Rangers bullied us at Hampden, and our dreams of the treble ended. Probably our best wins this season have been against our rivals. The emphatic win at Parkhead earlier in the season, and after going a goal behind, the satisfaction of picking them apart and quieting Ibrox. We didn’t play well, but still managed a draw that keeps up in line for the double and the glory of the Champions League. I missed it, even when we were getting hammered. It also puts £40 million between the two Glasgow teams. 29 league matches unbeaten, but it was close here.
Fashion Sakala having equalised, ironically, on 67 minutes, and he was through on goal with only Joe Hart to beat in the last few minutes—he hit the post.
At home we usually dominate possession. Here it was around fifty-fifty. Rangers did what they did at Hampden, pushed up, scrapped for loose balls and sometimes went long. Near the end of the game, they had four corners in succession. Rangers player was first to every ball. Joe Hart having to look smartish to save from Scott Arfield, Sakala (not the biggest) heading a ball against the bar and also heading over the bar. Not good enough, but we got away with it.
Jota’s goal in the twenty-first minute was almost identical to Ryan Kent’s miss in the opening five minutes. Daizen Maeda whipped in a cross and Jota got in front of Borna Barisic and steered the ball in with his thigh. Kent’s effort went past the post.
Maeda had a chance to put us 2—0 up before half-time. In front of goal his header brought about an instinctive save from McGregor. Our Japanese trio weren’t at their best. Celtic weren’t at their best. Early in the season headlines were about Postecoglou needing to work a miracle to deny Rangers another title. The miracle is here. We just need to wait a bit longer. And invest in players with the money we have coming in.
3.30pm kick-off on a Thursday afternoon seems a time for school-football matches or reserve-team fixtures, but an almost full Parkhead showed how much we love European competitions. We’re in the second tier and whoever wins the head-to-head between both teams is likely to drop into the third-tier of European competition. Adam Montgomery came in for Bolingoli, the only change in the team that won at Motherwell. Celtic had similar possession here in the first-half, with two-thirds possession, but with far fewer chances. Jota came closest, with almost twenty minutes gone, with an angled drive Dibuzo tipped over the bar. Stacks of corners. But here’s the rub, we don’t look like scoring from corners, but we look like conceding. Ferencvaros created a chance of their own, with a little help from Montgomery. The defence backed off and Montgomery gave Uzuni a chance to shoot from inside the box. Joe Hart made a decent save. It was a warning.
Samy Mmaee and Tony Ralston were both booked when the former kicked out at Kyogo. He didn’t kick him hard enough to get sent off. Sutton argued ‘a kick is a kick’ meaning a red card, but it was yellow.
The Japanese icon opened the scoring for us, fourteen minutes into the second half. Jota created it with a sweeping pass from the Celtic half. An exquisite first touch, a look up, and he dinked it in past the keeper and near the right-hand post.
We’ve had a couple of clean sheets recently, but were at our Keystone Cops best here as we almost conceded an equaliser immediately. Uzuni whips a dangerous ball into the six-yard box. Carl Starfelt is standing off Mmaee as he looks ready for the tap-in. But Ralston slides in to clear. Joe Hart also bailed him out when he dithered and made a back pass picked up by Uzuni. 2—0 up by then and there was more room for these kind of errors we’ve come to expect from Starfelt.
Montgomery got us a penalty when he was brought down just inside the area by Wingo. Despite Celtic’s dominance, he too, didn’t have a great game. He’d earlier been booked after being on the wrong side of a winger, and his passing was erratic. When he limped off to be replaced by Liam Scales, it wasn’t a bad substitution.
Callum McGregor misses from the spot, or the keeper makes a good save? Either way, mid-way through the second-half, Celtic miss a glorious opportunity to put themselves out of the away team’s reach. His next pass went to the opposition. But Cameron Carter-Vickers does enough to prevent the counter-attack.
Most Celtic managers choose to substitute Tom Rogic after around 70 minutes, especially when we’re protecting a lead. Nir Bitton seems to be the man chosen for the job now. James McCarthy seems simply to have disappeared. But we also had a big substitution in us—Giorgos Giakoumakis. He replaced Liel Abada, who worked hard (that’s the minimal). Giakoumakis gives us physical presence. Hart also took to pinging some balls from his goal mouth.
The Greek striker showed what he’s all about with a chest down in the box, holding off a defender and a shot that ballooned over the bar. He’ll score goals. Lots of goals.
With fifteen minutes remaining, with Giakoumakis lurking, David Turnbull scored after going to hit the ball with his right foot, the ball hitting his left foot. The keeper coming out of the goal and he’s tackled by a Ferencvaros defender and the ball ends up in the net. After his wonder goal at Fir Park, this was the antithesis. Not that it matters.
Turnbull should have scored another. Jota played him in. He’s one-on-one with the keeper, but slides it past the post.
Kyogo goes off and Mikey Johnston comes on, and he looked lively. With the game going to added time he played in Jota. But the Portuguese winger hit the side netting, when he should have scored.
Fine margins. Celtic deserved to win and they did. Certainly we’ll go to Hungary next Thursday and attack. Kyogo will start through the middle, but there is a case for Giakoumakis. Jota is first pick, but Abada is going to feel the pressure of Mikey Johnston, or a tactical switch with Kyogo moving wide. We await Christopher Julien’s return. Starfelt looks the obvious candidate to go, but Carter-Vickers isn’t a loan signing I’d particularly want to keep.
James Connolly Johnstone was born on the 30th September 1944. He died on 13th March 2006. We all know who Jinky is. We voted him Celtic’s best-ever player and if you look at the footage of that night, you’ll see a young looking Martin O’Neil and a grinning number seven with dreadlocks called Henrik Larsson. A statue of Jinky is outside Parkhead, but he rests in our hearts. Because Celtic is our religion and he’s one of us.
I’d met Billy Smith in Dalmuir, one of the older guys that used to train our Guild team. He remained remarkably young looking up until he got Motor Neurone Disease.
‘How you getting on Jake?’ he asked.
‘No bad,’ I said. ‘But I heard you’ve got that thing, like that Fernando Ricksen?’
Fernando Ricksen had been in the Daily Record and the other media. He’d been to his spiritual home at Ibrox, but was in a wheelchair.
Billy was quick to shake his head and correct me. ‘No, no like Fernando Ricksen, like Jimmy Johnstone.’
No statute for Billy Smith, but I understood what he was saying, without wanting to find out what it meant. It’s endgame and part of the Jimmy Johnstone story. Archie Macpherson said it was like being in a room when the walls closed in. But Jimmy didn’t die alone. Agnes, his wife, his son and two daughters were beside him. His Celtic family were there for him. The team that won the European Cup in 1967 supported him through his illness. Bertie Auld, who was never lost for words, but now, sadly, has dementia visited Jimmy almost every day. When asked why, for once, Bertie was stuck for words. ‘That’s just…who he was,’ he says. Hail, Hail, Bertie.
And a special word, for a special friend, the Rangers winger, Willie Henderson. He was there for Jimmy too. But he said he found it hard. Hail, Hail, Willie Henderson.
My brother Stephen (SEV, may he RIP) told me the story of working for Lawrence and asking this wee labourer to get him some two-by-two planks. Then he realised it was Jimmy Johnstone. Much has been made of Messi’s standoff with Barcelona. The Argentinian was willing to take a pay cut from his annual salary of twenty million Euros (which didn’t include bonuses or image rights). But here was wee Jinky, whom 100 000 Spaniards in the Bernabéu stadium, cried ‘Ole, Ole,’ every time he touched the ball in Alfredo Di Stéfano’s testimonial match, following their European Cup win. Jinky, was quite simply, the best player in the world. Yet, here he was working in a building site, after offering to sell all his medals for £10 000 to William Haughey. It’s difficult to imagine Messi doing that.
But it was a different world then. We used to think that guys like Billy McNeil and Dixie Deans would be alright because they had their own pub. They would always have money and an income, we thought.
My brother and Jimmy had something in common. They were both alkies. No pubs for them. One day at a time. Jimmy’s son, James, shakes his head, when he remembers what his da had become. Anyone that has been to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings know what happens when the guys that at the top table get competitive and start telling stories of their fall from grace. One guy might say he ate a baby seal pup in front of its mother. And the next guy will tell you he did something similar, but didn’t stop with one seal pup. But Jimmy could say he’d held up the European Cup. He’d done a lot of stupid things and played for teams he didn’t want to, but it was a job, and one he could do.
He played in with San Jose Earthquakes, but he couldn’t be doing with all that American stuff as if it was show business. He wanted to get back to Viewpark, and home. He’d spells with Sheffield United and played three times for Dundee. Tommy Gemmill was the manager, and he was being kind when he said he brought him in to do a job. Gordon Strachan remembers getting drunk with Jinky and thinking he’d hit the big time. Jinky played with Shelbourne and ended his career with Elgin City.
His heart remained at Parkhead. He tells the story of crying in the car park, after Jock Stein had let him go. Archie Macpherson said that if Jock had a favourite, it was Jinky, but Jock Stein was ruthless when it came to our team. He cut Jinky loose and the wee man unravelled. Like Benny Lynch, he turned to the drink, and thought he could sweat it off.
Jinky might have been the greatest ever, but he fancied himself a bit of a singer. When Rod Stewart visited he told him to shut up and give him the microphone. He sung a duet with Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr. Jinky’s daughter remembered Billy Connelly sleeping on the floor.
Jinky believed in UFO’s, and John Clark tells a story of how Jinky wanted him to take him to some godforsaken place to hunt for aliens. But Jinky never strayed far from his home in Viewpark. Like another legend, Tommy Burns (also on BBC Alba), he was devout and was buried in his local parish. Jimmy Johnstone was our Messi. But he was just an ordinary wee guy with extraordinary football ability that worked as a labourer, did what we all dreamed of a kid, played for Celtic and loved the club. Hail, Hail. May he RIP.
Celtic are becoming overly familiar with Champion League elimination at the qualifying stages. But we’re getting earlier and earlier. Last year it was Cluj, who did a job at Parkhead. The year before that AEK Athens. The Hungarian champions managed to eliminate Celtic with two shots on goal and two goals. Rather than playing the attacking threat at right, full-back, Frimpong, Elhamad who was meant to be more defensive option, sold the second goal, allowing the ball to bounce and substitute Tokmac to skip past him without about ten minutes remaining. The Hungarian forward running in on goal at an acute angle, put the ball through the Celtic goalkeeper’s legs. Game on. Game over.
Barkas can be counted as unlucky with the first goal after seven minutes. Midfielder Siger, outside the Celtic box, looking up and finding the corner of the net. But I’ve watched Barkas playing four games and I’ve still to see him make a save. If anyone asked me how good he is, the answer is quite simply, I don’t know.
Celtic are soft centres, that I do know. The Hungarian’s first goal was a case in point, no closing down in the centre of the goal. While Celtic tended to dominate possession almost every time they lost the ball, the opposition flooded forward and looked dangerous on the flanks and in the centre of the park. Ferencvaros, like Cluj before them and like AEK Athens, before that, they’re no great shakes, but they don’t need to be.
Celtic fall into the qualifying pot for the Europa League and with two qualifying rounds, but with no guarantee they will qualify. Whisper it, they might not even win the league.
We started the game without Edouard, our talisman. So what? We should be bigger than that and we have two strikers on the bench (three if you want to include Griffiths). Christie played at centre-forward and he did get us back into the game with a deflected shot at the start of the second half. Great player, but never a centre-forward. But it allowed Lennon to squeeze in Ntcham for his second consecutive match. The French player had a couple of shots on target and his passing was pretty good. But it was Elyounoussi with a delightful touch in the box after twenty minutes who looked most likely to score. Then towards the end of the game Elyounoussi does that disappearing thing. You see less and less of him. He’s like James Forest on an off day. Christie cutback behind Elyounoussi was perhaps the loan-stars best chance to score, but he didn’t.
A few cameos and the running down of the match in the last ten minutes. The usual Scott Brown booking that wasn’t a booking. Perhaps taking off a holding midfielder when hunting for an equaliser would have been an idea. Managers need to make hard decision. The season has just begun and Celtic are already out of the Champions League and behind in the big one, the Scottish league.
Goalkeeper—don’t know if he’s good, bad, or indifferent. He’s not Fraser Forster that’s for sure.
We need a left back. Taylor, the ex-Kilmarnock player is sometimes good, sometimes bad. Here he got caught defensively and was alright going forward, without doing much.
Elhammad for Frimpong? Didn’t work here, indeed in terms of spectacular misjudgements, the Israeli had a howler defensively, while not adding much in attack. Celtic were much better with Frimpong on the park, but the clock was ticking and the countdown to another disastrous result looked inevitable.
Here’s where we need to get creative. Julien and Ayer. Julien and Bitton. We keep losing balls in the air. We keep losing goals. The Hungarians pressed hard up the park knowing mistakes would be made. Cluj, Copenhagen (and Rangers) figured that out too. Fling in Kilmarnock. The soft centre is really the centre of defence. Both of them can go.
Scott Brown—warrior. If Lennon is desperate to play Ntcham, then he should play him in Brown’s positon, simple.
McGregor, hmmmm? Yeh, good player, but
James Forest? Discuss?
Elyounoussi would I thought get us as many goals as Sinclair, but…
Ryan Christie is a bumper, but he’s not a centre-forward. He’s played behind Edouard and on both wings. But he also has some terrible games. Most noticeably against Kilmarnock. His off days tend to come with the team having an off day.
No Edouard, the future is now. The Frenchman is a joy to watch. No guarantee he’ll be fit for the season or he’ll stay at Celtic. If Ajeti is able to put the ball in the net-y then we might do something this season. We might even get ten. Really, it’s a toss of the coin. Not a matter of who is best in Scottish football, but who isn’t the worst. Right now that looks like us. Problems running from centre forward to centre midfield (Brown must go) to centre-backs (both can go) and a goalkeeper that is yet to make a competitive save. Put your money on us beating Motherwell on Saturday and getting carried away with the usual pish. This result leaves me with a heavy sense of foreboding. Not because we got beat. That happens. But the way we got beat. That happens too much and in the same way. Lennon needs to fix that. I hope he does. I hope it’s soon.