elyounoussi, our top scorer, coming on before Johnson. And he did, eventually, for Christie. And Elyounoussi was unlucky not to score at the end of the game.

We need to beat Dundee United on Wednesday. Then Rangers at Ibrox on the 2nd January. We’ll still be underdogs, but will have a chance of ten-in-a-row. It was easy today. Our defence didn’t lose a goal, which is unusual this season. Griffiths is certainly sharper. Edouard back to something like his best. Stating the obvious, we need Rangers to lose and us to win. And we need to stop losing daft goals to do that.

Celtic 0—2 Ross County.

Celtic were playing at Livingston last year, we were losing (it ended up 1—1) and somebody whispered in Lennon’s ear, Rangers were also losing, but at home to Hamilton. He smiled, a lip reader would suggest he said, ‘you’re fucking joking’. You can imagine how the Ranger’s manager must be feeling now.

Two things make me happy, or at least less grumpy (fuck Christmas): Celtic winning and Rangers losing.

Beaten on Thursday by a Sparta Prague team struggling in the Czechoslovakian league, yet who scored eight goals to our two, over two Europa league ties, and are no better than Kilmarnock. Kilmarnock who beat Ross County with ten men last week. A Ross County team that hasn’t won since 19th September, seven games without a win. And over seven games Celtic scored 26 and lost 1 goal, before today. This is a Ross County team that if James Forest played them himself, the Celtic winger would still manage to score a hat-trick without playing particularly well, and then add another. When Neil Lennon (surely now the ex-Celtic manager) was asked if he was able to field his strongest team this season, he was able to say ‘No’. No Forest for him, meant it wasn’t his strongest team. He’s tried a back three and back four, he’s shuffled players about, as he did again today. Same old, same old. We can’t defend and we concede with seemingly every cross ball.

A turgid first half. Celtic have a change of goal keeper, Vasilis Barkas comes in. Change of shape, with two up front, Edouard and Ajeti. We see most of the ball, but don’t look like scoring. Ten Ross County men behind the ball. Ayer loses the ball on the touchline (and most of his headers) and Ross Paton gets to the touch line. It fizzles out. A shout for a penalty for hand ball in the Ross County box, it wasn’t. A free kick from Edouard and an easy save from the County keeper.

The first goal encapsulates Celtic’s season. Josh Reid on the right wing hooks a ball forward, past Elhamad, takes out three other Celtic defenders. Reid picks up his own wayward pass, drives into the box. His cross across goal is met at the front post by the County target man, Ross Stewart. He wouldn’t have scored, but no matter, Julien clips him. Penalty. He scores from the spot. Rogic plays in Ajeti, who hits the inside of the post. Everything that can go wrong, does, again.

Second half. I can use words like ‘ditto’. Neil Lennon. ‘ditto.’

We bring on McGregor, for Bitton, who had a shocker. I don’t know if we were resting McGregor for the next big one, which is now. Ajeti, has another game where he falls over and moans about decisions, goes off for Elyounoussi, who at least plays well, in one-in-three games. This is his chance. He has a header and misses. Edouard swivels and hooks past the post.

Duffy comes on for Elhamad, and wipes out man of the match, Ross Stewart on the half-way line. Jaccovitti scores with a header from another cross ball from five yards. He’s unmarked, as you’d expect from a Celtic team with four players in the team that are over six-foot five. The League cup is gone. The one that doesn’t matter than much.

But let’s be honest, Rangers will win it now. Rangers will win the league. Transition season in which we’ll probably beat Hearts in the final and win last year’s Scottish Cup, this year. And our best chance of a trophy is this year’s Scottish Cup.  Even Ronny Delia wouldn’t have survived that one. Keep the faith, reads to me, like keep being stupid. I’m daft enough, but I’m not blind. I’ll wait and see who the next Celtic manager is. Usually, new mangers get a bounce, two or three games when pundits start talking about how much fitter the team is and how they’ve gelled. Same old pish. This season is gone.

Tear along this line. Played ten, won two. Lost to Ross County.

————————————————————————————————————

 Thank fuck it’s lockdown so I don’t have to listen to their shite.

Hibs 2—2 Celtic

I’ve an ongoing joke with my mates. Celtic are a goal down and it’s the ninety-second minute: ‘I’ll take a draw now,’ I admit defeat. Diego Laxalt scores to make it 2—2. That’s a point gained rather than two lost. Neil Lennon will come out with the usual guff about showing character. Or even great character.

But this is a Celtic team full of doubt. The best teams have that arrogance. They turn up expecting to win. And they do. We do. We’ve done it for the last couple of seasons. Treble-treble. And counting. We’ve not turned into a bad team overnight.

The first half at Easter Road. Nothing much in it. Celtic had more of the ball—as you’d expect. Elyounoussi had two chances. Boyle for Hibs had an equally good chance when Laxalt misjudged a cross ball. The Celtic goal scorer doesn’t do that very often. Pile on the clichés about him being the one saving light. A cameo from Rogic with his dancing feet and that’s about it. We go in even and the game ends up even.

There was symmetry about the goals scored and conceded. Biton, fresh from his victory for Israel against Scotland, gives away a needless free-kick near the halfway line. Scott Brown bundles into Martin Boyle on the edge of the penalty box, near the corner flag. The Hib’s player was going nowhere, and the best he could have expected was a corner. Hib’s penalty. Kevin Nisbet misses it, or Scott Bain saves it, but it doesn’t matter. Jamie Murphy, Ranger’s loan player and man of the match, follows up to score.

Roles are reversed for the next Hib’s goal. Murphy rises unchallenged, flicks it on into the Celtic box. Kevin Nisbet powers it low into the corner.

Edouard comes on for Ajeti. Another poor match for the Swiss striker. Elyounoussi, who is either great, or invisible, was also replaced for Shane Duffy. That’s what you call having a bad game. Porteous missed an easy header to take Hibs 3—0 up. Hibs cruising.

Porteous handles the ball in the box. Edouard scores but there are only around five minutes of normal time left. Griffiths is on. Ntcham on for Rogic on the ninety-second minute, which looked like time-wasting from the Celtic manager. But hey, I always knew we’d score.

A scaffed clearance from a cross and Laxalt put it into the top corner. We couldn’t nick a winner, could we? We can’t win the league, can we—?

No.

Every team that plays against Celtic scores. Sometimes more than once. Nir Biton looks, like he is, a midfielder playing in defence. Duffy is a bad loan signing who we can send back now. Pity we can’t send the Greek keeper back. Great that we can play Laxalt. This is the same Celtic team that ran riot against pretty much everybody in Scotland—including Rangers. Certainly, we have the players to beat them. But not if we keep beating ourselves, as we did today. Before this game we hoped Aberdeen would do us a turn. Now we need them to.

Whatever we do on Thursday doesn’t really matter. We’re in the last chance saloon and it’s still November. We’re waiting for Ranger’s luck to turn, for those little things that happen in a game to go against them and turn the tide and title race. But we’ve got to be ready. I’m not sure what the answer is. The sure sign of an idiot is to keep doing the same things and expect a different outcome.  

Aberdeen 3—3 Celtic.

I know we’ll get that old line, for the neutral this was a cracking game. A great advertisement for Scottish football. I’d have taken a bog-standard Celtic victory. I know 27 league games to go. We’ll get the standard fare of no need to panic. I’m not panicking. Listen, I was at Love Street that day when Celtic needed to score four or five and we needed Albert Kidd to dig us out of a hole of Heart’s own making. Even early in the ten-in-a-row season, we’re looking at dog’s chances.

Rangers, from what I’ve seen, aren’t going to roll over this year. We need to be better and we need to be better fast.

Be careful what you wish for. Scott Bain in goal was a good start, but like Barkas, he didn’t make a significant save. Two of them were penalties, just before half time, and the extra-time of full-time. You don’t expect keepers to make saves then, but you kinda hope. The other goal, the second for Aberdeen was another Shane Duffy moment. You know the script and we’re getting the jokes, Shane Duffy is an Effie Ambrose waiting to happen. But we’re not laughing. Bring back Effie.

McGregor was in for Scott Brown. And McGregor gave us hope, when we were one down, with one of those dancing feet goals that dragged us back into the game. Good to see Rogic involved. Good to see the Australian back in the team.

Elyounoussi, after his cameo, against Milan, started here. He’d a poor game. But let’s look at the positives, he did get on the end of a cross and got us a penalty. A winning penalty- I’d hoped.

Come back Johnny Hayes (I’d have kept him and played him). He’d Frimpong in his pocket until the ninetieth-third minute when the Celtic youngster finally ran past him.

In a four-four-two and with Frimpong playing full back, we hoped he’d be able to run into space. But although he got lots of the ball, again and again he came inside. Leaving us no width.

Just when we seem to have the left-back position sorted with Laxalt, the right-back position is our weakest point in attack and defence.

McGregor might have dug us out of a half-time hole, but it was the return of the Griff that fired us ahead –and had us thinking we’d win.

Ajeti is a goal scorer, but he needs to hold the ball. He didn’t. He mumped and moaned, looking for fouls.

Griffiths, came on, as he did in the game against St Johnstone, before the international break, and turned the game. He made space for himself in the box. And his strike into the top corner was a thing of beauty.

Game over—I wish. You’ve got to allow for Duffy, wandering out to the left, like a cow returning to pasture. Still in control of the ball. Then that flick. We all make mistakes. But what was it we kept saying about Effie, in the big games, then the Irish Ambrose came to the fore. Ryan Hedges, who was Aberdeen’s best player, scored from a rebound. An almost save, we seem to plagued with almost saves.

Aberdeen’s first penalty—which was a penalty—was a clumsy tackle, that wasn’t even a tackle by Ntcham on Ferguson. Ironically, Ntcham was having one of his better games before that incident.

There was talk, after the international break of the games against Rangers, AC Milan, Aberdeen, Lille, Aberdeen and Motherwell defining our season.

We all know what happened against Rangers. AC Milan was a defeat, but it wasn’t total capitulation. Aberdeen today.

We’re 3—2 up, going into added on time. We’ve dropped back, but we’re patting ourselves on the back, thinking we’ve been lucky here. All teams need a bit of luck.

The game against Lille doesn’t matter than much. I think we’ll beat Aberdeen, comfortably, at Hampden. I’m not sure about Motherwell away. I’m pretty sure Rangers will keep on winning and winning.

I hate saying it, but we look far more less likely to win than them. Here’s hoping, we take any dog chances we get between now and the end of the season. Shane Duffy has been a nightmare. The Greek keeper, an empty jersey, but here’s hoping he turns it around. Frimpong is only eighteen and showing signs of insecurity, taking the easy pass, going backwards in so many ways.

The return of the Griff has been great (anonymous against Milan, but I don’t mind that). Rogic has class. We need more of class. We have the best players in the league—by far—but we make so many amateur mistakes.

In the games that define our season, we’ve lost two and drawn one. Commentators were already adopting that gloomy voice and telling us the last time Celtic lost three games in a row was under Neil Lennon. Ten-in-a-row? I’ll use another cliché. A big ask.     

Ten-in-a-row—No, No, were you at the game caller?

Ten-in-a-row—No, No, were you at the game caller?

Nah—and neither were the Celtic team. It was that bad we’ve even got Barry Ferguson sympathising with Neil Lennon. 

Martin Powell, the only MP I trusted, used to go for long walks when Celtic were playing Rangers. That was during the Martin O’Neil era.  I thought that was crazy. But he might well have had a point. I’m old enough now to take up golf.

During Scoreboard, Hugh Keevins  asked a Celtic die-hard, are you seriously saying that the league is finished with 28 games to go? 

Let’s go for a long walk.

Football management is like a game of poker.

Lennon went incandescent because his team was leaked before the game. Kenny Miller is being fingered as villain-in-chief.  He shouldn’t have been. Lennon should know who was going to play for Rangers, in what positions, and what they could do and couldn’t do. And what opportunities it offers Celtic. You’re only as strong as your weakest hand.

No surprises for Celtic. No surprises for Rangers.

Celtic played exactly how Steven Gerrard expected. They were predictable and pedestrian.

Rangers didn’t play well. They didn’t need to. Morelos was petulant, off the pace, and should have been booked earlier than he was for flicking his hand in Scott Brown’s face. Barker ran about, like the majority of the Celtic team, with little direction or purpose. Stevie G said in the post-match interview they needed to stay humble. They’ve a lot to be humble about.

Stevie G knows what cards to play and when to play them. In a game of poker, he’s called Lennon’s bluff and won twice at Parkhead. At Hampden, Stevie G can count himself unlucky.  No posturing at the final whistle for the Ibrox manager and players. They know they’ve got the beating of Celtic now.

Goalkeeper makes saves.

We used to have this conversation that no Rangers’ player would get in the Celtic team during the Martin O’Neil era, and more recently. Obviously, we didn’t include Rab Douglas and whether he cost us the final in Seville is a moot point. Goram, the flying pig, Kloss, McGregor and an older and wiser McGregor again are so much better.

If there is still reserve-team football during lockdown, it’s difficult to imagine the current Celtic keeper getting a game in Rangers’ reserves.

Celtic let Craig Gordon leave. The management team kept Scott Bain as back-up. There was talk of signing Scotland, and ex-Celtic keeper, David Marshall. We went for a Greek internationalist, Vasilis Barkas, and paying premium rates for a keeper than doesn’t  make saves.

The problem left back spot

Money wasted on buying a dud who flies to Spain and doesn’t tell Lennon.

Taylor is not a dud, neither is he Tierney. Neither is he Andy Lynch, Tosh McKinlay or Anton Rogan. He’s a mixture of the good, the bad and the Anton, I’ll kick everything for the cause, because, but Taylor doesn’t cut it.

We brought in Laxalt on loan because Lennon knows that.

Johnny Hayes, like Craig Gordon, has left the building? Why?

Celtic’s loan-signing policy.

Rangers had no loan signings in the team that outplayed us.

Loan signings are a try before you buy. In, for example, Charly Musonda and another few nameless faces. It’s been great business because you can just return them to their parent club. 

Craig Bellamy, Paddy Roberts, and Fraser Forster were guys here in the short-term that made a positive difference. Players we would have kept in a heartbeat.

In the Fergus McCann football business, you don’t have an extra Celtic jersey. Loan signings are giving other teams money. Or in Fergus’s case, other financial institutions.  Rangers had no loan signings playing in the Old Firm derby. Glen Kamara only cost £50,000 from Dundee and helped run the show. Remember Didier Agathe £100 000 from Hibs? Bargain basement. Rangers had Steven Davis playing. He was a loan signing that was made a permanent deal and cost zero.  Fergus would have liked that. Nobody was slating him because of his age, in the way Scott Brown is hounded. Steven Davis was another that didn’t have a particularly good game, but he was in the winning team.

We’ve come a long way from Jock Stein and the 1967 European Cup winning team. Eleven players that lived within a twelve-mile radius of Glasgow (Bobby Lennox, furthest away in Saltcoats). But Jock Stein wasn’t a cuddly bear that was lucky. He was ruthless. Jimmy Johnstone when his legs were gone was sold. Stein was hesitant to let Johnstone play in a pre-season friendly, and have a final hurrah, before he was sold to Dundee. That too was a must-win Celtic game. As Scotland manager, he told Ipswich player, John Wark, if you can’t go box to box and score goals, you’re no use to me. It’s not difficult to imagine what Stein would have said of a Celtic team that never managed to have a significant shot on goal in an Old Firm derby.

Shane Duffy v Connor Goldson.

We all know how this went Goldson scored two goals, early in the first and second half—game over.

Neither Duffy or Goldson are great passer of the ball with their feet. Duffy had more touches of the ball than anyone else on the field.  Their strength is in the air. Duffy was a marquee signing for Celtic. Loan fees and paying his wages was a gamble Celtic were willing to take.

Goldson was the cheaper option. Straight fee. Pennies by Celtic standard. His wages would be laughable. Fergus McCann would be asking hard questions about value for money. Why didn’t we buy the cheap option, sooner?

Why with Celtic’s superior resources, reserve team football and money in the bank do we need loan signings?

Goldson was lauded (not by me, obviously) but it could and should have been different. Elyounoussi easily rolled Goldstone and should have made it 1—1 after twenty minutes.

Elyounoussi is, of course, another loan signing. Is he any better than what we’ve got? Is he better than Rogic? David Turnbull, top midfield scorer for Motherwell, came off the bench, so I was told? Paddy McCourt? Obviously not as good as Paddy. But hey, you’ve got to laugh.

Celtic’s signing policy is related to their resale value (that’s not news)

Virgil van Dijk. That’s all I need to say. He was promised the dream and then he was sold for what we thought was buttons. That will never happen again has coloured our thinking. Players that don’t want to be at Paradise should be sold— not immediately, that’s bad for business, and we are a business, but sooner rather than later.

The French trois. Edouard didn’t play. That wasn’t much of a shock, but a setback. It was mitigated by his form—any scouts turning up looking for a £35 million striker would have been baffled. Sell.

Ntcham wants away and has been engineering a move for the last two seasons. Take the hit. Again, missing in action—let him go.

Christopher Jullien rag dolled by Lyndon Dykes and, more recently, the Kilmarnock centre forward. We bought him for £7 million, hoping for a standout and sell-on profit. His is a longer term deal. And I think there is a player in there. Whether it is as a Celtic player, I don’t know.

Ryan Christie would have started. I think he’s the best midfielder in Scotland (well, apart from McGregor) but he wants away and has been, like the rest of the Celtic team, ineffectual against Rangers in other Old Firm meetings. Keep.  

Nir Bitton wants away. See you later, pal.

Tom Rogic. I’m a big fan. I was scared when Brendan Rodgers left he’d come back and take Rogic. Now I’m texting Judas Rodgers,  Rogic’s number. The love affair with Celtic is over. Lennon doesn’t fancy him. Ironically, Rodgers might be at the club longer than Lennon. New managers have a different vision.

The game is nothing without fans.

Chris Sutton, former player and pundit, suggests that having no fans favours a Rangers team that are serial bottlers. Stats from the locked-down Bundesliga showed that playing at home wasn’t as much an advantage. Away teams won more. Bayern Munich kept winning. Class tells.

Rangers are not the Barcelona of old, but they’ll win pretty much every week. Celtic seems largely incapable of that. The Old Firm team that won the first game went on to win the title in four out of five seasons. That’s not us. We didn’t even look as if we could manage a draw. Only one team looks like bottlers. Here I hope I’m wrong.

Is it time for Lennon to go?

I’ll put it another way. Stevie G has his number. A novice manager has got the beating of him. As Lennon said, coming second in Glasgow is coming last. Jock Stein or his apprentice, Alex Ferguson, would have had the hairdryer full on at half-time. At full time, well, we know the story. We’re hit with the same managerial clichés.

Will Celtic win ten-in-a-row?

No.

Possible picks, Celtic v Rangers

Celtic’s first eleven against Rangers—who’s in and who’s out?

Goalkeeper is an easy pick. Celtic hired a private jet to bring Vasilos Barkas back from a recent international. He was on the bench for Greece. He’s not really done anything that Scott Bain, or Conor Hazard, or you’d expect any other bog standard goalie to do. He’s certainly not won us matches the way—may he rot in reserve-team-football hell, the Southampton keeper we got on loan last season did. Hope we don’t need him, but time for Barkas to step up and be counted.

Another loan player, Shane Duffy, is going to be in the middle of a back three, back four, or indeed a back five. He’s limited when it comes to passing, but in the air he’s colossus. Just what we needed. Capable of getting us a goal.

Kristopher Ajer will play on Duffy’s left-hand flank. Ajer is a far better ball player than Duffy, but for his size, extremely limited in the air. Pre-Covid, if AC Milan were offering £15 million, I’d have taken it. Overrated.

Here’s where it gets interesting. We paid £7 million for Christopher Jullien. He can be elegant and good in the air, but can be bullied, as he was at Livingston and Kilmarnock. His injury coincided with the arrival of Duffy. Duffy is a number one pick. I expected Jullien to slot into the position on the right flank.

But Nir Bitton held that positon and with a few good performances looked like establishing a run in the team. He too got injured. OK, as Celtic supporters, it’s annoying when the injured Bitton pops up starring for Israel against Scotland. He’s not great in the air, but as a former midfielder, unflappable on the ball. No matter, he’s out.

Hatem Abed Elhamed also starred for an Israel team that outplayed Scotland. He also played well when he replaced Bitton in the Celtic team. He’s also out. Also injured.

Unless Neil Lennon plays a wild card, Julien will start. The problem here is with Julien’s tendency to grab at players and with him likely to be up against Ryan Kent, let’s hope the Celtic defender doesn’t give anything stupid away.

No matter what team Lennon puts out, with James Forrest injured, Jeremie Frimgpong will hug the wide-right touchline and sprint back to mark Ryan Kent. Well, he can. He’s did it before with some aplomb. One of the few Celtic player to get pass marks in the Old Firm fixtures in the pre-split Christmas of 2019. He plays with a smile on his face. He makes things happen. But unlike James Forrest he doesn’t score much. There’s still time. Potential match winner.

Greg Taylor is the kind of player Scotland use when they’re playing meaningless fixtures. His best game was Celtic away, in Riga. Most of his other games are bang-average. Not a bad player. Not a great player in the mould of a Tosh McKinley.  I’d have settled for Johnny Hayes.

Lennon’s got a decision to make here. Diego Laxalt, the Uruguayan international on loan from AC Milan, could be thrown in for Greg Taylor. I can’t see it. And I’ve not seen Laxalt, although I can remember him, because of his Henrik-like hair, playing alongside Suarez. Give me a bit of that. Fling him into the mix. Here’s hoping.

It gets a bit boring here. We know Scott Brown and Callum McGregor will start in the central midfield slots.

There is now an outside chance of Ryan Christie starting, but we’ll not dwell on that and say he’s out.

Oliver Ntcham will start in Christie’s place. Terrific and cultured player. Doesn’t want to be at Celtic and has a tendency to disappear during games, but not a bad stand in.

Odsonne Edouard is in quarantine, but unlike Christie, could start. Usually, I’d say, will start. Barry Ferguson, the Ranger’s pundit, rated Edouard in the £35 million bracket. But not on this season’s performances. Lacklustre. Doesn’t look interested. He’s off are a few of the remarks I’ve heard (usually, because it’s me saying it). It’s not really a wild card to play Edouard, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion he’ll be on the bench.

Now it gets difficult to pick one from three to who will play centre-forward. I know it won’t happen, but with no Edouard I’d just go with Leigh Griffiths. We’ll get the usual pish about him not having game time.

That didn’t stop Albian Ajeti putting the ball in the netti and scoring goal a game before he got injured. He’s back too, with the usual stricture, not- match-fit.

Edouard can play with any of these two strikers. Or, if he’s out, Griffiths and Ajeti, pairing.

If we’re going to stuff the midfield and Edourad is out then Partyk Kilma could find himself as lone striker. He’s fed on scraps and came through to score goals. His goal against St Johnstone summed him up. Halved in two, he jumped up, and thumped the ball past the keeper. Kilma is no dud. Ironically, the guys that are half-fit are first picks. Scoring goals can change his prospects. Score against Rangers and it could change his career.

In the absence of Christie the guys that can play in behind the striker (whoever that is) is red hot. Ntcham could be pushed up. And I think that will happen.

Mohammed Elyounoussi playing ahead of Taylor and in behind the striker. He’s on form and scores goals. But I’m not convinced. He disappears.

If we’d got Tom Rogic on loan from Southampton and played him in the same position (as he did under Brendan Rodgers) then I’m sure the Australian internationalist would also have scored goals. He might even start. But don’t put any money on it. It’s the bench and a long wait for Rodgic.

The wildcard here is David Turnbull. The former Motherwell player has looked tidy with the ball, and untidy, giving it away. He takes great free kicks. Has boundless energy and an eye for a goal. He might well replace Christie in the team, in the short and longer term. I’d favour him over Elyounoussi.

Celtic as we all know have won eight games in a row. Don’t be fooled. Unconvincing and wide open at the back. I don’t rate Rangers, but they have shown they could exploit the open space. I expect us to start with one striker and a packed midfield.

Lennon usually plays one wildcard. In this game it will be Diego Laxalt in for Taylor. Celtic will win, if they score first. If not, it’ll be a draw.  

Barkas

Duffy

Ajer

Julien

Brown

McGregor

Ntcham

Frimpong

Laxalt

Elyounoussi

Ajeti

Kilmarnock 1—1 Celtic

Celtic would have been expected to pick up three points here (and everywhere else in Scottish football). On paper they have better players in every position. On the plastic pitch they were paper-tigers. Kilmarnock deserved their draw. No Celtic player got pass marks, apart from the new Celtic goalkeeper, Barakas. The Greek international was beaten by a Chris Burke penalty, but he wasn’t culpable, barely having a shot to save. That falls to Julien. With Celtic a goal up from a long-range Christie free-kick, which the Kilmarnock rookie keeper Rogers should have saved, Celtic weren’t cruising, but they were in control. The best player on the pitch, Kabanaba was giving the Celtic centre-half and his partner, Ayer, a torrid time. He was also giving a Kilmarnock team based on getting everybody behind the ball, and defending deep, an outball. Kabamaba totally dominated Jullien, who had one of those games were he could do nothing right. A nothing ball in behind him. A stramash between Scott Brown and Kabamba who held him and Jullien off. He spun away the Celtic centre-back on the touchline. Jullien pulled him down. Stone-wall penalty. Stupidity of the first order. But Celtic still have some of the first-half and the whole of the second half to make amends.

Let’s cut to the usual shite about how many blocks the Kilmarnock defenders, in particular, made. Power, for example, making two million blocks and taking a booking for the team. Rogers the Kilmarnock keeper was slightly more worked than Barkas, but without having to do much more than punt the ball up the park and pick out poor crosses and scuffed shots.

When you bring on Bolingoli in the dying minutes then you know how terrible your team must have been. Elyounoussi looked dangerous pre-season. Another performance like this we’ll pay Southampton to keep him. Edouard, who often as not been our saviour, did nothing. Christie got a goal, but was posted missing for most of the match. Forrest had the kind of game were you’re asking if he was on the park. McGregor was slightly better than Brown and might even have got pass marks, but he didn’t pass the ball enough to achieve that. Frimpong, who has been so good of late, couldn’t conjure a trick. Taking him off for Elhmad didn’t hurt anybody, didn’t change anything. Ntcham on for Brown didn’t add anything either. Kimala on for Elyounoussi was a change that might have worked on another day. The Polish striker at least looked lively and might have got on the end of a fluffed cross. Ajer had a poor game and if he’s worth thirty million, grab the money. But then again, his defensive partner stole the show, we paid seven million for him, generally, money well spent. On this showing, today (and he’d previous as Livingstone against a physical centre-forward) he was inept, poor, merde or shite, take your pick.

Every point counts and this was two points flung away against a Kilmarnock team whom Lennon knew exactly how they would play. But, to be fair, the Celtic manager couldn’t have known his own players could play collectively and individually as badly. Shades of Ibrox here.  It’ll give him something to think about in the away fixture to St Mirren, who were brushed aside by Rangers. I can tell you exactly how St Mirren will play—the same as Kilmarnock—and if we play the same then ten in a row…I know, I know…I know…