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.
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.
The final scene in the Robert Redford movie “The Candidate” has the newly elected Senator Bill McKay asking the campaign manager, “What do we do now?” This question, of course, runs through the film like a thread, with the McKay character — new to politics — asking the campaign manager what to do throughout the film.
Celtic easily handled Motherwell on Sunday; some might have thought of a 2-0 victory as a letdown after conquering Rome in the victory against Lazio on Thursday, but the bhoys played great and got the three points. Unfortunately, the next game for the Hoops isn’t until Nov. 23 against Livingston at Parkhead.
“What do we do now?”
Now that there’s no Celtic football for a fortnight, this question always rears its ugly head during the international break. Each time, I take a deep breath, line up what games are played internationally and hope I can somehow pick them up on the wild and wooly world of the Internet.
I can’t wait for that big showdown between the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand on Thursday. No, I’m not being sarcastic.
But Thursday aside, here’s a list of things to do — or at least a list of what I usually do — to get your fill of Celtic football during the two-week break.
1. Thank God for YouTube
Got a favorite game? Favorite player? Thanks to the modern technological miracle known as YouTube, you can watch games past, or collections of highlights of players past and present. Want to see Henrik Larsson’s greatest hits? All of Shunsuke Nakamura’s goals for Celtic? At about 5:40 is Shunsuke’s first goal against the Rangers, and given the chance I would loop this video, spending all day watching Nakamura make Allan McGregor look like a fool. Want to see the Holy Goalie? A collection of Artur Boruc’s best saves — if you turn down the techno music (unless that’s your thing) and can overlook some of the special effects — is a joy to watch.
Go crazy in the search on YouTube. There are several games that are worth watching, as well as a variety of documentaries that are worth a watch (especially the documentary about Tommy Burns, which is very moving and worth the watch even if it’s for his rendition of “Mack the Knife”).
Even the Lisbon Lions victory in Portugal which brought the European Cup to Scotland in 1967 is on YouTube. Start to finish. And, having seen it, oh, about 300 times so far — it never gets old — it’s always worth a watch during the break.
2. Get the Broony DVD
Captain. Leader. Legend. And now, he’s a DVD star. With much fanfare, Celtic has released a video celebrating the current Celtic captain entitled — wait for it — “Broony”. Narrated by actor Martin Compston and featuring tributes and anecdotes from current and former players and managers — and Celtic fan extrordinaire Sir Rod Stewart — it also has exclusive behind-the-scenes footage. The DVD takes us through the early years right up to the moment when Scott Brown became the first Scottish player in domestic football history to lead his team to The Treble Treble!
3. Hang out at The Celtic Noise
One of my favorite online hangouts is the forum known as The Celtic Noise. It’s a place where you can go and banter about the Bhoys in Green, and discuss just about everything else under the sun (oh yes, the forum dwellers at The Noise — of which I am proud to admit I am one — have opinions on everything). During international breaks, the conversation may get a little slow, but it is a chance to catch up on the myriad of topics. It’s work a look, and definitely worth joining and making your voice heard on all things Celtic. And everything else, for that matter.
4. Go outside
OK, so that’s easier said than done where I am, on the Central California coast, rather where you might be, for example, in Scotland. Temperatures here are not yet into the freezing zone — that’ll come around Christmas — and the weather is still pretty bright and sunny. However, if you get the chance to get outdoors, do so. I’ll be walking around the redwoods if someone needs me.
Remember, Celtic is back on the 23rd at home against Livingston. Revenge is in the air. My calendar is marked — is yours?