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.
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!
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.
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.]
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.
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!
Sometimes a victory like the one against KR Reykjavik on Tuesday at Celtic Park — a 6-0 scorefest which had the Hoops uncharacteristically leading comfortably at the half — provides more questions than answers going forward in both the regular season as well as the UEFA Champions rounds.
Regardless, we advance in the first round of the UEFA Champions qualifying round, and in the way Celtic played after, well, a forced hiatus, the Hoops have put everyone on notice.
Here are the takeaways — some of them questions — from the game on Tuesday:
Elhamed and Bitton: Could they be starters?
With the absence of the both Jonny Hayes and Jozo Simunovic and the precariously prickly position it puts the club on the defensive end, the wailing and gnashing of teeth around acquiring a center-back has risen to a deafening cresendo. So we may have had a look at the future on Tuesday with Neil Lennon playing Hatem Elhamed and Nir Bitton in the backfield, to resounding success. Elhamed was consistent all game on both ends of the pitch and Bitton kept the door locked, rhetorically speaking, on our end of the pitch, even at one point making a goal-saving play late in the game against a breaking RK Reykjavik player bearing down on Vasilis Barkas. Of course, the question arises: “Oh, my days! What do we do with Jeremie Frimpong?” That, of course is a valid question, and it would be hard to ascertain which of the two get the playing time.
This is something for the coaches to decide, obviously, but maybe the playing time will be divided up by situation. Or the pair can play rock-paper-scissors before the game and the winner starts.
Is Greg Taylor a scoring machine?
Greg Taylor had one of his typical Greg Taylor games — he took the ball down the pitch on multiple occasions and crossed the ball, most of the time, or passed back when nothing was available up front. It is great to see the Hoops get the ball down the pitch so quickly, and in large part we have The Greenock Kid to thank for that. But what we didn’t expect, and it delights those of us who have warmed to his presence at Celtic, is that early in the 2nd half, Taylor did the unthinkable — he scored. Not only that, he scored on a header. It was his 2nd career goal, and his first with Celtic, so this could change the playmaking calculus of the squad if Greg Taylor the assist king becomes Greg Taylor the scoring threat.
Or it was just a fluke. The jury’s still out on that one.
No question: Odsonne Edouard is unstoppable
Not a question this time, just fact: Edouard spends a ton of time being double-, triple-, and quadruple-teamed and under many of those circumstances, he may not succeed in finding the net. But — and this is a big “but” — when he does manage to break away, he is lethal. We saw that in the first half where Eddy forced an own-goal on a hapless RK Reykjavik defender trying to cover him. And in the 2nd half, Odsonne waltzed — literally — between five defenders to find room to take a successful shot shortly before going off for the rest of the game. This prompted John Hartson to say that it added 5 million pounds to Eddy’s value for EPL clubs, which came back in a post-game discussion with Gordon Strachan on Celtic TV that turned into a rising disagreement just prior to Neil Lennon’s postgame interview.
Which brings up the question . . .
Gordon Strachan or John Hartson?
Celtic TV had both Gordon Strachan and John Hartson on the air for the game on Tuesday. Now I can see that if you’re on the air with your former boss, you might be a little intimidated, but I thought Hartson did his usual good job of analysis overall during the game, and from what I’ve seen on Gordon Strachan — mostly in interviews and in his extended role in the “Broony” DVD — his presence is a pleasant and welcome surprise on the Celtic TV broadcast team. But they almost came to blows, or so it seemed, in the post-game wrapup where they were discussing where players should play. So pick your fighter . . .
Me? Despite the in-depth analysis by both, I want Kelly Clark back on the air.
Moi Elyounoussi: Is he the real deal?
Thanks to a foot injury last season, we didn’t get to see a lot of Mohammed Elyounoussi. If Tuesday’s game was any indication, hopefully we will make up for lost time this season, as Moi gave a clinic on Tuesday, easily earning Man of the Match accolades. His first touch on his first goal was pretty remarkable, and he was all over the pitch for the rest of the 90+ minutes, scoring a second goal at the end of the game on a beautiful cross from Olivier Ntcham. If Elyounoussi plays at this level all season, Celtic will be even more unstoppable than they would normally be.
One more thing . . .
Looking at my notes written during the game — yes, I am geeky enough to do that — I made this note: 70 min CM saves corner, E scores. The CM in this case is Callum McGregor, who kept the ball in after Ryan Christie’s corner kick at the 7oth minute was cleared out by KR Reykjavik, and CalMac got the ball back into Edouard, who slalomed his way into the goal mouth and scored from close range. Like clockwork, game after game, CalMac always has a hand in Celtic’s success, sometimes in such minuscule ways that it slips under the radar. However, it always bears mentioning that his play, game in and game out, is a large part of the formula that is Celtic’s ongoing success.
Anyway, on to Saturday. Here we go again, we’re on the road again: Dundee United on Saturday at Tannadice.
With their 1961 hit single, the Shirelles got it right about Celtic’s foray to Rugby Park on Sunday. And while the wailing and gnashing of teeth continues regarding the 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock, believe it or not there are some positive takeaways from Sunday’s game.
First things first: Sadly, a considerable segment of the so-called Celtic support has been taking the post-game time on Sunday to post absolute full-panic-mode nonsense; sheer idiocy rivaling what followers of Glasgow’s other club tend to produce. Yes, Christopher Jullien let the team down by his foul, leading to Killie’s only real chance to successfully score, but who in their right mind would seek a replacement? Yes, probably we should have played a 3-5-2, with Odsonne Edouard and Patryk Klimala (for the absent Leigh Griffiths) up front all game, but firing Neil Lennon for not doing so? Seriously?
For those who are ready to pitch it all because you imagine that your hair is on fire because Celtic needs to buy every player on the planet and fire Lenny in the process, Eddy would like to have a word with you . . .
Now for a couple of positive takeaways — yes, there were a couple– from Sunday’s game.
Vasilis Barkas had a good debut
The Athenian Fenian started his first game between the sticks for the Hoops and, aside from Jullien’s gaffe leading to a penalty kick, Barkas played a fairly flawless game. The penalty kick aside, he stopped everything that came his way, and his ball distribution was pretty admirable, though I think he could have launched a few more long balls than he did. But that kind of thing comes with time and if Sunday’s game is any indication, it looks like he’s going to be a solid mainstay in goal.
Hard to play against a 10-0-0 alignment
As previously mentioned, the 3-5-2 which brought us to 9 in a row should probably not be deviated from. It’s hard to ascertain — and it’s not for me to question — if Lenny went with one striker up front because Griff is in the doghouse (again) or he felt our second striker option, Klimala, was not ready, then that’s the call. It’s water under the bridge now. However, Kilmarnock seemed to have come onto the pitch with a 10-0-0 alignment, with 10 defenders, no midfielders and no forwards, which makes things a little difficult for the freewheeling Hoops.
Regardless, both Greg Taylor and Jeremie Frimpong — the former moreso than the latter — got the ball in on several occasions only to have the effort fail in a sea of blue jerseys. To his credit, Ryan Christie nailed an absolute stunner of a free kick which rattled the back of the net and Callum McGregor just missed a shot which went inches over the bar in a game that lacked clear chances to score.
Jock is right about refs, but . . .
We all know Jock Stein’s quote by heart: “If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.” However, the right call on a ball out of bounds over the right touch line immediately prior to Jullien’s penalty should have been a throw-in to Celtic. I’ve watched it a few times — thanks, Celtic TV — and the ball was completely over the line and out. Of course, one out-of-bounds ball does not win or lose games — just as one penalty kick does not win or lose games in and of themselves — but, in this case, a correct call by an attentive lineman would have changed the complexion of the game.
Where’s Uncle Albert?
One of the things I missed about this year’s visit to Rugby Park is the lack of Kilmarnock fans, especially Uncle Albert — the bearded chap who was the recipient of the Leigh Griffith Tape Hurling Award during a game last season. In fact, I don’t know if he is the same fellow, but I recall last season when Celtic TV, whose play-by-play man and match analyst have to sit painfully close — such is the case at Rugby Park — to the fans, and the broadcasters had to keep apologizing for a garbage-mouthed oaf whose profanities were picked up by the Celtic TV microphones.
Maybe he was at home saying “aye” to a Kilmarnock Pie. Who knows?
Next up is St. Mirren on Wednesday, kickoff at the glorious hour of 6 p.m. in Scotland and 10 a.m. North American Pacific Coast time.
So now that the first game is finally under Celtic’s proverbial belt, a convincing 5-1 against Hamilton Accies at home on Sunday, there are a few positive takeaways from the classroom on the pitch at Celtic Park.
Before we start, however, there are two glaring observations that need to be dispensed of at the outset.
First, if today’s game is any indication, Celtic is playing like a team destined for the history that awaits them, namely winning 10 in a row.
Second, however, and probably more importantly, is Sunday’s game shows Celtic fair warning: If the hammer throwers at Hamilton Academical are any indication, the other 11 teams will ply a trade of constant bodily harm in order to thwart the Hoops’ date with destiny.
That said, let’s take a look at Sunday’s game. Take out your notebooks, boys and girls.
Odsonne Edouard is uninterested?
Yeah, that was the run-up, all-encompassing question prior to Opening Day: Was Odsonne Edouard, as they say in France, too indifférent, as even some were saying paresseux? Pardon my French, but one hat trick against the Accies later, and all that nonsense seems to have évaporé. Any preseason evidence suggesting that Edouard is not ready to get to work for the 10 was vanquished on Sunday, and let’s look forward to more of this, s’il vous plaît.
The Passive Aggressive Hoops
In his post-game interview, Neil Lennon said that he thought, “we were a bit too passive in the first half.” While that may be true, in typical Celtic fashion the club came out of the gate storming in the 2nd with their usual aggressive attacking football, which is something we had seen all season when the Hoops won their 9th in a row. Sure, it would be great for the Celts to get up to speed quicker and lay down a marker earlier in the game. But when the results are a win, who cares when they pull away from their opponents?
Greg Taylor: Man of the Match
Yeah, I know: Edouard gets the nod by virtue of three goals, but Greg Taylor had a phenomenal game on Sunday. Taylor and his counterpart on the other side, Jeremie Frimpong, kept the Accies busy all game with crosses to the center of the pitch, essentially keeping them back on their heels for a majority of the game. The ball handling by the entire team earned special mention, but the play from the wing — both of them — was unusually good this time around and shows promise for success going forward.
Scott Bain did well
Playing under the shadow of possibly — or maybe even probably — being replaced at some point soon is daunting; a dead-man-walking scenario to be sure. But Scott Bain did not falter and turned in a good game against Hamilton. Not perfect — the pinball for the Accies that went in off of Callum McGregor and Christopher Jullien was a quirk of nature that really no one could have stopped, not even Fraser Forster. But Bain showed some good distribution and make a few good stops and earned the win at his end of the pitch.
[As an aside, pity Ryan Fulton in goal for the Accies: Normally a 5-1 outing would earn a goalkeeper a good thrashing, if not a dawn appointment with a firing squad (no pun intended). But he made several great saves in a game that really should have been 9-1. At least.]
Polish Paddy on the score sheet
Patryk Klimala continues to impress, and now that he’s got a shot at being the number two striker for Celtic, it would probably come as no surprise that the Polish kid will be working hard to claim that spot. His goal at the 90-minute mark in the game came as he outmuscled a defender after a long pass from Jullien. And even after not getting a really clean shot off, it still danced cleanly into the back of the net. At which time — quite possibly — somewhere at the Leigh Griffiths household, Leigh got onto his stationary bike for some additional training time . . . .
One more thing
Not directly Celtic-related, but there has been a debate brewing in the advent, and in the wake, of Arsenal’s 2-1 win in the FA Cup on Saturday about whether it is OK to send our long-time defender and current Arsenal fan favourite Kieran Tierney well-wishes and congratulations. If nothing else, KT is living, breathing proof that the Celtic system, from the youth level to the first team, is sheer quality. When that is given the stage as massive as the FA Cup — regardless of whether you like or dislike the EPL (and I don’t) — it puts the spotlight on our player development system being an unqualified success. So go on with your bad self, Kieran, and congratulations on bringing those championships borne of the Celtic tradition to wherever you might play.
All of that said, it was clearly a great win for the Bhoys on Sunday, and hopefully we can stay at the top of the table wire-to-wire going forward.
After a drought of 141 days of no games at Paradise, no one was happier to get up at Oh-My-God-Thirty in the morning Pacific Time and put on my jersey and scarf to watch Celtic play at home.
The Ross County preseason game on Sunday had its ups and downs, as we’ll discuss here, but overall the Hoops are fine-tuning their game for the upcoming season. With Neil Lennon letting the first team run for the full 90 minutes — Greg Taylor excluded (and we’ll definitely get to that later) — here are five takeaways from the Ross County game.
Mugging Odsonne Edouard
Already there are grumblings among some of the more . . . oh, let’s say . . . “restless” Celtic supporters that Odsonne Edouard is mailing it in and not trying. I would completely disagree here, primarily because opposing teams have now caught up on the strategy of swarming Edouard, triple- and even quadruple-teaming him. Clearly, one of the reasons 3-5-2 had worked so well last season is that Eddy was not alone up front. In France and against Ross County yesterday, who was alone up front? Edouard. How did that work? Not so great. Was Eddy mailing it in? Hell, no. Get a grip.
Bain worked for his clean sheet
One of the highlights of the game was the play of Scott Bain. While Ross County’s chances were few and far between, those that got through with a shot on goal were met with some quality goalkeeping, and none of them hit the inside of the net. Like Fraser Forster — who as of this writing, according to the rumour mill, may be making his way back (fingers crossed here) — when Celtic has the ball for the great majority of the game, percentage-wise, keeping goal becomes a game of keeping your head in the game. Forster was — is — a master at maintaining concentration, and Bain proved equal to the task on Sunday.
And on the other side . . .
Additionally, a hat-tip should also go to the Ross County goalkeeper, Celtic loanee Ross Doohan. Doohan couldn’t really do anything against the own-goal, but he made some spectacular saves as the game developed.
Kerr McInroy stepped up
When Greg Taylor went down to an ankle injury thanks to a yellow-card quality foul from Connor Randall — and remind me to include Randall in my list of “SPFL Players to Meet while Swinging My Louisville Slugger” — my first thought looking at the available subs was . . . Stephen Welsh? Maybe Luca Connell? No, Lenny was a few light years ahead of me. Kerr McInroy was slotted in and performed pretty well as Taylor’s sub. McInroy moved the ball well and at one point took a shot on goal that went off a Ross County player. He also made a sharp cross which, had someone been there to receive it, would surely have been a goal. Like Welsh last season, to see players like McInroy stepping up and doing well is a promising sign.
John Hartson in the booth
I like John Hartson a lot. I follow him religiously on social media, and I was looking forward to hearing his insights on the Celtic TV broadcast. Overall he gets high marks for his commentary on the game and at halftime. However, I thought he spent a little too much time scolding Jeremie Frimpong on his gaffe in the 2nd half which left a Ross County player alone with the ball in the box. As it turned out, crisis was averted and it amounted to nothing. I think that falls under the no harm/no foul category, but Hartson wouldn’t let it go. Again, this is preseason and hopefully Hartson will get some good broadcasting practice in before the start of the season.
Until tomorrow’s game against the Hibs, here we go again . . . .
Customarily, I watch Celtic games twice before writing about them. It’s a luxury afforded to me by being an overseas Celtic TV subscriber. After seething for a couple of hours watching the Paris Saint-Germain game live, permit me to bear down on my masochistic side and go through this ordeal once again and pick out the upsides for Celtic of this game — and, yes, there are some.
Putting aside the fact that we’ll forget about this whole French trip soon enough — as we do with all preseason matches as we roll into the new season — here are some takeaways from the game.
Taylor and Frimpong impressed: Both Greg Taylor and Jeremie Frimpong moved the ball well against one of the world’s top teams, which bodes well for the upcoming season. If you’ll permit me a “Captain Obvious” moment, Celtic won’t be facing anyone with PSG’s defensive talents in the Premiership, so it stands to reasons that with the kind of performance the wingers put in in Paris, we can run all over any club in Scotland.
As did Christie, Elyounoussi, Ntcham and others: Ryan Christie did his best Energizer Bunny impersonation by going and going and going, even after being mugged without call several times during the course of the game. Olivier Ntcham was a one-man wrecking crew in the midfield, dishing it out and taking it while on the pitch — Ntcham’s flattening Mitchel Bakker around the 36-minute mark was a gem. Moi Elyounoussi was pretty stellar, too, amid a few muggings he suffered himself. Subs did pretty well, too, on the whole: James Forrest and Tom Rogic looked ready for the upcoming season in the limited time they played.
Yes, we could use a goalkeeper, but . . . : When Scott Bain went down to a PSG knee to his head early in the second half, you could feel the collective breath-holding by Celtic fans worldwide. As much as I like Conor Hazard, he’s clearly a light-year or two from being Number 1 material, so perhaps this is a wake-up call to those responsible for signing players to fix the goalkeeper situation as soon as possible. That said, though, Bain only really borked the third PSG goal — the other three would have gone past pretty much any other goalkeeper. Possibly even Fraser Forster. And a little perspective here: There’s a really good chance that Forster would not have come away from this game with a clean sheet. With a couple of gaffes notwithstanding, Bain did a pretty good job against a world football power.
Demoralizing? No, not really: One of the common post-game themes among the keyboard gaffers on social media is that this defeat was somehow demoralizing for Celtic. Not quite. Sure, normally when you lose 4-0, it’s demoralizing — if you lose 4-0 to Partick Thistle then, yeah, banishment to a deserted island forever would be a viable option. That’s demoralizing. But losing 4-0 to Paris Saint-Germain? Well, if could have been worse, but the fact of the matter is that it wasn’t.
Celtic played a much better game than the score indicated, and since it is a preseason friendly — Neymar excluded — then it doesn’t really matter. The bhoys got their minutes in and we came away without injuries.
One more warmup against Derry City FC on Saturday and then we go to work. Until then, with your culture and your faith wear the green-and-white.
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.
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.
The memory is ingrained deep in the psyche of all Celtic fans — the moment you saw Jozo Simunovic head the ball into the net against Kilmarnock last April in a game honoring another Number 5, Billy McNeill.
You may have been at Paradise, or maybe you were watching at home. Maybe you were in a pub with like-minded Celtic supporters.
Or if you were at Fiddler’s Green in Millbrae, California, as I was, watching with the San Francisco CSC, you might have done what we did: Cheer wildly for the goal, and when the gravity of fate made us realize that Number 5 had scored 67 minutes in, a hush of awe washed over the room.
Shortly afterward, I put the picture of Jozo pointing to the heavens after scoring that goal as the photo on my cell phone. It stays there to this day to remind me about how, on that day, the forces of nature sent a clear and unequivocal sign to Celtic and said, “There’s nothing stopping you now.”
Those who know me in Celtic circles know that I am a full-throated defender of Jozo Simunovic in the face of some of the naysayers within our support. Yeah, he may have knees of glass and, yeah, he may have been in injury recovery a little longer than might be convenient. But when he does make his way onto the pitch, Jozo is a machine.
Not only does he patrol the backfield with aplomb, he has also been known to wander forward and at a few opportune times — like in the game against Hearts back in February — his forehead happened to be in the right place at the right time to head Ryan Christie’s corner into the net to make the score 5-0. Or when Jozo took some initiative and drove forward to take a Greg Taylor cross in the game against Kilmarnock in March, only to be carried by momentum over the goal line but not before heading the ball back to Odsonne Edouard, who scored.
Jozo has earned a spot in Celtic lore not only for his goal in the Billy McNeill game or for launching Kenny Miller in a textbook tackle that should be taught in football academies worldwide, but also for his firm and steady defensive play for the Hoops. It is unfortunate that, due to injury, he could not reach his full potential for the club, but by the same token his play while in good health was of the highest quality.
They say things like this come in threes, so after Jonny Hayes and Jozo Simunovic, who might be next? Some are speculating that it might be Kris Ajer, who has been rumored to be on his way out for some time. My sincere hope is that this is wrong, but it remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, thank you, Jozo, for all those moments with the Hoops, and you are always one of us.
[Blogger’s note: A few weeks ago, I went “off script” and wrote a blog item about Nairn County FC in the Highland Football League after their statement assured that their team and staff would be paid, and club resources would be used to help the community through the Covid-19 crisis. Lo and behold, after exchanging emails with the club’s Donald Graham, I am now in possession of a maize (not yellow) and black NCFC scarf. Thanks, Donald, and mon the Wee County!]