Celtic 6—0 Motherwell

Celtic win the double. Kyogo Furuhashi scores a first-half double as does our Greek striker, Giorgos Giakoumakis, but in the second-half. David Turnbull and Jota add to a six-goal rout. But all eyes were on Tom Rogic and Nir Bitton. They’ve decided to move on. But there was none of the baggage that left us with a squad full of outcasts who didn’t want to play for the club at the beginning of the season. We wish them well, but the Wizard of Oz, in particular, will be a big miss. But we’ve got Matt O’Riley to step in. We’ve got depth and strength we didn’t have at the start of the season—and we’ve got a £40 million Champions League windfall. We’ll be playing with the big boys next season—thanks to Ange—and I absolutely love it.

A long summer of recuperation and recruitment. No more qualifying rounds. Just straight into defending our tenth title in eleven years and straight into the Champions League. Bigger and better. We’re going to take some batterings, but we’ll get better. Let’s make it two-in-a-row under Ange and back up to the ten. Let’s build a dynasty. We all know that managers have a shelf life that’s shortening year on year. Look at Brendan Rodgers. He wanted out. And if he’d done the honourable thing—like Rogic and Bitton—and waited until the end of the season most of us (well me) wouldn’t have begrudged him his move. History now.

It was good to see the Scottish young player of the year, David Turnbull, back in the team and scoring. He’s got a habit of scoring against his old club and did so again, in between Kyogo’s double. Tom Rogic almost had the goal we all wanted him to score, but hit the post.

Kyogo’s double were wonderfully inventive. The first swivelling and somehow getting a shot away through a ruck of players and in off the post, in the twenty-first minute. His second, just before half-time was wonderful. He took a chipped pass from Tony Ralston, which came over the top of the Motherwell defence, and hit it first time into the net.

Giakoumakis came on a substitute, he helps create a debate whether Kyogo is better, whether he should be starting by continually scoring goals. One of them was his trademark overhead kick.

But Jota had already put us four up on fifty-nine minutes. He’s been a bit cagey about whether he’s staying or going. But the on-loan Portuguese player has scored and created opportunities all season. His last-minute goal at Pittodrie got us all three points and helped create a run of games in which we didn’t lose. I’d like to see him stay. But it’s really up to him. We just keep going as the post-match printed T-shirts said (smell the glove, remember that one?)

Celtic romped it against Motherwell, playing incisive one-touch football. Callum McGregor picked up the trophy. And I think this is his best season in a Celtic jersey. He helped carry the team. At the start of the season we were in a vicious cycle. Celtic are in a virtuous circle now, when everything that can go right does and the money flows in. In November of last year I was talking about a dog’s chance in the league. Comparisons have been made with Wim Jensen’s minor miracle and double-winning team. Ange’s team might just have topped that. He’s brought in players and they’ve made a difference. A real team effort.

And no, we don’t wish our Glasgow rivals all the best in their cup finals. We might have been turning Japanese this year, but we’re turning Germanese midweek and Edinburghese on Saturday. Small minded and bigoted. All the words you’d associate with your typical Orange Order. Just holding up a mirror.        

Dundee United 1—1 Celtic.

The league won. Tidying up time and with two games to give some lads a runabout. James Forrest, for example, and Liel Abada. Kyogo on the bench, gets a few minutes of injury time. Giakoumakis comes in. The Greek strike got his goal at the end of the Hearts game to keep his strike rate up—to a very impressive level—and scored again to officially win the title. Great leap from Giakoumakis top power home the header, but the donkeywork was done by Tony Ralston hanging the ball in the air from out in the touchline.

Tony Ralston is a bit like Anton Rogan used to be. He gives his all, but I’m thinking we need better. He was wasteful with the ball in the first half in which Dundee United had one shot on goal. Archie Meekison with fast feet finding space just outside the box and getting a shot away. But Ralston set up a goal and with a tackle saved an almost second Dundee United winner.

We had three-quarters of possession, but didn’t look that deadly. Hatate, for example, skying two half-decent chances.  It was looking like one of those pre-season knockabouts in the first-half.

David Turnbull drops out of the team and Hatate comes back in.  The ever impressive O’Riley keeps his place and Rogic out of the team. We know they’ll all come on for a runabout. After sixty minutes, and the opening goal, Ange brings new legs on. It’s worked fine in the past. Jota come on for James Forrest.

The game opened up after Celtic scored and we looked for a second goal to clinch it. But we almost conceded immediately. Rory MacLeod hit the post. Nicky Clark bundles the ball into the net only for the linesman to flag offside. A close call.

Forrest was tidy, but never a threat. Jota with his first touch, a nutmeg and waltz into the box, with a snapshot forced Benji Siegrist into a save at his near post. Potential candidate for goal of the season if it had went in.

Abada got injured and was taken off to be replaced by Daizen Maeda. Another injection of pace. But it’s substitute Charlie Mulgrew that helps set up the United equaliser. His first touch was a free kick, which he hit into Joe Hart’s arms. But later he simply lays the ball off, a simple pass. Dylan Levitt (on loan from Manchester United) takes the shot on from over 25-yards. He beats Joe Hart with a bit of a wonder goal and with ten minutes to go it’s a nervous finish.

A Tony Watt header has Joe Hart flapping. Jota makes space inside the United box but hits the side-netting. Maeda creates space for himself inside the box, but his finish is well over the bar. Celtic get a corner in the last minute of extra time. But we play the ball back the way, go back the way, in a season where we have been going forward.

Building the team, player by player. A Double in his first season, a minor miracle I prayed for, but just couldn’t see happening.  Ange could:

‘It’s been a hell of a season. Our starting point was a fair way back and the way this group of players and staff has risen to the challenge – I couldn’t be more proud.

It’s fairly overwhelming. It’s taken every ounce of me to get us where we are and when you get to the finish line, you just want to collapse.

We’ve been focused all season, not getting distracted by anything. The players were really good at dealing with what was in front of them – and that’s not easy to do.’

Celtic 2021-2022. Story of our season so far.

We’re six points behind Rangers in the league. Many of us—myself included—was willing to give the incoming manager Ange Postecoglou a free hit this season, especially considering the Eddie Howe and boardroom debacle. A squad not fit-for purpose. Want-aways, from two seasons ago, such as Edouard, Christie and Ayer talking the talk before they walked. We’re in the C-League of European football, which is about the level we’re at. But we’re playing some scintillating football. And if we could defend, the way we attacked, we’d be in the B-League of European football and top of the league. Our soft centre remains a major hangover. Running more, does not mean defending less. There’s been a spate of injuries to our key players. Despite this, we won the League Cup, and the winter-break has come at the right time for us. We’re bringing in reinforcements, predominantly, we’ve been told players from the J-League from which we brought Kyogo Furuhashi. We can beat Rangers, but whether we can win the league is a moot point. I’d guess around 50/50 and we’d need a bit of luck.

Win the league this year and the £40 million Champions League money and the team from Govan will be in financial freefall (I know, they already are), but if they win it, they can pay their debtors and it’s game on. It’s all about the money—we wasted on sub-standard players. Postecoglou tells it like it is. We have no plan B, but plan A might well be enough. The league is everything. All that stuff about giving him time is based on logic. The flipside is giving Rangers more respect than they deserve. And I come from the give them fuck-all school of the true believer. 8-10.  

Stars/Flops. Kyogo is king. Without his goals, particularly, the equaliser less than a minute after the opening against Hibs in the League Cup final, and we’d have been struggling. Jota, who missed the final, is not far behind Kyogo. The Portuguese winger scored five goals in five games before he was injured. Joe Hart has made vital saves and we’ve not had that since Fraser Forster. Tony Ralston has also been a revelation, scoring five goals. The goal against Ross County in 97 minutes tells you all you need to know about him. I didn’t rate him. In the same way, I didn’t rate Nir Bitton. Humble-pie for Boxing-Day’s fixture with a man-of-the-match performance, and a goal, from the stand-in captain.

Carl Startfelt is the accident that’s already happened, a gift to the opposition that keeps giving.

Remember at the start of the campaign there was a debate about whether Leigh Griffiths would or should start. That’s how far we’ve come. Albian Ajeti is still here, in the meantime. A major disappointment had been the injury to our Greek striker, Giorgos Giakoumakis. Little has been seen of him since his missed penalty against Livingston cost us two points. With Kyogo out, this was his big chance to show what he’s about. It’s uphill for him now. A real delight to see eighteen-year-old Joey Dawson, from the Academy, coming on and almost scoring.  Any talk about Christopher Julien return to the first-team is shut down. James Forrest comes and goes. Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo was on the bench against St Johnston. Left back, like the softs centres, is proving as difficult to fill as Kieran Tierney’s boots. Liam Scales has played a few games in that position and even scored a goal. We’re awaiting another Japanese import.  

Cameron Carter-Vickers isn’t a flop, but is average. I’d big hopes for Mikey Johston (I’m still waiting). Liel Abada, with ten goals, has the numbers on his back to suggest promise rather than substance. James McCarthy started very poorly against his old team, Hamilton, but has improved. But it’s difficult to offering him a four-year contract as anything other than wishful thinking.  

Ange Postecoglou reminds us that the team isn’t what he wants it to be. He’s handled whatever has been flung at him with aplomb, while reminding detractors he’s managed in the World Cup, he’s been a success wherever he goes. Kyogo is his signing. Jota a lucky turn of the transfer cards. Starfelt an unlucky turn. With no plan B and a soft centre, Ange needs to keep the poker face and keep turning over aces. We had reminders that new Celtic managers who come in and win the League Cup go on to win the league. Let’s hope for 2022 that doesn’t change. We’re certainly a lot stronger than 2021. Mate, in Ange we trust. Give him the money.  

Hibernian 1—3 Celtic.

Easter Road has been tough for us in the league. No away wins in eight seasons. But not tonight. Celtic totally dominant in the first-half and see out the second-half. For a change, we score from free-kicks, but true to form, concede too. Fourteen-minutes in, Tony Ralston started the party. Free-kick edge of the box. Ralston unmarked at the back post, keeps his head and powers in David Turnbull’s pass. Great header. Great goal.

Our second goal is another free kick. We don’t score enough from corners, considering we average around ten-to-one against most teams we play. Here David Turnbull simply whips it into the box and Carter-Vickers volleys home. Simple. Half an hour in, two set pieces, and two goals.

Giakoumakis drops to the bench, Kyogo plays through the middle (as expected) and scores, as expected from a Jota cutback after 24 minutes to make it 3—0, and it looks like game over. But yet again, we should have had more. Kyogo himself should have had more, squaring when he should be shooting three minutes later.  It’s great to see Mikey Johnston back—and starting. We’re beginning to pick up a bit of momentum, slicing through the Hib’s defence at will.

Winning four games on the bounce, with no goals conceded, until with Hib’s first corner of the game, and with fifteen minutes of the first-half remaining—and some Hibs’ fans leaving the ground—Boyle scores with a free—scuffed—header.

With almost total domination of the ball, it seems Hibs can’t get up the park. But two minutes after Ralston’s opener, Murphy plays in Joe Newell. From six-yards our goalie makes a crucial save.

Hart made an equally crucial save in the second-half. Hibs were dominant, but unconvincing. Doyle-Hayes plays the ball beyond the last man and gets behind the Celtic line with Ralston playing Murphy on. With 15 minutes to go if Murphy scored it could have been tricky. Hart makes himself tall and saves—yet again.

But the home side’s goal gives Hibs a dog’s chance. They should have been out of the game.

Tom Rogic, who had been running the show, unfortunately, got injured just before half-time and was replaced by the more defensive Nir Bitton.

 The focus in the other end of the city is on Walter Smith with a minute’s silence before the start of the game. We certainly hoped Aberdeen would honour his legacy by sitting in deep and Broonie scoring a breakaway winner after a dour defensive display, with their goalkeeper unbeatable.  But before the game we’d have taken a draw.

Celtic 2—0 St Johnstone

Josip Juranovic comes into the problematic left-back spot, he handled so well at Ibrox. After Callum McGregor’s midweek miss from the penalty spot, it was Juranovic who once again picked up the ball, held his nerve, and sent Clark the wrong way with the second goal in 80 minutes that calmed nerves.

Another clean sheet and another victory. Joe Hart didn’t have a save to make. Celtic dominated the game. St Johnstone had pockets of possession in the first five minutes of each half, without threatening the Celtic goal.

  But the real thrill comes in seeing the Greek striker Giorgos Giakoumakis starting— flanked by Kyogo and Jota. Makes me think back to Celtic’s Three Amigos of the Tommy Burns’ era—Van Hooidjdonk, Cadette, and Di Canio—but hopefully, with a happier ending.

Our new number seven got us and himself off the mark. Jota’s shot is blocked. The ball loops into the air. Callum Booth ball watches allowing Tony Ralston to get the other side of him and fire the ball across goal. It’s taken thirty-four minutes for Giakoumakis to find himself unmarked in front of goal. He finishes with aplomb with a volley.

St Johnstone rely on free-kicks, corners and throw-ins to get them back into the match—it’s worked for them in the past—but even here they fail. Celtic’s defence is a match for them.

Ambrose and Bryson are booked to prevent Celtic breakaways. But bizarrely, the referee books Carter Vickers and Chris Kane, when the latter is clearly seen booting into the Celtic defender when he’s lying on the ground and the ball away from both of them. He should have been off.

Attack against defence, as it often is when teams come to Parkhead and put ten men behind the ball. The difference here was we had so many attacking options. With the game at 1—0 we could take out goal scorer off, Giakoumakis, at the start of the second half and bring on Mikey Johnstone. He was unlucky not to score, hitting the post with almost the last kick of the ball. But it also allowed us to push our icon, Kyogo, through the middle, and it was the Japanese star who won the penalty, being floored in the box.  We can even take him off with a few minutes reaming and the game secured and bring on Abada, who hit the ground running when he first came to the club, with a few well-taken goals. Sympathy vote?  Ajeti for Jota. Attack had by that time created so many chances it was just a matter of how many. We settled for 2—0, clean sheet and next up Hibs away on Wednesday night. Another away win would be nice.

CELTIC 2—0-FERENCVAROS

3.30pm kick-off on a Thursday afternoon seems a time for school-football matches or reserve-team fixtures, but an almost full Parkhead showed how much we love European competitions. We’re in the second tier and whoever wins the head-to-head between both teams is likely to drop into the third-tier of European competition. Adam Montgomery came in for Bolingoli, the only change in the team that won at Motherwell. Celtic had similar possession here in the first-half, with two-thirds possession, but with far fewer chances. Jota came closest, with almost twenty minutes gone, with an angled drive Dibuzo tipped over the bar. Stacks of corners. But here’s the rub, we don’t look like scoring from corners, but we look like conceding.  Ferencvaros created a chance of their own, with a little help from Montgomery. The defence backed off and Montgomery gave Uzuni a chance to shoot from inside the box. Joe Hart made a decent save. It was a warning.

Samy Mmaee and Tony Ralston were both booked when the former kicked out at Kyogo. He didn’t kick him hard enough to get sent off. Sutton argued ‘a kick is a kick’ meaning a red card, but it was yellow.

The Japanese icon opened the scoring for us, fourteen minutes into the second half. Jota created it with a sweeping pass from the Celtic half. An exquisite first touch, a look up, and he dinked it in past the keeper and near the right-hand post.

We’ve had a couple of clean sheets recently, but were at our Keystone Cops best here as we almost conceded an equaliser immediately. Uzuni whips a dangerous ball into the six-yard box. Carl Starfelt is standing off Mmaee as he looks ready for the tap-in. But Ralston slides in to clear. Joe Hart also bailed him out when he dithered and made a back pass picked up by Uzuni. 2—0 up by then and there was more room for these kind of errors we’ve come to expect from Starfelt.

  Montgomery got us a penalty when he was brought down just inside the area by Wingo. Despite Celtic’s dominance, he too, didn’t have a great game. He’d earlier been booked after being on the wrong side of a winger, and his passing was erratic. When he limped off to be replaced by Liam Scales, it wasn’t a bad substitution.

Callum McGregor misses from the spot, or the keeper makes a good save? Either way, mid-way through the second-half, Celtic miss a glorious opportunity to put themselves out of the away team’s reach. His next pass went to the opposition. But Cameron Carter-Vickers does enough to prevent the counter-attack.

Most Celtic managers choose to substitute Tom Rogic after around 70 minutes, especially when we’re protecting a lead. Nir Bitton seems to be the man chosen for the job now. James McCarthy seems simply to have disappeared. But we also had a big substitution in us—Giorgos Giakoumakis. He replaced Liel Abada, who worked hard (that’s the minimal).  Giakoumakis gives us physical presence. Hart also took to pinging some balls from his goal mouth.

The Greek striker showed what he’s all about with a chest down in the box, holding off a defender and a shot that ballooned over the bar. He’ll score goals. Lots of goals.

With fifteen minutes remaining, with Giakoumakis lurking, David Turnbull scored after going to hit the ball with his right foot, the ball hitting his left foot. The keeper coming out of the goal and he’s tackled by a Ferencvaros defender and the ball ends up in the net. After his wonder goal at Fir Park, this was the antithesis. Not that it matters.

Turnbull should have scored another. Jota played him in. He’s one-on-one with the keeper, but slides it past the post.

Kyogo goes off and Mikey Johnston comes on, and he looked lively. With the game going to added time he played in Jota. But the Portuguese winger hit the side netting, when he should have scored.   

Fine margins. Celtic deserved to win and they did. Certainly we’ll go to Hungary next Thursday and attack. Kyogo will start through the middle, but there is a case for Giakoumakis. Jota is first pick, but Abada is going to feel the pressure of Mikey Johnston, or a tactical switch with Kyogo moving wide. We await Christopher Julien’s return. Starfelt looks the obvious candidate to go, but Carter-Vickers isn’t a loan signing I’d particularly want to keep.   

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 2—0 AZ Alkmaar

Kyogo Furuhashi with six goals in his first six games gets the sponsor’s man of the match (again). Edouard was left on the bench and Furuhashi played through the middle. His energy gave us that little bit extra. Edouard has been a drain, and his body language earlier in the season was off-putting and we wanted him to leave. (I still do.) Kyogo’s goal was spectacular. Tom Rogic set it up while playing keepie-up on the left, darting (well for Rogic a slowish foxtrot) to the right and swinging in a cross to the back post. Kyogo got a foot on it as it left the keeper with no chance. Celtic are a goal up ten minutes into the first half, but they could easily have been a goal (or more) down.

I keep going on about luck. Carl Starfelt is either the luckiest defender, or the unluckiest, since Shane Duffy. Five minutes in and Starfelt gets nutmegged and  Aboukhlal takes the ball into the box. The Swedish international pulls him back, but it’s soft and no penalty. Then minutes later Starfelt gets caught square and Pavlidis nips in front of him. He’s six-yards out and sure to score. Joe Hart makes an unorthodox save, diverting it with his toes onto the post. Last season that would have went in. But Hart picked the ball up.

Celtic took the game to Alkmaar. AZ goalkeeper, Verhulst, made two save in a minute. He parried a raking show from Liel Abada, who’d surges down the right and drove into the box. Then he kept out a Rogic shot, tipping it over. (One of those shots Barkas might even have saved, if he wasn’t playing for us).

But Rogic had three or more curling and bending shots on goal. His link-up play was outstanding, and he looks back to his best.  

Celtic had a let off after half an hour. Aboukhlal found himself free inside the penalty box. He looked to knock a low cross into the goal. But he did a Starfelt and got his feet mixed up and the ball spun away from him. But he didn’t have long to wait before Starfelt gave him the ball again, losing the ball near the half-way line. The Swedish defender had a better second half.

And Celtic went in at half-time a goal ahead. And what a goal it was.

Most of the second half Alkmar were the better team. They attacked more and looked to equalise. They’d a stack of corners, which we defended well. But nine minutes in and 1—1 looked odds on. Stephen Welsh, who had another excellent game and was unlucky at the other end of the field not to score with a header, stuck a foot in with  a last-gasp tackle to prevent a goal. But the ball spun out to Oosting who had the whole goal to hit, but miskicked it up and over.

Edouard comes on for Abada and plays through the middle. James McCarthy and Adam Montgomery replace Rogic and Furuhashi, but not before he’d skinned his countryman Sugawara and took the ball to the byline and whipped it across.  

The Japanese international helped make it 2—0. He came in from the left and played the ball to Forrest cutting in on the right. His shot was deflected into the Letschert from around ten-yards. Lucky again. But we’ll take it every time.

How we didn’t get a third is difficult to say. Unlucky. There’s a good case for making Tony Ralston man of the match. He’d almost a goal-line clearance to make it 2—1.  Sugawara got forward and whipped a low cross across the box. Pavlidis had a tap in, but Ralston cleared from almost underneath the bar. Then at  the other end of the park he almost created the third. Taking two defenders on, breezing past them and getting to the byline. He picked out Edouard, who should have scored, but Verhulst saves. The ball spins into the air. Edouard tries to head it over the line, but he saves it again. Montgomery fires in the rebound, but the defence scrambles it clear.

Five minute of added time Ralston went down after buying a foul with a clever intervention. The Croatian right-back we’ve bought will find it difficult to displace Ralston. And I never thought I’d say that. On the other side Taylor has picked up his game (but I still prefer Montgomery). Welsh didn’t make any rash tackles and give away needless free kicks. He was a threat in the opposition box. Starfelt is a worry. But all over the team is coming good. And we feel good. I’m not sure 2—0 will be enough, but maybe, just maybe, with Joe Hart in goal and breaking at pace, in Kyogo Furuhashi  we trust. The feel-good factor continues until Saturday’s tie with St Mirren. We can’t really afford to rest players, but James McCarthy can step in and play his role. Ryan Christie will hopefully be fit. I still want Edouard away, but in the meantime, use him. Everything is good.

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.

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.