Let’s start with this; that wasn’t even close.
Yes, the score-line reads 1-0 and the history books will record that result but this was a one-sided slaughter. For openers, Erik has scored today and had it chopped off, a decision which is frankly baffling and ridiculous. Had it stood, Warburton would have been forced to change the defensive damage limitation system he came with and it would have been a cricket score, but for their keeper it would have been one of those anyway.
There was a superiority about our performance today that was clear from the first five minutes, and curiously enough it was exactly that which appeared to be missing in midweek. Our players were first to every fifty-fifty ball. We forced them into errors all day long, and our players were alert enough to capitalise on theirs whenever they made them. Our players were alert and focussed and driven. I can count on one hand how many mistakes we made.
Brendan was obviously, and predictably, delighted at full time. He said all the right things and is looking forward to his first cup final as our boss. With our healthy league lead the opportunity to win a treble is now very real. Aberdeen will give us a tough match.
Indeed, they will give us a harder game than the one we got today. But it’s hard to see past us.
The team selection, you could argue with all day but when you look at the way the opposition lined up there was clearly some merit in the extra man in midfield. Their strategy was to put every player behind the ball. That was it. The challenge before us was to break it down. To the credit of our players we did that time and time again, creating enough chances to win ten games. Their keeper had a fine afternoon. That’s the only positive they can take from it.
Of course, it was our substitutions that finally made the difference, but this has been typical of Brendan’s time as manager. He saw there where the gaps were and knew what he had to do to exploit them, which is what we did.
Brendan’s substitutions are very rarely arbitrary. He plans them. He makes them to change games, and this is where there’s a certain genius in leaving a guy like Griffiths on the bench in the first place. The very act of bringing him on forces the other team to try to adapt, and a smart manager would have done exactly that. Warburton was too focussed on bringing on strikers, in the vain hope that somehow he would get a lucky break of the ball.
A better manager, whose team were hanging on, would have brought on a defensive player.
It worked for us in Astana.
Instead, our additional option in attack paid off beautifully.
We could, and should, have got the second when Griffiths ran clear shortly after we’d scored. We’ll put that one down to him being rusty, and the goalkeeper being on good form, but on another day he’d have put that one away too and capped a marvellous appearance from the bench.
Without wanting to offer any criticism of the manager on a day like today, Griffiths’ performance and the way he linked up with Dembele for the goal gives lie to the idea that these guys can’t play in the same team. Leigh had begged for the chance to do just that before the match. Their short time on the pitch together resulted in our goal. What else is there to say?
There were excellent performances in our team today. Brown was immense and he had to be, because Sevco had bet the lot on a packed midfield. They were supposed to have outnumbered us in that department, but with Rogic dropping back you barely noticed it. Their players were a yard slow when it came to winning the ball. They were lax in their passing, aided by the fact that there was a Celtic player closing down all the time.
Brown seemed to be everywhere though, and when the ball somehow got past him our defenders read the game beautifully. Sviatchenko and Simunovic are an excellent partnership, and as much I enjoy Toure these guys are the future.
Celtic are in a very good place. We do need to get stronger – in midfield in particular – to be at the level we want to be in Europe but the money is there to do that. Some of the players were a little off the boil today; Sinclair wasn’t his usual dynamic self and Forrest had a very poor first half before the manager told him to focus on cutting inside, where he caused problems. Dembele never quit for a second, and he knew where to be when his chance came.
There are no negatives from this for us. None. We ran the show for the 90 minutes. We scored once, had another chopped off and Sinclair hit the crossbar with a free kick. Gilks had a better game than he’ll ever have again in his career. This was a rout with a respectable score.
For Warburton, the questions continue to mount up.
He surprised me today by producing the Plan B his fans wanted to see. The trouble was, it just wasn’t that good. These midfielders of theirs that we’re always told are such stars in the making, they were woeful. Their passing was deplorable. Their energy levels … well, you’d never know which of the teams had a week long break and which played a high octane match just days ago. If they’d been hoping we’d tire as the game went on, they were sorely disappointed. It was their players who looked weary; Halliday looked dead on his feet at the end.
What the Hell is happening in training at Murray Park?
Our team looked super-fit compared to theirs, and they were the ones who ran all day long and challenged for everything.
His tactical decisions were ludicrous. It was as if he couldn’t wait to revert back to his 4-3-3 comfort zone, and it cost him. It cost him big time. As I said earlier, the failure to change tactically and bring on another defensively minded player was insanity in a match where they were already desperately hanging on. I would have been screaming had Brendan done something so clearly suicidal.
There are no easy answers to this; indeed there probably aren’t answers to be had. There’s no money for new signings; indeed, many of us expect players to leave Ibrox before they bring any others in. The same media voices are calling for “more investment” in the squad; sheer nonsense as we’re all well aware.
This guy has signed over twenty players in two years and with the second biggest wage bill in the country they have perhaps the fourth or fifth best squad overall. That’s down to Warburton, and those above him at the club will be well aware of it.
Tonight has left Brendan Rodgers on the outskirts of the treble.
Warburton is on the slow walk to the sack.
What a time this is to be a Celtic supporter.
In Brendan We Trust!