One more match, in midweek, and then we have our first cup final of the season.
How much hinges on that game? More for our opponents, I think, than us.
A cup final is always dicey because anything can happen on the day, but this team fears no-one and it doesn’t matter who is in the line-up. Today we went into that game without a recognised striker, without our starting right back and left back, without Ntcham, without Hayes, without Simunovic.
And we cruised. We never looked uncomfortable.
Let’s be honest, next week is only going to come down to one thing; which Celtic team shows up. I don’t even mean in the starting eleven either. If we roll into Hampden meaning business, looking to do damage, then business will be done and damage we will do.
The Scottish media thinks it will be a contest. If we drop the ball they might even be right, but we’d have to be very bad and our opponents very good for them to prevail. In a bad work of fiction –and I’ll explore this during the week – it would almost certainly be possible, written in as a series of highly improbable circumstances, setting up the ending … but this is real life, and in real life sport, class tells more often than not. So it will be here.
What class we have all over this team. Even without Eddie we put four goals past them today and hit the post twice. We spurned several chances as well. It didn’t matter. We could even afford a missed penalty, with Ryan sticking in the rebound.
Top of any discussion of the game would be Mr Christie. I think he deserves fuller appreciation and I’ll be happy to take that point up in another piece either today or tomorrow, but for now let’s just bask in admiration for our young attacking midfielder who scored twice and worked his socks off from the first minute to the last. This is a great footballer.
But he is surrounded by great footballers, and this was demonstrated ably by Rogic getting a goal, Callum coming close, a still-not-fit Griffiths showing that he still reads the game a split second faster than any defender he’s likely to come up against, and, of course, the wonderful late cameo from Magic Mikey Johnson, whose run and goal was glorious.
I thought the defending could have been a tad better today; they were posted missing for the Ross County goal and we got lucky with the offside decision for what would have been their second. Our players need to remember that even when you’ve been put under no pressure that you’ve got to keep that concentration level high.
I am sure they would have been more disciplined against a better level of opposition, but it’s no excuse for taking their eyes off the ball.
For all that, Frimpong continues to grow as a footballer. Ross County doubled marked him today and there were times were as many as four players were around him, and yet still he got away from them with regularity. He also took a bit of rough-housing, which you always worry about with a player as slight as he is. But he impressed me with his determination and the fact that he didn’t let it put him off playing his game. He has it all, this kid.
Lewis Morgan isn’t a striker in his life, of course. If Elyounoussi is fit he’ll play at Hampden in that slot even if Eddie doesn’t and if Leigh’s fitness isn’t up to a start. But he works hard, this lad, and Lennon has seen enough that he’s ruled out the player going on loan … I think I’d have preferred to see him on loan as he won’t be a starter every week … but the manager makes these calls and I’m not up for questioning a single one of them at this moment in time.
I have a feeling some of the big guns will be back for Hampden, but you know what? I’m equally sure that the Celtic team who started this game today would be good enough if everyone plays to their usual standard. The only change would be Taylor, who’s cup tied; that does give us one headache for the final we could do without. Bauer can, however, deputise there and that means him and Frimpong in the full-back role. I am not concerned in the least.
I have never seen a Celtic squad with this much raw firepower in it.
That frontline, even without a first choice striker, has goals all over it; Forrest, Christie, Mikey, Elyounoussi, Sinclair when he plays, even a half-fit Griffiths … all can put the ball in the back of the net and those who’ve played consistently have proved it during this campaign.
We’re ready. Barring something dramatic in midweek – I expect a comfortable home win where we substantially add to that goal-difference column – the first cup final can’t come quickly enough. The team will be taking it one game at a time, of course, and over the next six days the injury situation will be made clear, but honestly … I have no worries at all.
The way this team is playing, nobody will live with us.
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