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.

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!

Back again, in more ways than one

First things first: Thanks to a lightning strike just north of here a couple of weeks ago, the area has been in the throes of a massive wildfire. Now contained at 35 percent, we are allowed to “repopulate” our homes in Felton as of Saturday, and not a moment too soon. All of which is to say that it has been a perfect homecoming for me as the Hoops win 3-0 against Motherhell — sorry, Motherwell — at Paradise on Sunday.

So the minor blessing in disguise is that I missed much of the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the past week, and only intermittently — when the absence of rolling blackouts would allow — got to witness the travesty against Ferencvaros and the drama on social media that followed.

But the game against Motherhell started off slowly and picked up momentum when Neil Lennon decided to play two strikers in the 2nd half. James Forrest finally got onto the score sheet in the first half, 2nd half sub Albian Ajeti took an excellent pass from Kris Ajer and found himself one-on-one with a helpless Motherwell keeper to hit the back of the net, and Christopher Jullien put the game away late on a cross from Jeremie Frimpong.

Wakanda Forever: Christopher Jullien pays homage to the recently departed “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman after scoring a goal against Motherwell on Sunday.

I’m going to forgo the takeaways to simply make a couple of observations moving forward.

3-5-2 uber alles

I get it, Lenny and I’m with you here: It’s impossible to play two strikers up front when your star gets his Achilles tendon raked by some hammerthrowing ned in the previous SPFL game and your new acquisition has not played in awhile (to say nothing of the other striker who is in the doghouse for making too many Tik-tok videos when he should have been training). But the only way you’re going to get Patryk Klimala to sink or swim is to throw him into the deep end of the pool, so to speak — and my money is on that he’ll swim. Fast.

Let me also add this caveat to this observation: I am new to football, and I expect my observations may be that of a neophyte. I played a grand total of three games when I was in my early 20s — a fullback whose specialty was standing in the near post during corners in our end — as a favor to a goalkeeper friend whose team needed bodies (and only three games because the team eventually disbanded). Normally I watch games twice before writing about them, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and I pore over the games to get a better understanding of the nuances in each game. All of which is to say, yeah I’m new to this, but I’m doing my homework.

So subbing in Klimala changed the complexion of the game pretty quickly, even though he did not score. Adding Ajeti to the mix, who did score, also proves that we should have started with two strikers up front from the start. But rather than do what many of the self-proclaimed experts that populate social media are doing, I’m willing to give Lenny the benefit of the doubt and trust that he’s learned a lesson here. Going forward, I think we’re going to see more of Klimala, possibly starting, and possibly Ajeti, too.

So while I’m giving out advice, let me add this . . . .

Start Jeremie Frimpong

Hatem Elhamed has been doing great over the last few games, but there has been something missing when Jeremie Frimpong is not in the lineup. We saw just what is missing in the 2nd half of the Motherwell game. The kid has the moves, both on and off the ball, and the post-game Motherwell training tables were full, no doubt, of twisted ankles of players who unsuccessfully challenged the Oh My Days Kid.

I’m not sure what the solution is to getting Frimpong into the game, because someone will have to be pulled in order for him to make the starters. Elhamed has been phenomenal overall for the Hoops and unless we can move someone in the midfield, maybe, and put Frimpong there . . . it’s a difficult call which I’m sure the brain trust at Celtic are currently dealing with.

One more thing

For those of us in California, it is heartening to see our native son Cameron Harper picked for the first team over the last few games. We are fully aware of his talents, and it’s good to see they’re being noticed by the club.

So it looks like the Hoops are back on track with their win over Motherwell. And barring any other wildfires that may cause further evacuation, it looks like this blog is back as well. Now to fill in the time during the international break before we go into Victoria Park against Ross County a week from Saturday.