I hate to disagree with Chris Sutton or John Hartson or just about anyone else who thinks we’re done for this year, but I don’t think Celtic are out of the hunt for 10 in a row just yet.
Sure, the odds are becoming longer with every performance like today’s — we’ll get back to that in a minute — but as long as there is a mathematical chance for Celtic to catch and pass Glasgow’s other club, then we are technically still in it.
Of course, we can’t beat ourselves like we did today. Let’s be clear: Glasgow’s other club, only 9 years old next month and constantly teetering on the edge of financial ruin, did not win today’s game so much as Celtic lost it. Bad enough that the score ended up the way it did, but how it happened is the real tragedy, namely an own-goal.
Regardless, a gaffe or two aside, Celtic played a great game today, keeping their opponent on the back foot for most of the game. It bodes well for the rest of the season since the club is firing on all cylinders and all we need is to get some of those shots to hit the back of the net.
To be sure, we are going to need help — a lot of it — from the rest of the teams in the Premiership going forward. Also, there will be a lot of scoreboard watching involved from here on in, which leaves us in the unenviable position of putting undeserved faith in league backmarkers such as Motherwell and Ross County to help bail us out.
But as baseball great Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” The lead is there for the first-place team to squander as we head to the second half of the season.
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.
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.
So the second of the two good-versus-evil football matches transpired in Rome yesterday, and leave it to a black Muslim Celtic midfielder — Olivier Ntcham — to shut down the team so favored by Mussolini back in the day and so favored by lily-white fascists everywhere — OK, at least fascists in Rome — in the present.
Shut them down with about 45 seconds to spare, no less. Merci beaucoup, Olivier.
The legendary Sandman of The Celtic Noise fame has got his ratings on the game here, and it’s definitely worth a read before you continue. I’m glad to wait.
Now that you’re back, here are five takeaways from the successful conquest of Rome.
1. This team is awesome
While it’s probably obvious that this year’s Celtic team is one of the best in the last several years, it’s not often said enough. Down one goal early to one of Italy’s best teams? Not a problem. James Forrest comes back and evens it up, and in the interim, the Celtic defence tightened up and Fraser Forster lived up to his nickname after allowing a “gimme” at the 7-minute mark. One could easily argue that this team can play with, and beat, anyone anywhere, and that wouldn’t be hyperbole.
2. Neil Lennon is awesome
Try as I might, I’ve been attempting on Twitter to give a “hat tip” to those who are coming out and saying, in effect, “I was wrong about Celtic hiring Neil Lennon.” However, after about the 240th post, I gave up. So here’s a blanket “hat tip” to all of those who have admitted to being wrong to have preferred someone else to lead Celtic — someone who would have used Celtic as a stepping stone to another post — rather than Neil, whose gaffer skills are now hitting their stride with a more-than-able Celtic team and whose dedication and devotion to Celtic, like Julius Caesar’s wife, is above reproach.
3. Olivier Ntcham is awesome
I’m going to bet the mortgage that we’re going to see more of Ntcham in the Celtic lineup after the victory in Rome. Why we don’t see more of him — especially after the missile he sent into the net from about 35 yards out against Partick Thistle, the first of two scores by the Frenchman in that game — is a mystery. But I get it: When you have a club that has got so much talent at midfield, it’s hard to start everyone, though those who have been calling for Callum McGregor or Scott Brown to get some rest might have a good case to put in Ntcham in either one’s place.
4. Chris Sutton is awesome
I get it, BT Sports. You block your video feed to the United States because, well, you want to ignore a potentially huge untapped market in North America with a growing number of “soccer” fans in the U.S., hungry for what you can offer. Well, that’s your loss. But thanks to the modern miracle known as the Internet (and how long the video clip stays up remains to be seen) and thanks to a Twitter user named Adam Lynch, we get what is probably the best call of the season, so far, in Chris Sutton on Ntcham’s goal. A HD version is here. “Wow! Wow! Wow! Rome. Conquered.”
Three things about Ntcham’s goal, and Sutton’s reaction, that deserve special mention: a.) After watching this clip about, oh, 900 times (so far), I have no idea who the Lazio player is passing to, other than Odsonne Edouard, unless he is passing to his teammate to his right; otherwise there is no teammate within about 30 yards of him, b.) the funniest reaction, next to Sutton’s, is that of Mohammed Elyounoussi, who just raises his arms and walks — walks — toward Ntcham while his teammates run past (long game, he’s tired, I get it), and c.) there is no sorrier lot on the planet than the greeting clowns who took to social media calling for BT Sports to fire Sutton for his reaction.
5. Fascism still sucks, and has no place in football
Somewhere on social media, a Celtic fan reposted a tweet from a Lazio fan saying something to the effect of, “I am a Lazio fan, but I hate fascism.” Sorry, mate, but you’re an enabler — maybe an unwitting one — of fascism. If that’s your club, you own them. No excuses. Full stop. You own the goosestepping assclowns marching in Glasgow throwing up Nazi salutes. You own the deaths of Tottenham Hotspur fans several years ago at the hands of your fans. You own the stabbings of three — a third, according to a report late on Thursday when one of the buses carrying fans broke down — Celtic supporters. Rome is a large enough city to have more than one club — Italy itself has hundreds — and if it’s your choice to support a club that embraces fascism while UEFA and FIFA both turn a blind eye to it, then you own it. There’s no place for fascism in football. There’s no place for fascism anywhere, period.
On to a match against Motherhell, sorry Motherwell, on Sunday.