I knew a couple of days ago that we were going to enjoy that last night. Remember what I said?
That I would enjoy today even more? Well we didn’t get the win we all wanted, but I’m sure that those doomsayers were slapped awake last night nonetheless.
This team is not going to be any pushover.
Even well behind in fitness. Even without a lot of new faces. Even without the manager truly being able to get his ideas across.
By the time the season proper starts in ten days we’re going to be further down the road than we are now, and last night this team looked ready to chew metal and spit out nails.
Special praise has to go to three players, including one I never expected to be praising; Ralston, Welsh and Ryan Christie.
Christie surprised me last night in a big, big way. He was brilliant.
Welsh, for me, edged him out as the man of the match, but Christie was the engine of the team for the first time in a long time.
He really did look like the player he was.
You don’t often get that with a guy on his way out the door.
I thought Edouard meandered a bit, but he’s shown up at least and the manager believes he’s committed and that’s good enough for me for the moment. But Christie was totally focussed and driven last night, and was throwing himself into the game like someone with the backup of a four-year deal.
Ralston impressed me because he’s a fighter and he put in a great shift, despite not being universally popular with the supporters. I think he’s a more than adequate full-back, a more than adequate back-up to the starting eleven. We need a better answer, but he’s always had something and I didn’t feel in the least bit worried about him last night.
But Welsh was excellent, growing steadily, as he is, into the footballer we saw flashes of last year, a commanding presence in the air, physically and mentally strong, a player who is just beginning to realise how good he could be under a manager with the basic skills to organise the backline. More on that subject later on, believe me.
I was disappointed with Barkas for the goal, but the wholly dishonest narrative that he “lowered his hands” isn’t one we should allow to stand. His hands came down, yes, but only after the ball was past him and in the net. I’ve watched that video footage ten times.
He doesn’t “chuck it” in the initial attempt to get the ball, it’s one of those weird finishes that sometimes catches a goalkeeper off guard. But this guy gets no benefit of the doubt; the whole world is just waiting to see him make mistakes, with many having already decided he’s a dud. Any evidence of that is grabbed with relish.
Maybe it hasn’t dawned on a lot of Celtic fans yet, but we paid big money for this guy and there’ll be no goalkeeper signed until the manager has had a good look at what he might have. So we’re stuck with him and that means backing him up, as the manager did last night after the game. Constantly running this guy down helps nobody but our enemies.
The other negative, of course, was Nir Bitton who’s clumsy first yellow challenge was a midfielder’s tackle in a defensive area.
A proper defender would have backed off, narrowed the angle the player had to make a shot and let him run himself to the line, which is where he was headed. But without that defensive discipline, any midfielder makes the tackle where he did it and takes the yellow.
This is the madness – which I write about constantly – of relying on a midfielder player in the central defensive role. It was a good idea in the context of where it started, but to use it to plug holes because we were too damned cheap to buy an actual defender is a strategy that should have run its course a long time ago and doesn’t serve us well at all.
The keeper gets stick because he failed to keep that shot out; he should have the skill-set to stop that, and we all acknowledge and accept that. Had we played Bitton in goal would he get the same stick? No, because nobody expects him to do a keeper’s job.
So no, I won’t criticise him for the first yellow or the manager for selecting him there, with his own options limited. But no more of this please. If Bitton is going to be retained – and he is, and he should be – let him be a backup to the midfield from here on in
His second booking … well what can you say? He should know better than to have done something that daft and unprofessional, and you can tell by his social media post last night that he does deeply regret it. We can forgive and forget on that one.
Those things aside, I thought we were excellent.
I thought we were purposeful, well organised, we looked dangerous when we came forward – and with eleven versus eleven we’d have beaten them quite convincingly due to our attacking threat – and more calm and assured at the back than I’ve seen us in a while despite the choice of personnel.
I thought our new signing acquitted himself brilliantly and when he came in young Murray was solid and didn’t put a foot wrong. What a contrast from what some of the cynics expected from us.
We were not supposed to do that last night. We were not supposed to have that in us.
But I’ve said repeatedly that even without further additions this squad is a lot stronger than it looks and last year’s performers are better than they played.
When Ange gets his players in there, and this team playing with his style, watch out because we’re going to blow teams away on a regular basis.