Hibs 2—2 Celtic

I’ve an ongoing joke with my mates. Celtic are a goal down and it’s the ninety-second minute: ‘I’ll take a draw now,’ I admit defeat. Diego Laxalt scores to make it 2—2. That’s a point gained rather than two lost. Neil Lennon will come out with the usual guff about showing character. Or even great character.

But this is a Celtic team full of doubt. The best teams have that arrogance. They turn up expecting to win. And they do. We do. We’ve done it for the last couple of seasons. Treble-treble. And counting. We’ve not turned into a bad team overnight.

The first half at Easter Road. Nothing much in it. Celtic had more of the ball—as you’d expect. Elyounoussi had two chances. Boyle for Hibs had an equally good chance when Laxalt misjudged a cross ball. The Celtic goal scorer doesn’t do that very often. Pile on the clichés about him being the one saving light. A cameo from Rogic with his dancing feet and that’s about it. We go in even and the game ends up even.

There was symmetry about the goals scored and conceded. Biton, fresh from his victory for Israel against Scotland, gives away a needless free-kick near the halfway line. Scott Brown bundles into Martin Boyle on the edge of the penalty box, near the corner flag. The Hib’s player was going nowhere, and the best he could have expected was a corner. Hib’s penalty. Kevin Nisbet misses it, or Scott Bain saves it, but it doesn’t matter. Jamie Murphy, Ranger’s loan player and man of the match, follows up to score.

Roles are reversed for the next Hib’s goal. Murphy rises unchallenged, flicks it on into the Celtic box. Kevin Nisbet powers it low into the corner.

Edouard comes on for Ajeti. Another poor match for the Swiss striker. Elyounoussi, who is either great, or invisible, was also replaced for Shane Duffy. That’s what you call having a bad game. Porteous missed an easy header to take Hibs 3—0 up. Hibs cruising.

Porteous handles the ball in the box. Edouard scores but there are only around five minutes of normal time left. Griffiths is on. Ntcham on for Rogic on the ninety-second minute, which looked like time-wasting from the Celtic manager. But hey, I always knew we’d score.

A scaffed clearance from a cross and Laxalt put it into the top corner. We couldn’t nick a winner, could we? We can’t win the league, can we—?

No.

Every team that plays against Celtic scores. Sometimes more than once. Nir Biton looks, like he is, a midfielder playing in defence. Duffy is a bad loan signing who we can send back now. Pity we can’t send the Greek keeper back. Great that we can play Laxalt. This is the same Celtic team that ran riot against pretty much everybody in Scotland—including Rangers. Certainly, we have the players to beat them. But not if we keep beating ourselves, as we did today. Before this game we hoped Aberdeen would do us a turn. Now we need them to.

Whatever we do on Thursday doesn’t really matter. We’re in the last chance saloon and it’s still November. We’re waiting for Ranger’s luck to turn, for those little things that happen in a game to go against them and turn the tide and title race. But we’ve got to be ready. I’m not sure what the answer is. The sure sign of an idiot is to keep doing the same things and expect a different outcome.  

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

Betfred Cup Final: Celtic 1—0 Rangers

Betfred Cup Final (what we used to call the League Cup Final before the rights were sold for hard cash).

I know how Steven Gerrard must feel. I had two quid on Julien for first goal and lost the bookies line. Going further back than that I remember when Celtic used to play Rangers off the park during the Tommy Burns era, only for Brian Laudrup to gallop up the park and score the winner and the flying pig, Andy Goram, to make save after save. Here we had Fraser Foster save a penalty from Alfredo Morelos in the second half, and a world-class save from Ryan Jack in the first half. He also made a fistful of other top-notch saves. Fraser Foster might well have been Neil Lennon’s best signing.

The strange thing about the aftermath of the final is both mangers can feel quietly pleased. Julien was offside when he scored. Rangers did batter Celtic from the first to the last of the 96th minute. By some margin this was Celtic’s worst performance against Rangers in years. Worse than the 2—0 defeat at Ibrox last year under Rodgers. Worse than the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat at Hampden to a Rangers team playing in the First Division. Craig Gordon, Scott Brown, Nir Biton, and Leigh Griffiths played in that game. Callum McGregor and Tom Rogic came on as subs. I was looking for James Forrest’s name, but it was missing. You’d be hard pushed to have noticed he was playing yesterday.

Neil Lennon brought Forrest into the Celtic team and he’s been a consistent presence since then and in the ten domestic trophies won in the last three seasons.   He’s added goals to his game and managers such as Rodgers were quick to tell us how hard he worked. But we’re not digging up bags of coal. Our eyes don’t deceive us. He was rotten yesterday and not much better in the last home game against Hamilton. But his performance was hidden in a team display that never reached the level of mediocrity. Ironically, the miss of the game was not Morelos from twelve yards of the penalty spot (and yes Forster did move off his line) but Mikey Johnston’s. He was played in by Odsonne Edouard and had a one-on-one with McGregor, but put it by the post. That would have given Celtic a 2—0 lead and game over signs would have flashed around the stadium. And despite Ranger’s defenders missing some good chances to score from corners and free kicks, the biggest miss of the afternoon was Kris Ajer’s free header, six yards out, and all he had to do was score.

I was surprised to hear Lennon praising Ajer. I think he must have had on his James Forrest specs on. At one point he tried to play Morelos offside, got nudged aside by the Ibrox psychopath as he ran down the touchline. We knew what was coming next, because Ajer does at least one of these Inspector Gadget tackles every game. Stick a long leg out and hopes to hit the ball. He didn’t, Morelos was in on goal. Only for Fraser Foster to start laughing at the Columbian striker and put him out of his stride. Morelos should have been sent off for kicking Scott Brown, Julien and any other Celtic player within spitting distance when the ball was at the other end of the park.

Lennon had a big call to make before the game, whether to play Edouard or not. Player power. He let the French man decide. He was on the bench and came on to do everything that Lewis Morgan did not and could not. Connor Goldson is not the best centre half in Scottish football, but having Lewis Morgan as an opponent was like having a day off yesterday. Morgan’s not a centre forward and not even the best winger at Celtic. He’s probably fourth or fifth choice.  Vakoun Issouf Bayo, who does not play as a forward for Celtic because he’s either injured or not good enough (probably the latter) wasn’t fit to fill in for Edouard. Neither was Leigh Griffiths deemed not sharp enough or fit enough for a place on the bench. In contrast, Mohamed Elyounoussi was deemed fit enough to start despite missing a few games, but was subbed at half time when the score was 0—0. To use the argument he wasn’t the worst is to invite comparisons for the race to the bottom and there you’ll meet James Forrest, who’ll outpace you and show you his winner’s medals.

Only three Celtic players deserved to pick up a winner’s medal, because individually all the others lost their battles all over the park. Fraser Forster is the giant in which stand the shadows of Edouard, who came on in the second half to cause the Rangers defence problems and Jeremie Frimpong. Little Pingpong might have been the smallest guy on the pitch, he might have given away a penalty—Julien and Ayer sleeping as Morelos got in behind them and Pingpong was the wrong side of the Rangers’ attacker—but the little full back was Celtic’s best defender and attacker. Apart from Forster, Celtic’s best player full stop. He’s a gem of the Kieran Tierney variety and the right back position that was once so troublesome looks sorted.

I’ll take any kind of win over Rangers, whether it’s darts, ludo or pingpong. Yesterday’s final was the tenth on the trot. A marvellous achievement. We have the luxury of a Europa tie against Cluj that is a practice match for Sunday when we play Hibs. I expect us to win there and for Young Boys to beat Rangers and Motherwell to win at Fir Par against Rangers too. Wins like yesterday give a bit of breathing space, but the next game and the one after that are the only ones that matter. Old glory is no glory. Yesterday’s news. Celtic need a replacement and back up for Edouard. Simple. And if they can’t put their foot on the ball and play football, which they didn’t manage yesterday, then the players shouldn’t be at Celtic. Simple. The pleasing thing about yesterday was the win and not the manner in which we won. Quite simply, we didn’t deserve to, but yesterday’s fixture also knocked about twenty million quid off the over-inflated price tag for Morelos. He was that bad yesterday he should have been wearing the green and white hoops.   

Tear along dotted line – the Celtic season starts here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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