Celtic 3—0 Raith Rovers.

Celtic play St Johnstone, the holders, at Hampden in the semi-final. I’m old enough to remember when Raith Rovers beat us in the League Cup in 1994. After the dismal defeat at Livingston, the most important thing wasn’t our performance, but quite simply we win.

 Anthony Ralston comes in, Josip Juranovic drops to the bench, as does Stephen Welsh and Bolingoli. Only Carter-Vickers retains his place in the back-line that lost at Livingston. The much maligned (by me) Starfelt comes back to partner the American international. Adam Montgomery, who I think is our best option, plays on the left with man-on-the-match Jota.

Jota scored in just under 30 minutes. A few minutes earlier, Turnbull had an early free-kick from the edge of the box, which hit the wall. A poor effort. But McCarthy played in Jota, inside the box and he took it on and scored his first goal for Celtic. McCarthy was a surprise selection. He was so poor on Sunday, he wouldn’t have gotten into the Livingston team. Tonight he got pass marks, because his passing was better.

Jota created the second, just before half-time, cutting in and driving it at goal.  MacDonald palms the ball up into the air and Abada in 40 minutes, nipped in and headed the ball into an empty goal. Against a lower division team that had seen little of the ball this should have been game over—and so it proved to be.

David Turnbull picked up the ball and drove at the Raith box, he bent the ball into the net, but McDonald was poor. Three minutes into the second-half, it’s just a matter of how man Celtic will score.

Zanatta booked after a foul on Rogic, and minutes later it’s from yellow to red as he chopped down Ralston on the touchline. Two soft bookings, but he’s off and with half-an-hour to go. We expect to see Giakoumakis—even for this Celtic defence, the game was over.

 But Liam Scales made his Celtic debut. He comes on alongside Josip Juranovic, for Ajeti and Abada. Bitton and Soro replace McCarthy and Rogic. The game peters out with no Greek striker.  Ange Postecoglou explained why, in his post-match interview. Giakoumakis had injured his calf in the warm up, and left for hospital at half-time. Perhaps a cautionary scan and we’ll see him against Dundee United? Ajeti remains our only fit striker, and is holding the line. Playing Jota through the middle didn’t work as was shown here tonight. We lost much of our attacking flair with him in the centre, and he didn’t look comfortable. But needs must. The semi-final is at Hampden. I’m not sure that counts as an away game. With our recent record… well, you know as well as me. Wait and see what Celtic team turns up.  Hopefully, an all-green final before Christmas.  

A Z Alkmaar 2—1 Celtic.

Celtic got off to the kind of start we can only dream about. Tony Ralston with a perfect pass in behind the Alkmaar defence. Liel Abada rips it up and puts in the slide-rule pass. Kyogo Furuhashi makes it 1—0 on the night and 3—0 on aggregate and there was only three minutes gone. I was still nervous.  Celtic had started well, knocking the ball about and getting into good positions, but Alkmaar often went long. They knocked our centre-halves about and started winning all the second balls in midfield. The Dutch team hasn’t scored this season. Celtic gifted them two goals, and it could have been three, but for a save from Joe Hart just before half-time.

The Celtic keeper has been lauded of late. Here he lost us the first goal. Route one football. AZ keeper Vindahl launched it. The ball came off Welsh. The youngster was poor here. But the former England international waited for the ball on the edge of his penalty area. Zakaria Aboukhla nipped in and tackled him when he tried to swipe it away. He was left with an open goal and put the ball into the net. Celtic were rocking and on their heels.  

Sugawara, the Japanese international right back, who already had a volley past the post, knocked the ball into the box. Nobody in a red shirt was near to stick it away. Starfelt swung at it with his right foot, it came off his left and he knocked it past Hart. Our keeper had no chance. That just about sum up the Swede. He is both Laurel and Hardy. Another fine mess.

Taylor went off injured. Adam Montgomery comes on with most of the game in front of him. I do like the look of the youngster.  I prefer him to Taylor, but the ex-Kilmarnock man has been decent lately.

For the first ten minutes of the second-half it was all Alkmaar. Celtic invited pressure by trying to play it out from the back and losing the ball, immediately, in and around the penalty box. Tom Rogic has been great. Here he was a passenger. I want Edouard away, but he came on and did a job, providing a focal point and holding the ball up. Furuhashi went wide right and came in for some rough treatment. Ironically, when commentators start to talk about ‘weathering storms’, Joe Hart almost sells another. He flew off his line to try and punch a ball at the edge of the box. To be fair, neither Starfelt of Welsh won many of their aerial duals. We were a soft centre. But Hart missed his punch and Martins Indi nods wide from the resultant corner.

Not yet sixty minutes gone. The chance of the match, surely an equaliser. Alkmaar score and there’s only going to be one winner and it won’t be the Glasgow club. But, I clung to the hope this isn’t a team that scores many goals. Substitute Boukema, a centre- half playing centre-forward, brought on to win even more high balls, instead sets up Poku at the back post. He slides into the six-yard box. Montgomery trailing beside him. He puts it over the bar.

Too early to say this was going to be our night, but…with four minutes added on, the AZ keeper is up for a succession of corners. He bundled Joe Hart into the goals. Celtic hold on and go through. It was nervy. It’s not often you can say going with a two goal lead and scoring early and you know it isn’t going to be enough.

 I’m giving man of the match to Ralston again. His pass helped set up our all-important first goal. He was the only Celtic defender that won all of his headers. He was unlucky at the other end, winning a header from a corner that drifted over the bar. Honourable mentions, Adam Montgomery. Yeh, he’s a player. We can certainly score at Ibrox, any number of goals, but our soft centre and inability to defend, means anything can happen. Phewww…we’ll win 3—1 at Ibrox?

CELTIC 3—0 JABLONEC (7—2 aggregate win).

James Forrest comes in for Liel Abada. Much the same team that thrashed Dundee at Parkhead on Sunday. We’ll take much the same score and performance. Kyogo Furuhashi is in on goal after less than thirty seconds. One-on-one with the Jablonec keeper on the edge of the box. But the keeper stands tall and sticks a foot out to make a save.

Kyogo had the ball in the net after 20 minutes. Forrest drifted across the box and played him in. The linesman called it offside, but the ball was already in the net and the almost 60 000 crowd in the air before it was called. Replays show it was close, very close. More onside than off.

Tom Rogic’s twinkle toes had been hard at work. He picked out Christie, who played in Kyogo. This time he was offside. Welsh also had a chance from a cross, but the defender nudged him and he headed over.

David Turnbull had a speculative shot from the edge of the box, which the keeper palmed out. A minute later, Greg Taylor pushed up to get a rebound and played in Turnbull. Our player of the season (last season) scored with the outside of his boot in the 26th minute. Turnbull, like McGregor and Rogic, looks back to his best.

Celtic a class above the Czech team, but they have a few chances from the edge of the box, without troubling the keeper.

There was still time for Rogic to play Kyogo in with a ball over the top, but the Czech keeper is quickly out and clears with his head. Kyogo ends the first-half with a booking, trying too hard. Never a bad thing.

Celtic dropped down the gears at the start of the second-half. Starfelt, five minutes in, almost gave the opposition a penalty. (I thought it was a penalty). He jumped into the tackle—minimal—but unnecessary contact. We’ve been lucky recently, and this is a good example. The German ref didn’t give it.

Ten minutes into the second half, Turnbull finished the tie. A strike from 25- yards into the corner of the net. A bumper of a goal. He won man of the match. It was a toss-up between him and McGregor. McGregor moves the ball so much quicker than Soro. The team look far slicker.

Ironically, McGregor set up the best chance of the night for the Jablonec attackers by playing a terrible back pass. The loudest cheer of the night came from Joe Hart’s save. A minute later he made an even better save. But the Celtic keeper did make a complete howler out of a pass back, getting caught on the ball, only to be helped out by his defence. We got lucky again there.

A number of changes for the last twenty-five minutes. Edouard, one of our subs, (let’s hope he leave soon and isn’t running down his contract as some of the tabloids suggest) missed a great chance. He tried to chip the keeper, but Forrest followed in with the rebound to score in seventy-two minutes. A good night’s work for the winger. He was given the captain’s armband when McGregor went off. But it’s a toss-up between him or Abada for the position on the wing. The young Israeli is averaging a goal a game.  

Montgomery got booked for a terrible tackle and Ajeti missed with a header in the final ten minutes. Celtic play Hearts on Sunday, I’m sure we’ll win in the league cup game. But I’ve not seen the Eredivisie outfit AZ Alkmaar. We play them on Wednesday.

McGregor, Rogic, Turnbull, outstanding. Kyogo, was very good. Christie pass marks, his performance not hitting the heights of recent matches. Our two full backs were good. Let’s hope the soft centre doesn’t return. It’s easy against teams like this we’re so much slicker and better than. Harder when there’s not much in it. Won three in a week. Rangers lost three. That’s always good news, even for an old cynic like me.