If there was one message The Mooch would have tried to get through to his team, over the sound of Todd Cantwell’s hairdryer, it would have been this;
“We cannot afford to give Celtic any kind of head start early in this campaign.”
And after one series of games, that’s exactly what they have done.
Three points, three goals, and the same old questions.
The thing I noticed most from their game today is how dire they are tactically.
We have had a manager for the last two seasons who brought a coherent philosophy to the side, and in Rodgers we have a manager who has his own way of playing that, tactical tweaks and shape changes aside, depends on passing the ball, on working the space, on movement, on finding the gaps. His trophy haul proves that it works. It makes perfect sense.
The Mooch, since his first minute in the Ibrox door, has depended on the battering ram approach, the one that went out of fashion in the 80’s, where it was pioneered in England on pitches like ploughed fields and by big hulking brutes.
England is full of big hulking brutes right now, and so I understand why he might think that approach is still in vogue, but look at the biggest most hulking brute of them all, Erling Haaland, and you see a footballer of extraordinary skill and finesse.
Their best teams play a version of what we do, with superlative players who have skill and ingenuity to match their physical prowess.
I didn’t see either skill or ingenuity from their team today, not one ounce of it. He has managed to rebrand public park level football into something some in the media thought would be enough to challenge Celtic’s sophisticated approach. It is madness.
His appointment was illogical. His record in the games when it truly mattered last season was woeful, and so if hiring him in the first place was lunacy then leaving him in post and letting him spend so much money represented all of the risks but with less of the upside than Russian Roulette, a game where winning means that you get out of it with what you came in with.
What in God’s name were they even thinking about over there?
For months, Celtic fans have waited patiently for today.
We didn’t know the particulars, how it would play out or any of that, but there’s been a keen sense of anticipation for the moment the “Pre-Season Cup” was declared over and the real business began. Because we know that they are a joke of a football club, making decisions based on short-term thinking and with no other focus than us.
Their entire summer has been spent building a team to compete with the approach of a manager who is no longer at our club … and that’s not even their starkest error.
Their starkest error was in building that team whilst failing to notice that other managers in this league had started to figure them out.
Derek McInnes is not a genius by any manner of means, but he tactically outclassed The Mooch today, and the most pathetic sight towards the end was him making shrewd substitutions to easily counter Ibrox’s last-ditch effort of throwing on every player they could who had ever scored a handful of goals.
I turned to my old man as The Mooch was bringing on Roofe and said “That’s Neil Lennon level management that.”
Actually, it’s much worse than that, and McInnes read it instantly and adapted accordingly. The six minutes of injury time might as well have been six hours. The Mooch had no idea how to break down that defence, and his players were reduced to long shots and hopeful punts which the Killie back line could have defended all night.
The home midfield was utterly dominant. The Great Niko Raskin, remember him? He was owned today by a Northern Irish born footballer who has bounced about on loan at various clubs before the Rugby Park side took him on. He scored the only goal.
Cantwell got on eventually, and produced a display of such ineptitude I’d stay off social media for at least a week if I was in his shoes. He enjoys sunning himself in foreign climes; on a plastic pitch on a freezing cold Scottish afternoon he looked out of his depth and walked off feeling sorry for himself.
The amount of hype just these two have had over the summer has been outrageous, which is to say nothing for that which has been attached to the guys they have signed.
Kenny Miller, perhaps the stupidest person save for The Village Idiot occupying a commentary box anywhere in Scotland tried manfully to spin that and find positives; I will get sick listening to him long before we wrap this title race up. His disbelief at what he was watching – having been responsible for a good bit of that hype, especially in the last week – was hilarious on its own.
Two weeks ago, Keith Jackson, who had watched their team in pre-season, lamented that he could discern no structure to their line-ups and no set pattern to their play. He also could not understand the lack of logic and incoherence to the team building.
Let’s be honest, any side where Lundstram can still get a game and that game is not played with shoulder pads, roller-skates, motorcycles and spiked gloves, is a team playing with a man short.
But there’s an analogy which I like to use sometimes which sort of explains things for Jackson a bit, and it’s this; a rank amateur playing a world class chess player can have early success in the game, because the pro is looking for a strategy underneath it all, and it sometimes takes a while before it’s clear that there really isn’t one, except at the most basic level.
The Mooch is a public park manager whose teams play public park rough-house football. If this was Rollerball, then his signings make perfect sense; they are big bulky brutal bastards. In a way it also makes sense in the context of what he thinks he’s doing, which is building a team with enough good football in it to dominate what he thinks is a poor league.
But first, that assumption is arrogant and stupid, and it’s certainly not one you’d spend a lot of money backing. Secondly, it’s so lacking in any real intellect or level of skill that any manager with an ounce or understanding of modern tactics can counter that sort of style with ease, and Derek McInnes did it today without breaking a sweat.
There was not a moment in that game where you felt Kilmarnock would not get at least a point.
And for Ibrox a point would not have been enough.
Because as I said at the start, the one thing they could not afford to do was give Celtic an early lead at the top of the table, and it’s taken them just one weekend to do exactly that.
Now, they will clutch at the straw that we also lost our opening weekend under Ange. There are two crucial differences.
The first is that Ange was newly in the door and most of his signings weren’t.
The second is that they lost on their second weekend, which balanced out that early reversal. We went on to lose our next two away games and then drew one at home, but their own form was so patchy that we were never more than a handful of points behind.
But this is The Mooch’s team, or as close to it as he’ll get, and he is not newly in the door but a guy who has been in post for more than six months.
This Celtic team is a machine, and all that machine does is grinds teams up and spits out points … no Ibrox side in the past decade has had anything like our consistency with that where fans have been able to watch it.
And now they cannot afford to drop more, because they can’t imagine that we will, and even if they do win every match until we go there in September, that’s a “must-win” game now for them, and losing it must be virtually unthinkable for them.
In poker, one of the most effective strategies is to put someone to an early test for the bulk of what they have to gamble with.
Press them and see how they handle that pressure.
If they fold you know they can be bullied. If they call your bluff and you’re not bluffing, you take a limb off … and that’s what that game is looming as. It’s not crazy to suggest we might deal them a death-blow even before the campaign has properly got off the ground.
If we come out of there that day with a six-point lead … I think they’re toast.
The psychological weight of that – and especially for the serial losers in that team – will crush them like a paper cup, and walking off the pitch today you could see in their body language that some of them are already feeling it bearing down on them.
Good. Because when The Mooch took over last season the league was already done, and so neither he nor some of them have ever felt this before.
We’re going to see what they’re made of, and from where I’m sitting tonight the end result is going to look a lot like strawberry jam.