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 1—0 Motherwell

A Tom Rogic goal in injury-time of the first-half was enough to win it, but left us with a nervy finish. The Australian at time looks a class apart. The free-flowing football associated with Ange Postecoglu is still there to see, but the goals have begun to dwindle.  I looked at the Celtic team and wasn’t sure who was playing through the middle in the traditional, number-9 position. The good news is Kyogo’s injury isn’t as serious as we imagined. My first guess was Liel Abada, but he was playing wide. Forrest also started but on the left. Perhaps even Rogic. But it was the same core with Nir Bitton at the base, McGregor further forward, and David Turnbull pushing even further up the park.  When Pep Guardiola does that type of thing we call him a genius, but then again, he has choices—and is a genius.

The surprise was no Mikey Johnston. I’d have thought him to be certain starter (with Jotta out) and the way we normally play. Most of the team stays much the same, which gives a platform to build from. Mikey Johnston did come up for Forrest, who is added to our injury list, only for the substitute to be subbed near the end, for another of our short-term injury candidates to make a welcome return—Anthony Ralston—to make a crucial block on a Tony Watt equaliser.

Celtic dominated early possession, with Motherwell finding it difficult to get out of their half. In other words it was a usual Premier league game, but Motherwell had a bit of bite and a lot of fight. James Forrest really should have put us ahead in nine minutes, racing through on goal with only the keeper to beat, I thought he’d put it past the post. A replay showed Liam Kelly had saved it and it should have been a corner. The referee missed the save and the corner, and a number of harsh tackles that went unpunished.

Callum Slattery, from the edge of the box, hit the crossbar. Kevin Van Veen picked up the first yellow card after stepping in front of Joe Hart, who was trying to take a quick free kick. The Celtic keeper then made a double save, on thirty-minutes, which bettered the Motherwell keeper’s early save. Sean Goss’s shot from the penalty spot came through a ruck of players. Hart got down to push it away, but up in the air. Tony Watt looked odds on to score from three-yards out, but Hart made himself big and blocked his shot. Motherwell were on the ascendency.

Mikey Johnston had what was once for him a typical mazy run into the box, his shot hitting the side-netting. A mis-hit clearance fell to Turnbull, whose shot ricocheted off the back off a Motherwell defender and forced Kelly to adjust his feet and go the other way, and palm the ball over the bar.

Rogic stepped into put us ahead. A free-kick from Turnbull across the box, dummied by McGregor and finished by the Australian.

A topsy-turvy first-half was followed by a more settled performance by Celtic in the second-half, but as the match neared the end, we needed that second goal to settle the nerves and it never came.

Rogic had a quieter second half, but had another few chances to add to his early goal. Mikey Johnson shot high and wide and had a back post header saved. But we expected more from Rogic from a Turnbull pass, but Kelly saved. It was all about seeing it out, and claiming victory. No Forrest. No Kyogo. No Jota.  Next up Ross County.      

Motherwell 0—2 Celtic.

Celtic slick and sloppy. Joe Hart nearly gifted the home team a start in the first five minutes. His Cruyff-turn away from an attacker to try and play another pass out of defence rather than boot it up the park doesn’t inspire confidence. David Turnbull’s wonder goals always help our team to be more of the former rather than the latter. Boli Bolingoli returns to the team during a period of games that sees us, bizarrely, playing a European game on a Tuesday afternoon in the coming week. Rogic replaced Nir Bitton from the team that defeated Aberdeen at Pittodrie, but in role reversal the Australian was subbed for the Israeli after his usual 70 minutes. The nomadic ex-Celt Tony Watt was causing a few problems to our central defence pairing. After ten minutes he whipped a ball across goal after holding Starfelt off on the edge of the box. No takers

Jota hardly had a hit of the ball before he scored in 17 minutes. Celtic stole the ball away from the Motherwell midfield. In a slick breakaway attack, Rogic split the defence. The Portuguese winger, who scored the winner against Aberdeen, continued where he left off. He took the ball in his stride and blasted it in the left-hand side of the goal.

Ange’s Plan A to attack and Plan B to attack even more, is always made easier when we score first. We looked more dangerous when Motherwell attack and left space for the midfield and forwards to work.

Just before half-time we had what seemed a lengthy delay for referee Willie Collum to sub himself—there’s a masonic joke there somewhere.

The second-half had Jota failing to connect properly from a great cross from Tony Ralston. When we play quality teams, I usually say if we get a second we’ve got a fifty-fifty chance of snatching a draw, but usually I’m wrong. In that I’m consistent.

For goal of the season, it’s got to be Turnbull at his old stomping ground. Over 25 yards out, he cut in from the left and let fly. The ball zipped into the top right-hand corner. It’s one of those strikes you see played on computer games. Liam Kelly, in the Motherwell goal, could only turn his head to watch, like the rest of us. Turnbull showed class by refusing to celebrate. But he did crack a smile. He’s not being playing at his best recently, but was neat and tidy here, with a bit of spectacular thrown in.

Celtic looked the team more likely to score, but midway through the second-half, the referee waved away an appeal for a Motherwell penalty after the ball seemed to have struck Bolingoli’s hand in the box. Would Willie Collum have given it? Discuss.

Giorgos Giakoumakis replaced Liel Abada with twenty minutes to shine. The Greek striker had one half chance were he went for the spectacular overhead kick, but was nowhere near scoring. Perhaps the most pleasing aspect was with five minutes remaining was the way he plucked a ball from the air and held off a defender with ease, forcing him to foul. That’s something our attack has been missing. Physicality.

Kyogo went out to the left wing. He was replaced by Mikey Johnstone for the last ten minutes. I like Mikey. And like the Celtic team, he sometimes looks like a world beater or a Keystone Cop wearing someone else’s boots. He was unlucky not to score in the last few minutes. A free header at the back post which sailed over the bar the most noticeable chance for Motherwell.  But the home team looked most dangerous when we gifted them the ball in our half of the park. We had a rub of the green today, long may it continue. Two goals. Two away wins and counting.

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.

 

Celtic’s Treble Treble.

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There have been disappointing times as a Celtic supporter, but this era isn’t one of them. Celtic defeated Hearts on Saturday to complete a clean sweep of Scottish trophies for the third season running. Out of nine competitions, in three years, Celtic have won all nine. Yet, amid the joy there was a bubble and babble of discontent. Neil Lennon had been appointed the new Celtic manager.

I remember him when he was the old Celtic manager. I remember him playing for Celtic. I even remember watching Harry Hood, who joined Stevie Chalmers and Billy McNeil in Paradise. My da loved Harry Hood, he scored goals when you needed them. Like many older players he retired to become a publican. Future-proof and sorted.

I remember when we got to a cup final against Raith Rovers in Rangers, you spend a fiver, and we’ll spend a tenner era. We lost. But we found the man with the bubble perm, Wim Jansen. Some you Wim and some you lose. Thank god we were winners and that nine never became ten.

I remember the coming of the Sainted Martin O’Neil. Henrik and Lubo were already there, all he had to do was dominate Scottish football. And we’d a glorious trip in a friendly to play Man Utd, half of Clydebank was there and we gubbed them. The whole of the green side of Clydebank was in Seville. Glorious defeat, our speciality. Our season in the sun.  Maybe we should arrange a friendly against Man City and the treble winners in England should play the treble winners in Scotland? We could call it the Get it Right Up Yeh, cup.

We’ve already played Man City in the Champions league. Drawing two of the games. The second game didn’t matter to Man City, but it mattered to us. Every game matters when Celtic play. The jersey doesn’t shrink to fit the player.

We had wee Gordon Strachan, who contrived to lose the first game 5-0 to a team in Europe nobody had heard of. Oh, dear. Remember Nakamurra’s free kick against Man Utd. Home win.

Tony Mowbray and us getting scudded 4—0 at half time by St Mirren. I’d good memories of Paisley. I was there that magical night when we won 5—0 and Dundee and Walter Kidd beat Hearts. Glory, Glory.

I was there when that Murdo MacLeod rocket hit the back of the net and Ten Men Won the League, tra-la-la-la.

Remember when we beat one of the best teams of all time, Barcelona at Parkhead, 2—1, with a Tony Watt goal, and we only got to kick the ball twice than night. Neil Lennon was the manager. Glory, Glory.

Remember all the media shit about a certain Celtic centre half ripping it up in Scottish fitba but never being worth £10 million? Neil Lennon’s protégé did OK, as did Victor Wanyama. Celtic are no longer contesting European finals, but former players showcase the hoop’s mentality.

When Lennon felt he could go no further, we had the interim and experimental manager, Ronnie Deliah. He was a nice guy, but the job was too big for him. Rangers beat us in a penalty shoot-out at Hampden and Deliah was done.

Then we had Brendan Rodgers. Let’s not forget he delivered eight of those nine trophies. In his first season he could do no wrong. When playing Rangers we used to cheer their players because they were so awful and a four or five goal gubbing was pretty standard. We were football gods.

This season has been a slog. We used to be four or five steps ahead of Rangers. This year we were one. Rodgers walked into mediocrity for ‘professional reasons’ in the most unprofessional way. If he had seen the season out nobody with any sense would have batted an eyelid. It would have been the honourable thing to do, the professional thing to do.

Lennon stepped in and it’s like that film somebody up there likes me. He left Hibs or Hibs left him. Nobody cares. Then he gets the Celtic gig. Lennon goes with the old guard to get us over the line. Jozo Šimunović, number 5, scored that goal in 67 minutes that helped us finish first. Every goal we get seems to be a last minute effort. Even on Saturday, we get a penalty and then a late goal. The stars align.

The question now, of course, is what happens when the stars don’t align? We need five players, maybe six. We need a massive clear-out. Unlike our indebted Glasgow neighbours, we’ve got the money for the job. Is Lennon the man for the job?

Well, there’s money and there’s money. Champion League winners (Spurs or Liverpool and I don’t really care which it is) will pocket around £6 million. Aston Villa win £170 million, going up to around £300 million in the first year of the Premiership. Celtic won about £3 million in prize money. If they make the Champion League you can factor in another £30 million. You can pay for a better quality player.

Brendan Rodgers had a run in with Peter Lawwell and there was only one winner. Neil Lennon in his first incarnation did the same. Peter Lawwell runs Celtic. John McGinn, who scored the second goal that took Aston Villa to the money- tree of milk and honey, would have been a Celtic player if Brendan Rodgers had his way. He didn’t.

Neil Lennon is smart enough to know who is in charge. You might not need to shrink from fitting the jersey, but you need to shrink from questioning the logic of the money men. In Lennon we trust. You can bank on it. You can bank on the supporters, but please don’t patronise us in the way that Rodgers did, with the bullshit I’d like to return some day. Fuck off and follow the money. Lennon is a genuine Celtic supporter.

Can he do the job? Well, he’s got a head start. Every manager needs his share of luck, I just hope Lennon hasn’t used all of his in these end of season fixtures. They sure weren’t pretty. Winning is simply enough, but not so simple. At Celtic we demand more. We dream of more. Money can’t buy that. Our dreams are not for sale.