Wow. Just when I thought we might be spared a Monday of Jackson or Keevins, here we are again having to cover one of them. The other, I’m not touching because whilst I am assured that Keevins latest moon howling is one for the ages I’m also assured that it is so out there and deranged that it’s not worth the trouble. I’ll accept that gratefully.
But Jackson’s latest is another matter entirely, such witless writing that I simply feel like I have no choice but to subject it to the full flamethrower. It’s that bad.
I don’t feel in the mood for preamble today, so let’s do as per usual and dive right in there, taking it from the headline first and working our way through it.
Brendan Rodgers rips up Celtic plan that’s indicative of a man still searching for answers to the riddles – Keith Jackson
When even the headline is grammatical shambles like this you know the rest is going to be pretty bad. Honestly, does The Record sports department have no quality control at all? That sentence is just a mess. At a quality title that would never make it out the door to render the whole thing suspect. It’s the tip of the iceberg here.
Our man says there are plenty of questions surrounding the Hoops despite booking their place in the Scottish Cup quarter finals.
There are plenty of questions as to how “your man” got a gig in journalism too. It certainly wasn’t through talent or skill of any sort usually connected with the job. As the first sentence is about to demonstrate quite clearly.
Sometimes, when the answer to the puzzle is anything but obvious, the smartest option is to pass.
Now you know what happens if you ever find yourself on the same team as this clown in a pub quiz. I’ll tell you now, it won’t be your night. I mean, what a daft thing for someone to write. Straight away the IQ quotient of the article drops twenty percent and because it is, after all, a Jackson and one with a badly written headline, we were not exactly cruising at high altitude to begin with.
And on Sunday afternoon Callum McGregor took it upon himself to do exactly that just when it seemed that Celtic might be running out of answers to the variety of issues which have been making this campaign such an unfathomable struggle.
We had a dip in form. Not unheard of when a new manager takes over a team and has to tinker with a winning formula. That’s a much harder task than taking over a team on its knees. Taking over winners and trying to mould them into a new shape is one of the most difficult jobs in football. The thing with the club across town is that they’re never in good condition when they get a new boss; that job is cake by comparison. It’s entirely “fathomable” if you think about it.
When his team was toiling and perhaps even toying with the idea of giving up a second piece of silverware from the trophy cabinet, McGregor stepped forward to assume control and ease some seriously fraying nerves. For a good hour or so of a frantic, tightly balanced fifth round tie, the skipper passed, passed and passed again until he had single handedly worked St Mirren out and spared Brendan Rodgers from disappearing down into a full blown conundrum.
Disappearing down into a conundrum. Jesus wept. The more big words a Jackson piece has the more you are entitled to suspect the Unseen AI Hand. But ChatGPT is programmed a hell of a lot better than to come up with that. What’s his general point here? That Callum McGregor had a good game? ‘World Holds It Breath With Shock At Seeing Midfielder Pass The Ball”? Guess what? That’s what we pay him to do, and captains do occasionally have to lift their teams. We also expect that.
By the time he was done his side had secured a two-goal lead and place in the draw for the Scottish Cup quarter finals. And his boss was benefiting from some badly needed thinking time at the end of what has been an unusually perplexing and chaotic couple of weeks. Of course, over the years McGregor has played in more important matches than this one and most certainly on more pristine playing surfaces.
There are two ways we can look at this; we can take that timeframe literally or we can assume it’s just another way Jackson has of reminding us that we’re not dealing with a Quiz Kid here. I suspect we’re meant to take it literally, so let’s try that first. If he’s trying to say that the performances of this team in the last fortnight constitutes a crisis, he’s as stupid as his colleague who I am not writing about today. If he’s talking on a wider time-scale he’s presumably including the win over his favourite club who if you believe the media are world beaters. Which is why we beat them, presumably.
But, even so, the sheer scale and significance of his intervention should not be underestimated. Because a well organised, highly confident St Mirren had Celtic in all manner of trouble until the moment McGregor decided to take matters into his own hands by seizing control of the middle of a badly rutted and wholly untrustworthy pitch.
Absolute nonsense. Nope, I’m not having that at all. If you started out watching the game from the point of view of believing Celtic are in freefall I am sure that it would have been possible to convince yourself of that; it’s called confirmation bias, when you are actually looking for evidence of something you believe to be true and will cling to anything that seems to support that. But the claim that we were in “all manner of trouble” yesterday simply has no basis in reality whatsoever. St Mirren had chances; the two biggest of them came when Celtic already had the lead and they were throwing everything forward to get back into the game … and Callum was not the only player in our team had to grab things by the scruff of the neck.
By applying some composure and a cool head the captain took the heat out of the occasion just when things were getting sweaty. And if Rodgers and his players do recover from this mid-season wobble to end the campaign on top, then McGregor’s leadership on an otherwise inauspicious Sunday afternoon, should not be forgotten.
The “mid-season wobble”, lets not forget, is us drawing a game. Whatever happens this season will not have pivoted on one Callum McGregor display, although I was pleased to see him do so well yesterday and so obviously lead because a lot of people have been giving him a ridiculous amount of stick, as I had intended to write before the match and will certainly be writing about later.
The truth of the matter is his calmness prevented a crisis from taking hold because Celtic made the short trip along the M8 on Sunday lunchtime, in danger of veering into the central reservation. And it was McGregor who ensured they made the return trip with a home tie against Livingston safely in the bag.
Kyogo and Maeda’s goals notwithstanding you mean?
All that was required before kick-off was a cursory glance at their team sheet to know that the holders might encounter a serious problem in Paisley.
We’re in the midst of an injury crisis, but this is why you have a good squad. I have talked about our need for better reinforcements but I thought our lineup was strong enough to get the job done. I didn’t have the slightest concern looking at it. That Jackson looked at it and felt a shiver of hope run up his spine only makes my point about confirmation basis look stronger. He saw what he wanted to see, that’s all.
With the best will in the world, a back four of Anthony Ralston, Stephen Welsh, Liam Scales and Alaxendro Bernabei offered up a distinctly B team feel long before Rodgers had even sent them out for a warm up.
Apart from mis-spelling Bernabei’s first name – I do not correct Jackson pieces, I don’t get paid enough to do the job his editors fail to do and I’m not here to make these people look better – the point is only half valid. We’ve working with what we’ve got. Who were we playing here anyway, Real Madrid? St Mirren have scored a grand total of 29 goals in 25 league games this season. I didn’t look at our defence and worry that we could cope.
To their credit – and not for the first time this season – Welsh and Scales excelled under considerable fire. But the fact that they are having to man the fort at the heart of Celtic’s defence, when neither player started the season harbouring much hope at all of seeing any regular first team action, sums up an ongoing malaise.
No, you halfwit. It sums up an injury crisis. I have argued for signing a better class of centre back, but my point has ever been that these guys are more than up to the job of performing in this league. Scales, in particular, has been excellent in this campaign. If he wants to talk about players who weren’t expecting to play this season and have found themselves better than summer signings how about that his own favourite club still fields Scott Wright and Matondo? That is digging below the bottom of the barrel if you ask me.
The importance of this pair underlines the flimsy nature of the squad as well as the flaws in the club’s recruitment strategy which has given the manager so many headaches since his return to Glasgow’s east end.
No argument. But then, we’re not the team who signed a 35 year old centre back at the start of this campaign are we?
What’s more, that Rodgers chose to rip up his preferred team structure and roll out a new look formation was indicative of a man still searching for answers to the riddles which have been undermining his side’s season.
Utterly wrong. As I pointed out yesterday, we’ve very obviously been trying out that formation in recent weeks and the manager has been tweaking it to get it working better. Besides, “manager makes changes to get his team playing better” … it’s hardly a new idea, is it? This is what you pay an elite manager to do at the end of the day.
By selecting two strikers in Idam Idah and Kyogo Furuhashi and sacrificing Paulo Bernardo from midfield, Rodgers was effectively throwing the dice as a needs-must reaction to the flaky, substandard nature of recent performances.
Again, a clear spelling mistake with Idah’s first name. Not touching it. But more to the actual point, I thought that “needs must” was the approach that every manager in the business took to every single match they were in charge of? What’s the alternative? “Needs must not”?
New boy Nicolas Kuhn was left on the bench and the German’s omission from the starting line up also suggests he has not added the kind of quality which Rodgers was crying out for before the transfer market opened up for business at the start of last month.
Ha! I wondered how long that would take. New signing not quite settled in yet isn’t exactly a new story either is it? That, too, happens in football. It could suggest he’s still getting up to speed. It could suggest that Rodgers didn’t want to play him, untested, on that horror show surface. It could just suggest that Rodgers wants the players out wide who already have goals and assists in this campaign to lead his rejigged line. Only at Celtic would this be turned into an issue.
And all of the above will have emboldened a St Mirren side which had its tail up heading into this tie in the first place. Rodgers had hinted last week that he might soon find a way of getting both Idah and Kyogo into the same starting line-up but, even so, this felt like quite a moment to make such a bold move.
He more than hinted at it. He’s actually had them both on the pitch. It was obvious he was thinking along these lines. Only Jackson could have been surprised that something Rodgers telegraphed so clearly was actually done.
Kyogo was deployed behind Idah but well advanced of both McGregor and Matt O’Riley at the base of Celtic’s midfield. And it was the Japanese international who broke the deadlock from that deeper position but only after St Mirren’s defence had been unlocked by one of McGregor’s perfectly executed passes.
We’ve been watching variations of the Kyogo experiment all season long. The missing piece was having a player in front of him who could back up into defences, shake up their lines and create that little bit of space for Kyogo to work his magic … everyone has been screaming for the change in the system that let him do that. Viola! Here we have it!
Up until that point, the home side had been pummelling Celtic’s back four as if they meant business but, with the pressure building, it was McGregor who found the release valve by sending Luis Palma tearing off down the left flank.
Palma has taken plenty of stick too these past weeks. It was good to see him getting another assist yesterday.
The winger’s cutback was met at the edge of the box by Kyogo who needed only one touch to guide it inside Zach Hemmings’ left hand post. That St Mirren came roaring back into the contest and were unlucky not to be level before the break adds weight to the suspicion that Celtic remain vulnerable and strangely out of sorts.
It could also be that a home team, in a winner-takes-all cup game realised it would be mad to just sit back and wait to be battered.
But McGregor kept on prompting his team from the middle of the pitch and, eventually, a place in the last eight was made safe when Daizen Meada stabbed home the second goal seven minutes into the second half.
So Palma laid one on and Maeda scored one. Kyogo benefited from that additional bit of space and got on the scoresheet too … wow. When you put it all together like that, doesn’t it sound a lot like Rodgers got his selection spot on?
Rodgers spoke afterwards with a sense of bewilderment, as if way too much his being made of his side’s slump in form having notched up eight wins and a draw from the last nine games.
No, Rodgers did not speak with a sense of bewilderment. He is a smart man and he’s been here long enough to know how this media operates. He sounded, instead, like a man who was pretty pissed off about the constant references to “crisis” in the questioning. Imagine any other top manager, anywhere in football, being asked if his team was in crisis during a run like that? Is it a wonder that he’s not impressed by any of it?
But deep down he will know that, even though the results have been consistent, the performance levels have been anything but.
Thank God then it’s only results that matter, right?
That’s why legitimate questions are being asked of Celtic’s resilience now Rangers are offering up a decent fight from the other side of the city.
I draw your attention to eight wins and a draw in the last nine games. Including whipping them. Even on the back of poor performances that’s impressive. Imagine what will happen when the form edges up a notch? I think this thought is what’s keeping Jackson up at night. Our “resilience” has been proved as a far as I’m concerned.
What Rodgers needs now is for his players to take a breath and prepare themselves for things becoming a great deal more tense than they already are, as the season picks up pace towards the finish line.
No, Rodgers needs to remind the players only that if they keep winning, however it’s done, whatever it takes, that we’ll win both the title and the Scottish Cup. That’s it, it’s as simple as that. We’re not the only team that has questions to answer, after all.
It’s time for a good few of them to take a leaf out of their captain’s book – to keep calm and Calmac on – because McGregor can’t be expected to do all the work for them between now and May.
To keep calm and Calmac on. God almighty. Prosecution rests. This guy shouldn’t be allowed near a keyboard. For his own good as well as ours.