Torture and The Late Late Show

I will be the first to admit that Celtic fans who have supported the team for decades surely don’t need a lecture from a relatively new fan 5,000 miles away. However, I do think I can offer some perspective on some of the games this season — like today’s — from America’s baseball world. The San Francisco Giants in the early aughts, when they were winning championships by any means necessary (and usually “winning ugly”), had a term they always used to describe their style of play: “Torture.”

Sound familiar, Celtic fans?

Torture. That would aptly describe the first 89 excruciating minutes of Sunday’s game at McDiarmid Park against St. Johnstone, where the Saints took a poke or two in that time — glancing one off the bar, even — while mostly playing back. Thank whichever diety you believe in that Leigh Griffiths got the header at 90 minutes, and then Patryk Klimala sealed the deal at 93 minutes for a 2-0 win and wrap up the Late Late Show.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Late Late Show, with your hosts Patryk Klimala, left, and Leigh Griffiths.

Let’s talk about Klimala for a minute. For those who think that offseason training does not pay off, ask yourself if Klimala makes that comeback — Terminator style — quickly upright from a tackle to make that second goal if he hadn’t strengthened up. Chances are he doesn’t, and with the way the referee was being selective with fouls — multiple ignored muggings of Jeremie Frimpong, to no one’s surprise, for example — chances are Klimala doesn’t get the call as well.

Then there’s Griffiths: The bhoy is back. Full stop. But that goal doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The lead up of Kris Ajer to Hatem Elhamed, and then Elhamed’s perfect cross, is a play to watch over and over again.

And how’s this for strategy: Put the soul of your club on the bench and then bring him in to direct traffic toward the end of the game. It’s pretty clear that Scott Brown has an influence on the team that transcends his immediate play.

In geological terms the first 89 minutes of the game had the magma of the Celtic Boo Birds pressurizing the surface, awaiting to erupt in the lava of negativity all over social media. Thanks to Messrs. Griffiths and Klimala, eruption was averted, for the most part.

In addition, let’s be clear about something which some folks may be missing: The other 11 teams in the Premiership are all professional outfits, with players who step up their game a notch or two when playing Celtic. It definitely makes the difference between having a highlight reel and a highlight slide when a club plays Celtic well or, God forbid, beats Celtic. Opposing players get that and up their game accordingly.

Yet some in the support expect this season to be a walk in the park where we dust off other clubs as if they are made up of starving orphans or cloistered nuns.

News flash: They’re not.

So winning 2-0 against St. Johnstone may not be historic, or even noteworthy. But it is another win, and another 3 points. And if we have to grind it out to get to the 10, then that’s the “torture” we have to endure to get there. Naturally, I’d prefer it to be easy, but we would be well prepared to take it that way going forward.

Mon the Hoops.

There once was a man named Ajeti

There’s nothing like an exciting new player to get the poetic juices flowing in Celtic fans. And in the spirit of a thread on The Celtic Noise forum around Celtic striker Albian Ajeti, the Swiss forward could be gearing up for his own song in the near future.

But before we get to that point, break out the dictionary, because “Ajeti” is sort of hard to rhyme.

Fortunately, that has never stopped us before here at ’67 in the Heat of Felton. Challenge accepted.

‘There once was a man named Ajeti . . . .’

So as the sun rises on the Central California coast, yours truly has written a few limericks — yeah, I know . . . “the poor man’s poetry” — during his coffee and Raisin Bran to start the day.

To wit:

There once was a man named Ajeti
Who kicked the ball into the netty
When Saturdays loomed
Opponents were doomed,
Their fans became moany and fretty.

Or . . .

That trick from the Swiss guy Ajeti
turned centre-backs into spaghetti.
And when the ball crossed,
with their goalie tossed,
It quickly went into the netty.

If we reverse the order so “Ajeti” isn’t the rhyming word . . .

Ajeti, a bearded Swiss fellow,
made goalkeepers turn into Jell-o.
A cross that was long
from wee lad Frimpong
Would always make Celtic fans bellow.

Or, to address more immediate concerns . . .

Ajeti – and let me be blunt –
Needs Edouard to help him up front,
or Griff would be nice,
or Klimala twice,
Oh, Lenny — please do take a punt.

Give it a shot. Feel free to put your best efforts in the comments below, or swing by The Celtic Noise forum to the thread about Ajeti and unleash your inner poet.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the Poetry Police are pulling me over and asking for my poetic license and registration . . . .

Mon the Hoops!

So Nir, yet so far

Celtic’s performance on Sunday against Hibernian in the club’s 3-0 win was outstanding across the board; so much so that the silence from the doomsday brigade populating Celtic Twitter has been deafening. Let’s take a quick look at the match, and single out those who deserve special mention in a game which displayed why Celtic is the club in command this year.

Scott Brown? The armchair Steins on Twitter said he needed a rest, but he came out roaring on Sunday to have a great game, and in some folks’ opinions, he should have had Man of the Match honours. Greg Taylor? Improving on the wing with every game, and more importantly on Sunday, showed his defensive prowess by shutting down Martin Boyle, Hibs’ go-to guy, for the entire game.

I suspect there’s a bingo game going on with all the talentless hammerthrowers in the SPFL to see which one of the bastards can be the first to cripple Sunday’s Man-of-the-Match Jeremie Frimpong. Hibernian’s candidates gave it their best shot on Sunday, but still the Oh-My-Days Kid came up sprinting and doing what he does best: Speeding past hapless defenders.

David Turnbull looked sharp and his play on the pitch overall was remarkable. As an aside, my only concern on Sunday — a minuscule one at best, and one that’s easily rectified — is that nearly every corner he took was a line-drive with little altitude for the skyscrapers like Shane Duffy, Kris Ajer, and even Odsonne Edouard, in the box.

But truly, the man who deserves the highest praise on Sunday, and high praise every day that he’s a Celt, is Nir Bitton.

Nir Bitton took the game to Hibs on Sunday and proves how important he is to the club.

For seven years, Bitton has simply played the game — and played the game well — for Celtic. No fanfare. No drama. No should-I-stay-or-should-I-go chapters. Just a player who is proud to wear the hoops and plays where he’s asked. And though not perfect, he plays wherever asked to as near a perfection as a player can.

Listed as a midfielder, Bitton is blessed with the ability to play in the back like a world-class violinist plays a Stradivarius, as was evident in the Hibernian game. Though some criticize his pace as “slow” — I prefer to use the term “methodical” — yesterday his ball distribution from the back, mostly to Frimpong, and advancing up the field with the ball like, well, a midfielder, were sights to behold.

It’s players like Bitton who make the game enjoyable. To say he’s a throwback to another era where players played for the jersey is maybe a little over-the-top, but Bitton — who has found his niche and who seems to appreciate his place in Celtic’s history — “gets it.”

In short, he understands what it means to be Celtic.

And Jock Stein would probably agree: His jersey fits.

In the meantime, let’s hope Albian Ajeti heals quickly. Mon the Hoops!

Moan the Hoops

It inspires awe, unfortunately not in a good way: A club that has won nine championships in a row, not to mention three trebles, has some members of its fan base that excel at either hair-on-fire panic or terminal negativity — sometimes both — for essentially no good reason.

Even some members of the fan base — these same members, of course — who will swear on the graves of their ancestors that they love Celtic constantly, will also, at the same time, make it their sole purpose in life to slag the manager and specific players on the team.

You would think that this crass shallowness would be a hallmark of Glasgow’s other club, and one could successfully argue that it is. Which, of course, is all the more reason why it should stay there instead of encroaching onto the other side of Glasgow.

We’re better than that. Does that even warrant mentioning?

Maybe it does: Elements in the “support” — real or imagined — are calling for the removal of Neil Lennon while dragging players like James Forrest or Greg Taylor or Ryan Christie or fill-in-the-blank for the scapegoat du jour.

Seriously?

Greg Taylor: Just another day at the office.

Taylor is an above-average fullback who is still learning to play in the Celtic system. He’s not flashy; in fact, he’s what we call in America a “lunchpail player,” a guy who brings his lunchpail to work, puts his head down and does his job without fanfare or attention-grabbing. Is he the answer to Celtic’s problems? No. But he’s not the cause of them either. Primarily a defender who excels in that aspect of the game, Taylor would be ideal in a back 4 and his current role of supplying crosses into the opposition box is one that has come with a learning curve for him. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here because I think ultimately he’ll both succeed and be a more well-rounded player for it.

The ire towards Forrest and Christie is totally unwarranted. Both have consistently given all for the club every game, both have been brilliant overall for the Hoops, and Christie deserves special note for being constantly on the go, whether it’s the first minute or the 90th. Both have established themselves in a midfield that has a vast overstock of talent in it, not to mention both being a scoring threat for the entire 90 minutes.

I am as mystified as anyone at some of Lennon’s choices in the recent lineups, but I’m not at Lennoxtown making that decision. So I trust his vast knowledge of football, not to mention his staff’s, over my approximately two years of studying the game. Yet some of the armchair Steins among the support want to replace Lennon because of it? One question: With whom? Honestly, you want to abruptly halt the momentum the club has gained under Lennon because you don’t like it that he doesn’t play 3-5-2 enough? And even if you could replace him, who would you reasonably get to replace him at this point?

It’s perfectly all right to have an opinion. Unhappy with Lennon and his choices? So am I, but rather than calling him names or worse, I’m more than glad to hear him out. Do I think players deserve to be benched for having an off-day, or even worse, resort to name-calling? Absolutely not.

Criticism can take two forms: Positive and negative. Positive critique has been sorely lacking. The panty-wetting and negativity on forums and social media are beyond the pale and are downright embarrassing.

Again, we’re better than that.

This much is clear: The demands made of Celtic players are far greater than many other clubs. Second place is nothing, to be sure, and one of the main aspects of supporting a football club is experiencing the highs and lows, the good and bad, the euphoria and the horror. In an era marked by championships, “trebles,” and a vast array of silverware, there have been few “lows,” and even fewer “bads” and “horrors.”

Fans should be held to the same high standard, because the Celtic scarf doesn’t shrink to fit inferior supporters.

Mon the Hoops!

[Blogger’s note: Much of this item comes as a result of private discussions with a few friends from The Celtic Noise, and they will recognize their contributions herein. While they know who they are, I won’t identify them for privacy’s sake, but needless to say I gratefully appreciate and acknowledge their contributions.]

Livi on the edge

Over the last couple of seasons, Livingston has been a thorn in the side of Celtic, punching way above their weight every time they play the Hoops. And while the Bhoys in Green came away with a 3-2 victory on Saturday at Paradise, it was one of those where you see why Livi is one of those teams that are beatable, but are never really down until the end.

First things first: Nice of referee Gavin Duncan to ignore a hand foul for a penalty in the Livingston end, just to have Kris Ajer — sliding to block — get a hand foul in the Celtic box for a penalty a minute later. Complete bullspit, like four additional injury-time minutes, but at least Duncan has something to talk about when he goes to the Mason’s lodge after the game.

But never mind. A few minutes later the Bhoys equalized when Callum McGregor scores, and with the exception of a late goal by Livi — an absolute rocket from about 30 yards out at 78 minutes — the Bhoys essentially never looked back. What should have ended 3-1 instead ended 3-2.

Ryan Christie, who has been taking a brunt of undue criticism on social media, easily shut his critics up by improving his game up front, and ended up putting the ball into the back of the net a few minutes later. It seems that it doesn’t matter what set-up Celtic plays; whether it’s 3-5-2 or 4-4-2, there’s always a place for Christie in the lineup.

Albian Ajeti put away a goal early in the 2nd half to put the game away for Celtic on Saturday.

Albian Ajeti is also showing that the latest transfer window can easily be considered a success so far. Greg Taylor, who didn’t have a great game last week, had a fairly remarkable one this week. So it will be hard for those on social media who can never seem to find any thrill or happiness in victory to name a scapegoat for Celtic in this match.

It also seemed like a typical Celtic game: 71 percent possession, a clear advantage in passes completed (588-158, 86 percent for Celtic) and crosses (14-6), an obviously an advantage in scored goals (3-2, none of them gifted). All of that equals another victory and three more points.

And, for the moment, a spot at the top of the table.

As for McGregor, the man of the match: It’s hard to imagine where we’d be without him in the midfield. In addition to being a scoring threat, which he showed today, McGregor is a controlling force in the middle for the Hoops. In making each and every prudent and beneficial pass in the midfield, and being the go-to guy when players are double- and triple-teamed. More times than not, McGregor has gotten the Celts out of many a jam.

So tomorrow would be a good time for some “Sunshine on Leith” so Hibernian comes away with a victory, and only tomorrow “Mon the Hibs” are the words of the day.

Flash: Winning ugly is still winning

Let’s not sugarcoat this: Celtic’s win against St. Mirren on Wednesday was not one of those games that will live on in Celtic lore. Actually, it is one of those grind-it-out affairs that borders on painful. But in the end, we get the three points in the 2-1 victory and come away with a win in one of those games that will be easily forgotten over time.

But didn’t the away kit look good on the bhoys?

After gifting the Saints a 1-0 lead just after the two minute mark, the Celts answered with goals by Shane Duffy at 21 minutes and then James Forrest at 36.

Shane Duffy hammers home the equalizer with his forehead in the St. Mirren game on Wednesday.

There’s only one real takeaway, and that can be described in two words: Shane Duffy. The man’s a one-man wrecking crew against Celtic opponents, and clearly the best acquisition in this transfer window. The way he’s been playing so far — two games, but still — has been completely flawless, and we now have an additional aerial threat to join Christopher Jullien in set pieces in the box, to say nothing of an additional scoring threat from the back.

Forrest, who has been the target of a plethora of armchair gaffers that populate social media, took a Ryan Christie cross to the forehead to put Celtic ahead. Speaking of Christie, I have to wonder why he didn’t take the penalty in the 2nd half, but never mind. Odsonne Edouard should have delivered, but what’s done is done, and there are three points in the standings.

As always, every silver lining of a Celtic win has to have its cloud for some people. Greg Taylor, who did not have a great game on Wednesday, was the scapegoat du jour in an otherwise nondescript game where St. Mirren, with a handful of exceptions, concentrated on playing everyone back. This would explain the number of passes back and a somewhat impenetrable defense. Never mind the mobility going forward of both Duffy and Kris Ajer, who were all over the field. Rather than dwell on positives, let’s focus on the negatives, shall we?

And the hue and cry when Neil Lennon took out Edouard and replaced him with Olivier Ntcham? Horrors! It’s a wonder — a modern miracle — that we actually won, if you listen to some people who presumably have 3-5-2 tattooed on them somewhere. But folks, here’s how that happened: The bhoys played their standard issue possession game and scored more than their opponents. It’s not flashy. But it gets the job done. And if that’s how Celtic wins 10 in a row — with a whimper instead of a bang — then OK.

One more thing

As I’m noticing an uptick in the tsunami of stupid that comes across social media regarding Celtic, I think I’m going to start just blocking people rather than waste my time discussing their hair-on-fire panic points. There’s a saying that’s popular here in the South — “Never teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.” So I don’t care if you’re a season ticket holder since 1888 and have been to every game ever since you got your first tickets personally from Brother Walfrid, if you say something slagging the club, you’re blocked. End of.

On to Saturday against Livi at Celtic Park. Mon the Hoops!

Bye bye, Boli

Lyricist for hire: As attempted in the past on a couple of occasions, there are events in the Celtic news that make me break out into song. Boli Bolingoli’s exit to Turkey has inspired this reworking of “Bye Bye, Blackbird” (or “Bye Bye, Rangers,” whichever your prefer).

Sing along if you know the tune.

Bye bye, Boli

Pack up all your gear and stuff,
Turkey calls, we got Duff,
Bye bye, Boli.

Where some club will want your play
In the back, feet of clay,
Bye bye, Boli.

No one here forgives your indiscretion,
Maybe you were given bad direction.

Take your new kit, wear it well,
But from us, “Go to hell!”
Boli, bye bye.

[And as we say here, especially in the South, “Don’t let the door hit ya where the Good Lord split ya!”]

Firing on all cylinders

Now, that’s more like it. Here’s a Celtic score line that speaks volumes: Odsonne Edouard 4′ (penalty), Albian Ajeti 20′, Shane Duffy 59′, Kris Ajer 64′, Patryk Klimala 75′, Vasilis Barkas clean sheet. All three strikers scoring is always a good look and speaks well of playing a 3-5-2. So now it appears that Celtic is firing on all cylinders as we get back on track in the Premiership.

There are several good takeaways from this game, of course, as there would be with any 5-0 victory.

Barkas is the real deal

The jury has been out on Vasilis Barkas for a few games now, having to fill the shoes . . . er, gloves . . . of Fraser Forster, “The Wall,” in goal. But with each game he plays, he makes his case well. Today against Ross County we have a decision: Barkas is the real deal and an adequate replacement for Forster. Barkas owned the goal for 90+ minutes today, turning away each Ross County shot — and there were a few good ones — admirably. With a couple of exceptions — mostly miscommunications between Barkas and defenders which turned out to be awkward moments instead of full-blown disasters — Barkas had a picture-perfect game.

Not to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, of course, but I’ve noticed something over the last few weeks which provokes a question: Would it kill Barkas to actually clear the ball out of the Celtic end instead of passing it to one of the backs? He did it only once against Ross County.

Shane Duffy scored in his debut for Celtic. The Ireland captain is making an immediate impact for Celtic in his first game for the Hoops.

Shane Duffy is awesome

It took all of 59 minutes for Shane Duffy to “open his account,” as it were, with the Hoops, with a smashing header from a corner. The previous 58 minutes, however, had the Irish captain keeping the door closed on the Ross County attack with intimidating form. He’s definitely an impact player and a welcome addition to a club which, to be honest, has been a little shy at times in mixing it up physically with opposing teams. If we are done with the transfer window — which has been mentioned — we are in good shape going forward, and Duffy appears to arguably be the best acquisition in this window, and Celtic fans will be hungry to see more from the big man from Free Derry.

Spreading the love

Happiness is when all three of your strikers score, and that’s what happened at Victoria Park. True, Edouard’s goal was on a penalty, but still. Ajeti continues his Scott Sinclair-like start for the Hoops — and hopefully he can keep up the pace — by scoring once again, and while Klimala muffed an early sure-fire goal, he picked up one later in the game. But that’s only three — two other goals came from the backfield: Duffy on a set piece and Ajer straying forward, as he has a tendency to do, capitalized. Having goals coming from a variety of players is always welcome, and the ball movement — especially from Jeremie Frimpong on the right — was an exclamation point on the effort. We need more of this energy going forward.

One more thing

Well, two actually, but we’ll put them together here. First, you would think that a 5-0 game would be pretty one-sided, but give Ross County its due. The game was a lot closer than the score would have you believe, and the Staggies had many opportunities to score after having the proverbial winds taken out of their sails after the first penalty. The game was not as one-sided as the score line would indicate, and it’s the kind of performance that should serve as a warning to other clubs. But ultimately credit the Celts for their systematic and clinical play, especially in the second half, to keep the Bhoys buoyed for 90 minutes and credited with a victory.

On to St. Mirren on Wednesday. Mon the Hoops!

Down goes Fraser

Unless any of us were involved in the process, no one really knows the backroom negotiations which prevented Fraser Forster from rejoining Celtic. But if the player had the will to return, he would have made it work. Apparently he didn’t, and now instead of competing for a starting position with Southampton, he’s riding the pine — as we say here in baseball parlance — if not out-and-out another loanee to a club with, let’s just say, less historical significance than the Hoops.

Regrets? I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention . . . .

Clearly in Celtic, Fraser Forster had a worldwide fan base which adored him for his fantastic play between the posts last season. No one could have matched his play all season — the saves against Lazio, blocking the penalty against Rangers, or any other of a plethora of awe-inspiring play by The Wall. He endeared himself to Celtic followers everywhere, and most players would have jumped at the chance to continue, especially now that Celtic is on the cusp of history.

Which is why it such a sticking point for many of us. I thought for sure he’d be back, and the delay was just a matter of crossing T’s and dotting I’s in the paperwork.

After all, in public, he said he wanted to stay. We wanted him to stay. I am not a professional athlete, so I don’t know how exactly this works. However, I am a human being with free will, and I would gather that so is Fraser Forster. As such, I don’t know how hard it would have been for the big man to realize he is a hero to fans who would crawl over miles of broken glass to watch him play — and tell his agent, “I want to play for Celtic. Make the deal.”

But that didn’t happen. Ultimately, he chose Southampton.

This week, according to Southampton gaffer Ralph Hasenhuttl, the Saints are going with Alex McCarthy in goal as their number one, and either Forster or Angus Gunn will be loaned out this season. Whomever stays will be number 2, and I’d be willing to bet it’s Forster.

This decision is nothing short of tragic, both for Celtic fans and, more importantly, Forster himself. He surrendered the chance to become a part of Celtic history; he would have been spoken about years, and decades, from now with the same awe and reverence as other historic Bhoys in the Celtic pantheon as the keeper who brought us both the 9 and the 10.

So now, in Celtic circles, he’ll merely be remembered as, “Fraser Forster — yeah, he played great for us that season where we got 9 in a row. Then he went back to Southampton for the money.”

Forster traded a sure-fire legacy so he could be loaned to some backwater like Ipswich or Reading or Wrexham or wherever. Oh, he’ll play fantastically, because he’s good, but as good as it might be, it won’t be historic.

In the grand scheme of things, his next loan spell probably won’t even be remembered. But you can still deposit the checks, Fraser.

And that’s the greatest tragedy of all — football, in its essence, should be more than just a job for those blessed with the talent and skill to play professionally. And Celtic will get by, and even thrive, with Vasilis Barkas, Scott Bain, and Conor Hazard.

Let me be clear: My sincerest hope is that Fraser Forster is successful wherever he ends up this season. However, to say I am heartbroken — along with thousants of Celtic fans — that he chose poorly is a massive understatement.

But life goes on. We have Ross County on Saturday. Mon the Hoops!

Lewis Morgan 2 Atlanta United 1

Watching Lewis Morgan so far this season with Inter Miami CF in Major League Soccer in the U.S., I’ve noticed that he’s been sweating a lot. Literally. And that comes with the environment — not so much being a linchpin in an expansion franchise that is off to a typical expansion-franchise slow start, but playing in hot, humid weather; the weather I warned him about when he made the move.

Former Celtic player Lewis Morgan celebrates with Inter Miami teammate Rodolfo Pizarro after score one of two goals for the club against Atlanta United on Wednesday.

So it comes as no surprise that once the former Celt got into a groove, he would put in a performance as he did yesterday. Morgan has been playing fairly well for Inter Miami, but he and teammates finally look like they are in sync.

Morgan scored twice in the span of 10 minutes — at the 28- and 38-minute marks — while Atlanta squeezed in a goal in the 33rd. Obviously, this earned Morgan the man of the match, though props should be giving to Inter Miami keeper Luis Robles for stopping a crucial penalty and overall having a good game between the sticks.

Meanwhile in the SPFL, now that the International Break is over and the bhoys playing for their respective countries have returned virtually unscathed (thank God), our attention can now turn back to the business at hand at Ross County this weekend. Mon the Hoops!