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.

Midweek meanderings: Free agent to consider and quality kits

Now that it’s midweek with no game to watch, unfortunately, it’s the perfect time to let the mind wander after reading the Celtic news of the day. And to paraphrase Douglas Adams, I love transfer rumours — I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by. That said, let’s take a look at a couple of items to ponder . . . .

An experienced centre back on no one’s radar

There’s a free agent currently out there on the market who, I think, has a proven record of success. Yes, he’s a little injury-prone and should probably stay away from the plastic pitches that occasionally pop up on the Celtic schedule. But when he has been on the pitch playing for his team, he has been a steady player who has come up from time to time with some significant play for his club, and has been more than a footnote in his club’s history.

Of course the free agent I’m talking about is Jozo Simunovic. And he even comes with his own soundtrack.

Sure, the key here is whether a smaller contract and a reduced role will be a bitter pill to swallow for the Croatian, and probably playing back-up to whomever is playing that position — Nir Bitton? — but as an insurance policy in a season where Celtic players wear huge targets on their backs for the league’s hammer throwers — and watch the Hamilton game again for a preview — it wouldn’t hurt to have someone who knows the system and, from time to time, knows where to be at historic moments.

I’ve said here and elsewhere that releasing Simunovic and Jonny Hayes was a mistake. Hayes is away for good, playing for deferred payments for Aberdeen. But Jozo is still available.

In this day and age where a virus has changed all the rules of footballing business and funding in general, and player aquisition with said funds (or lack thereof) in particular, all options should be on the table and “thinking outside the box” is not only necessary, but prudent.

World-class club, world-class kit

Now that the adidas strip has been rolled to great fanfare — and thank you Celtic FC Store online for putting the New Balance kits on fire sale prior to this, so poor fans like yours truly could score a quality jersey at a bargain basement price — it seems that some of the other clubs in the Scottish Premiership have not been, let’s just say, as fortunate.

Normally I don’t really like to use these pixels to talk about anything other than Celtic, but I will make an exception today to point out that it’s not all that rosy in the kit rollout for Glasgow’s other club.

While it’s not polite to laugh at other people’s misfortu . . . wait. I think we can make an exception in this case. Taking a moment to read Phil Mac Giolla Bhain’s post yesterday — a belter, as Phil’s posts usually are, and I’ll gladly wait if you want to go ahead and read it — you might see in the photo of Kemar Roofe a certain lack of editing on his jersey. Saty in Control? And where’s the “t” in “Castore”? That is, if you aren’t already distracted by the “d” in “Ready” falling off the display behind Roofe.

Add to this some of the, um, “problems” that fans of Glasgow’s other club have had in getting their ordered kits in, well, unscathed form, and you have the recipe that only the orcs from Ibrox can cook up. Waiting for the laughter to die down . . . .

Anyway, that will do it for today. Don’t forget that the bhoys get back to work on Sunday — we’re on the road again against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, a 4:30 p.m. kickoff (8:30 a.m. on the North American Pacific Coast).

Mon the Hoops!

A few of my favourite things

Fun fact: “The Sound of Music” was the first movie I went to see with my family when I was a kid. A minor qualification, though: Really, the first movie I ever saw was the night before in a Friday night outing with my Dad and my friends from the neighbourhood to the drive-in, where we saw a forgettable stock-car racing movie called “Red Line 7000” with James Caan.

Anyway, “The Sound of Music” ended up producing a boatload of cultural references over time and, in the Internet age, a raft of memes that range from sublime to hilarious.

“Red Line 7000,” not so much.

As such, of all the songs in “The Sound of Music,” the song “My Favourite Things” has probably been parodied most throughout the 55-year history of the film.

Permit me to add another. Sing along if you know the tune.

My favourite things

Ntcham and Jozo and Rogic and Boli,
Griff blasts a shot that slips right past their goalie,
Jeremie Frimpong flies quick up the wing,
These are a few of my favourite things.

Killie in Glasgow, French Eddy puts two in,
Oh, and hey look, Tom, “Whit’s the goalie daein’?”
Taylor to CalMac, the Green Brigade sings,
These are a few of my favourite things.

Broony at Rugby Park, Moi Elyounoussi,
Bitton upfield with a shot like an Uzi,
Forrest and Christie, two midfielding kings,
These are a few of my favourite things.

Loss to Cluj, and draw at Livi,
When I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember The Wall is in goal,
And then I don’t feel so bad.

Living(ston) on the edge

Credit where credit is due, part one: Livingston, a club which seems to have Celtic’s number for some metaphysical reason, lived up to their reputation as a home team that is very stingy about letting visitors score, and punched way above their weight on Wednesday to put Celtic in battle-stations mode for much of Wednesday’s game.

Credit where credit is due, part two: Celtic didn’t fold, remained focused, and kept coming after the Tony Macaronis shortly after going down 2-1 early in the 2nd half, constantly attacking the 10-0-0 Livingston formation for a better part of the second half before Tom Rogic finally got one to go in during injury time to equalise.

But before getting into some of the details, let’s backtrack a bit, going off-script for a moment, to talk about officiating over the last couple of games. It has been laughably deficient and blatantly awful.

At Pittodrie, Andrew Dallas borked most of the calls and non-calls in the Aberdeen game, which Celtic won anyway. Same at Kilmarnock with Kevin Clancy, who for the most part really has no business calling a game between teams of 8-year-olds, let alone games in the Premier League. But we still prevailed against Killie.

On Wednesday, Willie Collum may have looked at those games and said, “You think that’s bad? Hold my beer.”

Collum clearly was rendered temporarily blind when at least two Celts were clearly fouled in the penalty area during the course of the game, not to mention a variety of other fouls on the pitch. He also missed not one, but two handball fouls by Livingston on Odsonne Edouard’s free kick late in the game, to add to his usual all-over-the-map WTF method of refereeing.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: The greatest marketing ploy ever, in the entire history of advertising, is SpecSavers sponsoring the SFA referees.

And I know, I know: Jock Stein said, “If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.”

But even after Wednesday’s game, Big Jock is surely looking down from heaven and saying, “Damn, dude.” Or whatever the Scottish equivalent to that California phrase might be.

Meanwhile, back at the original point of the blog: Despite coming away with only one point — and thank goodness Glasgow’s other club made that “academic” (thanks, Chris Sutton!) by dropping their game against Hamilton — Wednesday’s game in the Italian Restaurant Arena was a completely watchable game; despite being a watchable game that we should have won by a score of 5-2 given the penalties we should have had.

OK, I’ll stop.

Wednedsay’s game was one of those grind-it-out affairs, where we lacked in a couple of areas — Fraser Forster uncharacteristically mishandled a ball that ended up as a fluke goal for Livingston early in the first half, and their familiarity with a quirky pitch augmented by defensive misplay on Celtic’s part led to their second — but we still came away with a draw. Because that’s what champions do.

A couple of bright spots in the game: As he often does when he’s fit and on the pitch, Nir Bitton makes a good case for being a starter for Celtic. His play yesterday was nothing short of solid, and I suspect — and I could be off here — is that we’ll be seeing more of him as the season progresses.

Also, after coming back from an injury where his mobility may have been hampered (possibly permanently), Jeremie Frimpong looked as fast and sharp as he was before professional hammerthrower Alan Power of Kilmarnock assaulted him earlier this season.

And Rogic: It appears that after a few games under his belt upon his return from his lengthy injury time-off, the Wizard of Oz is finally getting his touch back.

Add to the mix the return of players like Hatem Elhamed and Mohammed Elyounoussi — the latter who had a tough time on Wednesday (it happens) and the former who Neil Lennon wisely didn’t play on Wednesday on a plastic pitch — and the Road to Nine looks clear.

While close games may be exciting to watch, it would be nice for Celtic to maybe blow out St. Mirren on Saturday. Personally, I could stand a “boring” 7-0 victory by the Hoops from time to time . . .

One more thing: Kudos to Celtic TV once again. The power went out here in Felton shortly before the 2nd half started — Pacific Gas & Electric has rolling blackouts from time to time in their effort to keep their failing infrastructure from burning down all of California — and I missed the live broadcast of the half. But thanks to their available video of the 2nd half, I was able to watch once the power was restored.

All of which is to say, one of the best investments Celtic fans abroad can make is the monthly (or yearly) subscription to Celtic TV. And while he’s no Sutton, Tom Boyd’s insights — both the significant and the quirky — are top-notch; especially the Monty Python references.

Oh, and before I forget, the Sandman’s ratings are here.

’67 in the Heat of Felton appears on a regular Tuesday/Thursday schedule, often with game observations following Celtic matches.

Oh my days! Five takeaways from Celtic-Hibs

Well, you have to hand it to Celtic FC: Thank you for letting me sleep in on Sunday. The 3 p.m. kickoff — 7 a.m. Pacific Standard Time — allowed me to sleep in a bit. Not that I mind getting up at Oh-My-God a.m. to watch the noon kickoffs, mind you, but it’s nice to get a couple of extra hours, and of course the icing on the cake — or jelly with the ice cream — is a Celtic win over Hibs at Paradise.

Nevertheless, again the Celts took away a win 2-0 over Hibernian, in their purple Sunday away kits, and The Sandman of The Celtic Noise fame has posted his ratings of the match here. Of course, I have my five takeaways from the game as well, as follows . . . .

1. Edouard is most dangerous when passing

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Odsonne Edouard literally strikes fear into the hearts of goalkeepers everywhere by his goal-scoring abilities. When he has the ball, the focus is clearly on him. And despite a couple of miscues Sunday — one of Morelos-like proportions, which sent the ball to the upper deck — Eddy got one, but his best play of the game was heading toward the goal with the ball, panicked defenders rushing to stop him, and he passed it off to Jeremie Frimpong, who sliced it under Marciano for a Celtic goal. Which brings us to our second takeaway . . .

The kid is all right: Jeremie Frimpong scores his first home goal at Paradise against Hibernian on Sunday. Photo credit: The Celtic Noise

2. The kid is all right

A game or two ago, Scott Brown teased Jeremie Frimpong in a post-game interview about the lad’s inability to get the ball in the net. That conversation didn’t happen this time: Jeremie took a pass from Edouard and made a great shot in front of a diving Marciano for a score. And who was happer for “the Dutchman” — as the Celtic TV commentators constantly refer to Frimpong — on Sunday, the fans or the goal scorer? I think possibly both.

One more thing: I got slagged mercilessly as a heretic for comparing Frimpong to Jimmy Johnstone, where the former is twisting defenders and turning ankles all over the pitch thanks to his Jinky-esque ball-handling skills. Others are now saying it as well, so I’ll take that as vindication.

3. Nir Bitton: The unsung hero

With the exception of a cheap foul late in the game that garnered a card, Nir Bitton was rock-solid in defence for the Hoops. Starting Bitton on Sunday was a stroke of genius. We rarely hear about defensive prowress on the pitch, but clean sheet after clean sheet is a testament to Celtic’s defence (and, of course, having the best goalkeeper in Scotland, but I digress). But when Fraser Forster is having a slow day in the goal mouth, you can credit that to Celtic’s backfield, keeping him less than busy. In fact, the only threat was . . . .

4. It was a pass. Honest.

I am going with Christopher Jullien’s story: Late in the game, Jullien had a ball go off his head right at the goal mouth and into the hand of Fraser Forster, who batted it away. With disaster averted and the ball cleared, you could see there was no harm done when Fraser gave Jullien a pat on the back, but it was one of those things where it could have been a disaster. But it wasn’t. So carry on.

5. Griff is getting there

There’s going to be a game sometime this season where Leigh Griffiths is going to go full-on Super Leigh. We have seen it in the last couple of games, getting his timing back and the couple of chances he had on Sunday show he’s sharpening up. It’s just a matter of time until he’s back to his old, goal-scoring self, and you can take that to the bank.

We’ve got Hearts on Wednesday at Tynecastle. Let’s go up three more.

Thank you, Socceroos

The Bhoys in Green playing for their respective countries during the International Break.

International break is a challenging period of time in which I have to find a diversion or two (or three) to make up for the lack of Celtic games for the span of nearly two weeks. A daunting task, to be sure, but because I haven’t really paid attention to baseball all summer — shocking, I know — and because now that the Oakland Athletics are out of the playoff running, there’s really nothing to watch.

Maybe I’ll sign up for Netflix.

In the past, the International Break has involved watching a lot of YouTube videos of Celtic, like the ’67 European Cup Finals or Henrik Larsson’s Greatest Celtic Hits or All the Celtic Goals by Shunsuke Nakamura (and I never, never get tired of watching his first goal against Rangers where he made Allan McGregor look like an idiot). Now that I have Celtic TV, maybe I can dig around there for some uncovered gems.

Also, I can watch the Bhoys in Green playing for Scotland as well, which I will certainly do, though I understand that I should brace myself. Nevertheless, I trust Steve Clarke to do the best job at the helm, and I know Celts Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Ryan Christie, and Greg Taylor will be up to the task.

But more importantly — perhaps most importantly — I want to thank the Socceroos in Australia for only taking Daniel Arzani to play for the Aussies, and leaving Tom Rogic to continue his recovery so he can regain his prior form and be the force in the midfield that he has been in the past.

Tom Rogic, the Wizard of Oz.

I know that it could be a disappointment for Rogic not to make the national team, and I empathize with the Wizard of Oz. However, as history shows, Rogic always returns from international duty dinged up, to put it mildly, and hopefully his break from the rigors of international play will bode well for upcoming games for Celtic.

Meanwhile, Odsonne Edouard dons the jersey of “Les Bleus” and plays for France, and the Norwegians get the services of Mohammed Elyounoussi and Kris Ajer. Nir Bitton and Hatem Abd Elhamed suit up for the Israeli team, while Ireland’s U21s get the services of Lee O’Connor and Jonathan Afolabi. Northern Ireland’s U21s features Conor Hazard and Liam Hughes.

[62 degrees. Wildfire threat level today in rural Santa Cruz County: High. Rolling blackouts imminent.]