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.
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.
We went to the Highlands, and after what seems to be a typically meticulous (not “slow,” I’d never say “slow”) start, the Bhoys in Green came away with a 4-1 victory over Ross County on Sunday. Naturally, The Sandman also had his say on the game, which is worth a read, but I also have five takeaways, which are as follows . . . .
1. Be like Mike-y
Over a quarter-century ago, the sports drink Gatorade had an ad campaign featuring its centerpiece athlete, Michael Jordan, and the tagline “Be Like Mike” was all over the fields and courts where sports were being played. And while I, nor anyone else, would suggest that “I Wanna Be Edouard” should be substituted here, “Be Like Mikey” Johnston would actually be a welcome alternative. Johnston came into the game, deked a couple of Ross County defenders and — bang! — into the net at 72 minutes. Which leads us to Celtic’s current “conundrum” . . .
2. So many scorers, so little time
Goal posts notwithstanding — and if only they gave maybe a half-point for glancing the ball off the post; I mean, really, it’s not easy to do — Celtic had close to 20 shots on goal against Ross County. I bring this up because despite Ryan Christie’s clockwork scoring, the club has a huge number of options on getting the ball into the net. Even Leigh Griffiths, who came close to scoring on Sunday, is getting a lot closer to finding striker nirvana. No Edouard? No problem. Speaking of scorers . . .
3. The Viking can pass
Kris Ajer getting the ball to the right person on Sunday is something that cannot be understated. The big Norwegian was right on the mark with passes which turned into goals. Not only this, but it looks like in the last few games that Ajer has been — I don’t know how to put this, exactly — a little adventurous in wandering out of the backfield with the ball and advancing way past the half-way line. Not that I’m complaining, mind you . . .
4. The right call, for a change
Not to give referee Nick Walsh much in the credit department, as his carding Mikey Johnston for celebrating when the fans are literally on top of the pitch was pure nonsense; to say nothing of all the non-calls on fouls against Celtic during the course of the game. But I will give him props for his call on revoking Ross County’s second goal. Now, I don’t fully understand the offside rule yet — and I still think it’s arbitrary, judging by what I often see as “offsides” and what isn’t — but as it was explained to me, the guy in the dunce cap, Ross County’s Brian Graham was offside because while he made no attempt to play the ball, he obstructed Christopher Jullien, meaning that Graham was an active player and, thus, offside. I hope that doesn’t end up on the final exam, but at the very least, Nick got that one right.
5. What video game did we see him in?
Putting aside for a moment the unique gaffer arrangement — “manager by committee” would be the best way to describe it between Stuart Kettlewell and Steven Ferguson at Ross County — but during the game on Sunday when they panned the camera to the Ross County sideline to show Ferguson, I only had one thought: Didn’t I see him in Grand Theft Auto V? OK, so I’m probably the last person to comment on someone else’s appearance, but if game developers haven’t used the slick-haired Steven Ferguson look so often for bad guys in video games, this takeaway would be something else altogether.
Quick note before diving into the five takeaways from the Ross County game: Thanks to the folks at The Celtic Star, yours truly was the “Fan of the Week,” and as such was subject to a brief interview here.
Yes, that’s me. That’s what I look like in my Celtic gear. I’ll just wait for the laughter to die down.
First things first: If you haven’t been reading the ratings following each Celtic game by the Celtic Noise poster known as Sandman, you should. This fine fellow usually hits the nail on the proverbial head every game, and his observations — with the wit and wisdom only the Sandman can provide — are always of the highest quality.
[Also, if you’re a Celtic supporter and you’re not on the Celtic Noise forum, you should be. A lot of news and insight can be found there, along with some non-Celtic banter as well. Tell ’em “lcafiero” sent you.]
As for Saturday’s game, Ross County held on for as long as they could in the first half after a stunning attack by Celtic, only to have the floodgates break open at the beginning of the second half, where Celtic cruised to a 6-0 win.
Five takeaways from the game are as follows:
1. Thanks, Manchester City
An observation: There are few clubs south of the border in the Premier League that are, as of today, more soulless than Manchester City. It may not have always been so, but it appears on the surface that they said, “Jeremie who? Yeah, whatever,” before letting young dynamo Jeremie Frimpong leave for the Hoops. And there are probably a few — several? a score, maybe? — Man City fans who are bemoaning the fact that he’s no longer at that club, but their loss is our gain. No doubt Frimpong’s moves on the pitch has sent more than one Ross County player to the trainer’s table to treat a twisted ankle, and his assist on James Forrest’s goal was a gem. The kid looks like he’s got a promising career with the club.
2. Welcome back, Wizard
Tom Rogic gave the Celts a full 90 minutes on Saturday — when was the last time we could say that? While it was pretty much an unremarkable game for Rogic — a few opportunities missed, and a couple of miscues which could be credited to “shaking off the rust” — one facet of his game stood out against Ross County: defence. The Wizard was on the receiving end of several of turnovers by Ross County, which as it turned out constantly kept the Staggies on their heels. Great to see the big Aussie performing on both offence and defence, and clearly it’s been a long time coming. Welcome back, big guy!
3. Dude, where’s my goal?
It’s great to see Mohammed Elyounoussi starting to get into the swing of things for Celtic. He’s definitely a welcome addition to the club and, sure, I’m even willing to give him a pass for saying that his Norse countryman Kris Ajer may go on to bigger and better things someday — is there any argument there, as much as we’d like The Big Viking to stay at Parkhead? But I have to draw the line when Elyounoussi starts stealing goals: Boli Bolingoli took a shot late in the game, around the 72-minute mark, that could have been his first goal as a Celt; except that shot was deflected into the goal by Mo Elyounoussi. No doubt that was part of the discussion during the celebration of Mo’s second goal . . . .
[I kid: Mo’s second goal was a great deflection, but I’m still waiting for Boli to get his first.]
4. Damn that post!
Chances are this is a direct quote from Callum McGregor after his shot in the first half glanced cleanly off the post, and Odsonne Edouard couldn’t get the rebound to go in. It matters little, because in the fusillade of shots that finally went in at the beginning of the second half, McGregor got his goal back. Which leads us to our fifth takeaway . . .
5. Ross County: New kids on the block
Ross County played better than the score would indicate. That may sound funny coming on the heels of a 6-0 drubbing, but hear me out: As the new kids on the block, so to speak, in the Premiership, Ross County had every expectation to come to Parkhead with stag-in-the-headlights sensibilities. But they hung in with the treble champions for 45 minutes, at least, and Ross County keeper Ross Laidlaw (say that three times quickly) made some pretty remarkable saves in the first half. Laidlaw and a Ross County defender — or defenders — lurking in the goal mouth in the right place at the right time prevented Celtic from being up at least 3-0 at the half; specifically a Christopher Jullien header and a rebound from a shot by Bolingoli, both successfully cleared. I’m all for giving credit where credit is due, and while you have to play a game for the full 90 minutes (86, so says Steven Gerrard, if you play for The Rangers™), Ross County clamped down pretty hard on the Hoops for awhile there, and while lessons were learned, hopefully they will recognize that there are some positives to come out of this thrashing.
But note, Ross County: Nir Bitton can kick anyone’s ass on your team, either individually or collectively. Please keep that in mind.
[Blogger’s note: My apologies for this post being so late. After a power outage last week, my WordPress settings have been hell to fix, and I finally got it up and running yesterday. Also, because we are no longer in fire season here — but not yet out of the woods, so to speak — I am going to forgo the wildfire threat level posts at the end of each blog item, resuming it in the spring.]