In the musical “Damn Yankees,” the manager of the Washington Senators breaks into one of the theatrical performance’s songs about having “heart.” It’s guts, the will to face adversity, the ability to believe that you can overcome sometimes overwhelming odds.
One can only hope that Heart of Midlothian FC were paying attention. Because after the thrashing they received at Celtic Park yesterday . . .
When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win That’s when the grin should start
After its usual methodical — some might say “slow” — start with Olivier Ntcham scoring off a rebound at the 30-minute mark to go into the locker room at halftime with a 1-0 lead, Celtic shifted into another gear and, in quick succession scored at 46 minutes (Christopher Jullien) and 52 minutes (Callum McGregor), waiting a bit to score again at 67 minutes (Ryan Christie) and then at 80 minutes (Jozo Simunovic).
And while it could be a little disconcerting to some to think that Edinburgh could end up a city with only one club in the Scottish Premiership, Celtic on the other hand is a club that is reaching new highs.
Putting aside for a moment the fact that the league, for the second year in a row, may have been won again at Rugby Park — this time by Kilmarnock’s Eamonn Brophy slotting a right-footer against The Rangers™ making it 2-1 Killie with two minutes remaining — the Celtic team that put on a show Wednesday night in Glasgow fired on all cylinders.
Greg Taylor is fitting in nicely and delivering crosses with apolmb. Christie walked on to the pitch in the second half and, a few minutes later, ended up on the score sheet. Even Simunovic, who many of the so-called Celtic faithful have written off (shame on them!), marshalled the ball around the Celtic half of the pitch on defence for most of the game and, on the last Celtic corner of the game, headed in a delivery into the net with a quick nod to wrap up Celtic’s scoring.
My Man/Woman of the Match? Whomever put on the “Theme from Hawaii 5-0” on the stadium PA after Simunovic, who wears number 5, scored to make the tally — wait for it — 5-0.
OK, seriously: This time, I’d give it to Ntcham, whose ball handling and passing in traffic has been outstanding as of late. Putting back the rebound early in the game didn’t hurt, either, but the Frenchman is showing his worth to the Celtic. Though Taylor is getting better and better now that he’s got a few games under his belt, he easily could have been considered the Man of the Match as well.
It’s a good problem to have — indecision regarding who to give Man of the Match to when there are so many good players performing at peak levels.
But officially, the Man of the Match on Wednesday was McGregor. And rightfully so.
Taking a look at all that’s going on in Scottish football over the last couple of weeks, it appears that distractions are rearing their ugly heads and overwhelming the general public in general, and football fans in particular, in tsunami-sized waves of falsehoods.
Celtic fans tried to kill Alfredo Morelos. No wait, that paper-thin perpetrator under Fredo’s Lamborghini is actually a private investigator hired by Morelos’ pregnant wife to place a tracker on his car to keep tabs on him.
So, let’s deflect.
Sky Sports — let’s turn on the Sarcasmatron™ and see what it calls them . . . it says “a paragon of sport journalism” — produces an interview with a player who can’t understand English, yet he claims there’s racist abuse directed toward him at Celtic Park. But wait: Those subtitles aren’t exactly a match to what he’s saying. In fact, they’re arguably not even close.
The total weight of this disingenuous behaviour could stun a team of oxen.
Thank God for Michael Stewart, who has both the gravitas and the courage to tell the truth, taking to heart the Latin phrase, Fiat justitia ruat caelum — let justice prevail though the heavens fall. To his immense credit, Stewart is doing what journalists should be doing everywhere, but sadly aren’t; especially in Scotland, apparently.
As a former journalist, I can go on for days here regarding how important Stewart’s statements are and the heroic nature of the stand he is taking, just by merely highlighting the truth. But I will spare you.
But speaking of the Motherwell game . . .
All distractions aside, what I did want to write about today was yesterday’s game at Fir Park, where Celtic got off to its usual meticulous start in the first half, going into the locker room with a meager 1-0 lead, and came out of the gate in the second half like gangbusters, ending the game with a 4-0 score, and a wider goal differential in its seven-point lead in the table.
Rather than do the usual “five takeaways,” I am going to make this brief, sort of.
During the transfer window, we had a flurry of greeters bemoaning the fact that we need [fill-in-the-position-of-your-choice-here] or we are doomed to extinction. This while ignoring that there really was only one blemish on the season so far, on Dec. 29. One misstep that has seen us atop the league virtually all season and accomplishing one of three steps toward the Quadruple Treble so far.
So I am going to assume they will go contentedly silent now. Maybe.
It’s not only the obvious things that set us apart atop the rest of the league, like the tandem of Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths — twin strikers from separate mothers — working like a well-oiled machine at the front, or how the crowd in the 3-5-2 midfield is seemingly flawless in their ball-handling, moving the ball efficiently up the field. It’s not only Fraser Forster rejecting everything that comes remotely near him in goal.
It’s also in the little things, too: Patryk Klimala and Stephen Welsh both showing promise; the former showing speed and skill in two brief stints at the end of the last two games, and the latter having a good game in his debut. Tom Rogic and Jozo Simunovic getting back up to speed; especially the latter, who has put together back-to-back adequate games as a starter. And then, to add to the returning wounded, Ryan Christie showing some flash in the Motherwell game, starting the Christie to James Forrest to Callum McGregor goal in the second half.
But wait, there’s more. Mohammed Elyounoussi is training and will be back soon, followed by Hatem Elhamed and Jeremie Frimpong. Once we’re back to full strength, we should be unstoppable.
Most importantly, what someone needs to do, or should have done, immediately after the final whistle at Fir Park was to wake up Peter Lawwell and have him sign Forster immediately after the game. For life. Right now. As great as our backups are — and both Scott Bain and Craig Gordon are top-notch, even though we haven’t seen them all season — neither one of them is making these same saves. The Wall is in his own class, in his own league, in his own universe.
Forster needs to be Celtic for life.
The same applies to Edouard as well. Though he’s under contract until the end of the 2021/22 season, he needs to be kept around at all costs. Chris Sutton is absolutely right when he says Edouard is “the closest thing to (Henrik) Larsson I’ve seen in a Celtic jersey.” If anyone on the planet can speak with authority on this topic, it is Sutton.
One more thing
Kristoffer Ajer and Christopher Jullien might be getting slagged a bit on their defensive lapses in the Motherwell game, and there is no argument there — Ajer’s missed tackle could have sullied the clean sheet that Celtic came away with had Motherwell scored. But they didn’t. And to their credit, Kris and Chris are always in communication, and you can see them discussing play during the celebration of Edouard’s first goal.
Additionally, Motherhell — sorry, Motherwell — clearly have worked hard on consistently being a team of hammer-throwing Steelmen; no secret there. They also happen to be third in the Scottish Premiership table, which makes them first-of-the-also-rans behind Celtic and Glasgow’s other club. They’re third in the table for a reason, and on Wednesday, taking advantage of Celtic’s defensive lapses is probably the main reason why they lead the rest of the pack.
Now, for the rest of the season, let’s focus.
Focus on our positives far, far outweighing our negatives, because they do. Neil Lennon has been nothing short of masterful in handling suitable lineups in the face of multiple injuries. Focus on the two prizes needed to complete the next treble; one cup down, one cup and the league championship to go. Focus on the fact that, despite all these infantile shenanigans going on in Scottish football drawing away everyone’s attention (and we’re not even going close to the disciplinary garbage the SFA is pulling), Celtic is playing its best football in quite some time and, barring any disasters, we should prevail.
Well, you have to hand it to Celtic FC: Thank you for letting me sleep in on Sunday. The 3 p.m. kickoff — 7 a.m. Pacific Standard Time — allowed me to sleep in a bit. Not that I mind getting up at Oh-My-God a.m. to watch the noon kickoffs, mind you, but it’s nice to get a couple of extra hours, and of course the icing on the cake — or jelly with the ice cream — is a Celtic win over Hibs at Paradise.
Nevertheless, again the Celts took away a win 2-0 over Hibernian, in their purple Sunday away kits, and The Sandman of The Celtic Noise fame has posted his ratings of the match here. Of course, I have my five takeaways from the game as well, as follows . . . .
1. Edouard is most dangerous when passing
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Odsonne Edouard literally strikes fear into the hearts of goalkeepers everywhere by his goal-scoring abilities. When he has the ball, the focus is clearly on him. And despite a couple of miscues Sunday — one of Morelos-like proportions, which sent the ball to the upper deck — Eddy got one, but his best play of the game was heading toward the goal with the ball, panicked defenders rushing to stop him, and he passed it off to Jeremie Frimpong, who sliced it under Marciano for a Celtic goal. Which brings us to our second takeaway . . .
2. The kid is all right
A game or two ago, Scott Brown teased Jeremie Frimpong in a post-game interview about the lad’s inability to get the ball in the net. That conversation didn’t happen this time: Jeremie took a pass from Edouard and made a great shot in front of a diving Marciano for a score. And who was happer for “the Dutchman” — as the Celtic TV commentators constantly refer to Frimpong — on Sunday, the fans or the goal scorer? I think possibly both.
One more thing: I got slagged mercilessly as a heretic for comparing Frimpong to Jimmy Johnstone, where the former is twisting defenders and turning ankles all over the pitch thanks to his Jinky-esque ball-handling skills. Others are now saying it as well, so I’ll take that as vindication.
3. Nir Bitton: The unsung hero
With the exception of a cheap foul late in the game that garnered a card, Nir Bitton was rock-solid in defence for the Hoops. Starting Bitton on Sunday was a stroke of genius. We rarely hear about defensive prowress on the pitch, but clean sheet after clean sheet is a testament to Celtic’s defence (and, of course, having the best goalkeeper in Scotland, but I digress). But when Fraser Forster is having a slow day in the goal mouth, you can credit that to Celtic’s backfield, keeping him less than busy. In fact, the only threat was . . . .
4. It was a pass. Honest.
I am going with Christopher Jullien’s story: Late in the game, Jullien had a ball go off his head right at the goal mouth and into the hand of Fraser Forster, who batted it away. With disaster averted and the ball cleared, you could see there was no harm done when Fraser gave Jullien a pat on the back, but it was one of those things where it could have been a disaster. But it wasn’t. So carry on.
5. Griff is getting there
There’s going to be a game sometime this season where Leigh Griffiths is going to go full-on Super Leigh. We have seen it in the last couple of games, getting his timing back and the couple of chances he had on Sunday show he’s sharpening up. It’s just a matter of time until he’s back to his old, goal-scoring self, and you can take that to the bank.
We’ve got Hearts on Wednesday at Tynecastle. Let’s go up three more.
There I was, laying in bed on Sunday morning looking up at the red 3:45 on the alarm clock. The internal alarm clock always says, “Get up, it’s game day” at this time, despite the fact that 5,000 miles away, the game is starting in another four hours.
I turn, lie awake and then try closing my eyes, begging my system for a few extra hours of sleep. No such luck, it’s game day.
So, I’m up. Today’s game is like no other this season — the Scottish League Cup, which now as a first name, Betfred, thanks to sponsorship– being played between the club like no other versus the club that really shouldn’t even exist.
Shower, suit up, coffee, and let’s put on the F.C. St Pauli game before sunrise to pass the time (sadly, they lost, and generally they’re having a pretty mediocre season so far). Breakfast? No. Too nervous to eat. Coffee, black, will have to do for now.
By my count, the game was 96 minutes and 47 seconds of abject terror and unmitigated aggravation until the final whistle. You’ve all read the game reports by now, no doubt, and naturally here’s The Sandman’s ratings for the game which, as always, are worth a read. But as usual, I have five takeaways from the Betfred Scottish League Cup final, which Celtic won 1-0 over The Rangers™ as follows:
1. Sign Fraser Forster right now
Oh. My. God. If anyone deserves a statue right now, it’s Fraser Forster. It could be simple: Not a statue of the man, arms aloft, awaiting a corner, but just a brick wall in front of a goal mouth. Simple and quick. His play today was the stuff of which legends are made. That said, like signing Neil Lennon the day after the Treble Treble, Peter Lawwell needs to open the tin and get Fraser Forster signed as a Celt right now. I don’t care if it is past 11 p.m. in Scotland as I write this, wake them both up, offer The Wall a king’s ransom, and keep him in the Hoops. The icing on the cake in Sunday’s game, or the jelly with the ice cream, was Forster’s fantastic save on El Muffalo’s non-penalty penalty. Poetic justice and karma came together and were wrapped with a nice bow.
If Lawwell balks, let’s start a GoFundMe to raise money to sign Forster. I will even put my car up for sale and donate the money. I would gladly use public transit exclusively if it meant keeping the kind of goalkeeping that Forster provides game in and game out for Celtic.
2. Jullien utilise son pied, pas sa tête
Irony. It’s when Christopher Jullien spends much of his time using his height advantage to try to score headers game after game after game this season, only to hit the back of the net Sunday with a flick of his right foot for the only goal in the game. And it was a beauty. What adds to it is the wailing and gnashing of teeth by The Rangers™ complaining that he was offside through their tears. He wasn’t. You see, cheating only works one way, The Rangers™ way, and this, my friends, is a perfect example of karma.
3. Morelos so wants to be Edouard
First thing first: A shout-out to Jeremie Frimpong, who was one of the bright spots for Celtic for the better part of 60 minutes or so, until the referee had nothing better to do than red-card him. In fact, there’s one video of Jeremie mixing it up with Alfredo Morelos, and the lad is not backing down. Pure Celtic, that Jeremie.
But wait, look at that video again. What’s that on Morelos’ hand? Does he have his hand taped up like . . . hmm, which other striker in Scotland has a hand injury and has his hand taped up? Poor Alfredo, so far from God and so close to Celtic, against whom he has yet to score, even when the referees try to help.
4. Some quick math
A quick one for our friends who are mathematically inclined:
10 Celts > 11 Rangers
5. Meanwhile, in the Lustig household …
Before the game, there was a nice post from Josefin Lustig on Twitter about how she and her husband, KAA Gent defender and former Celtic policeman Mikael Lustig, were going to enjoy a day off together and watch the game. Of course, when El Muffalo missed his penalty shot, this was the scene in the Lustig household, which goes to show that Mikael’s heart is still green and white. I still miss the Mad Viking playing for the Hoops, and I don’t care who knows it.
Last, but not least, this is the top candidate for my Christmas card this year (yes, I know “Seasons” needs an apostrophe, but I can fix that later). Thanks, BT Sports!
We had a bad game today, but we still prevailed. That’s why we’re champions. On to Cluj later this week. Hail Hail, all.
First things first: My apologies for this late post. Thanks to the power company Pacific Gas & Electric, which had turned off the power in my area “for my safety” on Saturday night (turning it back on again last night), I had to scramble to find a place with power and Internet connectivity on Sunday to watch the Aberdeen-Celtic game.
At 5 a.m.
A shout out to the Satellite Felton workspace, located at the traffic light (Felton only has one, two if you count the one on Graham Hill Road and Mount Hermon — and the former road is named after the actual hill here, not the British Formula 1 driver of the same name), which had both power and connectivity.
Thanks to the modern miracle that is Celtic TV — I am completely serious — I re-watched the game finally this afternoon; the game that I came in late on early Sunday morning. It was as awesome as it was on Sunday morning, but a second look at the game led me to notice something really awe inspiring.
It wasn’t Jeremie Frimpong’s goal, though it was great to see the lad score his first for the Celts, and to see how well the talented young lad is fitting in with the club. He’s definitely a keeper.
It wasn’t the fact that Celtic dominated the game from start to finish. That’s always a welcome sight, no matter who the opponent is. And, of course, thrashing some opponents is better than thrashing others.
But I wanted to go back to the first half, at around the 17-minute mark, where Celtic ended up passing the ball 46 times, by my count, before ending up with a corner. This was not the “death of a thousand passes” that was so loved by the former manager, now at Leicester City. Under the former manager, where 46 passes might — might — have gotten the ball to midfield.
This was pure ball-handling artistry — a game of keep-away that was frustrating Aberdeen — which I hope Celtic will continue during the course of the season. Add to this the 14-pass sequence before James Forrest’s goal — started after a sixth pass was intercepted by an Aberdeen player and his first pass was picked off by Frimpong to start the sequence — and you have a ball-control nirvana that any team would die for.
Also, it was great to see Kris Ajer and Christoper Jullien playing up. Ajer and Scott Brown literally had acres of space to run during the course of the game, and both took advantage of it, while Aberdeen hunkered down in defense in their own side of the pitch.
It’s play like this that make me proud to be a Celtic fan, even if I have to get up before sunrise and, in Sunday’s case, scramble for a place to watch.
Mon the hoops!
Obligatory match report: If you’re not on Celtic Noise talking about all things Celtic, you should be there. Right now. One bonus is the match rundowns from the celebrated Sandman, which are first posted on Celtic Noise, you can find on The Celtic Star here.
Now it’s on to St. Mirren tomorrow at Parkhead. Keep it up, bhoys!
So, the Italian team went up 1-o in the first half, and then Celtic came back and scored two to win. Sound familiar? No, it wasn’t Tommy Gemmel and Stevie Chalmers this time — actually it was Ryan Christie and Christopher Jullien, the latter who finally got a header in after multiple tries over the last few games — and it wasn’t in the heat of Lisbon but in the cool of a Glasgow evening where Celtic pinned a 2-1 victory on Lazio.
I am going to let the pundits drive, and of course our celebrated Sandman at the Celtic Noise weighs in here. But personally, I have my own five takeaways, four football-related and one that transcends football.
1. That’s using your head, Christopher!
Finally. Over the last few games, Christopher Jullien has been trying to ram the ball home with headers, only to be stymied at every try. Even against Ross County, which played remarkably in defence in goal (where that defender came from is anyone’s guess, but he gets high marks nonetheless for saving the keeper’s bacon on a few occasions), Big Chris’ shots were denied. Not last night against Lazio. We can look forward to more of that, and the sooner the better. Nice work, Monsieur Jullien!
2. Give Jamesy a break
To be fair, it would be an understatement to say James Forrest did not have a banner game last night. To be even more fair, Jamesy was constantly double- and triple-teamed during the course of the evening, which naturally would lead to a substandard game for anyone. But that mere fact seems to be lost on the army of armchair gaffers on social media who appear to want Forrest shot at sunup for a subpar performance. Get a grip, the sooner the better.
3. Another brick in The Wall
This is going to be a simple observation. Sign Fraser Forster. Now. Give the guy what he wants. Anything. King’s ransom. Whatever. I’ll even buy a second Celtic TV subscription if it will help. While he didn’t get a clean sheet yesterday, his save at the end is destined to join the register of plays that Celtic fans will talk about decades from now.
4. The supporting cast deserves a hat tip
Most of the time, there is glowing praise for those who make the headlines and the highlight reels. Rarely do we get to praise those who set them up for success, the ones who made the passes and the ones who defended well enough to set up the transition. My supporting cast member of the game last night was Hatem Elhamed, who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and whose lightning speed seemed to put him forward much faster than the Lazio defence expected. Also, most of the time they are never mentioned, but the home fans last night deserve special mention for their ramped-up support for the 90+ minutes. Great job, all!
5. Fuck fascism, fascist fans, and fascist clubs
Two simple words: Fuck fascism.
Pure and simple, if you’re club has a history of fascist behavior as Lazio does, if your club’s supporters have a history of murdering supporters of other clubs as Lazio has, if recently your club has been in hot water over racist behavior in the stands at your home games as Lazio has recently dealt with to some degree (not a great degree, but some degree), and you still claim to be a supporter of this club — “but not its fans” — you should be ashamed of yourself.
You own this.
Let me repeat that: You own it. When Lazio supporters come to Glasgow and march in the streets making Nazi salutes, let alone being called out by the BBC in continuing this behavior in the stadium, they are speaking for you. No “ifs,” no qualifiers.
Lazio is not alone here in harboring fascists, and sadly the football world is full of clubs of this ilk. One doesn’t even have to leave Glasgow to find a fascist club within the city limits, namely the one which plays its home games at Ibrox.
They all need to be opposed at every turn. Period.
Fascism lost. That is fascism’s history, and under the vigilance of good people who fight against it, losing is fascism’s future. It will continue to lose when good people stand up to evil. It may not be always so clear and not always so timely, but good will always prevail over evil.