Scotland 1—3 Ukraine.

Scotland last played in the World Cup in France, 1998. The qualification campaign wasn’t a matter of life and death. It was just a game of football, which Ukraine won quite comfortably. They play Wales on Sunday to decide who goes to Qatar in November.  When there’s no football on Scotland are playing. Lyndon Dykes elbows Stepanenko on the back of the head as they go for a punted high ball, and gets a booking, sums up the first-half. Dykes doesn’t come out for the second half, which was no great loss. Ryan Christie coming on was no great gain. Only our goalkeeper got pass marks.  

Scotland played back to front, looking for knockdowns from Dykes or his strike partner, Che Adams. Ukraine went backwards to come forward and dominated possession, looking the far slicker of the two teams with one-touch football. Midway through the half, statistically, each team had four chances. An early Grant Hanley header which sailed over the bar was the pick, the other efforts troubling neither the keeper nor the Ukrainian defence.

 Georgi Bushchan, the Ukrainian keeper, was the weak link in a better drilled and better team. Ironically, he helped create two chances for Scotland, hitting the ball off McGregor and dropping a ball on John McGinnn’s head. Both in the second-half with Ukraine leading 2—0. Neither effort went into the net.  

Craig Gordon, in comparison, was easily Scotland’s man of the match. Eight minutes in and he saved a howitzer from Tsygankov from the edge of the box and tips it over. Nine minutes later he makes an even better save. Yarmolenko, from the penalty spot, escapes his marker and has got to score. Gordon’s reaction save keeps it out and he gets down to smother it. A minute later, Zinchenko gets past McTominay too easily. He plays in Tsygankov, but Gordon comes out to block and divert the ball for a corner. The Scottish defence doesn’t clear the corner but the ball is fizzed over the top of the bar.

Ukraine with almost sixty-percent possession take the lead in 28 minutes and there’s nothing Gordon can do about it. Andriy Yarmolenko gave our back three (or five) the run around. Hanley tried to play him offside, but he got beyond him and dinked the ball over Gordon.

The second-half started with the same pattern. Scotland players couldn’t get near the ball. Yarmolenko dribbles and sets up the second goal in 49 minutes. He cuts back for Karavaev. Yaremchuk towers over debutant Aaron Hickey and guides the ball into the far corner.

 Yarmolenko has a pop at goal in 52 minutes, but Gordon saves. Then he outmuscled Hanley at the corner flag. The Scotland defender falls over looking for a foul, which he doesn’t get.

Yarmolenko then dribbles past a couple of players inside the Scotland box and his cross drifts past the post. Sixty minutes, Cooper makes his mark on Yarmolenko by putting him up in the air. The Ukrainian wants a foul and a booking. He gets a shy.

Billy Gilmour, our central midfielder, passes the ball out wide and out of the park. Scotland’s best chance of getting back into the game proves to be the erratic Ukrainian keeper. He gifts Scotland a goal in 79 minutes making for a nervy ending for the Ukraine team that had been coasting. Substitute, Stuart Armstrong’s cross is partially punched clear by Bushchan, with McTominay challenging the keeper. McGregor’s shot lacks power but somehow the keeper lets it past him but hooks it out, eventually, but too late. The ball had crossed the line.

Scotland had 14 minutes to take the game to extra time. Ukraine creates three good chances where they should have scored, before scoring in the 94th minute. Man of the match, Oleksandr Zinchenko sent substitute Artem Dovbyk clear and he knocked it past Gordon. Game over. Here’s hoping Ukraine win on Sunday. A morale booster. The moral of the story here is you get what you deserve, which is nothing.  If life was that simple.

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.   

Scotland 3—2 Israel

Watching Scotland is a duty, rather than a pleasure. This game was the exception to the general rule that we play Israel every other game and snatch a bore draw. I’ve only ever been to Hampden once for a Scotland game. Needless to say Russia beat us. I remember ex-Scotland manager Craig Levein was in the team. That’s about it. Steve Clarke went against the grain and sent out an attacking Scottish team. Up top, he played Che Adams and Lyndon Dykes.

Lyndon Dykes missed a penalty, just before half-time to level the score at 2—2. It was identical to the penalty he scored against Austria. And anybody that watched that one winced, but we struck lucky in that qualifier.

Ex-Hibernian goalkeeper, Ofir Marciano who has a habit of making penalty saves, will mark that one down as one his granny would have caught.

Scotland were a goal down in the first five minutes. We had started well with long balls into Dykes and Adams, forcing the Israeli defence to sit in. Nir Bitton, six-foot-five, but as much chance of winning a ball in the air against any of these forwards as Julie Andrews climbing every mountain and becoming a nun in The Sound of Music. Austin MacPhee, Scotland’s new attacking coach at free-kicks, corners and throw-ins, had Tierney using a towel to dry the ball before flinging it long into the box. Inexplicably, Dykes, who you’d imagine would want to on the end of these long throw-ins, started taking throw-ins on the other side.  The Celtic defender and makeshift midfielder is good at playing simple balls beyond the Scotland midfield into the strikers.

Nathan Patterson, in for Stephen O’Donnell, was poor in the first-half, and a bit better in the second-half. He kept giving the ball away. And we’re often reminded you get punished at this level.

Solomon robbed him of the ball wide. Ex-Celt Jack Hendry brought down Zahavi twenty yards out.

PSV striker, Zahavi lifted it up and over the wall. Co-commentator, Ally McCoist, rhapsodised about what a wonderful free-kick it was, leaving our keeper, Craig Gordon, with no chance. It was a good goal, but perhaps a better keeper might have saved it.

Scotland’s equaliser was of the Robertson and Tierney variety. Just over thirty minutes gone. They held more than their own down the left, while on the right wing, Patterson and McTominay were slack in possession and turned far too easily. Robertson’s lay off at the edge of the box found John McGinn. He bent it into the top corner. This really was of the keeper having no chance school.

Israel went up the park and regained their lead in the next attack, two minutes later. This was of the Celtic school of defending. Hendry on the wrong side of the attacker. It comes off the Israeli player’s head. Gordon scoops the ball up into the air, which was poor goalkeeping. But equally, several Israeli players are ready to pounce. Dabbur from two-yard can hardly miss and pokes it home.

Scotland’s support deflated with that half-time penalty miss from twelve-yards after Billy Gilmour is brought down inside the box. In the second-half, Scotland dominated the ball, with McGregor, McGinn and Gilmour, in particular, picking the right passes.

Patterson upped his game, but went down far too easily in the Israel box after five minutes looking for another penalty and was lucky not to be booked. McGinn was booked for wiping out Soloman, after Scotland’s go-to man, lost the ball.

On the quarter-hour mark, Tierney whipped a ball into the box. Dykes gets in front of his marker and studs the ball into the net. The referee is quick to give it as a foul and book Dykes. The equaliser is chalked off. One acronym, VAR. He has a look and the goal is given. 2—2 and half-an-hour to go, Scotland in the ascendency. The question being asked by the drunk and sober was can we win it?   Being sober, I doubted it.  

Zahavi, for example, once again got in behind a static defence, only for his goal to be chopped off by VAR. VAR turned out to be our best defender, but having so much of the ball we limited their chances.

Patterson, for example, did what he was brought into the team to do and attacked their defence and got to the bye-line. Adams was waiting for his cut back at the back post. He remained waiting.

Then Dykes, who could easily have had a hat-trick, had one of those balls he’s got to score from. That’s co-commentator, Ally McCoist’s words, not mine. Tierney pinged it in, the QPR strike is above his marker with enough pace from the ball for him to guide it into the net. He headed it straight at Marciano.

John McGinn, who scored a wonder goal, missed what for him would have been even more of a sitter. Ryan Christie, who came on for Adams, picked him out. From ten-yards he can’t find the net.

That looks about it. Six-minutes added time—Fergie time, and he was in attendance, in the stands, giving conspiracy theorist some slack to play with—and Manchester United player McTominay ghosts in at the back post to chest the ball home from a Jack Hendry flick on. I rarely enjoy a Scotland game. The last time Leigh Griffiths scored two late free kicks against England and Celtic keeper, Joe Hart. There was still enough time for England to grab a draw. Here there wasn’t. Great game. Great win. (Whisper it, terrible defending).

Can we beat the Faroes? Can we finish second in this group? Only if we go back to being boring old Scotland and dragging things out to our opponents concede. Safe to say, Dykes will no longer be taking Scotland penalties or Stephen Clarke’s an Englishman. Cue the QPR striker stepping up in our next match? Possibly.

Celtic 3—2 Hearts

No Celtic supporter needs reminding that Hearts beat us at Tynecastle in the opening fixture of the Premier league. Celtic dominated large parts of the game. Today, even more so.  We went a goal down in typical fashion from a cross ball in the league game. Then we lost a late goal in a similar manner. Our defenders bullied. This season and last. We’d have been calling for Neil Lennon’s head, but he was already away. Then we won three games in a week and Rangers lost three. It was almost like old times.

I sat in my brother’s house and watched the second-half of the Dundee United versus Rangers game. My brother shouted through to ask what the score was. I didn’t want to tell him, in case it jinxed it. I remember Charlie Mulgrew falling on the ball in his own penalty box. Last season that would have been given as a penalty. This season—apparently not.

Then midweek, I turned on the Rangers game again. Malmo were winning. I thought of turning the match off, straight away, in case I jinxed the ten-man Swedes.

Then against our Czech rivals in midweek, Callum McGregor made a shocking pass back. Joe Hart save it, and saved us. He did the same thing two minutes later. The irony here is we won 3—0. We were so far ahead that score-line flattered them. Yet they could and perhaps should have had a penalty. And Joe Hart went walkabouts and our defence had to clear the ball for him. Last season they might well have snatched a draw. We’ve become lucky again, as our rivals have become unlucky. But against better teams, we will be punished. We showed that laxness, yet, again today.

We’re better because we have a goalie that makes saves. Soro has been jettisoned and Callum McGregor takes the ball and makes forward passes. And, most importantly, we have a centre-forward in Kyogo Furuhashi that is hungry, talented and scores goals. Too often we dominated games but didn’t score, to be undone by a late corner or free kick. We’re scoring goals, lots of them, 13 in recent matches. But our defence is still, wide open. It’s a roller-coaster we’ll be on to the end of the season, but there’s hope now. In Kyogo we trust to hit forty or fifty goals this season. Today he was pushed wide, filling in for an injured Ryan Christie, but still created the first goal. A splendid pass into Forrest’s feet. He darted into the box. His cut back left Edouard with an easy finish. The Frenchman should and could have had another. He created space and hit Gordon from six yards. He was booked for diving. I want him away, but if he stays he needs to do more. Score more. Our midfielders to hit at least twenty.

The good news extended to our second goal. A short corner and Stephen Welsh scored with a header, a ball whipped in be Edouard, with ten minutes to go to half-time. I think the last central defender to score was Jullien.  2—0 at half-time. Total dominance. Hearts only menance coming after 30 seconds, with a corner. I held my breath. It was cleared. Joe Hart the proverbial spectator until half-time. Celtic with over 80 percent possession and 21 shots on goal.

Yet, Hearts made changes at half-time and scored two goals. Andy Halliday went off, which is always bad news for Celtic. Remember how we cheered him when he played for Rangers at Parkhead. Dumpling of the team award. Josh Ginnelly, on for Halliday, had a great claim for being Heart’s man on the match (ours was the more elegant Tom Rogic). Ginnelly continued where he left off at Tynecastle by putting the frighteners on Carl Starfelt. The Swedish international was the worst player on the park, yet again. First, he mistimed a header with Liam Boyce behind him, which he should have cleared, but forced Hart to make a save. Then he gave away a penalty. Starfelt got his feet mixed up with a clearance, in the same way he’d got mixed up with his header, but this time Boyce nipped in front of him. Stone-wall penalty. Liam Boyce stepped up to sends Joe Hart the wrong way from the penalty spot.

Celtic flapped. This had me thinking of the Scottish Cup final two years ago. Celtic in that game were so far ahead they should have been three or more goals ahead. With such a soft-centre  in defence anything was possible.

Kyogo Furuhashi dug us out of a hole with a little help from ex-Celt Craig Gordon. Kyogo was offside, but Turbull waited until he came back on again, before slipping the ball to him. He scored in off the near post, Gordon diverting it into the goal. With 25 minutes to go it looked, once again, like game over.

Kyogo went off and we brought on Celtic fan James McCarthy. McCarthy allowed McGregor to go further forward and fill the space behind the striker. Man of the match Tom Rogic was also taken off. Young Adam Montgomery brought on. He played as a winger, but I prefer him as a full back in preference to Greg Taylor. Montgommery had a chance from which he should have scored, but was unlucky. Ange Postecoglou, like the rest of us, probably thought the game was finished when he brought on Albian Ajeti and Soro. Ajeti had a great chance to claim a goal in the last few minutes, but opted to pass the ball inside the box.

But in injury time Stephen Kingsley got wide and flung in a cross. It was deflected into the path of unmarked substitute Aaron McEneff who scored from close range. 3—2.

McGregor took centre and kicked the ball out for a shy in the opposition half. Unbelievable as it seemed, we were playing for time. All the good and bad in this current Celtic side was here to see today. We’re sharper, quicker and scoring more goals. But like a hole in a water-filled bucket, we need to, because we’re liable to lose them almost as quickly. Stephen Welsh had a good game. His one blemish a crazy and stupid tackle. I wish I could say the same for his more senior colleague. I’m not hanging Carl Starfelt out to dry just yet, but using the word unconvincing would flatter him. In an ideal world it would be better if Edouard left, but we’ll wait and see on that front. I prefer Kyogo through the middle, but Edouard scored, missed a sitter or two and contributed. I guess that’s all you can ask. Big game on Wednesday night. I just hope our defence is up to it. The rest of the team look it, if that makes sense?

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.

Jablonec 2—4 Celtic

I was hoping Joe Hart would have a halo effect on our defence. We’ve been here before, of course, with Shane Duffy. The Irishman came in and scored a goal on his debut and we thought, great—we’re sorted. Hart conceded two goals and made a couple of bog-standard saves. John Hartson, on Sportscene,  got agitated at the goals we conceded here. ‘Sunday League defending,’ he called it.

In a game we dominated and scored four goals, which could have been quite easily six or eight—I should be happy. We seemed destined to play AZ Alkmaar in the play-off round of the Europa league. But if we fail to beat the Dutch we drop into the Conference league. I’m not sure what that is or means, but we’ll stick with what we know. I hope I don’t have to find out, but kinda thing I will.

Kyogo Furuhashi’s movement looks good. He looks to get in behind the defence. His link up play is excellent, best of all he looks a finisher. He scored the second of Celtic’s goals tonight after taking a pass from Bitton and dinking it over the keeper. Edouard did not start. That’s a bonus. The sooner the French man is away, the better.

I’ve been critical of Liel Abada’s  inability to dribble past players. But his goal to game and shoot on sight ratio is brilliant. He netted our first. Greg Taylor whipped a ball. The Israeli drifting in from the wing, and in behind Furuhashi. He hit it first time. The keeper palmed it up and back out to him and he scored on the second attempt.

Five minutes later, Furuhashi hits a second.

Two minutes later, it’s 2—1. Dreadful defending.  Looped ball over the top and Vaclav Pilar ran through a static central defence before firing past Joe Hart.

It remains 2—1 in the first-half. Turnbull had another shot, which he put wide.

 Jablonec had a ten minute spell in which they dominated possession, without creating much. Nir Bitton with slack passing lost the ball and Vojtech Kubista with a chance, hooked it well over the bar.

Abada, in a breakaway, carried the ball forward and cut in to the edge of the penalty box. His shot was saved, but James Forrest followed up to finish.

Less than twenty minutes to go, and Ange brought on fresh legs and made three substitutions. Tom Rogic, Ryan Christie and Odsonne Edouard. Furuhashi, Turnbull and, man-of-the-match Abada go off.

But with Celtic comfortable in possession and with a few minutes remaining they do that shoot themselves in the foot thing they’ve become so adept at. With any kind of ball into the box with this backline it’s going to be dangerous. Tomas Malinsky turns Carl Starfelt inside out with a dummy, before dinking a ball over Joe Hart and in off the post and into the net. Hart got a finger to it, should he have saved it? Emmmmmmm? Here we go again. Let’s be positive and say he made a save at the end of extra time.

Ryan Christie, just before the end of the match, put a sheen back on the score line. He ghosted in front of the defender and scored with a header from a Forrest cross. Christie, unlike Edouard, can rightly feel hard done to. He’s been one of our best players in every game he started. Ironically, it’s Abada—who is doing a Christie of two seasons ago—and scoring and creating chances that’s keeping him out of the team. But if Turnbull doesn’t turn up soon, it’s his place he’ll be taking. James McCarthy can take Soro’s shirt and place in the team. But to be fair to Soro, he was pretty good tonight. The whole team played slick, attractive football. The downside remains a defence that there is no defence for. Better teams will tear us to shred. With little evidence, I think Starfelt can get better. I’ve seen enough of Bitton to know he won’t. Let’s hope Hart brings out the best in our team.

Midtjylland 2—1 Celtic (after extra-time).

Scott Bain in for Barkas, no surprize there, big or otherwise. There’s really no way back for the Greek keeper. We need a new defence, goalkeeper and four defenders. That’s been obvious since last season and even before that. And made more obvious with the hammering we took in the friendly match against West Ham. Edouard will be away shortly. But needs must, he plays today. Christie has been outstanding. I’d like to keep him. From midfield to front we have shown we can be better than our opposite number, but not today. The Midtjylland manager called us ‘one dimensional’—and he’s right. We play from the back and when we get it right we’re unstoppable (in theory). When we get it wrong, we’re a gift from the gaffs. Both Midtjylland’s goals come into that category.  

Midtjylland are a big, physical team. Celtic have been a disaster from corners and free kicks, this season and las season. I can even fling in an extra-bonus-season. We held firm until half-time. A few palpitations with Bain dragging the ball back and playing it out, twice (I hate keeper doing that, it look good, but get it wrong and lose a goal). Welsh got booked early for a stupid, needless tackle in the Midtjylland half of the park. Once again, he was found wanting, while other pinpoint his youth. If you are good enough, you’re old enough…

Celtic started this tie better. In the first five minutes, Turnbull had a shot turned over the bar. From the corner, Edouard side-footed over the bar. He just hasn’t showed. Soro was also a major disappointment, giving the ball away, and passing backwards. On the plus side, Tony Ralston gave his all as Celtic faded as an attacking force. Abada was quiet. He was taken off to be replaced by James Forest (I’m not sure about the Israeli, but he gets the benefit of the doubt, for now). But Christie, initially, took most of the plaudits on the other side of the park.  

A Turnbull corner, two minutes into the second-half, the sweetest strike by Calum McGregor opens the scoring. A few minutes later, Bain flaps and the ball runs along the goal line. Bain indecisive. He had two late saves in extra-time, when we were behind. Equally, he took on players in his box. Stupid, but we got away with it, initially. Forest, who looked lively when he came on, had two great chances. The first, after McGregor’s goal, was blocked. That looked like putting us two up, and the tie beyond the Danes.

A minute later it was 1-1. A simple punt into the box. The winger Mabil stoops to score. Unmarked, as you’d expect from the defence that is no defence. Midtjylland took the tie into extra time and went on to win the game.

The first three minutes of extra-time, the Danes, finally, take the lead. Turnbull holds his hand up for offside. We’ve seen it before and we see it again. A simple ball over the top. Squared, substitute, Onyedika fires into the roof of the net. The good news was we had almost the whole of the first-half of extra-time to come up with an equaliser and all the second half.

We created nothing. Lind, an 18-year-old substitute, for the Danes misses a sitter. Bain makes another save as the minutes tick away.  Midtjylland in control. Celtic brought on three substitutes, Ajeti (that’s how desperate we got). Rogic, and Montgomery. I like Montgomery, I think he’s better than Taylor (the Scottish international has become a bit of a fall guy, but truth told, Johnny Hayes was better than him). None of them made a difference.

Pass marks to Ralston, who burst a gut, and for a problem right-back spot, filled a hole valiantly. McGregor, who scored a worldie, but tired and started giving the ball away in extra-time. Christie, who created most of our chances, with slick passes in behind. I’m tempted to include eighteen-year-old Murray, but that would charitable. Edouard can leave any time soon. Take the money and run. Do it now.

Celtic are an easy touch. We’ve already been charitable enough. Once again we got put out in the first-round of the qualifying rounds for the Champions League. Quite simple. We’re not good enough to beat a Danish team that is itself struggling to stay below average. I know where that leaves us. I’m not even sure we’ll beat Hearts at Tynecastle.  And that’s not been dramatic. We can’t defend and we don’t score. We need bodies. Any bodies? Ange Postecoglou has inherited a squad that is crap. All new managers need a bit of luck. Last season anything that could go wrong did. That continues into this campaign. The new manager is under pressure, even this early in the season. That’s the nature of the beast at Celtic. He’s a smart guy. He knows this. He knows what has to be done. This isn’t just about pride. Celtic keep flinging money away. That’s a business model for negative equity. The longer the spiral goes on, the harder it become to stop the decline. Get it wrong this season and next season’s automatic Champions League spot goes to the other side of Glasgow, we’re in deep shit.

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.  

Scotland 2—2 Austria

Watching Scotland play is a duty rather than a pleasure. I was brought up in an era when fitba was on the telly you watched it. If Celtic was playing Clydebank at Parkhead I’d go to the game and rush home to see if I was on the telly with the other 17 000 crowd haunting Paradise. I didn’t go very often. Obviously, watching every single game when Scotland played in the World Cup in 1974 and 1978. We beat Brazil and there was that Archie Gemmill goal against Holland when we nearly qualified for the next round. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hLuv5AlXWE

It was great being on the road with Ally’s army. I didn’t go anywhere, but the idea was a good one. I’ve only been to one Scotland game at Hampden. I was accompanying some adults with Learning Disabilities. They were looking at me and I was looking at them. And I know what they were thinking…

Obviously, I’m a Celtic man. So I gave David Marshall the once over. Celtic flung £5 million at a Greek keeper that couldn’t catch a pound coin if you handed it to him. So signing Marshall on a free transfer takes me back to Hampden with those Learning Disability adults. Marshall made a couple of good saves here. But he was at fault for the first goal.  Grillitsch hit it from about 30 yards.  Marshall palmed it to his right. The six-foot-seven Austrian powerhouse, Kalajdzic, swooped and scored from the rebound in the 55th minute. Kalajdzic had another goal disallowed two minutes later for a push on Tierney. Scotland got lucky there, because there was little contact.

Tierney was Scotland’s best player. Captain Andy Robertson plays in front of him. I don’t think that works. Both are full backs. I think it’s either/or, not both. And Tierney is simply better. Celtic rather that wasting £20 million on duds should have kept him for another season. He’s sorely missed.

On the other side of the defence, we had the Belgian phoenix Jack Henry. Playing Henry allowed Clarke to push McTominay into central midfield. The Manchester United played had not a bad game. Henry in comparison is Mr Potato head, six foot five and he can’t head a ball. He’s not one I want to keep at Celtic. But he’s good enough for Scotland. Strangely, a Scotland team without any of the Champion’s players. We even had my namesake, O’Donnell, playing at right back (I’m better than him, but slower, a lot slower, and can’t take shys). O’Donnell proved his worth by taking the free-kick from which Hanley equalised on the 71st minute.

The Austrian backline played high, the ball scooped in behind. The Austrian keeper, Schlager, had the option of coming for the ball but hung back. Hanley didn’t. Schlager also made a basic goal-keeping mistake on the cusp of half-time. He passed the ball to Lyndon Dykes, perhaps time-wasting, knowing Dykes doesn’t score many goals. But Dykes found Christie and the Celtic forward hit the keeper with it. It’s not been a great season for him either. I’ll miss Christie when he leaves Celtic.

I’ll mention Stuart Armstrong because he also played for Celtic. Scotland are good at draws and the game looked to be petering out to a 1—1. Then a nothing ball was thrown into the box and Kalajdzic from the penalty spot, with the ball slightly behind him, powered it into the net. Marshall had no chance with this one.

I didn’t rate Scotland’s chances. With ten minutes to go it looked like another defeat. Armstrong played his part by going off a substitute. This allowed Celtic stalwart McGregor to come on and John McGinn to push forward and play up front with Adams (an Englishman winning his first cap for Scotland).

Kalajdzic’s goal was a beauty. But John McGinn’s was even better. You may remember that Celtic let McGinn go to Aston Villa. And he’s a Celtic die-hard, his grandfather player with Celtic. And I played with his McGinn’s uncle, Johnny Gibbons, in the school team. (I may have peaked too early here). Gibbons’ sister and McGinn’s mother played in the netball team. Some thought that’s where I belonged. The goal McGinn scored was probably offside, but even Scotland needs a bit of luck. Another bog-standard cross into the box. It wasn’t very high. McGinn did an overhead kick and it soared into the corner. The kind of winning goal that you dreamed about when playing school fitba—even though it wasn’t the winning goal. Scotland had to hang on for a draw. I wonder what the odds are for Steve Clarke being the next Celtic manager?

Clarke brought on ex-Rangers player McLean to run about for thirty seconds, which was an improvement on bringing on McBurnie. Next up Israel (again). We play them every second game. That’ll give me a chance to sympathise with El Hamad for not being good enough for Celtic. And to call for Bitton to be give a free transfer. He’s nearly as bad as Henry. If I’ve missed mentioning any Celtic player let me know (James Forrest doesn’t count. And we all know where Griffiths is at, but whose box he’s in is anybody’s guess).  

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