At home, Scotland started as favourites and there was talk of topping the group. But Ireland had a good record here. They created most of the chances in the first half and went in at the break a goal ahead.
Scotland were outmuscled and outfought in Dublin. And the Irish were at it again. Tony Parrot had the ball in the net, but it was chopped off for offside. He also outjumped Tierney and forced a save from Craig Gordon, but he was penalised for a foul. Tierney was to go off shortly afterwards after going down in the opposition box. The Arsenal full back was replaced by his Celtic replacement, Greg Taylor. But like many of his colleagues he played too many of his passes sideways and backwards making it easy for Ireland to fall back and counter.
Scotland lost a goal in fifteen minutes, also giving the Irish defence something to hang onto. A simple corner (as in Dublin) which wasn’t defended. Lyndon Dykes did his job, winning the cross ball and heading it out. But Jayson Mulumby got in front of McGregor to win the second header. John Egan was the first to react. Spinning to put his shot in past Gordon.
Steve Clarke’s men were outclassed by Ukraine at Hampden in their World Cup Play-off tie. They came back to make them think again and did a job on them, scored three and conceding none. The equalising goal in fifty minutes was made and finished by Jack Hendry. He played a ball wide to Taylor at the edge of the box. He nudged it on to Christie. The Bournemouth player flung it into the box. Hendry got up and headed into the corner of the goals.
Scotland were on top. McGregor got caught short on a number of occasions. He gave the ball away and Matt Doherty curled an effort wide. But Ireland’s best chance of the second-half came minutes later. McGregor lost the ball at the edge of the opposition box after a Scotland corner. Obefemi’s pace took him away from Christie, who tried to wipe him out (a certain red card had he connected) but he played in Tony Parrot. He ran in on goal, but his shot was poor and Gordon got down, parrying it away for a corner.
Anthony Ralston and Ryan Fraser come on for Aaron Hickey, who was injured and Stuart Armstrong. That gave Scotland a lift.
Ireland made a triple substitution. It was end to end. McGregor chested down the ball at the edge of the Ireland box. His shot came off a defender and went for a corner. The ball came in and Browne flung up an arm to get in front of McTominay. Scotland players shouted for hand ball. The referee gave it and checked on VAR. Christie coolly slotted it away in the eighty-second minute.
Kenny McLean and Che Adams replaced Ryan Christie and Lyndon Dykes and it was Scotland that had something to hang onto. The Bournemouth player with an assist and goal wins my man of the match. Small margins. If he’d connected with Obefemi he wouldn’t have been on the park.
Ireland tried to pressure the Scottish back line. But it was Ryan Fraser who had perhaps the best chance after McGinn had sprung the midfield and fed him with a one on one. His shot went past the post. Jack Henry got booked after the final whistle. But he wasn’t bothered. Neither were we. Rode our luck.
John McGinn scored a seventieth minute goal, and substitute Lyndon Dykes added two more headed goals from fellow substitute Ryan Fraser’s corners which were whipped into the box. Scotland were outclassed by Ukraine at Hampden 112 days ago in the World-Cup Playoff. But it was Ukraine outclassed and outmuscled here.
Scotland went with three at the back last time. An extra man in mid-field, where they lost the battle last time. No Oleksandr Zinchenko who was out injured. He bossed the game in the last match, and made it easier for Scotland to gain a foothold. Here it was 4-4-2 for traditionalists.
And it was Scotland that created most of the chances. Nathan Patterson had to go off after twenty minutes injured. He’d set up a chance for Ryan Christie and sent a ball into the box McGinn got his head to. Aaron Hickey came on and settled in to have an equally good game. Mkyhaylo Mudryk was seen as the danger man, but after a bright start, he saw little of the ball and created even less.
Valeriy Bondar was yellow carded ten minutes before half-time for fouling Che Adams. Steve Clarke had the touchline official’s ear. It was arguable whether he was the last man. And equally whether it was a goal-scoring opportunity. Taking out, is perhaps the right way to describe it. The tackle alone merited red.
Adams led the line well. He’d been played in by Tierney in the first-half but his shot was too near the keeper. Like Lyndon Dykes, he had two headed opportunities in less than a minute, in a second-half in which Scotland increasingly dominated. One off the top of the bar. Another saved by the keeper.
Stuart Armstrong also had a hat-trick of opportunities. And we’d have expected him to score one goal, maybe two or three. Despite his profligacy, his energy and speed complimented McGregor’s and kept the ball moving.
When Scotland needs a goal, it’s usually Clydebank man John McGinn who grabs it. He’d no right to get to the ball but he’s small and stocky. He uses his arse to roll defenders and when he did so in the box to open up space, the ball was always going to end up in the net.
Fraser and Dykes came on. Adams and Tierney off. Steve Clarke could do no wrong. He not only invigorated the Scotland attack. He added goals. Fraser even found time to cut in and have a pop at goal himself just before the end. It was one of those nights. Scotland even goes top of the group. I know what you’re thinking. It’ll never last. We’re Scotland after all. But they’ll be days like this.
As the song goes, Celtic, Celtic, that’s the team for me. I’ve no great interest in what other teams do or who they play or sign—apart from Rangers.
Even if it’s tiddlywinks, I want Rangers to lose. They’d won the league by 25 points, and stopped us winning the ten. One of the highlights of the season was watching Ryan Kent miss a sitter in the closing minutes and Aaron Ramsey missing that penalty. I joked that my pal’s dad had died, but at least he’d lived long enough to see that. It was a season when Rangers’ fans felt they did well reaching a European final and winning the Scottish Cup.
But when they were giving out awards it was Ange Postecoglou picking them up. Hard to believe, we were chasing Eddie Howe as our new manager and it just seemed a matter of getting the deal over the line. He walked away, citing concerns about having concerns. Ange Postecolgou came in. I’d never heard of him. Most of us agreed he’d need time to rebuild. He didn’t cite concerns about not having his own backroom staff. He was willing to work with the dross that was there. We’d give him time. I was even uttering strange things like he’d have at least a season, or maybe two, in which he wouldn’t be expected to do much, and spluttering into my pint that Rangers were still shite. I was hoping somehow we’d turn it around. In our pre-season games there was little evidence that would be the case. In the qualifiers for Europe, and in Europe, generally, we were out of our depth against mediocre teams (like us).
We lost to Hearts at Tynecastle, Kyogo came on as a sub, played wide, but did nothing of note in the few minutes on the pitch (shades of Henrik Larrson coming on as a winger against Hibs). We were chasing Rangers in the league. It was a race I didn’t expect to win. But the equivalent of muscles-memory of the mind sets in. Odsonne Edouard left for Crystal Palace. I was glad about that. Ryan Christie to Bournemouth. Kristoffer Ayer went to Brentford, where he’d be reduced to talking a good game. He was fine when he didn’t have to defend.
Now here we are again. I’m far more optimistic. We’ve signed seven new players, which include mainstays, Jota and Carter-Vickers. The Portuguese winger dazzled last season and this pre-season. Carter-Vickers in pre-season hasn’t looked great. He got bullied for the second goal against Legia Warsaw, for example, losing a bread-and-butter header I’d expect any centre-half to win and getting turned far too easily. That’s nit-picking. He too has been a success. But you’re only as good as your last game is a truism.
Joe Hart has been a great signing. He’s made vital saves. He’s our number 1, keeper. But we know he’s going to lose stupid goals, when he’s trying to play sweeper-keeper. It’s just a matter of how many and against whom. Teemu Pukki almost caught him out in the friendly match against Norwich. The ex-Celt is not the quickest, and not the best, as we all know. Hart might beat him in a footrace, but I’d rather not find out during a match. Joe Hart, vice-captain, Certain starter.
Benjamin Siegrist, of what I remember him, was decent for Dundee United. He’ll push for the number-one spot. Uncertain starter.
Greg Taylor started against Norwich. I wasn’t a fan of the former Kilmarnock full back. But over last season I’ve come to appreciate him. He wasn’t Kieran Tierney. Emilio Izaguirre when he first came into the team was also a revelation. Taylor is not at that level. And now he has serious competition. *Certain starter when season begins.
Josip Juranović will not be going over to play on the left as he did at Ibrox because Ange doesn’t trust the likes of Liam Scales, for example, to do a job. The Croatian has established himself as our first-pick right back. Certain starter.
Scottish international, Anthony Ralston—and I never thought I’d say that without laughing—is backup. But he too will be pushing for a starting spot. Uncertain starter.
Argentinian, Alexandro Bernabei, I think looks to have more attacking flair than Greg Taylor. *Certain starter as season progresses.
Celtic supposedly paid around £6 million to Tottenham for Cameron Carter-Vickers. A snip based on last season’s performances (and not this pre-season). Certain starter, under Ange.
I heard Carl Starfelt was injured while on international duty with Sweden. He’d miss the start of the season. I wasn’t bothered. Like Ajer, Starfelt is decent when he doesn’t have to defend. He’s too easily bullied by muscular forwards. Most of the goals we lost last season came from free kicks and corners. The most common argument I’ve heard is we’d the best defensive record in the league. We also won the league. Therefore Starfelt must be better than mediocre. He isn’t. But he’s good enough for now. But Ange trusts him. Certain starter.
Christopher Jullien is still at Celtic. For how much longer? He picked up the captain’s armband in the pre-season friendlies. But he’s an uncertain starter. If any club fancies him, he’s free to go.
Back-up to Carter-Vickers and Starfelt has been, until now, under-twenty-one Scotland captain, Stephen Welsh. He’s no better than Starfelt, and often worse. Uncertain starter.
Moritz Jenz from Lorient is we hope better than Starfelt and will leapfrog Stephen Welsh into the team. Loan deals like Jota and Carter-Vickers gives us a chance to try before we buy. Uncertain starter, for now, but his time will come. And if he’s good enough, we’ll keep him. Win-win. Uncertain starter, for now.
Callum McGregor, the Celtic captain, and Scottish Player of the Year plays most games. Simple. Never stops. Certain starter.
Reo Hatate came into the team and started with a bang. Goals against Rangers are often a great way to introduce yourself to adoring fans. He didn’t disappoint. But the end of the season he was disappointing. He was never rubbish, but didn’t shine. Pre-season he’s looked at back to the level he was when we hammered Rangers 3—0, and that old joke, they were lucky to get the nil. This was the pivotal moment in the season, when we leapfrogged them in the league. We did it in Celtic style. Hatate was the man. Certain starter.
Matt O’Riley played in that number-ten role when Tom Rogic didn’t. Usually, they switched like doppelgangers, with one getting sixty minutes, the other thirty minutes, or thereabout. A terrific acquisition. He has added goals to his game. Certain starter.
David Turnbull played every game for Celtic under Ange, until he got that injury, just before the League Cup final, which Kyogo won for us. Turnbull has had a good pre-season, scoring two goals. Sharp and strong. Goal scorer. Ready to step in and stake a place. Uncertain starter, for now.
Daizen Maeda starts most games under Ange. He’s played at centre-forward, most recently when Kyogo was taken off against Legia Warsaw and Giorgos Giakoumakis wasn’t available for selection. But Ange prefers to play him on the wing. Usually it’s the left wing. His pace troubles defences, but his closing down work is also a stand out. He scores goals. Certain starter.
Jota has a problem when Maeda starts on the left, because he’s pushed to the right wing. Maeda is all pace. Jota is an old-fashioned winger. He ties defenders in knots and scores for fun. It was a long and protracted deal with Benfica, with shades of the Eddie Howe haunting us. Bargain buy at £6 million. Certain starter, on right or left wing.
Kyogo Furuhashi hit the ground running. Apart from his injury, he’s not stopped running since. His speed of thought and movement would give any defence problems. The first and best of the Japanese internationals to arrive. Certain starter.
Giorgos Giakoumakis was the opposite of Kyogo. He hit the ground not running. Then he took the ball off Juranovic (I think it was against Aberdeen) in the last minute and missed a penalty which cost us two points. Without actually being Albian Ajeti (or Pukki), he’d all the makings of a dud. But he scored twenty league goals. When Kyogo was out, we didn’t miss him. The Greek international did the business. Uncertain starter, for now.
Under Neil Lennon’s tutelage James Forrest could do no wrong. He was brought through the ranks. Made his debut in season 2009-10. He was hitting twenty goals a season and has more Celtic medals than anyone at the club and has now signed a new contract. It’s hard to believe he’s not fifty-five. But for the first time in his Celtic career he’s not an automatic pick. Jota is ahead of him. Arguably, Liel Abada is also ahead of him. Uncertain starter.
Liel Abada scored a stack of goals and assists. Let’s for a minute consider the way he sneaked in behind the Rangers’ backline and scored at Paradise. Even now, it brings a smile. He’s ahead of Forrest, but not Jotta or Maeda. He will get game time, most often as a substitute. Uncertain starter.
Aaron Mooy plays for Australia. Ange knows him and brought him in. Whether he is to replace Tom Rogic or to sit in as a defensive midfielder for Callum McGregor is unclear. Maybe a bit of both? I’ve not seen him play. Uncertain starter.
Yosuke Ideguchi (Guchi) the Japanese internationalist picked up an injury early in his Celtic career. He’s not been able to find a spot in the congested Celtic midfield. A very decent showing in our pre-season friendlies. Uncertain starter.
James McCarthy was said to have struggled in training when he arrived. Might be lies. He has struggled to get into the Celtic team. Not sure he adds much. But that might change, as it did with Giakoumakis. He’s been brought on very late in pre-season games, usually to replace McGregor. Uncertain starter.
Mikey Johnston, remember him? Tricky winger, could go outside, could go inside? Scored goals? Had that wow factor? Looked rotten in pre-season matches. He’s still got an outside chance, but he’s fading fast.
Scott Bain. Backup keeper, for the backup keeper. Ball boy. Uncertain starter.
We’ve got enough to win the league. Games against Rangers will decide the title. They bullied us in two games last year, both of which we lost, one, admittedly, in extra-time. We can’t let that happen again. The real beauty of winning the title is no qualifiers for the Champions League. £40 million in the bank. We’ll play some fantastic teams. We’ll take some terrible doings, but it’s not that I don’t care, the glory is being there and we’ll get better. We won’t win the Champions League and we won’t win the treble. But I’ve been wrong before. I didn’t imagine winning the league this time, last season. Eddie Who?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.