Break’s over: Back to work

Temporary opponents, permanent teammates: Japan’s Kyogo Furuhashi and Australia’s Tom Rogic meet up after their international match, which Japan won.

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows how I feel about the International Break. For the uninitiated, though, let me just repeat that I hate it — while I understand it’s a player’s duty to participate on behalf of their country, the idea that they might come back to their club injured keeps me awake literally for the entire time, especially where the Bhoys are concerned.

Having said this, it’s a sincere source of joy — and restful sleep on the nights before Saturday’s match against Motherhell, sorry Motherwell, — that it appears the Hoops playing abroad, and even those playing for Scotland, will return relatively unscathed to resume the SPFL season for the Green and White.

This is obviously good news.

Travel fatigue aside — and the match sharpness that it removes from those returning from far away lands — the fact that Celtic returns to the pitch as strong as when the team left it is a good sign going forward. And in the advent of returning players like Christopher Jullien and James Forrest, all signs point to a stronger lineup going forward both in the SPFL and Europa realms.

It bodes well for Celtic to kickstart a run from the middle of the table to the top, where we belong.

One more thing

I don’t know how the rumor got started, let alone how it got legs — or how it got wings, for that matter (though I can imagine . . .) — but the latest that’s floating around is energy-drink giant Red Bull aims to either sponsor, or outright buy, Celtic FC.

If Red Bull is choosing to sponsor Celtic, swapping out the problematic Dafabet gambling sponsorship for nothing more innocuous than a corporate presence on the jersey, maybe a stadium name-change, and any other corporate trappings that sponsorship might provide, then I’m pretty much OK with it.

But if Red Bull is talking ownership, then I personally have a problem with that. A corporate takeover — however above-board and noble — flies in the face of the club’s founding, no matter how successful Red Bull’s entries in international football have become.

As an aside, it makes all those jokes about New York Celtic — the New York Red Bulls purloining the likes of Patryk Klimala, Andrew Gutman, and Cameron Harper — a little less funny at this point.

But it’s conjecture at this point — clickbait, to be sure — but it’s something to keep an eye on going forward.

Saturday at Fir Park, 7 a.m. Pacific time (thank you for the 3 p.m. kickoff, guys!). And if you’re a Celtic fan going to the game, Motherwell FC is holding a food bank collection, so if you can bring something to add, that would be great. Bring a can of beans, or something, for me.

Mon the Hoops!

Night and day

Night and day. Day and night. The difference between last season’s dumpster fire of a season and getting out of the starting blocks nearly in full sprint this season is nothing short of astounding. Clearly we have Dom McKay and Ange Postecoglou to thank for that, for starters.

And let’s talk about the new gaffer for a bit, the no-nonsense leader of the club who is in control of the training, of the sideline, and of the press conference. Postecoglou is a breath of fresh air, telling it like it is and not afraid to call out nonsense from the stenographer corps masquerading as Scottish sports “journalists.”

Making black sweaters on big guys cool again, among other things: Celtic gaffer Ange Postecoglou walks off the field after Celtic’s Europa League victory against FK Jablonec last week at Celtic Park. Postecoglou is overseeing a resurgence at Celtic this season. Photo Credit: Jeff Holmes/The Celtic Star

But McKay and Postecoglou aren’t playing on the pitch for 90+ minutes. Add to their presence at the helm the recent player acquisitions to the club — Kyogo Furuhashi and Carl Starfelt, to name two — plus the resurgence of dormant players like Anthony Ralston, James Forrest, and Tom Rogic (not to mention Ryan Christie, who was absent in Sunday’s game) give the Celts the right formula to return to being at the top of Scottish football.

Where they belong.

Anyone less than Craig Gordon between the sticks for the JamTarts on Sunday and Hearts would have been in a far deeper deficit than only three goals, so a hat tip to the ex-Celt for a good game, albeit in a losing cause.

As for Celtic, it was nothing short of a phenomenal game on Sunday. Not perfect, of course, but pretty damn near. Over 80 percent possession in the first half during a 2-0 halftime lead courtesy of goals by Odsonne Edouard and Stephen Welsh — and on Welsh’s goal, does anyone else think that was a designed play moreso than mere happenstance? I keep watching it and thinking that maybe it was.

And Furuhashi — Kyogo-san — taking down mouthbreather Andy Halliday early in the game was a welcome treat. Kyogo’s play overall was outstanding, as expected, and his goal was a gem, to be sure. But seeing him getting into the thick of things on both ends of the ball is a joy to behold. He’s not a one-trick pony, and the fact he’s willing to switch on the defensive jets when Celtic doesn’t have the ball is a joy to watch.

John Beaton, try as he might, couldn’t give the game to Hearts. Also the SkySports late narrative that this was a close game was phenomenally laughable.

Celtic is playing beautiful football, but it isn’t perfect. Yet. My colleague Niall J on The Celtic Star said it best in his commentary on the Sunday’s game:

“It may take a little more work in the transfer market in the next two weeks to ensure the defence is effective as Celtic’s battering attack but for now the attacking intent remains a joy to behold.”

For those of you who are slighting Starfelt for being a “bombscare,” I would suggest you buy a dictionary and actually look up the word. The big Swede is getting used to the Scottish game and he may be one or two more games away from being up to speed. Despite a couple of miscues, overall his game has been pretty good to date and the potential for improvement is clearly there.

And imagine a backfield of Starfelt, Ralston, Greg Taylor, and Christopher Jullien once the Frenchman gets back onto the pitch.

If the club can make that one last acquisition on defense and play inspired football like they’ve been playing, it may be time for another treble.

One more thing

Gerd Muller takes the ball down the pitch for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers at Lockhart Stadium. Muller donned the Red and Gold for three seasons in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Perhaps the only good thing that the North American Soccer League brought to U.S. soccer was the wave of European greats who played for one last paycheck in the land of milk and honey. That said, I got to see Gerd Muller play for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the coda of his career in the late ’70s/early ’80s. So it comes with a bit of sadness to hear that Muller passed away today at 75.

Like having Gordon Banks in goal, having Muller on the Strikers was a treat since he was one of Europe’s best — albeit both of them playing in the autumn of their careers in a league where many of the American fans didn’t fully understand the game — and I remember how unstoppable he seemed to be whenever he had the ball. As a side note, my first soccer jersey was not a Strikers jersey, but a German national team jersey that I wore to Strikers games in Gerd’s honor.

Requiescat in pace, Gerd, and may you find the pitches on the other side green and the goals as wide open as they seemed to be for you here.

The Bhoys are back in town

If you’re good enough, the referee doesn’t matter.”
— Jock Stein

Today was one of those days that Jock Stein was talking about in his famous quote above. However, truth be told, referee Euan Anderson should never be let onto a pitch ever again, whether it’s to call a professional game, a pub match, or an under-8 kids game. In fact, Anderson should never be able to watch a match ever again, even from the comfort of his own couch.

But never mind the fact that Anderson was just inept rather than corrupt. The fans are back — as many as COVID-ly possible — and the Bhoys ran roughshod over Dundee FC today 6-0 in a show of what Celtic can do under the new and improved no-nonsense leadership of Ange Postecoglou and with Celts, new and old, stepping up to the plate, to borrow a baseball metaphor.

So looking around the realm of social media and various Celtic forums, one has to ask: Where are the whiners? Someone in the Celtic faithful somewhere has to be moaning about today’s game for some reason. My guess is someone somewhere will say, “lapses in defense,” in the face of a clean sheet. That’s where my money is. Anyway, if you find anyone, could you let me know?

Here’s why they’re so silent today.

New Kids on the Block

Liel Abada and Kyogo Furuhashi: There’s going to be a lot of Abada-to-Furuhashi goals this season. Photo credit: Celtic FC

Liel Abada spent all day today slicing and dicing the Dundee FC defense. Kyogo Furuhashi spent all day scoring on the Dark Blues, and probably would have scored more than three had a couple of shots been closer. Anthony Ralston — you know, the guy who many Playstation Pundits and Armchair Gaffers couldn’t stop hammering 24/7 for “not being Celtic quality”? Oh, the deafening silence from that crowd now! Stephen Welsh, patrolling the backfield with Carl Starfelt, gave new goalkeeper Joe Hart little to do, and giving him arguably enough time to wash his hair during the course of the match.

Taking a page from Pete Townshend and the Who, “The Kids are All Right.” And with Abada and Furuhashi up front — two up front, what a concept! — the goals should be pouring in to opponents’ goals.

Old Guys Rule

In my neck of the woods on the Central California coast, the saying “Old guys rule” refers to the surfers in the area over a certain age. But it can apply to Celtic and their more experienced players as well. Tom Rogic — can the Wizard of Oz finally be back? Could be. Ryan Christie had a phenomenal game, and hopefully we can get more like this from him going forward. Add to the mix that it is only a matter of time until James Forrest gets back up to speed and sharpness, and with the young guns, the old guys can help Celtic flourish under the watchful leadership of Callum McGregor, who was artful in leading the Bhoys in the home opener.

With this combination of new talent and established players, Postecoglou may have found the right mix going forward. All of which would indicate that Celtic are on their way to a successful season.

Time to put on the Thin Lizzy . . .

Guess who just got back today?
Them wild-eyed bhoys that had been away,
Haven’t changed, haven’t much to say,
But man, I still think them cats are great
.

One more thing

When you look at and listen to old clips of Shunsuke Nakamura’s early games in the Hoops, you can hear the commentators trip over the pronunciation of his name. They often called him “Shoon-sue-kay” when in Japanese it’s pronounced “Shoon-skay.” Quickly over time that was cleared up during Nakamura’s stay at Celtic.

Today, same story, different set of proverbial nails scratching the chalkboard: The Celtic TV today was the broadcast crew calling Furuhashi either “Key-yo-go” or “Kah-yo-go” when it’s “Kyo-go” — two syllables, not three. Again, I expect this to clear up quickly by, oh, the next match, but I have to admit that to this guy who spent four years in Japan, it was infuriatingly grating.

Mon the Hoops!

Waving to the panic bandwagon

There’s a fairly annoying — and borderline propagandistic — narrative taking place around Celtic recently as we await the start of the new season, cloaked in the panic of some people’s perception of disarray in the club.

And while this narrative seems to be based in a loathing of the Celtic board, as far as I can tell — a loathing, of course, which is both completely well-deserved and completely warranted for a group of people who should be doing something else for a living, and the sooner the better — the fact of the matter is that Celtic is not as “unready” as the hair-on-fire brigade would like you to believe.

For those of you who have jumped on this bandwagon and are mercilessly annoying everyone within an earshot, an eyeshot, or a Tweetshot with this prognostication, let’s just make a list here to counter your argument.

A new manager and CEO. All the personnel healthy for the start of the season, including sorely missed players whose absence affected the outcomes of several important games, specifically Christopher Jullien, James Forrest and Mikey Johnston. A myriad of Celtic players out on loan returning to the club, like Jonathan Afolabi and Luca Connell — and even Maryan Shved, if he returns — coupled with the wealth of talent Celtic has on its Reserves squad.

Many Celtic fans this past season pointed a finger and said ‘j’accuse’ to Odsonne Edouard for being disinterested. To be honest, I don’t care how much ennui the striker has as long as he scores 20+ goals again.

Then there’s the probability now that Odsonne Edouard will be staying. Complain about his “lack of interest” all you want, but in my opinion he can be as disinterested as he damn well pleases as long as he keeps scoring 20+ goals per season.

So there is no shortage of talent available to the club.

Of course, we could use a couple of quality players in key positions if they’re available, and even this morning there have been reports that Celtic made a bid on Sporting Lisbon’s right back Valentin Rosier. It’s hard to tell whether Rosier will be the next Kieran Tierney or Boli Bolingoli, but that would remain to be seen; as it would be for any player Celtic signs. And Rosier is not the only one that Celtic has been eyeing as they go fishing again for talent, with rumors flying about talent following Ange Postecoglou from Japan.

Postecoglou has a blank canvas upon which to paint a coaching masterpiece at Celtic. Rather than that be a cause for concern, I find it to be a good sign, one that provides optimism. His past experience halfway around the world would indicate that he has all the qualities necessary in a manager to succeed at Celtic.

Couple that, once again, with a squad that is healthy and ready — which they will be despite a late start — and the club will be back on track.

Count on it.

Unless, of course, you’d prefer to panic. In that case, be my guest.

One more thing

It’s a pity Patryk Klimala didn’t get more playing time at Celtic. Here’s why: Having started a couple of games for MLS’s New York Red Bulls so far, Broadway Paddy has already become an integral part of the Red Bulls’ offense, and his assist over the weekend on a goal by Fabio — the footballer from Brazil, not the male model — was a gem. Every great play he makes in New York (OK, in reality, in New Jersey) is a great play he could have made at Celtic Park had he played more. Just sayin’ . . .

Mon the Hoops!

Looking back … or maybe not

Now that the horrendous dumpster fire of a season is behind us — and the further behind us in the proverbial rearview mirror, the better — and while we ponder who will be taking the reins for next season, it might be a good idea to take a look at some of the facets of the disaster that are not often talked about but should never be repeated.

A few quick observations about what wasn’t talked about nearly enough would have to include the following.

There’s nothing wrong with finishing second, it’s staying second that’s wrong . . .

Second is, well, second

After a perfect storm of mismanagement on the pitch and in the boardroom assisted by some remarkably questionable outside circumstances and decisions by both league and government officials, you would think that Celtic had finished sixth in the Premiership this past season.

Yet despite the symphony of disaster the club navigated in 2020/21, Celtic finished a comfortable second in the table. You want to say, “Yeah, well, second is the first loser”? Go ahead, but it would be my duty to inform you that this is a remarkably shallow and moronic take. In this case, second is ahead of 10 other teams in the league. True, it’s not what we want — not what we demand — as Celtic fans, but that’s the reality. I understand we’ve had worse finishes than this in the past.

Departures and injuries

Not enough was made of injuries to some key players, specifically James Forrest, Mikey Johnston, and Christopher Jullien. The absence of those three alone had a profound effect on the performance of the club, to the point that whatever lack of magic or improvisation from the technical area — and it can be successfully argued that there was a complete lack of that this season — showed in the lackluster and uneven play on the pitch by the Hoops.

Another aspect that was mostly discounted during the season was the lack of fans in the seats. Celtic’s 12th man was clearly missing, and it is something that contributed to the uninspired season. In this first season of COVID football, it wasn’t only Celtic which felt the effect: Liverpool, whose fans carry their club in the same manner Celtic’s fans do with the Hoops, stumbled this season as well.

Can’t exactly tell what Jeremie Frimpong was thinking after being assaulted by Kilmarnock’s Alan Power, but I bet one thought that crossed his mind was, ‘I bet that’s a red in the Bundesliga.’

It wasn’t just injuries that sent players off the pitch. Hatem Elhamed had family issues borne of selectively restrictive immigration policies — the same restrictive immigration policies that kept Americans Andrew Gutman and Manny Perez stateside and, as a result, now playing for other clubs in the MLS — and Elhamed chose to return to Israel rather than stay in Scotland. I suspect Jeremie Frimpong had enough of being slammed by hammerthrowing nobodies like Kilmarnock’s Alan Power and Hibernian’s Alex Gogic and jumped with both feet at the chance to play in the Bundesliga, a slightly more prestigious league than the officiating-challenged SPFL.

[An aside: The SFA has a monumental problem on its hands in its officiating corps, which this past season set the gold standard for awful, overall, and could easily be seen as biased toward one club. Not only does the quality of Scottish football suffer immensely because of it, it makes the Premiership a laughingstock in the eyes of the rest of the world.]

Who’s on the horizon?

Although his legacy is will be firmly cemened as the gaffer who blew the 10, Neil Lennon still holds an overall positive place in Celtic lore. And while much is made of the lengthy Eddie Howe courtship — if he even accepts the proposal from the club — it is more important to take a look at the shape the club is in.

Here’s a minority viewpoint: The club is in good shape going in to the next season, and here’s why: With the fresh slate of an injury-free squad coupled with a significant bumper crop of young talent, most of whom are coming off successful loan spells to return to the club, next season looks promising even without having to acquire outside talent. In a post-COVID football world, clubs that are most prudent with their spending will be the strongest, and Celtic has only a couple of gaps to fill.

A partial list of returnees: Vakoun Bayo, Jack Hendry, Maryan Shved (if he chooses to return), Luca Connell, Jonathan Afolabi — all players who have made an impression with their loan clubs.

So despite a season that is best left in the bin of bad dreams, the ship will be righted by next season and Celtic will return to its winning ways.

Count on it.

One more thing

With the relegation of Hamilton Academical and Kilmarnock, it looks like two plastic pitches have been removed from the purview of the Premiership, leaving only Livingston’s pitch as the only artificial surface to be played on. Two out of three ain’t bad. So can we bring back Jozo Simunovic?

Also, speaking of Kilmarnock, it’s amazing how Killie took a monumental nosedive in the wake of Steve Clarke’s departure from the club. All of which is to say that if he wasn’t coaching the national team — getting the most out of the players and having the Scotland squad punch well above their weight — he’d be a good choice to put Celtic back on track.

Mon the Hoops!

Exercise your right to vote

As this season’s dumpster fire draws to a close while we wait to see who’s actually going to manage Celtic next season — not to mention that it’s once again Glasgow Derby weekend — it might be a good idea for a small diversion in the form of season superlatives.

Hence, it’s about time for Celtic’s Player of the Year, Goal of the Season, and Young Player of the Year. It’s pretty simple, and the process starts by going here and voting.

How did I vote? Glad you asked.

Player of the year

This one is easy.

Zander Clark.

Just kidding.

Actually, it was a bit difficult. In a lackluster year, you might think it would be difficult to pick a standout. But that’s not the case, since each of the nominees had their bright spots during the course of the season. Not only this, for me it came down to two Norwegians.

Sorry, Mohamed Elyounoussi, but I had to go with Kris Ajer this year. Ajer has been a rock in the Celtic backfield this season, and admittedly he’s been very versatile in filling the spaces when advancing the ball forward into the opponents half. In fact, why Ajer doesn’t do this more often is a mystery, but his solid play this year earns him the nod from this voter.

Kris Ajer, my choice for Player of the Year.

Goal of the Season

This is a tough one. So many good choices here: Odsonne Edouard dribbling through the entire population of Reykjavik — OK, five or six KR Reykjavik players — or James Forrest’s goal against Motherwell to break his dry spell, or even Ismaila Soro’s launch from a few miles out against Dundee United. Unfortunately, my favorite goal of the year doesn’t count because, technically, it belongs to last season: Edouard’s penalty looping over Craig Gordon and Hearts in the previous year’s delayed Scottish Cup final.

But perhaps the best of this bunch is Mohamed Elyounoussi against Lille. Of all the good candidates in this bunch, any time you get the goalkeeper to do his best impersonation of a statue while the ball hits the back of the net is a feat in and of itself. Nice one, Moi!

Young Player of the Year

I hate to say it, but it can be successfully argued that we can see how our young players are developing by watching the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer stateside this season. There’s Cameron Harper, Andrew Gutman, Patryk Klimala . . .

Bitter? Me?

OK, now that this is off my proverbial chest, my vote went to Stephen Welsh, a Celtic Reserves player who made his mark on the club without having to actually leave the club, playing solid defense since his call-up to the first team. Welsh has a bright future with the Hoops, and I hope he can prove that the Celtic Reserves can produce players that stay with the club.

Again, here’s the link to cast your ballot. How did you vote? Post in the comments below.

Mon the Hoops!

Looking ahead to next season

While the math is still there — barely — for Celtic to pick up 10 in a row, let’s put aside the contortionistic algebra on that one for a moment and take a look at what the next season may have in store for Celtic. To be certain, the team landscape, and the leadership on the field and in the boardroom, will look much different.

John Kennedy’s first start at the helm was an inauspicious 1-0 win over Aberdeen in a hard-fought contest. Would a stellar end to the season earn him the reins of the club for the following year? Not likely, and with all the candidates being bandied about like tennis balls whizzing over the net at Wimbledon, it appears that Kennedy is keeping the seat warm, so to speak, for whomever is coming in.

New manager

I’m going to go out on a limb and make this prediction: Next season’s manager will be Steve Clarke.

In an age of COVID — get used to that phrase, because the virus and its effect on society, in general, and football, in particular, changes the entire — spending will be tight. So when watching the budget is a matter of survival, as it is now, the more flashier names on the list that come with a high price tag are out the window. And that’s OK, as Celtic doesn’t have to go far for a replacement.

The hallmark of Scotland national team coach Clarke’s tenure at Kilmarnock was consistently having Killie punching above their weight, so to speak. Evidence of that is the downward spiral toward relegation the club has suffered after his departure. Clarke’s talent for motivation probably could have been used this season, but for next season he would have the bhoys primed and ready.

Should they stay or should they go?

Ideally, everyone should stay. They won’t, of course, but there’s always that hope.

Odsonne Edouard and Kris Ajer should be paid a king’s ransom to stay. However, there has been a lot of interest regarding Edouard, and lately Arsenal is the latest in a long line of clubs with interest piqued for Eddy, and AC Milan keeps badgering Celtic for Ajer. Clearly, with large clubs come large offers (even in an age of COVID) which might not be resisted.

However, we do have several options on this front. As mentioned ad nauseum in the past on these pages, Celtic has an artesian depth of talent on the bench and in the reserves, so we may be in good shape without having to make expensive signings — Conor Hazard and Stephen Welsh are proof that our Reserves produce excellent players for us as well as for other clubs, in the case of Cameron Harper going to the New York Red Bulls of the MLS, and wherever Karamoko Dembele ends up next season if it isn’t Celtic.

Patryk Klimala should get a good run for the rest of the season to see how he will fare up front, and my sense is that there’s a solid striker there. A tandem of Klimala and either Leigh Griffiths or Albian Ajeti clearly would not be the same as having Odsonne Edouard up front, but it might be adequate while we have goal scorers behind them in the midfield, like Mohammed Elyounoussi.

Bringing back Jonathan Afolabi and Maryan Shved from their loans would be a sensible option, especially since the latter has had his butt kicked by the Mechelin coach which has inspired Shved’s interest in playing again. His performance in Belgium has been fairly remarkable as of late and he may finally be reaching his potential.

The nucleus of a great team is here already, and it’s a tragedy that due to injury or poor game choices, this season has ended up the way it did. But there have been bright spots in the dark season as well: Jonjoe Kenny’s loan spell has been fairly remarkable, as has the play of Ismaila Soro. David Turnbull has proven he is a player to bulid a team around for the future. Add to the mix a fully healthy Mikey Johnston and James Forrest, not to mention a fully healed Christopher Jullien, and the future looks a lot better than it does now.

We won’t have the luxury of seeing everyone on today’s team in the Hoops next season. However, the potential is phenomenally high for next year’s team to put aside the dumpster fire this season has become and return to the top of the table, wire-to-wire.

Meanwhile, on to Tannadice for Sunday’s match against Dundee United. Mon the Hoops!

Firing on all cylinders

Despite the fact that there are still PlayStation pundits and armchair gaffers in social media who insist on having some problem or another with Celtic’s performance in the club’s 2-0 win over Ross County on Wednesday, the reality is that the Hoops played a remarkably solid game for 90+ minutes to earn a convincing win.

To be certain, it wasn’t a perfect game. Arguably the score should have been higher, had Odsonne Edouard and Ryan Christie been more on target with their shots. But I’m willing to give Eddy a break — Edouard was not the same after getting clocked by the referee with a well-placed elbow in the first half; a clear indication that quite possibly Operation Stop-The-10 is alive and well at the lodge.

Regardless, the fact remains that Celtic controlled all aspects of Wednesday’s game, and we came away with the win and the three points.

They dynamic duo in Wednesday’s match: David Turnbull and Leigh Griffiths celebrate Turnbull’s goal in the first half. Griffiths scored a header in the second half to make the score 2-0.

David Turnbull, who scored one of the goals, and Ismaila Soro both continue to impress. Soro in particular is showing what a great acquisition he is, with his pinpoint ball distribution and defensive prowess. Playing two forwards up front — finally — proved its worth today with Leigh Griffiths picking up the slack for an uncharacteristically lackluster (and probably groggy) Edouard.

Sunday hero Kris Ajer was taking liberties with the wide berth Ross County was giving him, which is always good to see. Am I the only one who think he looks like a gazelle, striding forward with the ball deep into the opponent’s half when he finds an opening — and even when he doesn’t have one — and creating more havoc than a defender should?

Jeremie Frimpong was outstanding, and while he showed he can leave defenders in the dust, he needs to do it more often instead of being gunshy with his moves. He showed a textbook Oh-My-Days move in whipping around a Ross County defender to deliver a ball to Turnbull’s feet for the first score of the game.

Most heartening in the entire game on Wednesday was when Mikey Johnston came in and showed why he has been missed for quite some time. Though he did not score, he did shake some of the cobwebs off and we saw some of the bobbing and weaving in traffic that we know him for. When he gets back up to speed and James Forrest finally gets back . . . .

We’ve reached a point in the season where we have to be “on” — where there are no more missteps, no more fumbles, no more gaffes — if we are to win the coveted 10-in-a-row . With performances like Wednesday’s, we are in good shape going forward.

Now go and enjoy your holidays. Merry Krismas!

Moan the Hoops

It inspires awe, unfortunately not in a good way: A club that has won nine championships in a row, not to mention three trebles, has some members of its fan base that excel at either hair-on-fire panic or terminal negativity — sometimes both — for essentially no good reason.

Even some members of the fan base — these same members, of course — who will swear on the graves of their ancestors that they love Celtic constantly, will also, at the same time, make it their sole purpose in life to slag the manager and specific players on the team.

You would think that this crass shallowness would be a hallmark of Glasgow’s other club, and one could successfully argue that it is. Which, of course, is all the more reason why it should stay there instead of encroaching onto the other side of Glasgow.

We’re better than that. Does that even warrant mentioning?

Maybe it does: Elements in the “support” — real or imagined — are calling for the removal of Neil Lennon while dragging players like James Forrest or Greg Taylor or Ryan Christie or fill-in-the-blank for the scapegoat du jour.

Seriously?

Greg Taylor: Just another day at the office.

Taylor is an above-average fullback who is still learning to play in the Celtic system. He’s not flashy; in fact, he’s what we call in America a “lunchpail player,” a guy who brings his lunchpail to work, puts his head down and does his job without fanfare or attention-grabbing. Is he the answer to Celtic’s problems? No. But he’s not the cause of them either. Primarily a defender who excels in that aspect of the game, Taylor would be ideal in a back 4 and his current role of supplying crosses into the opposition box is one that has come with a learning curve for him. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt here because I think ultimately he’ll both succeed and be a more well-rounded player for it.

The ire towards Forrest and Christie is totally unwarranted. Both have consistently given all for the club every game, both have been brilliant overall for the Hoops, and Christie deserves special note for being constantly on the go, whether it’s the first minute or the 90th. Both have established themselves in a midfield that has a vast overstock of talent in it, not to mention both being a scoring threat for the entire 90 minutes.

I am as mystified as anyone at some of Lennon’s choices in the recent lineups, but I’m not at Lennoxtown making that decision. So I trust his vast knowledge of football, not to mention his staff’s, over my approximately two years of studying the game. Yet some of the armchair Steins among the support want to replace Lennon because of it? One question: With whom? Honestly, you want to abruptly halt the momentum the club has gained under Lennon because you don’t like it that he doesn’t play 3-5-2 enough? And even if you could replace him, who would you reasonably get to replace him at this point?

It’s perfectly all right to have an opinion. Unhappy with Lennon and his choices? So am I, but rather than calling him names or worse, I’m more than glad to hear him out. Do I think players deserve to be benched for having an off-day, or even worse, resort to name-calling? Absolutely not.

Criticism can take two forms: Positive and negative. Positive critique has been sorely lacking. The panty-wetting and negativity on forums and social media are beyond the pale and are downright embarrassing.

Again, we’re better than that.

This much is clear: The demands made of Celtic players are far greater than many other clubs. Second place is nothing, to be sure, and one of the main aspects of supporting a football club is experiencing the highs and lows, the good and bad, the euphoria and the horror. In an era marked by championships, “trebles,” and a vast array of silverware, there have been few “lows,” and even fewer “bads” and “horrors.”

Fans should be held to the same high standard, because the Celtic scarf doesn’t shrink to fit inferior supporters.

Mon the Hoops!

[Blogger’s note: Much of this item comes as a result of private discussions with a few friends from The Celtic Noise, and they will recognize their contributions herein. While they know who they are, I won’t identify them for privacy’s sake, but needless to say I gratefully appreciate and acknowledge their contributions.]

Flash: Winning ugly is still winning

Let’s not sugarcoat this: Celtic’s win against St. Mirren on Wednesday was not one of those games that will live on in Celtic lore. Actually, it is one of those grind-it-out affairs that borders on painful. But in the end, we get the three points in the 2-1 victory and come away with a win in one of those games that will be easily forgotten over time.

But didn’t the away kit look good on the bhoys?

After gifting the Saints a 1-0 lead just after the two minute mark, the Celts answered with goals by Shane Duffy at 21 minutes and then James Forrest at 36.

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

There’s only one real takeaway, and that can be described in two words: Shane Duffy. The man’s a one-man wrecking crew against Celtic opponents, and clearly the best acquisition in this transfer window. The way he’s been playing so far — two games, but still — has been completely flawless, and we now have an additional aerial threat to join Christopher Jullien in set pieces in the box, to say nothing of an additional scoring threat from the back.

Forrest, who has been the target of a plethora of armchair gaffers that populate social media, took a Ryan Christie cross to the forehead to put Celtic ahead. Speaking of Christie, I have to wonder why he didn’t take the penalty in the 2nd half, but never mind. Odsonne Edouard should have delivered, but what’s done is done, and there are three points in the standings.

As always, every silver lining of a Celtic win has to have its cloud for some people. Greg Taylor, who did not have a great game on Wednesday, was the scapegoat du jour in an otherwise nondescript game where St. Mirren, with a handful of exceptions, concentrated on playing everyone back. This would explain the number of passes back and a somewhat impenetrable defense. Never mind the mobility going forward of both Duffy and Kris Ajer, who were all over the field. Rather than dwell on positives, let’s focus on the negatives, shall we?

And the hue and cry when Neil Lennon took out Edouard and replaced him with Olivier Ntcham? Horrors! It’s a wonder — a modern miracle — that we actually won, if you listen to some people who presumably have 3-5-2 tattooed on them somewhere. But folks, here’s how that happened: The bhoys played their standard issue possession game and scored more than their opponents. It’s not flashy. But it gets the job done. And if that’s how Celtic wins 10 in a row — with a whimper instead of a bang — then OK.

One more thing

As I’m noticing an uptick in the tsunami of stupid that comes across social media regarding Celtic, I think I’m going to start just blocking people rather than waste my time discussing their hair-on-fire panic points. There’s a saying that’s popular here in the South — “Never teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.” So I don’t care if you’re a season ticket holder since 1888 and have been to every game ever since you got your first tickets personally from Brother Walfrid, if you say something slagging the club, you’re blocked. End of.

On to Saturday against Livi at Celtic Park. Mon the Hoops!