There are two very different moods tonight on either side of the Glasgow divide. Both teams won, and for one half that’s actually part of the problem. Our club is building momentum. Across town their fans know what they watched today was a papering over the cracks. At Celtic you get the feeling that this is a team which is steadily ramping up.
That was apparent even in a first half where we didn’t score in spite of all our efforts. Nowhere today was the feeling of stress and panic I remember from the St Johnstone game some weeks ago, that sense that points were slipping away. One of the reasons I felt that way was the strength of our subs bench, which has as much quality on it as I’ve seen in a while.
There was always the sense that if the guys on the pitch at the start couldn’t get it done that we could turn to them and find out what they could do. As it is, we’d made just one change – taking off Phillips at half-time, I presume because he was only ever meant to get 45 minutes, to bring Lagerbeikle on. That the boss kept the faith with Liam Scales was, I thought, excellent. That’s a sign that if you earn a place here you will keep it.
That said, with the strength of this squad some people need to up their game. I didn’t think Turnbull was bad today, but too many of his passes were too short or too long and in the bloody battle for one of only three midfield slots when there are so many others in competition he will have to be a lot better to hold down his starting slot.
No such worries today for Daizen “Danger Mouse” Maeda who I thought was absolutely exceptional and was very unlucky not to get the opener; only the VAR decision, which I definitely want a better look at, prevented it.
He was outstanding and I think he’s the only player I enjoy going away on internationals because when he returns he’s always got an extra edge to his play, an extra yard to his pace, as if being back amongst so many of his countrymen has reinvigorated him.
I thought certain other players had good games today, especially O’Riley and Kyogo. But the moment we’d all waited for, more even than the debuts for Palmas, who impressed mightily, and Bernardo, was the return of Reo Hatate … and the whole team just went up a gear the second he was on the pitch. There is no doubt at all that he elevates us.
His being fit is critical. It is great seeing him back in the side, because the whole machine just looks more complete when he is in the middle of the pitch and running his show. That run out should put him in pole position for the Champions League game in midweek.
I would be amazed if the man of the moment, Liam Scales, doesn’t start in that game, having had another very steady day today. I would be surprised if Yang does not start, as he’s really a great player and it stands out a mile that we’ve got a real gem there. Palmas is going to find it tough to crack this side, but he apparently has the skill-set for it so we’ll see. Maeda looks comfortable on both the left and right, and defenders look uncomfortable facing him.
Kyogo, of course, continues to astonish everyone who watches him and wonders why that guy was allowed to languish in the J League all these years when he’s clearly capable of a major step up. How major? This will be the season we find out, in Europe, but i am really glad that we tied him up on a longer deal before we get a chance to.
We’re not there yet. This team is not yet at the level of the Ange team, or even previous Rodgers sides. But it’s coming, you can see that, the pieces are starting to click together and although we played a team today which demonstrated breath-taking cynicism and came to Parkhead to play for a draw, we broke them down through sheer perseverance and, in the end, having too much quality. And we’re five games into the season and four points clear of Ibrox.
When this team does hit its higher gear we will leave them in the dust. And their fans know it too. They are in that awful twilight zone where watching your team has become a chore and a test of your endurance, and the football itself is a slog which makes you want to gouge out your eyes, and through it all you know it can’t go on and you badly want it to end, and so every victory just extends the agony … and something worse. It refuses to extinguish hope.
And it’s the hope that kills them, every single time.