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.
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 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.
After a drought of 141 days of no games at Paradise, no one was happier to get up at Oh-My-God-Thirty in the morning Pacific Time and put on my jersey and scarf to watch Celtic play at home.
The Ross County preseason game on Sunday had its ups and downs, as we’ll discuss here, but overall the Hoops are fine-tuning their game for the upcoming season. With Neil Lennon letting the first team run for the full 90 minutes — Greg Taylor excluded (and we’ll definitely get to that later) — here are five takeaways from the Ross County game.
Mugging Odsonne Edouard
Already there are grumblings among some of the more . . . oh, let’s say . . . “restless” Celtic supporters that Odsonne Edouard is mailing it in and not trying. I would completely disagree here, primarily because opposing teams have now caught up on the strategy of swarming Edouard, triple- and even quadruple-teaming him. Clearly, one of the reasons 3-5-2 had worked so well last season is that Eddy was not alone up front. In France and against Ross County yesterday, who was alone up front? Edouard. How did that work? Not so great. Was Eddy mailing it in? Hell, no. Get a grip.
Bain worked for his clean sheet
One of the highlights of the game was the play of Scott Bain. While Ross County’s chances were few and far between, those that got through with a shot on goal were met with some quality goalkeeping, and none of them hit the inside of the net. Like Fraser Forster — who as of this writing, according to the rumour mill, may be making his way back (fingers crossed here) — when Celtic has the ball for the great majority of the game, percentage-wise, keeping goal becomes a game of keeping your head in the game. Forster was — is — a master at maintaining concentration, and Bain proved equal to the task on Sunday.
And on the other side . . .
Additionally, a hat-tip should also go to the Ross County goalkeeper, Celtic loanee Ross Doohan. Doohan couldn’t really do anything against the own-goal, but he made some spectacular saves as the game developed.
Kerr McInroy stepped up
When Greg Taylor went down to an ankle injury thanks to a yellow-card quality foul from Connor Randall — and remind me to include Randall in my list of “SPFL Players to Meet while Swinging My Louisville Slugger” — my first thought looking at the available subs was . . . Stephen Welsh? Maybe Luca Connell? No, Lenny was a few light years ahead of me. Kerr McInroy was slotted in and performed pretty well as Taylor’s sub. McInroy moved the ball well and at one point took a shot on goal that went off a Ross County player. He also made a sharp cross which, had someone been there to receive it, would surely have been a goal. Like Welsh last season, to see players like McInroy stepping up and doing well is a promising sign.
John Hartson in the booth
I like John Hartson a lot. I follow him religiously on social media, and I was looking forward to hearing his insights on the Celtic TV broadcast. Overall he gets high marks for his commentary on the game and at halftime. However, I thought he spent a little too much time scolding Jeremie Frimpong on his gaffe in the 2nd half which left a Ross County player alone with the ball in the box. As it turned out, crisis was averted and it amounted to nothing. I think that falls under the no harm/no foul category, but Hartson wouldn’t let it go. Again, this is preseason and hopefully Hartson will get some good broadcasting practice in before the start of the season.
Until tomorrow’s game against the Hibs, here we go again . . . .
Because I still have my head buried in a tsunami of documents related to my previous post — and thank you to Auldheid for the great interview — I thought I’d take a break from my “homework” to make a few observations about the last two wins by the Hoops, and other items of perceived interest, in the world of football; like the following, for example.
Oh, the irony . . .
Putting aside the numerous missed calls on hand-ball fouls by Celtic opponents this season, is it any wonder some marketing genius who holds the SpecSavers advertising account sold that company’s executives on the nearly infinite value of sponsorship of SPFL referees? Each referee has what is essentially a “scarlet letter” of less-than-ideal vision on their sleeves, and in so many cases it is justified. One of a plethora of examples is the 78th minute of the Celtic-Ross County game where Scott Brown was clearly fouled, followed by James Forrest fouled less than 10 seconds afterward. Of course that joins a long list of referee malpractice this season that, fortunately, has only been a minor irritant to Celtic fans everywhere, rather than history-altering decisions. But we’re only halfway through the 2019/20 season. . . .
Here we go again
Once again, we are in the midst of another transfer window. And once again, the armchair gaffers and PlayStation pundits are bent out of shape because we haven’t signed half of FC Barcelona — the good half, hopefully — and in not doing so, we just threw away 9 in a row. Just today, on the digital cesspool known as Twitter and other online social media, Neil Lennon is being unnecessarily raked over the coals for suggesting the Celtic may be done for this window. The fact of the matter is, frankly, that if we are done for January, it’s still not a bad window, and with the success of the previous window carrying over, we are in great shape for the rest of the season, especially those who are injured — Hatem El Hamed, Mohammed Elyounoussi, Jeremie Frimpong for starters — get back onto the pitch. Also, not given enough credit has been Moritz Bauer’s efforts in filling in for the injured Frimpong against Ross County; Bauer himself is another new addition from the previous window.
Even if Ismaila Soro is the last piece of the puzzle in January, we are looking great for the rest of the season. Some people really need to get a grip.
The California Kid strikes again
The Celtic Reserves team hit the road to visit Huddersfield Town on Tuesday, and came away with a 3-1 victory in the friendly. Karamoko Dembele, Kieran McGrath and Cameron Harper scored in the game. We all know that Karamoko has already made the grade, but those watching the reserves have strong praise for Harper as well. We in the Golden State have high hopes for the Southern Californian to go on and wear the hoops for the first team in the near future.
Buy this guy a beer
Funny how The Rangers™ wanker — sorry, winger — and all-around world-class douchenozzle Ryan Kent can’t bring himself to gun down Hearts fans like he did at Parkhead last month. But this JamTarts fan has the right idea. If anyone in Edinburgh who knows this guy can buy him a beer for me, I’d be grateful. Oh, and the Hearts 2-1 victory over The Rangers™? Fantastic.
Now if you’ll excuse me, FC St. Pauli is playing today and it’s gametime. See you tomorrow at the St. Johnstone game. Mon the hoops!