Celtic 6—0 St Mirren

Ange Postecoglou makes two changes from the mid-week fixture. James Forrest dropping out with a knock. He said he’s giving Tommy Rogic a rest, with some big matches coming up. Ryan Christie and Edouard coming in. Our main man—and goal threat—Kyogo, plays wide. He had two chances he should have converted at the front and back post. He missed the target, but it didn’t matter much. Our manager took him off with twenty minutes to go. Resting him. Six goals in seven games. And 6—0 today without him scoring. We’ll not label him a slacker.  

St Mirren won on their last visit to the East End of Glasgow, but it was as easy as it gets today. A stroll in the Parkhead rain. A Premier League training match on matchday. Another victory.

Celtic dominated early possession (as you’d expect). St Mirren came to defend and hit on the break. It worked last season for many teams, the Paisley side being one of them. But Celtic are simply better. Sure Main bullied Starfelt a bit and had a goal disallowed for offside that wasn’t, with Ralston on the touchline playing him on, but Joe Hart could have nipped off for the half-time pies and not came back and nobody much would have noticed.

Turnbull got into the groove early, hitting the inside of the post inside eight minutes. On another day that would have went in.

Not to worry, he scored three anyway and was the sponsor’s man of the match. Edouard had a free-kick from the semi-circle of the penalty box blocked out for a corner. But Liel Abada got our first just after 20 minutes. He’s direct and likes to shoot. The commentator compared him with Joe Miller. The Israeli’s deflected shot beat bearded St Mirren keeper, Jak Alnwick. He’d a shocker (*aye, we’ve been there with our own Greek tragedy) and should have saved it.

Two minutes later Alan Power got a red card for a shocking tackle on David Turnbull. He halfed him on the touchline, nowhere near the ball. (The kind of meaty challenges that used to be made by Tam Forsyth and be called legal.)  

Celtic punished them with a goal within a few minutes. It was an attack of the killer dwarves.  Number 7, Kyogo Furuhashi slipped the ball to wee Greg Taylor. His cross was met by the smallest man on the park, Liel Abada who powered a downward header beyond Alnwick. The St Mirren keeper was blameless. A big goal that mean the game was over, with twenty-five minutes gone.

 Callum McGregor, whose ability to move the ball quickly from defence to midfield to attack, has been so important in the Celtic resurgence, found himself on the edge of the box. He curled it just beyond the top corner.

David Turnbull scored the third just past the thirty-minute mark. Stephen Walsh played a pass inside, and from just outside the box, where he’s proved so deadly. It swerved up and over Jak Alnwick and into the keeper’s right-hand post. Turnbull should be looking at over twenty goals this season. As should many other of our midfielders. But with his shooting ability from distance, and with packed defences, he’s our main threat, but not our only one.

Ryan Christie, whose more than capable of scoring from inside and outside the box, and who is back to something like his best form, was lucky not to get booked. He made a wild sliding challenge on a Buddie’s player going nowhere. I’ll put that down to enthusiasm, but he’s previous here.

Kyogo missed the first of his two sitters shortly afterwards. And a Celtic combination of Greg Taylor with a backheel and Edouard’s improvisation looked to make it a fourth. The crowd were sure it was over the line, but it was scrambled away.

Turnbull added his second and Celtic’s fourth just before halftime.  Jak Alnwick parried an Abada cross into the path of Turnbull, and he finished. Keeper at fault.

Celtic didn’t let the pace slip in the second half, and St Mirren made two changes, but it was still one-sided. Kyogo missed his chance at the front post. Then he set up Edouard for his only goal of the afternoon. He made way for Tom Rogic. Ismaila Soro came on for Callum McGregor. It was a runabout for the young Israeli.

 Alnwick made a couple of saves from Rogic, Ralston, Edouard and Christie. But, arguably, Alan Power had a better game than the St Mirren keeper and the ref had sent him off after twenty minutes.

It was all about seeing it out. We’d even time to bring on Ajeti, who looked decent for his last six minutes cameo. He helped create the sixth goal. He won the ball outside the box, and fed it to Rogic, which is always a good idea. The Australian nutmegged the defender. Turnbull finished. Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic team were hunting for a seventh.

Easy, easy, it’s been great. But can we defend? Midweek in Holland and at Ibrox next week. Two away games. I don’t think Edouard will start either of them. Rogic will come back in. Angeball’s been exciting and effective. We’ve had a rub of the green, we didn’t have last season. Long may it continue.

Celtic 6—0 Dundee

None of my mates think Celtic will win the league this year. But like a patient with a diagnosis of cancer we cling to whatever hope is on offer. Rangers beaten in Europe and at Tannadice gives us a boost. When they’re up, we’re down. Luck plays a part in most games. And whatever can go wrong this season, and last, has done so. Here’s hoping Rangers’ virtuous cycle has finally ground to a halt, and ours has just begun. New beginnings with our team—yet more changes.   Welsh comes in for Bitton. Ryan Christie for Forrest and Sorro drops out of the team and Tom Rogic comes in.  Kyogo Furuhashi leads the line, as he did in mid-week. He scores three goals and could, and perhaps should, have had more. But that’s being picky.

Ten minutes gone and a one-two with Rogic unlocked the Dundee defence. Furuhashi  connected sweetly with the ball from six-yards but put it past the post.

David Turnbull picked out LielAbada, the winger whipped it in towards the front post and Kyogo Furuhashi ghosted in to get our first goal after twenty minutes.  

Furuhashi makes it two, five minutes later. Christie nutmegged his marker, pushed into the penalty box. Kyogo drifted in and out and scored with a deft touch in the six-yard box.

Tony Ralston created another chance, getting in behind the defence and cut the ball back to the eighteen-yard line. Abada’s shot was weak, but caught Furuhashi inside the six-yard box, but he missed the goal. The twenty-six-year-old Japanese international, who signed a four-and-a-half-year deal, missed two good chances (similar to the one he missed on his Europa League debut) and scored three goals. But his poise on the ball and his closing down, even in the first-half, makes him man of the match and the thirty-plus goal-scorer that the Hoops have been crying out for. He’s a star not in waiting, but now. He’s one we’ve got to thank Ange for.

Dundee looked out of it, relying on Charlie Adam’s long shys and free kicks. But two of their players should have received a red card. Shaun Byrne on Christie and Marshall’s tackle on Ralston, in particular, was of the shocker variety. Celtic look slick, but our defence was largely untested.  

Ryan Christie created the third, beating the defender with an audacious back heel. Christie, unlike Edouard, who came on for Furuhashi, is one I’d want to keep. Christie is back to his best. Tom Rogic started and scored the third. He only needed one touch to place the ball into the corner of the net and score Celtic’s third goal. At the start of the second half it was already game over and just a matter of how many.

Instead of a defensive midfielder we had Callum McGregor taking the ball and driving forward. All routes led towards goal. Ange Postecoglou’s idea of attacking football came together in fluid movement and interchange between the players. Just over twenty minutes of the second half gone and Turnbull slipped in Kyogo, it was perhaps the easiest chance of the afternoon, but our main striker skied it. Turnbull has been poorish recently, but he looked assured and back to his best here.

 Kyogo Furuhashi hat-trick was delayed rather than denied. John Hartson called the pass from Ryan Christie that split the defence and put the Kyogo in on goal, ‘world class’. Furuhashi won man of the match, but Christie, who’d been unlucky with a free kick from the edge of the box at the end of the first-half, wasn’t far behind the Japanese international.

Kyogo was substituted to a standing ovation and replaced by Odsonne Edouard. Anthony Ralston scored a stormer at Tynecastle (sadly, it wasn’t enough). But with less than ten minutes to go he scored perhaps the best goal of the rain-soaked afternoon to make it 5—0. He juggled with the ball in the air, before slamming it past Shaun Byrne. We’ve had our own defensive woes, but the Dundee keeper was faultless for any of the goals.

He was beaten again by Edouard from the penalty spot. Abada had driven into the box only to be brought down by Jordan Marshall. The Dundee defender was sent off. Abada wanted to take the spot kick, but Edouard held onto the ball and finished neatly enough (why the fuck couldn’t he do this against Rangers I can hear you screaming?—or maybe that’s just me grumbling).

Celtic have a new hero. He’s no longer French, but Japanese. At last we looked to have picked a winner. Our midfield and attack is shaping up. No more needs to be said about our defence. I know, I know, I know. But Ralston… maybe we should play him as false number nine (whatever that is) and sell him for twenty million. The kid done good.

Sheffield Wednesday 1—3 Celtic. (friendly).

First pre-season game and we play Sheffield Wednesday on a Wednesday. And Stephen Welsh plays in Wales, although he’s not Welsh. It’s a ninety minute game, but split into three thirty minutes segments. Over the fence of Dragon Park guys in white playing glorified rounders are oblivious that the next European Champions are playing on their turf, after they achieve one-in-a-row. Yeh, one of those games when it wouldn’t have surprised you if Johnny Depp was playing on the wing with his hat on.

Ange Postecolgou’s first call is to make Albian Ajeti captain. I’m not sure the thinking over that one. I didn’t recognise many of the players that started the first of three periods. Barkas was in goals. That’s the Celtic goalie that didn’t make a save in his first season. But it’s a new start. And Barkas was the Celtic player who got the most touches in the opening ten minutes as the ball was played backwards and backwards and backwards.  He didn’t make a save here either, but we were 1—0 down as Sheffield United dominated. Barkas was not at fault. And for a change we didn’t lose a goal from a corner of free kick, as we did for most games last season. But we were still the easy touch of last season. Bannan, Palmer and a through ball to ex-Rangers’ player Josh Windass gave Wednesday the lead. And that’s the way it stayed, until the beginning of the second half.

Finally, I get to say Ajeti put the ball in the nettie. We’ve been that focussed on what’s happening with Leigh Griffiths that Ajeti has been largely overlooked. Ajeti, when he’s not falling over looking for fouls, is also a predator with a good strike rate in the Swiss league. Last season he was dreadful. This season he’s got a new start. And he’s only 24. He’s a wait- and-see player. Like Griffiths he’s a point to prove.

Red-haired winger, Owen Moffat was one of our better players in the first half. And he capped off a stand-out performance with a brilliantly taken goal. Ex-Sheffield player Liam Shaw also looked impressive, both physically and the way he used the ball in midfield as Celtic began to dominate. Soro, in the holding role, looks as if he’s going to be a regular starter.

Scott Bain came on for Barkas after 45 minutes, but wholesale changes to both teams were made. Odsonne Edouard came on and scored the third goal, near the end of the ninety minutes.

Difficult one, he’s still a Celtic player, but the quicker he goes the better, with Ajer and Christie and whoever else wants to leave. We need a whole new defence, starting with the goalie. Left back, right back and centre half. The former Heart’s player Aaron Hickey is one of a number of players touted. He played against Celtic in the Scottish Cup final and was a standout. We could have got him for a million, now its £4.5 million. Stupidity costs money, and cost us the league with a raft of sub-standard players being brought to the club. Anything that could have went wrong last season did go wrong. It’s actually quite nice to hear Rangers are so far ahead Celtic could be out of the running for the league in the first month. That’s a repeat of what was said about Rangers last year—forget it, one-in-a-row, Hallo, Hallo.

Things could be worse. Need to watch England playing with the sound down. My partner told our neighbour that I said I might hate England more than Rangers. Not even near.  But c’mon the Italy. The Pope’s eleven.   

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.  

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.

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.

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.  

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

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.