Celtic 1—1 Shakhtar Donestk.

No European football after Christmas. Two 1—1  draws against Shakhtar the only points we’ve taken in the group. But no disgrace.

 Mykhailo Mudryk tore our defence to shreds any time he ran at it. He scored the equaliser after Georgios Giakoumakis gave us a first-half lead. Reo Hatate and Josip Juranovich tried to get in his way, but his shot from outside the box had the power to beat Hart in a second-half performance that the Ukrainian team had begun to dominate.

But it could and should have been much worse. Mudryk’s personal battle against our defence didn’t end in a draw, but capitulation. With fifteen minutes remaining, Carter-Vickers we often hear is no slouch. He couldn’t catch Mudryk in a fifty-fifty ball, even to foul him. Hart came out to block, Murdryk squared the ball and that was it we were a goal down. Sikan, who scored a hat-trick in his last game, took a heavy touch, but even then it’s an empty net and open goal. The ball trickled past the post for a bye-kick. Ex-Rangers player, Van Vossen’s miss at the back post was mentioned by commentator Chris Sutton, but he said this was much worse.

Celtic players have been wasteful in front of goal. Kyogo played a bit deeper here. He was being played in by Giakoumakis, just before he was taken off in a triple substituion. With just the keeper to beat, he scuffed his shot. Wasteful.  

Giakoumakis showed how it is done. He gave us the lead after 34 minutes and his goal to game ratio is better. Haksabanovic was the creator. He took most of the early free kicks and corners and didn’t get them beyond the first defender. A problem that continued even with O’Riley, Mooy and Turnbull taking the free kicks. But here Haksabanovic’s ball into the box was played by Abada who got in front of the defender. His shot was blocked. Time slowed down and the ball sat just outside the six-yard box. The Greek striker doesn’t miss from there. He powered it into the corner of the net and the stadium erupted.

Matt O’Riley had a few shots from outside the box, but just before half-time we had a let off.  Mudryk for the first time got beyond the Celtic defence. He tried to lift his shot over Hart, but the Celtic keeper stayed tall and the shot was blocked.

With the game at 1—1 and 15 minutes to go, Celtic had more of the ball and created a few half-chances. Matt O’Riley just before full time, for example, bent the ball the wrong side of the post. Giakoumakis also slid in to another pass. He hit the post, but the referee had already blown for a foul. It wouldn’t have counted.

Celtic should have won in Poland. With that extraordinary miss, they should have lost here. Honours even. Mykhaylo Mudryk was better than anybody else on the park. Sometimes it’s that simple. We go to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium bottom of the group with nothing to lose but our pride. Where have I heard that before?   

Manager of the Month, Ange Postecoglou.

Ange Postecoglou wins Manager of the Month award again. If he picks up the same award at the end of April then it’s kerching and £40 million Champions League money guaranteed. The question arises, would you take a draw at Ibrox? Obviously, after say 89 minutes and two goals down and I’d say, aye Ange, go for it, take the draw. But life and fitba doesn’t work out like that.

Last time we were in Govan, Edouard started up front. As we know, he’d scored some great goals against Rangers, but missed some complete sitters. He’s another of those matches. Great to see him, Christie and Ajer leave Paradise. We’d developed a habit of outplaying Rangers and losing—usually to a headed goal from a free kick or corner. Lots have changed, we’ve 5000 defensive coaches, but that remains our major vulnerability, home or away.

Our defence picks itself. Hart, Taylor, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt and Juranovic.  

We’re reminded nine out of ten Glasgow derbies are decided by who scores first. Defend corners and defend free kicks and I think we’ll win. But I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that.

We’ll start on the front foot, Ange’s Plan A is also Plan B. Rangers, despite their European success, don’t defend well. A major boost is that Kyogo is fit. He’ll be on the bench, I’m guessing. Georgios Giakoumakis should start after hitting two hat-tricks in two league games. He’s a poacher in the box.

But it wouldn’t surprise me too much if Ange favours Daizen Maeda. I’m still not convinced with him, but he does the doggies, closing down the opposition and getting in behind, in a Kyogo-lite way. And the Japanese forward scores regularly.

Postecoglou tends to play him, but not always through the middle. He’s featured mostly on the left wing. Jota switching to the right. Abada would therefore drop to the bench. He’s not started the last two games. So my best guess is that’s where he’ll start, but come on for the last thirty minutes.

The midfield carousel is harder to pick. McGregor, our captain, playing in front of the defence. Rogic has been pronounced fit. My guess is he’ll start. Certainly, win, lose or draw, if he doesn’t start, he’ll replace O’Riley.

Reo Hatate had the kind of introduction to the Glasgow derby that harked back to the little known Slovenian, Ľubomír “Lubo” Moravčík. The Japanese midfielder’s form has shaded but he’s a definite maybe (as in the Oasis hit). He works best with Maeda. My guess is Taylor, Hatate, Maeda down the left.

Juranovic, Rogic and the Portuguese wonder boy, Jota on the right. We might see the return of David Turnbull at some point, probably late in the game.

Georgios Giakoumakis to start and score first. Win, win, win.   

Aberdeen 2—3 Celtic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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