Rangers 0—2 Celtic.

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There’s an afterglow to this sweet Old Firm derby. Neil Lennon had a few hard choices to make. In goal he could have played Fraser Foster, Craig Gordon or my mate’s mum. He said she could have played in goals and he was right enough. Lennon went with Fraser Foster. Celtic’s dodgy defence was on display. Rangers were at home. The bookies made them favourites. Celtic were 2/1. All the Daily Record pundits gave Rangers the edge by a goal or more.

At the end of the game, topped by a Johnny Hayes’s second goal, in the dying minutes, which complemented Edouard’s sublime first goal, Lennon went to shake hands with Stephen Gerrard and his assistant manager Gary McAllister. He holds his hand out and they looked past his shoulder and through a smirking Lennon, quick to move on. Lennon looks at the camera and lets out a roar, his ersatz composure ripped to shreds. He’s as delighted as us. He’s a manager but a fan.

There wasn’t much football. What football was played was played by the men in green and white. Every Celtic player won their 50-50 battle. We didn’t play the ball from the back and invite the opposition onto us. We were in their faces and it was there for all to see, they aren’t very good. They are a media construct based on a few half-decent results. We’ve got better players. Sometimes it’s that simple and it shows. There was only one twenty-million-pound striker on display and he scored again, when it matters.

In the European ties I expect Rennes to beat us in France and perhaps we’ll get a draw at Parkhead. They are a good team. The Italians could and should beat us home and away. Cluj, well, our nemeses aren’t great. I think they’ll finish bottom of the group. We’ll beat them at home and away. For now we are happy. It doesn’t last.

Next up, Hamilton away. Away win. Rangers have signed the new messiah. Where have I heard that one before? They’re spending even more money they’ve not got again. For every pound I’ll spend a tenner Murray. Bury it.  Where did I here that before? Hail Hail.

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Tear along dotted line – the Celtic season starts here.

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Most Celtic supporters I’ve talked to would be happy with another domestic treble, perhaps with a European Cup thrown in for good measure. In Lennie we trust (well kinda).

Lennon got us over the line last year, winning the Scottish Cup  and the treble. There was a minimum and maximum as there is this year. I’d guess the minimum is a domestic double, Scottish League and one other trophy. In terms of Europe, qualification for the group stage of the Europa League.

The Europa League is a bit boring. We really want Champions League nights. Money and prestige are stitched together here. If Lenny gets Celtic through four qualifiers and into the Champions League group stages then he’s half way to being able to say job done. Then we can start kidding ourselves that other teams hate coming to Parkhead. The truth is the bigger teams love playing in a packed-out stadium where they always win. Yes, I do remember Tony Watt’s goal against Barcelona, loved every second of it, but freak results do happen. That’s why domestically Celtic are unlikely to win the treble again this year. They are the best team in Scotland, but an off day and we’re out of the cup.

Qualifying for Europe also means the squad is stretched and we’ve more games to play. After Rodger’s first season we began to regularly look vulnerable and drop points to teams like Kilmarnock and Hearts.

Strangely, despite Celtic’s treble-treble Rangers’ fans believe again. Their optimism is based on Celtic not spending and taking  two steps backwards in the last two seasons and Rangers finally going four or five games unbeaten. Rangers can win the league this year, but only if Celtic go into meltdown.

Celtic’s biggest buy of the season and long overdue is a centre-half in Christopher Julien. I’ve not seen him, but sometimes you just get that feeling…Kris Ayer will probably play alongside him in the centre of defence. Both are six-foot five, both are good with the ball at their feet. Both are called Chris. If they play to their potential Celtic will continue to monitor all players called Chris/Kris and try and integrate them into the Celtic family for Christmas.

I guess Jozo Simunovic will be the odd man out. He’d a great end of season, scoring that goal in the 67th minute and honouring Billy McNeil while wearing number 5. He looked like a half-decent defender at Parkhead, which must give Jack Hendry hope.

Lustig also had a fine end to the season and his Celtic career, but any winger with pace gave him a chasing, so it was thanks and no thanks. Anthony Ralston, for the moment, holds the jersey. Ironically, it was the young right back for Hearts in the last game of the season and in the Scottish Cup Final, a former Celtic graduate, who showed Ralston how it should be done.  I guess Celtic need to strengthen here. The Heart’s boy would be worth a punt, but we’ll go for the tried and tested, although I’m not sure who.

Arsenal and Napoli are interested in Kieran Tierney. He’s injured. He’s been injured quite a lot recently. The selling price is allegedly £25 million. I’d like to see Tierney stay. He’s a Celtic man and the best left back since Anton Rogan of Lisburn Distillery, but that might have been taking things a bit too far. Kieran Tierney is one of us, a fan, blessed with ability. Stay.

Johnny Hayes has been filling in at left back. I like Hayes, he’s street-smart, but never Celtic class (see Anton Rogan) and neither is he good enough to play as an out and out winger.

With Tierney out in the short, and perhaps longer term, Celtic have brought in a replacement. Under Rodgers it tended to be of the loan-deal variety. We paid more than £3 million for  Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo. He talks a good game. Telling us he has pace and…we’ll wait and see, but if Tierney stays, he’s our improved model of Emilio Izaguirre (good luck to the Honduran, but never a good idea to bring an old player back, hopefully the same thing doesn’t apply to an old manager).

In midfield we were always stacked with riches. Let’s start with the one that wants away. Olivier Ntcham had a few good games. He had a few bad games. You’ve got to laugh when he comes out with the excuse Scottish football is holding him back excuse. It never held back Henrik Larsson or  Harald Brattbakk or Virgil van Dijk. Two of these went on to lift the European Cup. Nitcham looks more of a Harald with every word that comes out of his mouth. He’s decided to go. Celtic want to sell. We’re waiting, but we’ll drop the price until someone takes him.

Ironically, I’m a big fan of Scottish, under-twenty-one international, Ewan Henderson who has fallen down the pecking order. Henderson, like his brother Liam, is Celtic class. I did predict years ago that Celtic would build their team around Liam. I’m not going to predict they’re going to build their team around Ewan (although I am tempted).

Remember Eboue Kouassi? He’s still there. He might do a Ryan Christie, you never know. Nah, he willnae. But wishful thinking is allowed.

Lewis Morgan is of that ilk. He went to Sunderland on loan and came back. We’ll probably send him out again somewhere. Special pre-seaon offer, three-for-one deal with Kouassi and Jack Henry.   Not bad players. Just not good enough for Celtic.

Scott Sinclair is on the final year of his contract. Anybody comes in, he can go. He’ll spend a lot of time on the bench if he doesn’t. He’ll be the type of player we bring on in the 85th minute hoping he can reproduce some of his penalty-box poacher- magic of his first two seasons.

Daniel Arzani lasted five minutes at Celtic, before getting injured. He’s got a chance, but only if young Karamoko Dembele  is thought too young for the first team.

Maryan Shved is a winger that excited Celtic fans, without playing a game for us. It was all highlights from abroad. Need to wait and see. Here’s hoping.

I’ve not mentioned James Forrest, the Celtic winger, who Lennon played through the middle in friendlies. Lennon brought Forrest into the team when he was here the last time. He used to talk him up and we’d be watching the same game and thinking…Whit? Lennon had a good season. Rodgers loved him. Lennon does too. He’ll play all the big games and most of the little ones. It’s going to be a big season for James Forrest.

Mikey Johnstone looks to be a Forrest stand in. Johnstone has plenty of trickery. He scores goals. He’s a Celt, here’s hoping he follows the Forrest pathway.

Scott Brown does what Scott Brown does. Lennon trusts him as did Rodgers before him. He’ll play the majority of our games.

Nobody played more games for club and country than Callum McGregor. If Forrest was Lennon’s love child, McGregor was Rodger’s. He played in almost every position for Rodgers apart from striker and goalie. I’m sure Rodgers would have handed him the gloves. There’s talk of a £20 million bid from the Leicester manager. That’s a wait and see.

Tom Rogic is another wait and see project. He didn’t look out of place when we played Manchester City in the Champions League under Rodgers. As good as anyone. But prone to injuries. Scores goals in big games, but in the Scottish Cup final (I can’t even remember if he played) and games against Rangers, in fact, most of last season, a wash out.  If clubs are offering £9 million or £10 million, I’d be very tempted to take it and bring back Paddy McCourt.

Ryan Christie wrote the script of the forgotten man biding his time. After losing out on John McGinn we were dreadful against a long-ball Hearts team at Tynecastle. Christie came on and scored and turned the game around. He was a goal-a-game man afterwards. Automatic first pick. His energy was of the Stuart Armstrong variety, but he had a better touch, better end product, a better player. But then that dreadful injury. He’s back but what Ryan Christie will emerge?

Luca Connell was coveted by other teams. Here’s hoping Lennie knew of him from his Bolton days. He’s young, which is always good. Is he ready for the first team?

Odsonne Edouard is our main striker. He missed a penalty in our last friendly in Switzerland against Gallen. Nobody cares about that, as long as he scores goals. He can be deceptively brilliant or just deceptive. He’s scored in big games, at crucial times in a match. He won us the league and Scottish Cup, but he doesn’t score enough. Maybe this season?

Leigh Griffiths is back. That’s fucking magic. Remember Griffiths once scored 40 plus goals in one season. He is a striker. No messing. There is a fair chance Lennon will play two strikers in games. Griffiths will get his chance. It’s really up to him. Here’s hoping.

I’d high hopes for the Ivorian international Vakoun Issouf Bayo. His strength is in the air. Lennon knows more than most, when pressed, as we were at Ibrox, a big target man gives you the route out of your half and adds goals. Recently, he’s been injured. That’s been a pattern. We don’t need any more projects. We don’t need another Kouassi. We need Bayo to force his way into the team in the same way Christie did, by scoring goals.

Are we stronger than last year? Yeh, we’ve been crying out for a decent centre-half for the last four years. One man doesn’t make a team, but it’s a start. We need a right-back, pronto. Perhaps Bayo won’t be good enough, then we need another striker. We might need a back-up centre-half for the back-up centre-half. If we sell Rogic or McGregor, we need another midfielder. The joker we have in the pack is Dembele. He looks a player. This might be his season. We’re in Sarajevo, let’s hope we can win and make the second leg a formality.

 

Celtic 2—1 Rangers.

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Celtic win 2—1 and go thirteen points clear in the Scottish Premier League with seven games remaining. Should be eight-in-a-row for the Scottish Champions. Perhaps for the first time ever Sky coverage at half-time wasn’t a beautifully worked first time pass from Calumn McGregor to Odsonnne Edouard and the goal that separated the Old Firm. The French striker still had a lot to do, with the two Ranger’s centre-halves between him and the goal, but he dribbled around them and finished with aplomb. Half-time coverage was more about Morelos’s red card. He swung an elbow at Scott Brown and left Rangers with ten men for the remained of the game. After the battering Rangers took, it was expected to be a turkey shoot for Celtic in the second half.

But Rangers played better without Morelos and with ten men. Kent’s equaliser was the equivalent of Edouard’s opener. Kent skinned the Celtic defence, leaving Boyata in his wake and shooting past Bain.  And Ryan Jack scooped over the Celtic bar, one of those kind of misses that his erstwhile Columbian colleagues seemed to specialise in when playing Celtic. The sting in the tail was a sloppy Tavernier back pass. Edouard pounced, running at the retreating Ranger’s defence and picking out Forest who tucked it away. Game over. Well, not quite. There was still time for Ayer to make a tackle to prevent an equaliser from Worrall and for Halliday to collect a second yellow and red. And also for Kent to pick up what seems likely to be a retrospective red card for hitting Scott Brown.

Edouard the best man on the park, went quietly about his business. He’s consistently scored goals in big games and is still only twenty-one. Room for improvement, but when we now talk about a twenty-million pound striker it shouldn’t be the Columbian we are talking about, but the young Frenchman. Once again Edouard has come up with important goals. Once again Morelos does what Morelos does and implodes. No club is going to spend tens of millions on a striker that loses rather than wins you games. If you’re looking at a real striker, look no further than Edouard. All is good in Paradise. Long may it continue. Hail-Hail.

Celtic 1—0 Rangers

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When the talking was over there was only one winner. Celtic dominated the match from start to finish. Hit the bar three time, the post once. Odsonne Edward from a Calum McGregor cross, just before half-time, missed an absolute sitter from five yards out and hit the Ranger’s keeper, Allan McGregor. The Ranger’s keeper proved by far to be Ranger’s man of the match. There’s nothing new in this.  In the last thirteen Old Firm games, in which Rangers have lost all  but two, which they’ve drawn, the Ranger’s keeper has been the Ibrox team’s man of the match. Hamilton came to Celtic Park last weekend and got beaten 1—0, but had more shots on goals than Rangers, more corners and more of the ball than Rangers. The gap between Celtic and Hamilton remains what it was.

Ironically, the Celtic goal when it did come was from a rare Ranger’s breakaway. Tom Rogic, who is not renowned for his work as a midfield enforcer, won a fifty-fifty with Ranger’s midfield enforcer, Ryan Jack, motored up the park, the Aussie passed the ball to Edward who shuttled the ball right to Forrest. The ball was squared to man of the match Olivier Nitcham. Easy-peasy.

Rangers best kick of the match was the boot Alan McGregor gave to Ayer. With the technology used in the world cup this would have easily have been a red card and penalty awarded. Rangers got off lightly. A 1—0 defeat flattered them in the way it didn’t Hamilton the week before.

Celtic 4—0 Rangers

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Craig Gordon was questioned by Department of Employment officials yesterday over allegations that he had been working. He offered as evidence a second-half save from Bruno Alves (£30 000 something quid a week man that can’t get a start in this Rangers team) and other saves from the £8 million rated Morelos. The Department of Employment officials just started laughing when they heard Morelos had been involved and ripped up the paperwork.

There had been burst balloons all over the pitch. Halliday, for one, had a shouting match with his manager and the bench, when taken off before half time. Celtic’s stats were impressive. Two goals up, Rogic and McGregor and they were so far ahead that an ice cream van parked in the Celtic box to sell blue-and-white pokie hats with raspberry topping to Ranger’s diehards leaving the stadium.

Dembele’s penalty, a cheeky little dink, to make it 3-0 and the sending off of McCrorie made it a fun day out of the green-and-white brigade. Madden should have taken a leaf out of one of our old drunken Welfare league referees that had warned me he was going to leave me on the pitch as an abject lesson to the other players. Candeias was hooked and like Halliday took turns shouting at his manager and staff.

Celtic send on Paddy Roberts for a wee run about in the Hampden sun. He was brought down for the second penalty and Dembele passed the ball to his mate Nitcham and told him to back-heel it in with his eyes shut. Nitcham, being a spoil sport, whipped it into the bottom corner. Sinclair came on for a run about and Leigh Griffiths did a bit of ball juggling when taking a corner. The party hats were on. You’d think we’d won the final. Motherwell will give us a game.

Celtic 0—0 Rangers

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The last Old Firm game of the year and Rangers take a point and could have taken more, but from some crucial saves from Craig Gordon. Ranger’s keeper Wes Foderingham also blocked well, early on, from Moussa Dembele. His save from James Forest was superb. And Scott Sinclair hit him with the ball twice and contrived to miss, just before half time from six yards. A first half that Celtic dominated, after a shaky start, in which Rangers had the upper hand. Much of that had to do with Michael Lustig. His first four passes went to Ranger’s players and his one-two with Scott Brown played Morelos in on goal.

The Ranger’s striker had a number of chances, particularly in the second half. A header in particular was a poor miss. Celtic bringing on Nicham brought some stability to the team and as he was able to pass the ball and retain possession. All over the park Celtic players failed this basic test. Keep the ball, pass the ball. In the final third they were shoddy. Craig Gordon’s save from Tavernier’s acrobatic effort was world class and the save of the match. Dembele was slow to leave the field when subbed after sixty minutes, but it was another game in which he hasn’t scored. Not good enough. Griffith’s arrival didn’t have the same impact of  Nicham’s for Sinclair. The Celtic onslaught in the last ten minutes didn’t arrive. Some half chances, but with the caveat that Rangers could at any minute have went up the other end and scored – as they nearly did so many times.

I need to grit my teeth and say a draw was a fair result. Celtic aren’t as good as they were last year when Rangers came here and drew 1-1. Not a backward step for the Bhoys, but certainly a sideways step. We need to come back fitter and stronger after the break and if it’s Dembelie-less so be it. Rangers best chances today came from simple passes, mainly from defenders going astray, but Stuart Armstrong is perhaps most culpable of late in midfield.

Celtic’s best player, Craig Gordon. Pass marks to Brown for being Brownie and bossing the first half. Nicham for his cameo as substitute. James Forrest, good start, but faded. That apart substandard Celtic. But still on track.

Rangers 0—2 Celtic.

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I usually write a blog about Celtic’s big games, but this was one of those matches where everything goes as planned. Celtic didn’t score five this time. But if you listen to Steven Thompson on telly then Celtic could easily have scored five or six, had eighteen shots on target and he doesn’t think the gap between Celtic and Rangers has declined. Thompson is, of course, a former Ranger’s centre-forward and hardly a neutral. From where I was sitting, drunk admittedly, Wes Fodernigham made the save of the match, after a minute from Tom Rogic’s strike. Armstrong slipped when he was about to shoot and Griffiths missed an absolute sitter, heading well over the bar from the back post. That was all inside ten minutes. Brown strolled the midfield and Ranger’s brave new signings, much like the old lot, were playing with concrete feet on. Yet, after the game, I was told Rangers bossed the first half.

Looking for evidence of this a ball did flash across the Celtic box at one point and Jozo Simunovic did pull out of a tackle on the Ranger’s centre-forward, Alfredo Morelos, which could have been classified as a penalty, but wasn’t. Other than that Celtic did look a bit pedestrian, but teams like St Johnstone have pushed them further for longer than Rangers managed for about five minutes.

When  the diddy teams don’t score first they are in trouble and so it proved. A trundler from Patrick Roberts from the edge of the box and Tom Rogic (I’d two quid on him as first-goalscorer at 9/1)  was first to pounce and Celtic were one up and coasting. And when Roberts drifted in behind the defence to play in Griffiths the game was over, the Copland Road stand emptied and most of the blue contingent went hame in case anything else happened.  Celtic brought on McGregor for Rogic. Forrest for Roberts and Dembele for Griffiths. Bitton, Hayes and Nicham didn’t get a sniff. I’ve been impressed by Eboue Koussai but he’s injured. Liam Henderson can’t get a hooped strip. Ryan Christie is out on loan and set up Aberdeen’s win at Motherwell with a marvellous piece of skill. Odsonne Edouard, the onloan striker from PSG, wasn’t stripped either, despite being one of the three best strikers in Scottish football. There’s no doubt a Celtic second eleven would have a real chance of beating the first-eleven. I’d certainly expect them to beat Rangers easily.

Back to the Champions League duty where Celtic are the minnows, but it’s minnow against minnow this week with a game against Anderlecht on Wednesday. Last time we were rotten and a young seventeen-year-old Vincent Kompany stood tall against Hartson, Sutton and Henrik. Inevitably, there was talk of signing him, but I wonder where that Kompany boy  is now?