Nice game, Bhoys

The usual 11 suspects, plus a cast of thousands: That was the lineup for Celtic against Nice on Thursday.

Watching 131 straight days of reruns of every Celtic game of this past championship season — thanks, Celtic TV — I am grateful, like all other Hoops fans, for this: Celtic finally took to the field against Nice on Thursday for the start of French friendlies to tune up for 10 in a row. As is the postgame custom in this blog, we’ll take a look at some takeaways — namely three of them — from Thursday’s game.

VAR sucks, and the SPFL doesn’t have a monopoly on bad referees

First things first: VAR sucks. Full stop. And I have said in the past that I find the offside rule an unexplained mystery that rivals how gravity works or the what the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey” really means. But watching Odsonne Edouard sandwiched between two Nice players while the ball passes all of them leads me to believe that he was clearly onside and the goal should have stood.

Add to this the arbitrary calls and non-calls during the course of the game by a referee who definitely has been away from the game far too long and needs just a bit more practice, and what turned out to be a rust-shaking 90 minutes could have been a Celtic win.

But you know what Jock Stein says about refs.

High marks for everyone

In the first half with the starters on the pitch, Celtic got into a pretty good rhythm and did not lack chances on goal. Credit a combination of getting timing down in the first game with a few phenomenal saves by Nice’s goalkeeper Walter Benitez. With the exception of a couple of good moves and a shot by Kaspar Dolberg (after a foul downfield against Mohammed Elyounoussi which was not called, but never mind) to make the score 1-0 to Nice after 38 minutes, Scott Bain played well, making a few good saves in his first start in several months.

Then came the wholesale team change in the second half, as Neil Lennon went with the subs. They all played well, and some were phenomenal. Boli Bolingoli had a fairly remarkable game where his defense was solid, his passing was crisp and he had a shot on goal that, although wide, shows that his first for the Hoops may not be far off. Hatem Elhamed, now number 44, showed the speed and defensive form that made him a fan favorite early last season. Ismaila Soro also impressed with his defensive play, with many of his passes getting the Hoops out of danger.

And then there’s Patryk Klimala. Not only did Polish Paddy score to equalize on a misplayed ball by the Nice goalkeeper, but his play during the second half was pretty remarkable. What should have been more notable during the game was Klimala’s range — he was all over the field and he made a couple of defensive plays in the Celtic end that saved potential scores.

Which, of course, leads us to consider another Celtic striker who is currently not with the team, so . . .

Meanwhile, back in Scotland . . .

As widely reported, Lennon has dropped the hammer on Leigh Griffiths for coming into training overweight and for his social media exploits, keeping him off the roster for the French games. And with Klimala already impressing on the pitch, Griffiths’ work is cut out for him to regain his spot.

Unlike a chorus of social media pundits who think Griffiths is through, I would disagree. You read it here first: Griffiths will come back with a vengeance. In the best of all possible worlds, I am confident that Super Leigh will take this latest wake-up call and make the best of it.

One more thing

The refrain from the Grateful Dead’s “U.S. Blues” would be a fitting verse to sing for the person who raised the 9-in-a-row Celtic flag atop Glasgow City Hall last week: “Wave that flag, wave it wide and high.”

And as you might expect, the social media response to this has been pretty hilarious, now that each of the staunch statue guardians becomes a “flagpole sitta” (thanks, Harvey Danger). This one below is of special note . . . which has drawn requests from NASA to investigate (although my guess is that the American space agency will pass).

Don’t forget, Michael Collins was the Command Module pilot on Apollo 11, while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went to the lunar surface in 1969.

Until the Lyon game, we are Celtic supporters, faithful through and through . . .

Hiatus: Close the window

Now that the Bhoys are Back in (Lennox)Town, apparently it appears that Celtic captain Scott Brown needs a barber . . . .

Now that the Bhoys are Back in (Lennox)Town, attention has now been directed at the now-open summer transfer window, where speculation abounds regarding who Celtic should acquire to assure the 10.

Allow me a radical approach to this window in these special times: Close the window and don’t seek anyone new.

Sure, make the deal with Southampton and sign Fraser Forster; that’s a must. Sign Mohammed Elyounoussi, too, while you’re at it. But Celtic has the nucleus of a great team already in place, and some of the recent additions have yet to see adequate playing time on the pitch to show why they were signed in previous transfer windows.

Don’t forget, too, that we have a reserve team full of talent, some of whom have shown they are first-team ready, like Karamoko Dembele and Jonathan Afolabi.

The hiatus forced upon us thanks to Covid-19 has given those on the club with injuries a chance to heal, so we’re starting the next season with a clean slate where everyone is healthy. So the outlook for the club as we go for 10-in-a-row is remarkably good.

Up front, we’re set with Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths — the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid of the Celtic front line — and behind them we still have yet to see an unleashed Patryk Klimala or Vakoun Bayo, indicating that maybe — and this is a very big maybe — only if the right striker comes along at the right price, the club might take a punt. But even if that does not happen, Celtic is in good shape up front.

One can make the compelling argument that the current midfield is one of the best in Celtic history. Callum McGregor, Scott Brown, Ryan Christie, James Forrest, Olivier Ntcham — any club anywhere would want some or all of these players patrolling the center of the pitch. But we also have yet to see Maryan Shved playing to his potential, and we’ve yet to see Ismael Soro at all so far. Don’t forget Tom Rogic was starting to get into a good rhythm until the season was unceremoniously curtailed. And, of course, there’s Mikey Johnston. Yet despite the unfortunate departure of Jonny Hayes, the club is still set in this department.

Jeremie Frimpong has been a more-than-welcome addition to Celtic this past season.

Meanwhile at the back, many make the argument that we could use a defender or two. Or more, with the main — and in my opinion, misguided — complaint that the tandem of Greg Taylor and Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo are not adequate at right back. We’ll get back to that in a minute, but first let’s look who’s still here: Hatem Elhamed, who was awesome early in the season last year, along with Chris and Kris — Jullien and Ajer, respectively. Jeremie Frimpong’s impersonation of Jimmy Johnstone has been stellar this season, until his mugging at Rugby Park by serial hammerthrower Alan Powers. Having Moritz Bauer on the bench does not hurt, either, and Nir Bitton, listed as a midfielder, has been known to play a pretty good defence himself.

Most football clubs would be wise to stand down in the transfer market while the revenue streams in the near future remain, to put it diplomatically, profoundly unsure. Until things return to “normal” — if they ever do — this is the new reality. Prudence dictates that Celtic should be no exception, and to its credit, the Celtic board has put the club in a very sound financial position heading into uncertain times.

A few of my favourite things

Fun fact: “The Sound of Music” was the first movie I went to see with my family when I was a kid. A minor qualification, though: Really, the first movie I ever saw was the night before in a Friday night outing with my Dad and my friends from the neighbourhood to the drive-in, where we saw a forgettable stock-car racing movie called “Red Line 7000” with James Caan.

Anyway, “The Sound of Music” ended up producing a boatload of cultural references over time and, in the Internet age, a raft of memes that range from sublime to hilarious.

“Red Line 7000,” not so much.

As such, of all the songs in “The Sound of Music,” the song “My Favourite Things” has probably been parodied most throughout the 55-year history of the film.

Permit me to add another. Sing along if you know the tune.

My favourite things

Ntcham and Jozo and Rogic and Boli,
Griff blasts a shot that slips right past their goalie,
Jeremie Frimpong flies quick up the wing,
These are a few of my favourite things.

Killie in Glasgow, French Eddy puts two in,
Oh, and hey look, Tom, “Whit’s the goalie daein’?”
Taylor to CalMac, the Green Brigade sings,
These are a few of my favourite things.

Broony at Rugby Park, Moi Elyounoussi,
Bitton upfield with a shot like an Uzi,
Forrest and Christie, two midfielding kings,
These are a few of my favourite things.

Loss to Cluj, and draw at Livi,
When I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember The Wall is in goal,
And then I don’t feel so bad.

The waiting is the hardest part

First things first, a thousand mea culpas for missing yesterday’s post (which, obviously, appears before you now, a day late). I had to get fingerprinted for a freelance job (go figure), and then I got sidetracked by the Bayer Leverkusen game — way to go, Bayer — before I contacted all the Celtic Supporters Clubs in North America asking them for their news to post here on these electronic pages.

Before I knew it, it was already 8 p.m., and I hadn’t gotten to this, which is really Thursday’s post.

I blame Scott Brown.

Like most of you — all of you? — going a week without the Celts borders on making me stir-crazy. To be honest, between weeks like this and regular delays like the winter break, I surely have watched all the Celtic videos on YouTube and I’ve watched the 1967 European Cup final so many times I can give the commentary.

Now, in this late-breaking development, it appears the Scottish Premiership is taking a break, and the match between Celtic and The Rangers — not to mention all other fixtures — is now off until further notice.

Well, it’s back to YouTube for me. And, of course, off to Celtic TV, because I just can’t get enough of the Lazio game in Rome . . .

Oh, and one more bit of news developing as I write: It has been confirmed that adidas — apparently the small “a” is correct, according to the press release — will be supplying the kits for the Bhoys for the next five years, so at least now we can expect to see a plethora of kits posted on social media regarding what adidas has planned for us.

Meanwhile, I am going to try to weather the current lack of football by just posting some humorous posts I’ve found about Celtic, mostly found on The Celtic Noise. I hope most of these will hold you over until . . . whenever.

Yep, know the difference between Bolingoli and the other thing.

“Take me to your Paradise, I want to see The Jungle . . .”

“Here we go again, we’re on the road again . . .”

Tweet from Nicola McFadden: “When your da takes you to see the celtic.”

Another Twitter post . . .

And one last Tweet from yours truly . . .

[NOTE TO NORTH AMERICAN CSCs: I’ve sent most of you an email requesting information on your groups in order to publicize your activities and news on this blog for the benefit of Celtic fans worldwide. If you did not get an email from me, check your spam folder. If it’s not in your spam folder, comment below and I’ll get back to you.]

Closing the window

One of the advantages — probably the only advantage — of living 5,000 miles west of Glasgow is that the transfer window closes here before the sun goes down. Having the advantage of still being awake and usually on my third cup of coffee for the day, we will see if Celtic makes any further moves as the clock strikes 12 in Glasgow while striking the bewitching hour of 4 p.m. in California, but by all indications it looks like we’re staying put.

And after seeing the deadline pass, with or without any further additions and without any likely departures, I can go have dinner.

Yes, apparently we stay put, much to the dismay of some greeting fans who insist on Celtic spending money like a drunken sailor on shore leave on players just for the sake of signing someone — anyone — to fill in for adequate players who are coming off injuries and soon to return to the pitch.

I’m with Neil Lennon: “We have a good squad, decent depth, and once we get a few injuries back we will be fine.”

Contrary to what the armchair gaffers and PlayStation pundits might think, Lennon is right. Rather than acting like we’re on the brink of relegation, they might want to look at the bigger picture.

While there was also hair-on-fire panic during the last transfer window, in the end it was one of Celtic’s best in recent history. One can hardly make an argument against the fact that Fraser Forster, Hatem Elhamed, Mohammed Elyounoussi and Jeremie Frimpong have made a significant impact on the club. Even Moritz Bauer and Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo — both unfairly criticized by some lately in the questionable objectivity of the Scottish football press, let alone the cesspool known as social media — are decent players who have shown they can contribute.

Boom, baby: Leigh Griffiths puts Celtic 3-0 up in the 26th minute on Wednesday, being part of a tag-team duo with Odsonne Edouard in front for the Hoops.

Leaving out the two new additions (we’ll get to them in a minute), Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffith are turning into a tag-team scoring machine. Greg Taylor rightfully may have bought himself a start in future games with his play against the Aints — sorry, the Saints — on Wednesday. Olivier Ntcham, who many think is packing his bags, is showing no signs of leaving while playing remarkably in the midfield. Scott Brown has been shutting down critics who say he has lost a step by having a banner year that defies his age. Until injured, Ryan Christie was unstoppable. I could go on until you are lulled into a coma of boredom, but the fact remains that the team is solid despite injuries.

But speaking of injuries: Christie? Back. Elhamed? Back soon. Elyounoussi? Back soon, hopefully. Jeremie Frimpong? Also back soon hopefully. All of them are joining Jozo Simunovic and Tom Rogic, now back from long-term injuries and getting back into form for the rest of the season.

So, who climbed in the window during this transfer cycle? Let’s take a look at the pair who joined the club this month.

Patryk Klimala

Patryk Klimala joins Celtic.

I have a friend here in the San Lorenzo Valley who is a huge Bayern Munich fan, and he’s pretty much plugged in to European football in general and Polish strikers in particular. He speaks highly of Patryk Klimala, dubbing him “Klimalendowski,” after Bayern’s Polish striker Robert Lewandowski.

All joking aside, Polish Paddy’s 10 minutes against St. Johnstone did little to show his abilities — and that was outlined in Sandman’s ratings of the St. Johnstone game — but in those 10 minutes, he showed some speed and crossing skills in a cross that, had it not been slightly deflected by a panicked Saints defender, could have been his first assist. In addition, Klimala rejected a ball from the near post in the Saints’ final corner in injury time, saving the clean sheet for the Hoops.

In his introduction at his signing, Klimala said that signing for Celtic is a big step up in his career, and he insisted he is ready to prove his worth. If this brief introduction is an indication of what Klimala can do, then his wide range of talents are a welcome addition to the club.

Incidentally, he takes the number 11, which was worn quite succesfully by the recently departed — OK, a little dramatic, recently departed to Preston North End, that is — Scott Sinclair.

Ismaila Soro

Ismaila Soro shows his current colours — green and white — after signing for Celtic.

First things first: Apologies to The Proclaimers (and sing along if you know it) . . .

“My heart was broken, my heart was broken,
Soro, Soro, Soro, Soro . . .

While it may be too early to purloin the Hibs’ song for our own purposes, Ismaila Soro arrives to bolster Celtic’s midfield. The Ivorian signed a four-and-a-half-year deal with the Hoops after a multi-year stint with Israeli club Bnei Yehuda.

The gaffer has high praise for Soro. In a recent interview, Lennon said, “He’ll bring a bit of quality and support in the midfield area. He’s had a good career so far and has played in some tough leagues. He’s come from a team who, while they’re not the top team in Israel, he’s stood out by a distance with his performances there.”

We’re looking forward to it.

Five takeaways from Celtic-Hibs

Captain, Leader, Legend: Scott Brown scored two goals against Hibernian on Saturday, as the Celts cruised to a 5-2 victory over Hibernian at Hampden on Saturday in the Betfred Cup semifinal. (Photo: The Celtic Star)

To be honest, I really, really like the 12 noon (or thereabouts) kickoff times in Scotland. Yes, I have to drag my sorry butt out of bed at some ungodly pre-sunrise hour, but at least I get to watch the game live and, for the most part, unfettered.

The 5:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m. Pacific) kickoff puts me right square in the middle of a workday on a Saturday or a Sunday (yes, I work weekends. Don’t ask). And, generally speaking, while the Bhoys seem to excel when I’m away from the screen — thank God for Celtic TV and their rebroadcasts (best $18 a month I’ve ever spent, and I highly recommend it) — I’d really like to be there watching when the action actually happens.

So I get home from a fun-filled work day — yes, that’s sarcasm — and spend two hours watching the game, start to finish, and head over to The Celtic Noise to talk about it with the merry band of forum denizens who have had a head start. One thing I always look forward to is Sandman’s ratings, which are posted first on the Noise and then posted on The Celtic Star; quality analysis and it can only be found here.

But anyway, my five takeaways from the Celtic-Hibernian game are as follows:

1. Captain. Leader. Legend.

Broony. Damn. Just damn. You worry as the seasons pass that a guy who carries the team might– just might — be feeling the trappings of the twilight of his career, and you think to yourself, but dare not say aloud, that he may retire before the 10 in a row. But then he pulls something like this to make you feel like a complete idiot. Two goals. Two brilliant goals, as a matter of fact. And instead of buying just one Broony DVD, you’re tempted to buy a whole case and give them out as Christmas presents (“Here, Mom, Merry Christmas!”) because . . . damn. Scott Brown has definitely earned his place in Celtic history, and the process for commissioning a sculptor to create his statue outside Parkhead should start soon.

2. Mohammed Elyounoussi should stay

Mo Elyounoussi is a goal-scoring machine. Full stop. It must be a blessing to know where to be, showing up at the right place at the right time, as Elyounoussi seems to do. Both of his goals were impeccable, whether it was a header on a cross from James Forrest or a pass from Odsonne Edouard in front of the net (more on this in a bit). I would like to think that the board will pony up the money to keep Big Mo wearing the hoops, but that remains to be seen. One can always hope, no?

3. When Boli is out, an attack vector is lost

First things first: This is not a knock on Jonny Hayes. Hayes is a solid player and can start pretty much on any other team in the league. His speed and ball handling are impeccable, and we’re lucky to have him wearing the Green and White. However, when Boli Bolingoli was taken out at halftime — I understand it’s a hamstring — the Celts lost one of its two threats down both the left and right side that kept Hibs unbalanced for pretty much the first half. Here’s hoping it’s not a serious injury.

4. Unselfish Edouard shares the wealth

No doubt goalkeepers everywhere have nightmares about Odsonne Edouard. Those nightmares — at least the ones that don’t involve the goalkeeper standing in the goal mouth in his underwear — probably consist of Edouard coming down the pitch with the ball and eluding all the goalkeeper’s defenders and delivering a Celtic goal. But add one more layer to this nightmare: French Eddy passing the ball to another Celt for the assist instead. It happened twice against Hibernian: One went to Callum McGregor and the other was on Elyounousi’s second goal. Eddy ended up with a grand total of zero goals and two assists; not that he was complaining. When Edouard approaches the goal, defences start to collapse around him, freeing up one or two teammates who are ready to score. So now, not only do goalkeepers have to worry about Edouard scoring, they have to worry about him passing it away to open teammates.

5. Hibernian is not really that bad

At the moment, Hibernian is staring relegation in the face in the standings. But truth be told, the 5-2 score betrays the fact that they played Celtic fairly strong in the Betfred Cup semifinal. Sure, Celtic should have won 8-2 if not for some unlucky bounces — damn goalposts! — and Melker Halberg was clearly offside in their first goal. But never mind. I am sure that the coaching staff have some positive takeaways from the semifinal game. Also, completely unrelated, “Sunshine on Leith” is a great song — probably second to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as far as football songs go.

Meanwhile, Celtic takes on Nazio — sorry, Lazio — in Rome this week, and it would be great to steal a win away from the fascists.

5 Takeaways from Ross County

First things first: If you haven’t been reading the ratings following each Celtic game by the Celtic Noise poster known as Sandman, you should. This fine fellow usually hits the nail on the proverbial head every game, and his observations — with the wit and wisdom only the Sandman can provide — are always of the highest quality.

[Also, if you’re a Celtic supporter and you’re not on the Celtic Noise forum, you should be. A lot of news and insight can be found there, along with some non-Celtic banter as well. Tell ’em “lcafiero” sent you.]

As for Saturday’s game, Ross County held on for as long as they could in the first half after a stunning attack by Celtic, only to have the floodgates break open at the beginning of the second half, where Celtic cruised to a 6-0 win.

Five takeaways from the game are as follows:

1. Thanks, Manchester City

An observation: There are few clubs south of the border in the Premier League that are, as of today, more soulless than Manchester City. It may not have always been so, but it appears on the surface that they said, “Jeremie who? Yeah, whatever,” before letting young dynamo Jeremie Frimpong leave for the Hoops. And there are probably a few — several? a score, maybe? — Man City fans who are bemoaning the fact that he’s no longer at that club, but their loss is our gain. No doubt Frimpong’s moves on the pitch has sent more than one Ross County player to the trainer’s table to treat a twisted ankle, and his assist on James Forrest’s goal was a gem. The kid looks like he’s got a promising career with the club.

2. Welcome back, Wizard

Tom Rogic gave the Celts a full 90 minutes on Saturday — when was the last time we could say that? While it was pretty much an unremarkable game for Rogic — a few opportunities missed, and a couple of miscues which could be credited to “shaking off the rust” — one facet of his game stood out against Ross County: defence. The Wizard was on the receiving end of several of turnovers by Ross County, which as it turned out constantly kept the Staggies on their heels. Great to see the big Aussie performing on both offence and defence, and clearly it’s been a long time coming. Welcome back, big guy!

Dude, where’s my goal? Mo Elyounoussi, left, scored a second goal at the 72-minute mark on a cross — or a shot — by Boli Bolingoli, right. Scott Brown joins the celebration.

3. Dude, where’s my goal?

It’s great to see Mohammed Elyounoussi starting to get into the swing of things for Celtic. He’s definitely a welcome addition to the club and, sure, I’m even willing to give him a pass for saying that his Norse countryman Kris Ajer may go on to bigger and better things someday — is there any argument there, as much as we’d like The Big Viking to stay at Parkhead? But I have to draw the line when Elyounoussi starts stealing goals: Boli Bolingoli took a shot late in the game, around the 72-minute mark, that could have been his first goal as a Celt; except that shot was deflected into the goal by Mo Elyounoussi. No doubt that was part of the discussion during the celebration of Mo’s second goal . . . .

[I kid: Mo’s second goal was a great deflection, but I’m still waiting for Boli to get his first.]

4. Damn that post!

Chances are this is a direct quote from Callum McGregor after his shot in the first half glanced cleanly off the post, and Odsonne Edouard couldn’t get the rebound to go in. It matters little, because in the fusillade of shots that finally went in at the beginning of the second half, McGregor got his goal back. Which leads us to our fifth takeaway . . .

5. Ross County: New kids on the block

Ross County played better than the score would indicate. That may sound funny coming on the heels of a 6-0 drubbing, but hear me out: As the new kids on the block, so to speak, in the Premiership, Ross County had every expectation to come to Parkhead with stag-in-the-headlights sensibilities. But they hung in with the treble champions for 45 minutes, at least, and Ross County keeper Ross Laidlaw (say that three times quickly) made some pretty remarkable saves in the first half. Laidlaw and a Ross County defender — or defenders — lurking in the goal mouth in the right place at the right time prevented Celtic from being up at least 3-0 at the half; specifically a Christopher Jullien header and a rebound from a shot by Bolingoli, both successfully cleared. I’m all for giving credit where credit is due, and while you have to play a game for the full 90 minutes (86, so says Steven Gerrard, if you play for The Rangers™), Ross County clamped down pretty hard on the Hoops for awhile there, and while lessons were learned, hopefully they will recognize that there are some positives to come out of this thrashing.

But note, Ross County: Nir Bitton can kick anyone’s ass on your team, either individually or collectively. Please keep that in mind.

[Blogger’s note: My apologies for this post being so late. After a power outage last week, my WordPress settings have been hell to fix, and I finally got it up and running yesterday. Also, because we are no longer in fire season here — but not yet out of the woods, so to speak — I am going to forgo the wildfire threat level posts at the end of each blog item, resuming it in the spring.]