It’s been 141 days since Celtic last played in Paradise, but today, The Bhoys are Back in Town

After four and half long months Celtic return to Celtic Park for today’s friendly with Ross County, and much like the goalkeeping links over the last few days we get two at once, with Celtic also entertaining Hibs at Celtic Park tomorrow lunchtime.

Here’s the team that is playing Ross County this afternoon…

Sadly the players and staff will be without a support to welcome them, but given initial estimates for football returning even behind closed doors ranged from October to January next year, it certainly looks like things are ahead of schedule.

Therefore – despite the Rangers disregard for testing protocols threatening the process – it’s not beyond hope that by October spectators will be returning to football grounds. The recent friendlies in France have shown initial lower numbers being admitted can work. You never know what’s round the corner of course but there is positivity to take when Celtic are at least playing football again and we’re still in July. Hopefully no-one halts this progress with any more rank idiocy.

There are of course no new faces in the squad for today’s game with the transfer window only recently opening but we do have Moi Elyounoussi returning for another year at the club. To get a player of his quality, albeit only for another season, is a real shot in the arm to out Ten-in-a-Row campaign.

As is the news that Leigh Griffiths may be involved at some point in today’s game or tomorrow’s friendly with Hibs. Both Griffiths and ‘the’ Rangers Alfredo Morelos returned to pre-season training out of condition and both had to train separately from the main group to get up to speed, though only one player had enough headlines in the printed press to account for a large portion of Brazilian rainforest. Welcome to Ten-in-Row. Operation undermine and halt Celtic is very much underway. Batten down the hatches.

It’s difficult to know what Celtic will face from Ross County or Hibs over the next couple of days but the truth is I don’t really care, these games are all about Celtic getting used to Celtic Park being an eerily quiet venue and the players learning to cope with the environment, as well as getting a bit more match practice on a domestic level after a worthwhile French tour. Celtic were competitive against good opposition and although results matter little at this moment a couple of confidence building scorelines would go a long way to getting the season off to a good start.

Celtic will start the season as things stand with Scott Bain promoted from third choice keeper behind Fraser Forster and Craig Gordon last season, yet at this time last year Bain was actually Celtic’s number one. After a couple of understandably rusty performances in France he gets a chance to build up confidence and stake a claim. He’ll of course know Celtic are heavily linked with Fraser Forster once again, and that it appears negotiations are close on Barkas from AEK Athens. Bain knows competition for his place will be coming in sooner rather than later but while he has possession of the gloves it’s his place to lose.

There will also be a further chance to see the impressive burgeoning partnership of Greg Taylor and Moi Elyounoussi on Celtic’s left flank, one of the most interesting takeaways from the French trip and one that certainly inspires confidence for the season ahead. It will be intriguing to see how that operates as an attacking duo following on from the more defensive work carried out in France.

The other interesting battle emerging from the pre-season trip was between Ryan Christie and Olivier Ntcham engaged in battle for a midfield berth. Ntcham has certainly narrowed the gap with some notable performances, against PSG in particular, where he really did shine, but it shouldn’t be ignored Ryan Christie also performed well and could have, with a little more luck, set up Christopher Jullien for a goal on Tuesday night.

Competition for that advanced midfield role is clearly fierce and although both players are bound to be utilised over the course of the season, it will be interesting to see who emerges from these friendly games with the starting shirt for Hamilton Accies on a week today.

Up front it’s fair to say Odsonne Edouard has been a little subdued over the three games in his home country and he has Patryk Klimala who has forced himself into contention with his pre-season fitness and goalscoring form to give him some competition. The next two days should see both strikers get some gametime and we may even get to see them as a partnership. Again it could make for a good watch this afternoon to see how that one develops.

With links in the press today to Peterborough’s Ivan Toney, and former Scotland international Steven Fletcher hawking himself to Celtic by way of his pals in the press, the likes of Edouard, Klimala and Griffiths will be on their toes to show Neil Lennon that interest in signings may initially be better served by focusing on the goalkeeper and central defensive positions first of all.

All in all friendlies are often not the most interesting of watches, yet when you’ve waited over four months for Celtic to return to Paradise it will certainly be worth tuning in for this one. The added interest of partnerships developing, players with points to prove and head to head battles for a starting place beginning to take shape makes it all the more intriguing. The Bhoys are back in town and we weren’t expecting that to happen in July.

Here is the Ross County team…

Niall J

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As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parhead's gates.

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