Torture and The Late Late Show

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

Sound familiar, Celtic fans?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

News flash: They’re not.

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

Mon the Hoops.

KR Reykjavik: More questions than answers

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.

A Hatem Elhamed cross early in the 2nd half led to a goal by Greg Taylor, right, making it 4-0 Celtic in Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League qualifying round game against KR Reykjavik at Celtic Park. It was Taylor’s first goal as a Celt and his second career goal overall.

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.

Miracles on Mondays

Patryk Klimala scored two goals — one arguably stolen from Leigh Griffiths — against Hibernian in the final preseason game for Celtic at Celtic Park on Monday.

There’s a saying here that goes something like this: “There are no miracles on Mondays.” Yet to watch the Celtic-Hibernian preseason match at Paradise on Monday, the Hoops may have proved that wrong. In the second game in as many days at Celtic Park, the kids took over on the pitch and ran amok.

In a good way. In a really good way.

Patryk Klimala? Ready to go. Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but in the 2nd half when Celtic went with two strikers up front — Klimala and Leigh Griffiths, sprung from the doghouse and onto the pitch — things happened. Good things. Ver good things, like two unanswered goals.

Ismaila Soro? Game ready. Not only that, he’s SPFL ready as well, passing superbly in the Hibs game while prepared to dish out punishment to the hammerthrowers that populate the Premier League, showing no mercy to both Ross County and Hibernian clods over the last two games.

Luca Connell? Let’s find this kid some playing time. Can he play right back? Center back? Connell was pretty impressive in this game and if this game is any indication, he may be up with the first team sooner moreso than later.

Even Conor Hazard did well enough for 90 minutes, making some quality saves in the game.

The list goes on: Karamoko Dembele, when he wasn’t being planted into the turf by Hibs thugs, shone with his first senior-side goal and a neat assist on Klimala’s goal. Ewan Henderson showed a considerable amount of range, affecting play on both ends of the pitch. Stephen Welsh and Kerr McInroy, the latter who played yesterday, also impressed on Monday.

Of the first-team regulars, Hatem Elhamed appeared to be in his same early-season form as he was last season when he arrived at Celtic. The defensive aptitude that Elhamed, coupled with his occasional play up front — he missed a header in the first half — consistently shows will be key to Celtic’s success once the season starts.

And then there was Griffiths, who seemed to be in good enough shape once he was put in and, arguably, really scored the goal that Klimala put in for the latter’s first of the game.

I don’t know what game captain Olivier Ntcham said in the pregame huddle, but whatever it was, it seemed to have worked.

With the season prepared to start, it appears that Celtic is ready. Until we play Hamilton Accies on Sunday to start the ten-in-a row season, here we go again . . . .

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.

Focus, focus, focus

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.

To recap:

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.

You’re welcome.

The Dynamic Duo: Leigh Griffiths hugs Odsonne Edouard after Edouard’s opening goal at the 9-minute mark at Fir Park. Celtic went on to beat Motherwell 4-0.

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.

Focus, focus, focus.

Random thoughts, cheap shots, bon mots 2: The sequel

Because I still have my head buried in a tsunami of documents related to my previous post — and thank you to Auldheid for the great interview — I thought I’d take a break from my “homework” to make a few observations about the last two wins by the Hoops, and other items of perceived interest, in the world of football; like the following, for example.

SPFL referee Bobby Madden sporting “The Scarlet Letter” of SpecSavers on his sleeve.

Oh, the irony . . .

Putting aside the numerous missed calls on hand-ball fouls by Celtic opponents this season, is it any wonder some marketing genius who holds the SpecSavers advertising account sold that company’s executives on the nearly infinite value of sponsorship of SPFL referees? Each referee has what is essentially a “scarlet letter” of less-than-ideal vision on their sleeves, and in so many cases it is justified. One of a plethora of examples is the 78th minute of the Celtic-Ross County game where Scott Brown was clearly fouled, followed by James Forrest fouled less than 10 seconds afterward. Of course that joins a long list of referee malpractice this season that, fortunately, has only been a minor irritant to Celtic fans everywhere, rather than history-altering decisions. But we’re only halfway through the 2019/20 season. . . .

Here we go again

Once again, we are in the midst of another transfer window. And once again, the armchair gaffers and PlayStation pundits are bent out of shape because we haven’t signed half of FC Barcelona — the good half, hopefully — and in not doing so, we just threw away 9 in a row. Just today, on the digital cesspool known as Twitter and other online social media, Neil Lennon is being unnecessarily raked over the coals for suggesting the Celtic may be done for this window. The fact of the matter is, frankly, that if we are done for January, it’s still not a bad window, and with the success of the previous window carrying over, we are in great shape for the rest of the season, especially those who are injured — Hatem El Hamed, Mohammed Elyounoussi, Jeremie Frimpong for starters — get back onto the pitch. Also, not given enough credit has been Moritz Bauer’s efforts in filling in for the injured Frimpong against Ross County; Bauer himself is another new addition from the previous window.

Even if Ismaila Soro is the last piece of the puzzle in January, we are looking great for the rest of the season. Some people really need to get a grip.

Cameron Harper scored the final goal for Celtic as the Hoops cruised past Huddersfield Town 3-1

The California Kid strikes again

The Celtic Reserves team hit the road to visit Huddersfield Town on Tuesday, and came away with a 3-1 victory in the friendly. Karamoko Dembele, Kieran McGrath and Cameron Harper scored in the game. We all know that Karamoko has already made the grade, but those watching the reserves have strong praise for Harper as well. We in the Golden State have high hopes for the Southern Californian to go on and wear the hoops for the first team in the near future.

Buy this guy a beer

Funny how The Rangers wanker — sorry, winger — and all-around world-class douchenozzle Ryan Kent can’t bring himself to gun down Hearts fans like he did at Parkhead last month. But this JamTarts fan has the right idea. If anyone in Edinburgh who knows this guy can buy him a beer for me, I’d be grateful. Oh, and the Hearts 2-1 victory over The Rangers? Fantastic.

Now if you’ll excuse me, FC St. Pauli is playing today and it’s gametime. See you tomorrow at the St. Johnstone game. Mon the hoops!

Five Takeways from Celtic-Lazio

Hatem Abd Elhamed celebrates Ryan Christie’s equalizer during Celtic’s game against Lazio last night.

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!

One of the few moments in the game where James Forrest was free, at least for a few seconds. Jamesy spent most of the game double- and triple-teamed, which put a damper on what usually is a normally stellar performance.

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.

On to Aberdeen on Sunday . . .