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.

So Nir, yet so far

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.

Nir Bitton took the game to Hibs on Sunday and proves how important he is to the club.

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!

Livi on the edge

Over the last couple of seasons, Livingston has been a thorn in the side of Celtic, punching way above their weight every time they play the Hoops. And while the Bhoys in Green came away with a 3-2 victory on Saturday at Paradise, it was one of those where you see why Livi is one of those teams that are beatable, but are never really down until the end.

First things first: Nice of referee Gavin Duncan to ignore a hand foul for a penalty in the Livingston end, just to have Kris Ajer — sliding to block — get a hand foul in the Celtic box for a penalty a minute later. Complete bullspit, like four additional injury-time minutes, but at least Duncan has something to talk about when he goes to the Mason’s lodge after the game.

But never mind. A few minutes later the Bhoys equalized when Callum McGregor scores, and with the exception of a late goal by Livi — an absolute rocket from about 30 yards out at 78 minutes — the Bhoys essentially never looked back. What should have ended 3-1 instead ended 3-2.

Ryan Christie, who has been taking a brunt of undue criticism on social media, easily shut his critics up by improving his game up front, and ended up putting the ball into the back of the net a few minutes later. It seems that it doesn’t matter what set-up Celtic plays; whether it’s 3-5-2 or 4-4-2, there’s always a place for Christie in the lineup.

Albian Ajeti put away a goal early in the 2nd half to put the game away for Celtic on Saturday.

Albian Ajeti is also showing that the latest transfer window can easily be considered a success so far. Greg Taylor, who didn’t have a great game last week, had a fairly remarkable one this week. So it will be hard for those on social media who can never seem to find any thrill or happiness in victory to name a scapegoat for Celtic in this match.

It also seemed like a typical Celtic game: 71 percent possession, a clear advantage in passes completed (588-158, 86 percent for Celtic) and crosses (14-6), an obviously an advantage in scored goals (3-2, none of them gifted). All of that equals another victory and three more points.

And, for the moment, a spot at the top of the table.

As for McGregor, the man of the match: It’s hard to imagine where we’d be without him in the midfield. In addition to being a scoring threat, which he showed today, McGregor is a controlling force in the middle for the Hoops. In making each and every prudent and beneficial pass in the midfield, and being the go-to guy when players are double- and triple-teamed. More times than not, McGregor has gotten the Celts out of many a jam.

So tomorrow would be a good time for some “Sunshine on Leith” so Hibernian comes away with a victory, and only tomorrow “Mon the Hibs” are the words of the day.

Flash: Winning ugly is still winning

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.

Shane Duffy hammers home the equalizer with his forehead in the St. Mirren game on Wednesday.

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!

Firing on all cylinders

Now, that’s more like it. Here’s a Celtic score line that speaks volumes: Odsonne Edouard 4′ (penalty), Albian Ajeti 20′, Shane Duffy 59′, Kris Ajer 64′, Patryk Klimala 75′, Vasilis Barkas clean sheet. All three strikers scoring is always a good look and speaks well of playing a 3-5-2. So now it appears that Celtic is firing on all cylinders as we get back on track in the Premiership.

There are several good takeaways from this game, of course, as there would be with any 5-0 victory.

Barkas is the real deal

The jury has been out on Vasilis Barkas for a few games now, having to fill the shoes . . . er, gloves . . . of Fraser Forster, “The Wall,” in goal. But with each game he plays, he makes his case well. Today against Ross County we have a decision: Barkas is the real deal and an adequate replacement for Forster. Barkas owned the goal for 90+ minutes today, turning away each Ross County shot — and there were a few good ones — admirably. With a couple of exceptions — mostly miscommunications between Barkas and defenders which turned out to be awkward moments instead of full-blown disasters — Barkas had a picture-perfect game.

Not to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth, of course, but I’ve noticed something over the last few weeks which provokes a question: Would it kill Barkas to actually clear the ball out of the Celtic end instead of passing it to one of the backs? He did it only once against Ross County.

Shane Duffy scored in his debut for Celtic. The Ireland captain is making an immediate impact for Celtic in his first game for the Hoops.

Shane Duffy is awesome

It took all of 59 minutes for Shane Duffy to “open his account,” as it were, with the Hoops, with a smashing header from a corner. The previous 58 minutes, however, had the Irish captain keeping the door closed on the Ross County attack with intimidating form. He’s definitely an impact player and a welcome addition to a club which, to be honest, has been a little shy at times in mixing it up physically with opposing teams. If we are done with the transfer window — which has been mentioned — we are in good shape going forward, and Duffy appears to arguably be the best acquisition in this window, and Celtic fans will be hungry to see more from the big man from Free Derry.

Spreading the love

Happiness is when all three of your strikers score, and that’s what happened at Victoria Park. True, Edouard’s goal was on a penalty, but still. Ajeti continues his Scott Sinclair-like start for the Hoops — and hopefully he can keep up the pace — by scoring once again, and while Klimala muffed an early sure-fire goal, he picked up one later in the game. But that’s only three — two other goals came from the backfield: Duffy on a set piece and Ajer straying forward, as he has a tendency to do, capitalized. Having goals coming from a variety of players is always welcome, and the ball movement — especially from Jeremie Frimpong on the right — was an exclamation point on the effort. We need more of this energy going forward.

One more thing

Well, two actually, but we’ll put them together here. First, you would think that a 5-0 game would be pretty one-sided, but give Ross County its due. The game was a lot closer than the score would have you believe, and the Staggies had many opportunities to score after having the proverbial winds taken out of their sails after the first penalty. The game was not as one-sided as the score line would indicate, and it’s the kind of performance that should serve as a warning to other clubs. But ultimately credit the Celts for their systematic and clinical play, especially in the second half, to keep the Bhoys buoyed for 90 minutes and credited with a victory.

On to St. Mirren on Wednesday. Mon the Hoops!

Back again, in more ways than one

First things first: Thanks to a lightning strike just north of here a couple of weeks ago, the area has been in the throes of a massive wildfire. Now contained at 35 percent, we are allowed to “repopulate” our homes in Felton as of Saturday, and not a moment too soon. All of which is to say that it has been a perfect homecoming for me as the Hoops win 3-0 against Motherhell — sorry, Motherwell — at Paradise on Sunday.

So the minor blessing in disguise is that I missed much of the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the past week, and only intermittently — when the absence of rolling blackouts would allow — got to witness the travesty against Ferencvaros and the drama on social media that followed.

But the game against Motherhell started off slowly and picked up momentum when Neil Lennon decided to play two strikers in the 2nd half. James Forrest finally got onto the score sheet in the first half, 2nd half sub Albian Ajeti took an excellent pass from Kris Ajer and found himself one-on-one with a helpless Motherwell keeper to hit the back of the net, and Christopher Jullien put the game away late on a cross from Jeremie Frimpong.

Wakanda Forever: Christopher Jullien pays homage to the recently departed “Black Panther” actor Chadwick Boseman after scoring a goal against Motherwell on Sunday.

I’m going to forgo the takeaways to simply make a couple of observations moving forward.

3-5-2 uber alles

I get it, Lenny and I’m with you here: It’s impossible to play two strikers up front when your star gets his Achilles tendon raked by some hammerthrowing ned in the previous SPFL game and your new acquisition has not played in awhile (to say nothing of the other striker who is in the doghouse for making too many Tik-tok videos when he should have been training). But the only way you’re going to get Patryk Klimala to sink or swim is to throw him into the deep end of the pool, so to speak — and my money is on that he’ll swim. Fast.

Let me also add this caveat to this observation: I am new to football, and I expect my observations may be that of a neophyte. I played a grand total of three games when I was in my early 20s — a fullback whose specialty was standing in the near post during corners in our end — as a favor to a goalkeeper friend whose team needed bodies (and only three games because the team eventually disbanded). Normally I watch games twice before writing about them, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and I pore over the games to get a better understanding of the nuances in each game. All of which is to say, yeah I’m new to this, but I’m doing my homework.

So subbing in Klimala changed the complexion of the game pretty quickly, even though he did not score. Adding Ajeti to the mix, who did score, also proves that we should have started with two strikers up front from the start. But rather than do what many of the self-proclaimed experts that populate social media are doing, I’m willing to give Lenny the benefit of the doubt and trust that he’s learned a lesson here. Going forward, I think we’re going to see more of Klimala, possibly starting, and possibly Ajeti, too.

So while I’m giving out advice, let me add this . . . .

Start Jeremie Frimpong

Hatem Elhamed has been doing great over the last few games, but there has been something missing when Jeremie Frimpong is not in the lineup. We saw just what is missing in the 2nd half of the Motherwell game. The kid has the moves, both on and off the ball, and the post-game Motherwell training tables were full, no doubt, of twisted ankles of players who unsuccessfully challenged the Oh My Days Kid.

I’m not sure what the solution is to getting Frimpong into the game, because someone will have to be pulled in order for him to make the starters. Elhamed has been phenomenal overall for the Hoops and unless we can move someone in the midfield, maybe, and put Frimpong there . . . it’s a difficult call which I’m sure the brain trust at Celtic are currently dealing with.

One more thing

For those of us in California, it is heartening to see our native son Cameron Harper picked for the first team over the last few games. We are fully aware of his talents, and it’s good to see they’re being noticed by the club.

So it looks like the Hoops are back on track with their win over Motherwell. And barring any other wildfires that may cause further evacuation, it looks like this blog is back as well. Now to fill in the time during the international break before we go into Victoria Park against Ross County a week from Saturday.

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.

Doviđenja, Jozo, i sretno (Goodbye, Jozo, and good luck)

Ground Conrol to Major Ken: Jozo Simunovic launches Kenny Miller into orbit in what could best be described as one of the all-time great tackles in football history.

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.

Two for the road: Jonny Hayes and Jozo Simunovic sadly will be leaving Celtic.

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!]

A tale of two Norwegians

Amid the hubbub of the weekend’s postponments of matches and the wonderful news about the signing of adidas as July’s new kitmaker (and beyond) for Celtic, there also was a couple of disturbing stories about Celtic’s pair of Norwegian players.

Kris Ajer: Not going anywhere, at least not soon.

The first deals with Kris Ajer talking about leaving — or Kris Ajer’s agent talking about him leaving. This mid-week special had Ajer’s agent, Tore Pedersen, saying that he’s testing the waters despite the fact Ajer has two more years on his contract.

Neil Lennon shot this rumor down as quickly as Pedersen had shot himself in the foot. And if I were Big Kris, I think I’d find my agent and give him a good ass-kicking.

But would that be the end of it? Heavens, no.

In the interim between Pedersen being a greedy agent who seems to tend to the needs of his bank account before the needs of his clients and the Lennon quote, a tsunami of fans had already given Ajer his walking papers.

I’ll be brief: If you think Ajer should be let go, you need to think again.

While, yes, Ajer occasionally exhibits lapses on the field, overall he is a solid defender in the Celtic backfield who, more often than not, gets the job done. Chances are the reason Ajer was given a long-term contract was because he is a vital part of the plan for a successful Celtic future. If you want to call it an experiment, fine: This experiment is still ongoing and has yet to conclude.

Meanwhile, Celtic’s other Norwegian, Mohammed Elyounoussi, apparently enjoys living in Glasgow and said so in a quote on social media, praising the people and the city while saying he’s glad to be playing for Celtic.

Thanks, Moi. I persosnally appreciate the sentiment and I’m glad you’re playing for Celtic. And while you say that everyone talks positively to you, at least to your face, it’s clear that the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” contingent of the Celtic support hide behind the shield of anonymity on social media to speak otherwise. Rather than labour the point, I’ll let you see for yourselves if you care to look at the thread.

I would be willing to bet the prevailing opinion of the wider Celtic fandom shares my sentiment toward Elyounoussi. What some of the negatively responding fans seem to forget is that Elyounoussi has, in fact, repaid us so far by being a huge factor early in the season in gaining the insurmountable lead we took into the “Coronavirus break” this week.

Coming back from injury around Christmas may be slow, but we know he’ll be back to his early-season form soon. And with the break in the mix, he will be ready to go when the next whistle sounds.

Both of Celtic’s Norwegians have played an intregal part of the club’s success this season. To suggest otherwise is pure nonsense.

Five Takeaways from Ross County

We went to the Highlands, and after what seems to be a typically meticulous (not “slow,” I’d never say “slow”) start, the Bhoys in Green came away with a 4-1 victory over Ross County on Sunday. Naturally, The Sandman also had his say on the game, which is worth a read, but I also have five takeaways, which are as follows . . . .

1. Be like Mike-y

Over a quarter-century ago, the sports drink Gatorade had an ad campaign featuring its centerpiece athlete, Michael Jordan, and the tagline “Be Like Mike” was all over the fields and courts where sports were being played. And while I, nor anyone else, would suggest that “I Wanna Be Edouard” should be substituted here, “Be Like Mikey” Johnston would actually be a welcome alternative. Johnston came into the game, deked a couple of Ross County defenders and — bang! — into the net at 72 minutes. Which leads us to Celtic’s current “conundrum” . . .

2. So many scorers, so little time

Goal posts notwithstanding — and if only they gave maybe a half-point for glancing the ball off the post; I mean, really, it’s not easy to do — Celtic had close to 20 shots on goal against Ross County. I bring this up because despite Ryan Christie’s clockwork scoring, the club has a huge number of options on getting the ball into the net. Even Leigh Griffiths, who came close to scoring on Sunday, is getting a lot closer to finding striker nirvana. No Edouard? No problem. Speaking of scorers . . .

3. The Viking can pass

Kris Ajer getting the ball to the right person on Sunday is something that cannot be understated. The big Norwegian was right on the mark with passes which turned into goals. Not only this, but it looks like in the last few games that Ajer has been — I don’t know how to put this, exactly — a little adventurous in wandering out of the backfield with the ball and advancing way past the half-way line. Not that I’m complaining, mind you . . .

4. The right call, for a change

Not to give referee Nick Walsh much in the credit department, as his carding Mikey Johnston for celebrating when the fans are literally on top of the pitch was pure nonsense; to say nothing of all the non-calls on fouls against Celtic during the course of the game. But I will give him props for his call on revoking Ross County’s second goal. Now, I don’t fully understand the offside rule yet — and I still think it’s arbitrary, judging by what I often see as “offsides” and what isn’t — but as it was explained to me, the guy in the dunce cap, Ross County’s Brian Graham was offside because while he made no attempt to play the ball, he obstructed Christopher Jullien, meaning that Graham was an active player and, thus, offside. I hope that doesn’t end up on the final exam, but at the very least, Nick got that one right.

5. What video game did we see him in?

Putting aside for a moment the unique gaffer arrangement — “manager by committee” would be the best way to describe it between Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson at Ross County — but during the game on Sunday when they panned the camera to the Ross County sideline to show Ferguson, I only had one thought: Didn’t I see him in Grand Theft Auto V? OK, so I’m probably the last person to comment on someone else’s appearance, but if game developers haven’t used the slick-haired Steven Ferguson look so often for bad guys in video games, this takeaway would be something else altogether.

On to the Accies on Wednesday.