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 . . . .
While it was not the result Celtic fans would have particularly liked — dropping a 2-1 decision to Lyon on Saturday — for the second time in two games there are positive takeaways from a draw and a loss in France, believe it or not.
First, to quote The Who, “The Kids are Alright.”
With Neil Lennon throwing the youngsters out onto the pitch to start the game under the watchful eye and the temporary leadership of Olivier Ntcham wearing the captain’s armband, the Hoops performed like a group which needed to play together more. But despite their Dembele — Moussa — scoring about four minutes in for Lyon, our Dembele — Karamoko — did a fairly adequate job as the “mini-Frimpong” (if that’s even possible). Patryk Kilmala again showed that there’s no place on the pitch where he can’t — or won’t — play, being just about everwhere and anywhere and constantly in the thick of things.
And then there’s the guy to watch. So far in this French series, the player who has impressed most of all is Ismaila Soro, who has suited up in both games with a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach in trying to win a place in the already crowded Celtic midfield. Soro consistently dispossessed both Nice and Lyon players of the ball in the past two games, and showed considerable defensive presence in absolutely flattening Moussa Dembele around the 38-minute mark of the game; a foul to be sure, but a statement nonetheless that Soro is not to be messed with.
When the first team got onto the field at the 60-minute mark with Celtic down 2-0, the tide turned from Lyon cruising to Lyon aiming to hold on. First-team passing was crisp and, while there was still rust to be shaken from the long layoff, timing will come. It wasn’t until 87 minutes that Moi Elyounoussi, looking like his pre-injury self from last season, put the Hoops on the board.
So it’s on to Paris for the last of the three games on Tuesday against the league winning Paris Saint-Germain. The Bhoys have their work cut out for them, of course, since PSG has beaten their last two opponents by a combined score of 16-0.
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.
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).
Until the Lyon game, we are Celtic supporters, faithful through and through . . .
One of the advantages — probably the only advantage — of living 5,000 miles west of Glasgow is that the transfer window closes here before the sun goes down. Having the advantage of still being awake and usually on my third cup of coffee for the day, we will see if Celtic makes any further moves as the clock strikes 12 in Glasgow while striking the bewitching hour of 4 p.m. in California, but by all indications it looks like we’re staying put.
And after seeing the deadline pass, with or without any further additions and without any likely departures, I can go have dinner.
Yes, apparently we stay put, much to the dismay of some greeting fans who insist on Celtic spending money like a drunken sailor on shore leave on players just for the sake of signing someone — anyone — to fill in for adequate players who are coming off injuries and soon to return to the pitch.
I’m with Neil Lennon: “We have a good squad, decent depth, and once we get a few injuries back we will be fine.”
Contrary to what the armchair gaffers and PlayStation pundits might think, Lennon is right. Rather than acting like we’re on the brink of relegation, they might want to look at the bigger picture.
While there was also hair-on-fire panic during the last transfer window, in the end it was one of Celtic’s best in recent history. One can hardly make an argument against the fact that Fraser Forster, Hatem Elhamed, Mohammed Elyounoussi and Jeremie Frimpong have made a significant impact on the club. Even Moritz Bauer and Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo — both unfairly criticized by some lately in the questionable objectivity of the Scottish football press, let alone the cesspool known as social media — are decent players who have shown they can contribute.
Leaving out the two new additions (we’ll get to them in a minute), Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffith are turning into a tag-team scoring machine. Greg Taylor rightfully may have bought himself a start in future games with his play against the Aints — sorry, the Saints — on Wednesday. Olivier Ntcham, who many think is packing his bags, is showing no signs of leaving while playing remarkably in the midfield. Scott Brown has been shutting down critics who say he has lost a step by having a banner year that defies his age. Until injured, Ryan Christie was unstoppable. I could go on until you are lulled into a coma of boredom, but the fact remains that the team is solid despite injuries.
But speaking of injuries: Christie? Back. Elhamed? Back soon. Elyounoussi? Back soon, hopefully. Jeremie Frimpong? Also back soon hopefully. All of them are joining Jozo Simunovic and Tom Rogic, now back from long-term injuries and getting back into form for the rest of the season.
So, who climbed in the window during this transfer cycle? Let’s take a look at the pair who joined the club this month.
I have a friend here in the San Lorenzo Valley who is a huge Bayern Munich fan, and he’s pretty much plugged in to European football in general and Polish strikers in particular. He speaks highly of Patryk Klimala, dubbing him “Klimalendowski,” after Bayern’s Polish striker Robert Lewandowski.
All joking aside, Polish Paddy’s 10 minutes against St. Johnstone did little to show his abilities — and that was outlined in Sandman’s ratings of the St. Johnstone game — but in those 10 minutes, he showed some speed and crossing skills in a cross that, had it not been slightly deflected by a panicked Saints defender, could have been his first assist. In addition, Klimala rejected a ball from the near post in the Saints’ final corner in injury time, saving the clean sheet for the Hoops.
In his introduction at his signing, Klimala said that signing for Celtic is a big step up in his career, and he insisted he is ready to prove his worth. If this brief introduction is an indication of what Klimala can do, then his wide range of talents are a welcome addition to the club.
Incidentally, he takes the number 11, which was worn quite succesfully by the recently departed — OK, a little dramatic, recently departed to Preston North End, that is — Scott Sinclair.
First things first: Apologies to The Proclaimers (and sing along if you know it) . . .
“My heart was broken, my heart was broken, Soro, Soro, Soro, Soro . . .“
While it may be too early to purloin the Hibs’ song for our own purposes, Ismaila Soro arrives to bolster Celtic’s midfield. The Ivorian signed a four-and-a-half-year deal with the Hoops after a multi-year stint with Israeli club Bnei Yehuda.
The gaffer has high praise for Soro. In a recent interview, Lennon said, “He’ll bring a bit of quality and support in the midfield area. He’s had a good career so far and has played in some tough leagues. He’s come from a team who, while they’re not the top team in Israel, he’s stood out by a distance with his performances there.”
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.
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.
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!