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!

Down goes Fraser

Unless any of us were involved in the process, no one really knows the backroom negotiations which prevented Fraser Forster from rejoining Celtic. But if the player had the will to return, he would have made it work. Apparently he didn’t, and now instead of competing for a starting position with Southampton, he’s riding the pine — as we say here in baseball parlance — if not out-and-out another loanee to a club with, let’s just say, less historical significance than the Hoops.

Regrets? I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention . . . .

Clearly in Celtic, Fraser Forster had a worldwide fan base which adored him for his fantastic play between the posts last season. No one could have matched his play all season — the saves against Lazio, blocking the penalty against Rangers, or any other of a plethora of awe-inspiring play by The Wall. He endeared himself to Celtic followers everywhere, and most players would have jumped at the chance to continue, especially now that Celtic is on the cusp of history.

Which is why it such a sticking point for many of us. I thought for sure he’d be back, and the delay was just a matter of crossing T’s and dotting I’s in the paperwork.

After all, in public, he said he wanted to stay. We wanted him to stay. I am not a professional athlete, so I don’t know how exactly this works. However, I am a human being with free will, and I would gather that so is Fraser Forster. As such, I don’t know how hard it would have been for the big man to realize he is a hero to fans who would crawl over miles of broken glass to watch him play — and tell his agent, “I want to play for Celtic. Make the deal.”

But that didn’t happen. Ultimately, he chose Southampton.

This week, according to Southampton gaffer Ralph Hasenhuttl, the Saints are going with Alex McCarthy in goal as their number one, and either Forster or Angus Gunn will be loaned out this season. Whomever stays will be number 2, and I’d be willing to bet it’s Forster.

This decision is nothing short of tragic, both for Celtic fans and, more importantly, Forster himself. He surrendered the chance to become a part of Celtic history; he would have been spoken about years, and decades, from now with the same awe and reverence as other historic Bhoys in the Celtic pantheon as the keeper who brought us both the 9 and the 10.

So now, in Celtic circles, he’ll merely be remembered as, “Fraser Forster — yeah, he played great for us that season where we got 9 in a row. Then he went back to Southampton for the money.”

Forster traded a sure-fire legacy so he could be loaned to some backwater like Ipswich or Reading or Wrexham or wherever. Oh, he’ll play fantastically, because he’s good, but as good as it might be, it won’t be historic.

In the grand scheme of things, his next loan spell probably won’t even be remembered. But you can still deposit the checks, Fraser.

And that’s the greatest tragedy of all — football, in its essence, should be more than just a job for those blessed with the talent and skill to play professionally. And Celtic will get by, and even thrive, with Vasilis Barkas, Scott Bain, and Conor Hazard.

Let me be clear: My sincerest hope is that Fraser Forster is successful wherever he ends up this season. However, to say I am heartbroken — along with thousants of Celtic fans — that he chose poorly is a massive understatement.

But life goes on. We have Ross County on Saturday. Mon the Hoops!

KR Reykjavik: More questions than answers

Sometimes a victory like the one against KR Reykjavik on Tuesday at Celtic Park — a 6-0 scorefest which had the Hoops uncharacteristically leading comfortably at the half — provides more questions than answers going forward in both the regular season as well as the UEFA Champions rounds.

Regardless, we advance in the first round of the UEFA Champions qualifying round, and in the way Celtic played after, well, a forced hiatus, the Hoops have put everyone on notice.

Here are the takeaways — some of them questions — from the game on Tuesday:

Elhamed and Bitton: Could they be starters?

With the absence of the both Jonny Hayes and Jozo Simunovic and the precariously prickly position it puts the club on the defensive end, the wailing and gnashing of teeth around acquiring a center-back has risen to a deafening cresendo. So we may have had a look at the future on Tuesday with Neil Lennon playing Hatem Elhamed and Nir Bitton in the backfield, to resounding success. Elhamed was consistent all game on both ends of the pitch and Bitton kept the door locked, rhetorically speaking, on our end of the pitch, even at one point making a goal-saving play late in the game against a breaking RK Reykjavik player bearing down on Vasilis Barkas. Of course, the question arises: “Oh, my days! What do we do with Jeremie Frimpong?” That, of course is a valid question, and it would be hard to ascertain which of the two get the playing time.

This is something for the coaches to decide, obviously, but maybe the playing time will be divided up by situation. Or the pair can play rock-paper-scissors before the game and the winner starts.

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

Is Greg Taylor a scoring machine?

Greg Taylor had one of his typical Greg Taylor games — he took the ball down the pitch on multiple occasions and crossed the ball, most of the time, or passed back when nothing was available up front. It is great to see the Hoops get the ball down the pitch so quickly, and in large part we have The Greenock Kid to thank for that. But what we didn’t expect, and it delights those of us who have warmed to his presence at Celtic, is that early in the 2nd half, Taylor did the unthinkable — he scored. Not only that, he scored on a header. It was his 2nd career goal, and his first with Celtic, so this could change the playmaking calculus of the squad if Greg Taylor the assist king becomes Greg Taylor the scoring threat.

Or it was just a fluke. The jury’s still out on that one.

No question: Odsonne Edouard is unstoppable

Not a question this time, just fact: Edouard spends a ton of time being double-, triple-, and quadruple-teamed and under many of those circumstances, he may not succeed in finding the net. But — and this is a big “but” — when he does manage to break away, he is lethal. We saw that in the first half where Eddy forced an own-goal on a hapless RK Reykjavik defender trying to cover him. And in the 2nd half, Odsonne waltzed — literally — between five defenders to find room to take a successful shot shortly before going off for the rest of the game. This prompted John Hartson to say that it added 5 million pounds to Eddy’s value for EPL clubs, which came back in a post-game discussion with Gordon Strachan on Celtic TV that turned into a rising disagreement just prior to Neil Lennon’s postgame interview.

Which brings up the question . . .

Gordon Strachan or John Hartson?

Celtic TV had both Gordon Strachan and John Hartson on the air for the game on Tuesday. Now I can see that if you’re on the air with your former boss, you might be a little intimidated, but I thought Hartson did his usual good job of analysis overall during the game, and from what I’ve seen on Gordon Strachan — mostly in interviews and in his extended role in the “Broony” DVD — his presence is a pleasant and welcome surprise on the Celtic TV broadcast team. But they almost came to blows, or so it seemed, in the post-game wrapup where they were discussing where players should play. So pick your fighter . . .

Me? Despite the in-depth analysis by both, I want Kelly Clark back on the air.

Moi Elyounoussi: Is he the real deal?

Thanks to a foot injury last season, we didn’t get to see a lot of Mohammed Elyounoussi. If Tuesday’s game was any indication, hopefully we will make up for lost time this season, as Moi gave a clinic on Tuesday, easily earning Man of the Match accolades. His first touch on his first goal was pretty remarkable, and he was all over the pitch for the rest of the 90+ minutes, scoring a second goal at the end of the game on a beautiful cross from Olivier Ntcham. If Elyounoussi plays at this level all season, Celtic will be even more unstoppable than they would normally be.

One more thing . . .

Looking at my notes written during the game — yes, I am geeky enough to do that — I made this note: 70 min CM saves corner, E scores. The CM in this case is Callum McGregor, who kept the ball in after Ryan Christie’s corner kick at the 7oth minute was cleared out by KR Reykjavik, and CalMac got the ball back into Edouard, who slalomed his way into the goal mouth and scored from close range. Like clockwork, game after game, CalMac always has a hand in Celtic’s success, sometimes in such minuscule ways that it slips under the radar. However, it always bears mentioning that his play, game in and game out, is a large part of the formula that is Celtic’s ongoing success.

Anyway, on to Saturday. Here we go again, we’re on the road again: Dundee United on Saturday at Tannadice.

Mama said there’d be days like this

With their 1961 hit single, the Shirelles got it right about Celtic’s foray to Rugby Park on Sunday. And while the wailing and gnashing of teeth continues regarding the 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock, believe it or not there are some positive takeaways from Sunday’s game.

First things first: Sadly, a considerable segment of the so-called Celtic support has been taking the post-game time on Sunday to post absolute full-panic-mode nonsense; sheer idiocy rivaling what followers of Glasgow’s other club tend to produce. Yes, Christopher Jullien let the team down by his foul, leading to Killie’s only real chance to successfully score, but who in their right mind would seek a replacement? Yes, probably we should have played a 3-5-2, with Odsonne Edouard and Patryk Klimala (for the absent Leigh Griffiths) up front all game, but firing Neil Lennon for not doing so? Seriously?

For those who are ready to pitch it all because you imagine that your hair is on fire because Celtic needs to buy every player on the planet and fire Lenny in the process, Eddy would like to have a word with you . . .

Edouard says, “Calme-toi, crétins.”

Now for a couple of positive takeaways — yes, there were a couple– from Sunday’s game.

Vasilis Barkas had a good debut

The Athenian Fenian started his first game between the sticks for the Hoops and, aside from Jullien’s gaffe leading to a penalty kick, Barkas played a fairly flawless game. The penalty kick aside, he stopped everything that came his way, and his ball distribution was pretty admirable, though I think he could have launched a few more long balls than he did. But that kind of thing comes with time and if Sunday’s game is any indication, it looks like he’s going to be a solid mainstay in goal.

Hard to play against a 10-0-0 alignment

As previously mentioned, the 3-5-2 which brought us to 9 in a row should probably not be deviated from. It’s hard to ascertain — and it’s not for me to question — if Lenny went with one striker up front because Griff is in the doghouse (again) or he felt our second striker option, Klimala, was not ready, then that’s the call. It’s water under the bridge now. However, Kilmarnock seemed to have come onto the pitch with a 10-0-0 alignment, with 10 defenders, no midfielders and no forwards, which makes things a little difficult for the freewheeling Hoops.

Regardless, both Greg Taylor and Jeremie Frimpong — the former moreso than the latter — got the ball in on several occasions only to have the effort fail in a sea of blue jerseys. To his credit, Ryan Christie nailed an absolute stunner of a free kick which rattled the back of the net and Callum McGregor just missed a shot which went inches over the bar in a game that lacked clear chances to score.

Jock is right about refs, but . . .

We all know Jock Stein’s quote by heart: “If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.” However, the right call on a ball out of bounds over the right touch line immediately prior to Jullien’s penalty should have been a throw-in to Celtic. I’ve watched it a few times — thanks, Celtic TV — and the ball was completely over the line and out. Of course, one out-of-bounds ball does not win or lose games — just as one penalty kick does not win or lose games in and of themselves — but, in this case, a correct call by an attentive lineman would have changed the complexion of the game.

Where’s Uncle Albert?

One of the things I missed about this year’s visit to Rugby Park is the lack of Kilmarnock fans, especially Uncle Albert — the bearded chap who was the recipient of the Leigh Griffith Tape Hurling Award during a game last season. In fact, I don’t know if he is the same fellow, but I recall last season when Celtic TV, whose play-by-play man and match analyst have to sit painfully close — such is the case at Rugby Park — to the fans, and the broadcasters had to keep apologizing for a garbage-mouthed oaf whose profanities were picked up by the Celtic TV microphones.

Maybe he was at home saying “aye” to a Kilmarnock Pie. Who knows?

Next up is St. Mirren on Wednesday, kickoff at the glorious hour of 6 p.m. in Scotland and 10 a.m. North American Pacific Coast time.

Here we go again . . .