The memory is ingrained deep in the psyche of all Celtic fans — the moment you saw Jozo Simunovic head the ball into the net against Kilmarnock last April in a game honoring another Number 5, Billy McNeill.
You may have been at Paradise, or maybe you were watching at home. Maybe you were in a pub with like-minded Celtic supporters.
Or if you were at Fiddler’s Green in Millbrae, California, as I was, watching with the San Francisco CSC, you might have done what we did: Cheer wildly for the goal, and when the gravity of fate made us realize that Number 5 had scored 67 minutes in, a hush of awe washed over the room.
Shortly afterward, I put the picture of Jozo pointing to the heavens after scoring that goal as the photo on my cell phone. It stays there to this day to remind me about how, on that day, the forces of nature sent a clear and unequivocal sign to Celtic and said, “There’s nothing stopping you now.”
Those who know me in Celtic circles know that I am a full-throated defender of Jozo Simunovic in the face of some of the naysayers within our support. Yeah, he may have knees of glass and, yeah, he may have been in injury recovery a little longer than might be convenient. But when he does make his way onto the pitch, Jozo is a machine.
Not only does he patrol the backfield with aplomb, he has also been known to wander forward and at a few opportune times — like in the game against Hearts back in February — his forehead happened to be in the right place at the right time to head Ryan Christie’s corner into the net to make the score 5-0. Or when Jozo took some initiative and drove forward to take a Greg Taylor cross in the game against Kilmarnock in March, only to be carried by momentum over the goal line but not before heading the ball back to Odsonne Edouard, who scored.
Jozo has earned a spot in Celtic lore not only for his goal in the Billy McNeill game or for launching Kenny Miller in a textbook tackle that should be taught in football academies worldwide, but also for his firm and steady defensive play for the Hoops. It is unfortunate that, due to injury, he could not reach his full potential for the club, but by the same token his play while in good health was of the highest quality.
They say things like this come in threes, so after Jonny Hayes and Jozo Simunovic, who might be next? Some are speculating that it might be Kris Ajer, who has been rumored to be on his way out for some time. My sincere hope is that this is wrong, but it remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, thank you, Jozo, for all those moments with the Hoops, and you are always one of us.
[Blogger’s note: A few weeks ago, I went “off script” and wrote a blog item about Nairn County FC in the Highland Football League after their statement assured that their team and staff would be paid, and club resources would be used to help the community through the Covid-19 crisis. Lo and behold, after exchanging emails with the club’s Donald Graham, I am now in possession of a maize (not yellow) and black NCFC scarf. Thanks, Donald, and mon the Wee County!]
So, I don’t know how you all are weathering the Coronavirus situation — first and foremost, I hope you’re all well and safe — but being without football has been driving me into an advanced state of insanity masked by cabin fever.
The only way I have figured out how to cope with this is by watching, and re-watching, and re-re-watching this season’s Celtic games, thanks to Celtic TV.
On this note, Celtic TV has been the best $28 per month I have ever spent. I can watch (and re-watch) all the games I want this season, and there are a lot of feature shows that they also throw in (like this interview with fellow Californian Cameron Harper here). So again, they don’t pay me to pitch it, but I am Celtic TV’s biggest fan.
In watching the season again so far, where we’re 13 points up in first place and 25 or so ahead in the goal difference, and while ignoring the tsunami of statements from Glasgow’s other club as the sun sets on them, I have a few observations about this season that bear mentioning. Like . . .
Celtic’s Mr. Indispensable
I know what you’re thinking: Mr. Indispensable? Got to be Broony. No, maybe it’s Odsonne Edouard. Wait, it’s Fraser Forster, definitely.
Nope, though all of those players are vital parts that make the Celtic machine hum in all gears. But the player we really can’t do without is Callum McGregor. While The Celtic Noise’s Sandman, in his game ratings, has likened him to a metronome (and I assume he means that in a good way), CalMac has been nothing short of perfect in the midfield this season, providing an outlet to those who have been shut down on the wing, and distributing the ball with aplomb. He also is not shy about taking a shot when he sees fit.
This epiphany regarding CalMac came at the end of the Lazio game in Rome. If you watch the replay of Olivier Ntcham’s Rome-conquering goal, BT Sports (sorry, Celtic TV) shows a wide-angle view of the field after Edouard intercepted the errant pass and started downfield. You can see in the background both Scott Brown and Callum McGregor advancing, but who is sprinting forward, essentially catching up to Odsonne before he passes to Ntcham? Sprinting after 94 minutes of game time?
Callum McGregor, head still in the game, still ready to contribute.
It’s that kind of never-say-die play that makes CalMac indispensable, game after game, season after season. If anything, it boosts his chances on being Player of the Year again this year, if the votes go his way.
Speaking of the POTY vote . . .
You still have a chance to vote for the Triple Crown of Celtic greatness in the Player of the Year Awards, which is broken down into three categories: Player of the Year, Goal of the Year, and Young Player of the Year.
How did I vote? Glad you asked.
Player of the Year: Despite singing Callum McGregor’s praises a few paragraphs ago, I opted for Odsonne Edouard for Player of the Year. French Eddy rises head and shoulders above all other strikers in Scotland, not to mention many in Europe as his exploits in the U21 for France has shown. Hands down, Player of the Year for the Hoops. Also completely worthy of your vote: McGregor, Ryan Christie, Fraser Forster, Leigh Griffiths.
Goal of the Year: There are a lot of options here, and with a team as great as Celtic, there are a lot of fantastic goals to choose from. But you have to go with Olivier Ntcham’s goal at Nazio — sorry, Lazio — to win the game in Rome. For historical value, this goal is light-years ahead of the rest. But if you must vote for another, Griffith’s goal against St. Mirren, Edouard’s goal against Rangers, or Ntcham’s goal against Partick Thistle from about 10 miles out — OK, it was “only” about 35 yards — are also worthy. Actually ALL of the nominated goals are worthy, so it’s your choice.
Young Player of the Year: Oh my days! There’s no other choice here but to vote for Jeremie Frimpong. Funny thing: Tom Boyd was talking in a post-game show in October — it was either after the St. Mirren or the Aberdeen game — where he made comparisons between Frimpong and Jimmy Johnstone, and I thought, “Hmm, where have I heard that before?” I honestly hope the lad recovers from the mugging against Kilmarnock and enjoys a successful career, mostly with Celtic.
Dear Simon Donnelly . . .
Twice during the season at the outset of Celtic TV broadcasts of games with noon start times, Simon Donnelly (I think, though it could have been Paul Cuddihy, too) gave a shout-out to the Los Angeles CSC for waking up at Oh-My-God-Thirty in the morning to watch Celtic.
While that’s fine and it’s great that we West Coasters get recognized for making the herculean effort of dragging out butts out of bed at around 3:30 a.m. to watch a noon kickoff in Scotland at 4 a.m. Pacific Time — and to be honest, it’s the least we can do to watch a club like no other — fair play dictates that the bhoys and ghirls at the San Francisco CSC (of which I am one) deserve a shout-out as well, all of us watching on the big screen TV at an Irish pub called Fiddler’s Green in suburban Millbrae, California.
So how about it, Celtic TV in the booth? When this all gets sorted out and we’re back on track, the folks gathering for every Celtic game at Fiddler’s Green could use a hat tip.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to watch the Celtic-Livi game from November 23rd.
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.
A quick post while we await the start of the match against Hearts at Paradise: I know everyone probably has their own game-day rituals, some perhaps more elaborate than others, and I wanted to share mine before actually starting them for today’s game.
Personally, I have two, depending on whether I am working during the game or not. While I do my best to clear my schedule for the night games in Scotland — weekend games are no problem, as they start in what you would call the “wee hours” prior to sunrise — there are times when I have to work at either my part-time job as a bookkeeper at a local supermarket or as a freelance documentation specialist for computer hardware and software, which puts me at the beck-and-call of tech heads and engineers at several Silicon Valley firms.
First, fortunately I have this innate ability to wake up at 3:45 a.m. every morning, weekends especially, at which time on game days I will wash up, get dressed, don my Celtic jersey, put on my Celtic scarf, sing sotto voce either the Celtic Song (home game) or Celtic Symphony (away — “we’re on the road again”), and make my way to the computer, boot it up, plug in the headphones and log in to Celtic TV.
Shameless and unsolicited promotion: I love Celtic TV, and I would suggest anyone who absolutely, positively needs to watch Celtic games — and watch the games more than once, as I often do — to get a subscription. It’s reasonably priced at around US$25 a month (you can buy the entire season for around US$200, I think). The analysis is good, the play-by-play is adequate (the puns mostly hit, and the occasional Monty Python references are always welcome), and Celtic TV gets high marks for breaking the gender barrier by having Celtic FC Women’s captain Kelly Clark doing pre-game/halftime/post-game commentary. To her credit, Clark is more than just a token addition: She displays a deep understanding of the game that rivals, if not surpasses, her male broadcasting counterparts.
Meanwhile, back at the original topic . . .
Second, if I have an attend-or-die meeting in the Silicon Valley or have to go in to count money at the supermarket, I don my white Oxford shirt and wear a green sweater — Larry’s green and white — and take my scarf and my tablet with me; ever the professional. I have had a few engineers watching the games with me while I write or edit their manuals, and I am hoping this low-key evangelism will convert some in the tech arena to the Celtic faithful.
On the rare occurrence I am able to make it up to the San Francisco CSC at Fiddler’s Green in Millbrae (just south of the city), it’s the jersey, scarf, and excellent company with the lads up there in suburban San Francisco. One personal highlight: I watched the Billy McNeill game up there last season, which was completely magical in both the result and the camaraderie at the pub. Excellent group, those SF CSCers!
Enough about me. What are your game-day rituals? Feel free to post them in the comments.
Oh, and today’s game? Clean sheet, Griff (2) and Eddy score, 3-0 Hoops.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
[Or, what happens when you have too much eggnog on a slow and wintry Christmas Eve . . . ]
On the first day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me the European Cup trophy.
On the second day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me Hooper and Hartson and the European Cup trophy.
On the third day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me Three Naka free kicks Hooper and Hartson and the European Cup trophy.
On the fourth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me Four Eddy goals Three Naka free kicks Hooper and Hartson and the European Cup trophy.
On the fifth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me Larsson, the king! Four Eddy goals Three Naka free kicks Hooper and Hartson and the European Cup trophy.
On the sixth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me Six Jozo spaceshots Larsson, the king! Four Eddy goals Three Naka free kicks Hooper and Hartson and the European Cup trophy.
On the seventh day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me Seven goals at Hampden Six Jozo spaceshots Larsson, the king! Four Eddy goals Three Naka free kicks Hooper and Hartson and the European Cup trophy.
On the eighth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me Scott Brown a-broonin’ Seven goals at Hampden Six Jozo spaceshots Larsson, the king! Four Eddy goals Three Naka free kicks Hooper and Hartson and the European Cup trophy.
On the ninth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me Nine Jinky netters Scott Brown a-broonin’ Seven goals at Hampden Six Jozo spaceshots Larsson, the King! Four Eddy goals Three Naka free kicks Hooper and Hartson and the European Cup trophy.
On the tenth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me Moussa’s big hat trick Nine Jinky netters Scott Brown a-broonin’ Seven goals at Hampden Six Jozo spaceshots Larsson, the King! Four Eddy goals Three Naka free kicks Hooper and Hartson and the European Cup trophy.
On the eleventh day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me Eleven Lisbon Lions Moussa’s big hat trick Nine Jinky netters Scott Brown a-broonin’ Seven goals at Hampden Six Jozo spaceshots Larsson, the King! Four Eddy goals Three Naka free kicks Hooper and Hartson and the European Cup trophy.
On the twelfth day of Christmas, the Celtic gave to me Twelve ballboys cheering Eleven Lisbon Lions Moussa’s big hat-trick Nine Jinky netters Scott Brown a-broonin’ Seven goals at Hampden Six Jozo spaceshots Larsson, the king! Four Eddy goals Three Naka free kicks Hooper and Hartson and the European Cup trophy.
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 . . .
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.
There I was, laying in bed on Sunday morning looking up at the red 3:45 on the alarm clock. The internal alarm clock always says, “Get up, it’s game day” at this time, despite the fact that 5,000 miles away, the game is starting in another four hours.
I turn, lie awake and then try closing my eyes, begging my system for a few extra hours of sleep. No such luck, it’s game day.
So, I’m up. Today’s game is like no other this season — the Scottish League Cup, which now as a first name, Betfred, thanks to sponsorship– being played between the club like no other versus the club that really shouldn’t even exist.
Shower, suit up, coffee, and let’s put on the F.C. St Pauli game before sunrise to pass the time (sadly, they lost, and generally they’re having a pretty mediocre season so far). Breakfast? No. Too nervous to eat. Coffee, black, will have to do for now.
By my count, the game was 96 minutes and 47 seconds of abject terror and unmitigated aggravation until the final whistle. You’ve all read the game reports by now, no doubt, and naturally here’s The Sandman’s ratings for the game which, as always, are worth a read. But as usual, I have five takeaways from the Betfred Scottish League Cup final, which Celtic won 1-0 over The Rangers™ as follows:
1. Sign Fraser Forster right now
Oh. My. God. If anyone deserves a statue right now, it’s Fraser Forster. It could be simple: Not a statue of the man, arms aloft, awaiting a corner, but just a brick wall in front of a goal mouth. Simple and quick. His play today was the stuff of which legends are made. That said, like signing Neil Lennon the day after the Treble Treble, Peter Lawwell needs to open the tin and get Fraser Forster signed as a Celt right now. I don’t care if it is past 11 p.m. in Scotland as I write this, wake them both up, offer The Wall a king’s ransom, and keep him in the Hoops. The icing on the cake in Sunday’s game, or the jelly with the ice cream, was Forster’s fantastic save on El Muffalo’s non-penalty penalty. Poetic justice and karma came together and were wrapped with a nice bow.
If Lawwell balks, let’s start a GoFundMe to raise money to sign Forster. I will even put my car up for sale and donate the money. I would gladly use public transit exclusively if it meant keeping the kind of goalkeeping that Forster provides game in and game out for Celtic.
2. Jullien utilise son pied, pas sa tête
Irony. It’s when Christopher Jullien spends much of his time using his height advantage to try to score headers game after game after game this season, only to hit the back of the net Sunday with a flick of his right foot for the only goal in the game. And it was a beauty. What adds to it is the wailing and gnashing of teeth by The Rangers™ complaining that he was offside through their tears. He wasn’t. You see, cheating only works one way, The Rangers™ way, and this, my friends, is a perfect example of karma.
3. Morelos so wants to be Edouard
First thing first: A shout-out to Jeremie Frimpong, who was one of the bright spots for Celtic for the better part of 60 minutes or so, until the referee had nothing better to do than red-card him. In fact, there’s one video of Jeremie mixing it up with Alfredo Morelos, and the lad is not backing down. Pure Celtic, that Jeremie.
But wait, look at that video again. What’s that on Morelos’ hand? Does he have his hand taped up like . . . hmm, which other striker in Scotland has a hand injury and has his hand taped up? Poor Alfredo, so far from God and so close to Celtic, against whom he has yet to score, even when the referees try to help.
4. Some quick math
A quick one for our friends who are mathematically inclined:
10 Celts > 11 Rangers
5. Meanwhile, in the Lustig household …
Before the game, there was a nice post from Josefin Lustig on Twitter about how she and her husband, KAA Gent defender and former Celtic policeman Mikael Lustig, were going to enjoy a day off together and watch the game. Of course, when El Muffalo missed his penalty shot, this was the scene in the Lustig household, which goes to show that Mikael’s heart is still green and white. I still miss the Mad Viking playing for the Hoops, and I don’t care who knows it.
Last, but not least, this is the top candidate for my Christmas card this year (yes, I know “Seasons” needs an apostrophe, but I can fix that later). Thanks, BT Sports!
We had a bad game today, but we still prevailed. That’s why we’re champions. On to Cluj later this week. Hail Hail, all.
To be honest, I really, really like the 12 noon (or thereabouts) kickoff times in Scotland. Yes, I have to drag my sorry butt out of bed at some ungodly pre-sunrise hour, but at least I get to watch the game live and, for the most part, unfettered.
The 5:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m. Pacific) kickoff puts me right square in the middle of a workday on a Saturday or a Sunday (yes, I work weekends. Don’t ask). And, generally speaking, while the Bhoys seem to excel when I’m away from the screen — thank God for Celtic TV and their rebroadcasts (best $18 a month I’ve ever spent, and I highly recommend it) — I’d really like to be there watching when the action actually happens.
So I get home from a fun-filled work day — yes, that’s sarcasm — and spend two hours watching the game, start to finish, and head over to The Celtic Noise to talk about it with the merry band of forum denizens who have had a head start. One thing I always look forward to is Sandman’s ratings, which are posted first on the Noise and then posted on The Celtic Star; quality analysis and it can only be found here.
But anyway, my five takeaways from the Celtic-Hibernian game are as follows:
1. Captain. Leader. Legend.
Broony. Damn. Just damn. You worry as the seasons pass that a guy who carries the team might– just might — be feeling the trappings of the twilight of his career, and you think to yourself, but dare not say aloud, that he may retire before the 10 in a row. But then he pulls something like this to make you feel like a complete idiot. Two goals. Two brilliant goals, as a matter of fact. And instead of buying just one Broony DVD, you’re tempted to buy a whole case and give them out as Christmas presents (“Here, Mom, Merry Christmas!”) because . . . damn. Scott Brown has definitely earned his place in Celtic history, and the process for commissioning a sculptor to create his statue outside Parkhead should start soon.
2. Mohammed Elyounoussi should stay
Mo Elyounoussi is a goal-scoring machine. Full stop. It must be a blessing to know where to be, showing up at the right place at the right time, as Elyounoussi seems to do. Both of his goals were impeccable, whether it was a header on a cross from James Forrest or a pass from Odsonne Edouard in front of the net (more on this in a bit). I would like to think that the board will pony up the money to keep Big Mo wearing the hoops, but that remains to be seen. One can always hope, no?
3. When Boli is out, an attack vector is lost
First things first: This is not a knock on Jonny Hayes. Hayes is a solid player and can start pretty much on any other team in the league. His speed and ball handling are impeccable, and we’re lucky to have him wearing the Green and White. However, when Boli Bolingoli was taken out at halftime — I understand it’s a hamstring — the Celts lost one of its two threats down both the left and right side that kept Hibs unbalanced for pretty much the first half. Here’s hoping it’s not a serious injury.
4. Unselfish Edouard shares the wealth
No doubt goalkeepers everywhere have nightmares about Odsonne Edouard. Those nightmares — at least the ones that don’t involve the goalkeeper standing in the goal mouth in his underwear — probably consist of Edouard coming down the pitch with the ball and eluding all the goalkeeper’s defenders and delivering a Celtic goal. But add one more layer to this nightmare: French Eddy passing the ball to another Celt for the assist instead. It happened twice against Hibernian: One went to Callum McGregor and the other was on Elyounousi’s second goal. Eddy ended up with a grand total of zero goals and two assists; not that he was complaining. When Edouard approaches the goal, defences start to collapse around him, freeing up one or two teammates who are ready to score. So now, not only do goalkeepers have to worry about Edouard scoring, they have to worry about him passing it away to open teammates.
5. Hibernian is not really that bad
At the moment, Hibernian is staring relegation in the face in the standings. But truth be told, the 5-2 score betrays the fact that they played Celtic fairly strong in the Betfred Cup semifinal. Sure, Celtic should have won 8-2 if not for some unlucky bounces — damn goalposts! — and Melker Halberg was clearly offside in their first goal. But never mind. I am sure that the coaching staff have some positive takeaways from the semifinal game. Also, completely unrelated, “Sunshine on Leith” is a great song — probably second to “You’ll Never Walk Alone” as far as football songs go.
Meanwhile, Celtic takes on Nazio — sorry, Lazio — in Rome this week, and it would be great to steal a win away from the fascists.