Ireland 3—0 Scotland.

Goal scorer against Armenia, Anthony Ralston retained his place in the Scotland team. Ralston went missing for the second Irish goal, but he’s one of the few that gets pass marks in a first half in which Shane Duffy made his mark. Celtic defending, two corners and almost two, or more goals for the Irish, with Duffy missing a sitter from three yards. Craig Gordon judged to have been fouled (he wasn’t) and dropping the ball onto the post, also from a Shane Duffy header.

The first goal, twenty minutes, back post, Duffy header back into the mix. Alan Browne reacts quickest and knocks the ball over the line with his chest. An Irish team that normally can’t create or take chances are finding plenty just by putting the ball into the Scotland box.

Eight minutes later, two goals up.  Man of the match, Michael Obafemi, who spooked the Scottish defence by running about a lot, takes the ball outside the box. He lofts a ball over the Scotland rear-guard. Tony Parrott heads it past an out coming Gordon.

Obafemi added a third, in the fifty-first minute, killing Scotland’s chance of taking anything from the game, even with Duffy’s help (he put one past his own post in the 94th minute). Obefami smashed a swerving shot from twenty-five yards into the middle of the goals. Gordon looked suspect, but I’d give him the benefit of the doubt.

A fourth Irish goal was ruled out by the absolute minimum and a VAR call that a Scott Hogan back post header past Gordon hadn’t went over the line, but had been kicked away by Grant Hanley.  

Duffy’s slack passing helped create Scotland’s two best chances, both missed by John McGinn, in the first half. Ironically, since we were so far off the pace, the first chance would have been an equaliser, but Ireland went up the park, and made it 2—0. The other chance for the Aston Villa midfielder broughts a comfortable save for Kelleher. The Irish keeper, when he kept the ball off Duffy, almost guaranteed an Irish win, but in the opposition box, the opposite stood true.  

  Stuart Armstrong drops out and McTominay came into midfield, but the Southampton player came on in the second half, as did Billy Gilmour. Neither made much of a difference. A poor Armenian team beat Ireland in Dublin, the last team the Republic beat in their stadium was Gibraltar. Winless in twelve. The Republic has lost two on the bounce, but that doesn’t translate as a win for Scotland.  Ukraine are a class above the other teams in the group, even though every game is an away game for the Eastern Europeans. An easy win for Ireland, who closed Scotland down and won the majority of fifty-fifty challenges.

Scotland 3—2 Israel

Watching Scotland is a duty, rather than a pleasure. This game was the exception to the general rule that we play Israel every other game and snatch a bore draw. I’ve only ever been to Hampden once for a Scotland game. Needless to say Russia beat us. I remember ex-Scotland manager Craig Levein was in the team. That’s about it. Steve Clarke went against the grain and sent out an attacking Scottish team. Up top, he played Che Adams and Lyndon Dykes.

Lyndon Dykes missed a penalty, just before half-time to level the score at 2—2. It was identical to the penalty he scored against Austria. And anybody that watched that one winced, but we struck lucky in that qualifier.

Ex-Hibernian goalkeeper, Ofir Marciano who has a habit of making penalty saves, will mark that one down as one his granny would have caught.

Scotland were a goal down in the first five minutes. We had started well with long balls into Dykes and Adams, forcing the Israeli defence to sit in. Nir Bitton, six-foot-five, but as much chance of winning a ball in the air against any of these forwards as Julie Andrews climbing every mountain and becoming a nun in The Sound of Music. Austin MacPhee, Scotland’s new attacking coach at free-kicks, corners and throw-ins, had Tierney using a towel to dry the ball before flinging it long into the box. Inexplicably, Dykes, who you’d imagine would want to on the end of these long throw-ins, started taking throw-ins on the other side.  The Celtic defender and makeshift midfielder is good at playing simple balls beyond the Scotland midfield into the strikers.

Nathan Patterson, in for Stephen O’Donnell, was poor in the first-half, and a bit better in the second-half. He kept giving the ball away. And we’re often reminded you get punished at this level.

Solomon robbed him of the ball wide. Ex-Celt Jack Hendry brought down Zahavi twenty yards out.

PSV striker, Zahavi lifted it up and over the wall. Co-commentator, Ally McCoist, rhapsodised about what a wonderful free-kick it was, leaving our keeper, Craig Gordon, with no chance. It was a good goal, but perhaps a better keeper might have saved it.

Scotland’s equaliser was of the Robertson and Tierney variety. Just over thirty minutes gone. They held more than their own down the left, while on the right wing, Patterson and McTominay were slack in possession and turned far too easily. Robertson’s lay off at the edge of the box found John McGinn. He bent it into the top corner. This really was of the keeper having no chance school.

Israel went up the park and regained their lead in the next attack, two minutes later. This was of the Celtic school of defending. Hendry on the wrong side of the attacker. It comes off the Israeli player’s head. Gordon scoops the ball up into the air, which was poor goalkeeping. But equally, several Israeli players are ready to pounce. Dabbur from two-yard can hardly miss and pokes it home.

Scotland’s support deflated with that half-time penalty miss from twelve-yards after Billy Gilmour is brought down inside the box. In the second-half, Scotland dominated the ball, with McGregor, McGinn and Gilmour, in particular, picking the right passes.

Patterson upped his game, but went down far too easily in the Israel box after five minutes looking for another penalty and was lucky not to be booked. McGinn was booked for wiping out Soloman, after Scotland’s go-to man, lost the ball.

On the quarter-hour mark, Tierney whipped a ball into the box. Dykes gets in front of his marker and studs the ball into the net. The referee is quick to give it as a foul and book Dykes. The equaliser is chalked off. One acronym, VAR. He has a look and the goal is given. 2—2 and half-an-hour to go, Scotland in the ascendency. The question being asked by the drunk and sober was can we win it?   Being sober, I doubted it.  

Zahavi, for example, once again got in behind a static defence, only for his goal to be chopped off by VAR. VAR turned out to be our best defender, but having so much of the ball we limited their chances.

Patterson, for example, did what he was brought into the team to do and attacked their defence and got to the bye-line. Adams was waiting for his cut back at the back post. He remained waiting.

Then Dykes, who could easily have had a hat-trick, had one of those balls he’s got to score from. That’s co-commentator, Ally McCoist’s words, not mine. Tierney pinged it in, the QPR strike is above his marker with enough pace from the ball for him to guide it into the net. He headed it straight at Marciano.

John McGinn, who scored a wonder goal, missed what for him would have been even more of a sitter. Ryan Christie, who came on for Adams, picked him out. From ten-yards he can’t find the net.

That looks about it. Six-minutes added time—Fergie time, and he was in attendance, in the stands, giving conspiracy theorist some slack to play with—and Manchester United player McTominay ghosts in at the back post to chest the ball home from a Jack Hendry flick on. I rarely enjoy a Scotland game. The last time Leigh Griffiths scored two late free kicks against England and Celtic keeper, Joe Hart. There was still enough time for England to grab a draw. Here there wasn’t. Great game. Great win. (Whisper it, terrible defending).

Can we beat the Faroes? Can we finish second in this group? Only if we go back to being boring old Scotland and dragging things out to our opponents concede. Safe to say, Dykes will no longer be taking Scotland penalties or Stephen Clarke’s an Englishman. Cue the QPR striker stepping up in our next match? Possibly.

Real Betis 4—3 Celtic

Celtic lose 4—3 in Seville to Real Betis, after being 2—0 up and conceding four goals in two, two minutes spells, before and after half-time. I didn’t know much about Real Betis. Usually, we struggle against Spanish teams, by Spanish teams we usually mean Barcelona. In the first thirty minutes, we saw more of the ball than we did in all the combined games against the best club team in the world. In fact, I thought we were Barcelona. We ripped Real Betis to shreds and they couldn’t get the ball off us. We played like Spaniards. All over the park, we were better. João Pedro Neves Filipe (Jota) was almost in on goal after only two minutes.

Jota, who played on the right, had a good case for man of the match, before tiring late in the game. He jinked past the full back and flung a ball in. Albian Ajeti nicked in front of his marker to bundle the ball into the net with his hip. It was three goals in two games for the striker.  But the referee blew for handball. A long wait from VAR before the goal was finally awarded with thirteen minutes on the clock. Ajeti had already tried his luck with an easy save from the keeper, but this one counted.

Hart made a couple of decent saves from Fakir before we scored out second goal. Ones you’d expect our captain to make. Ismaila Soro had been booked and he made another wild challenge—he should really have been taken off. Tom Rogic’s magic feet fashioned another chance for Ajeti before the Swiss striker won us a penalty. Bravo wiped him out. VAR checked for Ajeti being offside before he was played into the box by Rogic.

I’m not sure who the designated penalty taker is now that Edouard—the serial penalty misser—is away, but Josip Juranovic stepped up. Playing left back or right back, he seems unfazed. It was one of those penalties where the keeper had no chance. 27 minutes in and Celtic are in—I—wonderland.

Here’s the thing, playing superb, but I don’t think a two-goal lead is enough. We had our own two-minute spell. Jota is picked out again. Coming in from the right, he tries to dink the ball over Bravo, but it falls flat, he stick out a hand and easily saves it. 3—0 and that might have been enough. Even then, Ajeti is first to the rebound, but flaps and mishits. He sends the ball back towards the goalkeeper and not the goal.

A minute later, Juan Miranda hits the Celtic post. It’s a shoot-out we’re winning until we lose. Betis score two in two minutes. The ball ricochets around the penalty box, the Celtic defence fails to clear and Miranda finds himself six yards from goal, the ball at his feet. He beats Hart. 32 minutes gone and Celtic need to knuckle down.

Pellegrini’s team that haven’t been in the match equalise in 34 minutes. Juanmi scores a tap in.  Carter-Vickers fails in his attempt to play off-side, but overall it’s hard to blame the Spur’s loanee. He had quite a good game. I find it difficult to criticise any of the team, even though we lost two more goals.

 Rogic created the best of the early second-half chances. He picked out Ajeti in the area, but he took too long to hit it and was closed down.

48 minutes gone, Miranda is finding a lot of space down Ralston’s right. He sends a ball across the six-yard box. Juanmi slides in, but can’t get a toe to it.

Sergio Canales works down the same flank two minute later. Borja Iglesias is allowed to runs across the front of our defence. There’s enough pace on the ball, he flicks it with the outside of his boot away from Hart at the near post. Five-minutes into the second half and Celtic for the first time are behind.

Two minutes later its capitulation. Juanmi claims his second goal of the night. Everyone knows Celtic can’t defend corners. But I’d classify this as unlucky. The ball is cleared to the edge of the box. Juanmi takes a touch on his chest. He fires in off the far post through a ruck of players. Hart, the Celtic captain, is another who played well. He had no chance, and it was one of those shots he could have taken on 1000 times and only scored once—when it mattered.

There was no surprise with Soro being taken off to be replaced by McCarthy, but the game looked beyond us. But I’m a big fan of the dog’s chance. Ajeti met Rogic’s cross and flashed a great header into the net, but he was clearly offside.

But as with Jota in the first half, the Portuguese winger beat his man again and flung in a cross. Rogic catches it sweet at the back post. Juanmi’s effort goes in. Rogic’s comes off the post.

Twenty minutes remaining, Betis bring on three substitutes, and use their full complement of five. Celtic have no firepower on the bench. Jota plays on, despite showing signs of cramp.  

With two minutes of the ninety remaining, we get a consolation goal. We hope for more than that, but that’s what it proved. Turnbull flings in a free kick. Ralston attacks it and scores. Celtic score three goals, but lose four.

Disappointing, but not surprising. Celtic continue with their away losing streak, but this seems even more unlucky than at Ibrox. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. As the season continues we’ll be able to answer more fully. Still early days, but I can’t see us picking up many points in the Europa league. We’re too open, but we’re in a far better place than under Lennon.  We’re no longer stagnating and going backwards. It’s forward or burst.