KEVIN GRAHAM contributes to The Scotsman fanzone section every Wednesday. We will publish his thoughts weekly and it’s been fair to say that there have been a few ups and downs. Here’s how his season has gone so far…
18 April 2018
There are some games when you know the result before a ball is kicked. That the opposition or your own team – in the case of us in Europe – are there just to make up the numbers and limit damage.
Sunday was like that. In one of the most unremarkable build up weeks to a national cup semi-final, where nerves where strangely absent, there was never any doubt in my mind that we wouldn’t be in the Final.
We turn up for the big occasions. We have faults but when faced with a domestic challenge we have risen to it. We take great pleasure just rolling on, taking care of business.
Rangers weren’t defeated on Sunday, they surrendered a place in the final when Edouard scored a few weeks ago. They couldn’t defeat us at our lowest never mind our highest.
11 April 2018
There is some games that don’t sell Scottish Football well and shouldn’t be anywhere near TV screens. Games at New Douglas Park would feature highly in this category.
Sunday’s game was a dreadful affair, played on a surface more sticky and patchy than most Glasgow pubs carpets, played in almost silence where you could actually hear the players talking to each other and a game so passive it needed to be revived at the final whistle.
The only positive was the final whistle and three points. We are within smelling distance of the title but who we could win it against is a state secret as the authorities think we are not adult enough to maybe have a derby game when it actually matters. Though, we have one this week which is far more important than any subsequent one.
3 April 2018
There is an element of ticking games off as we eye prizes at this time of the season. The old adage of one game at a time rings true until the silverware is awarded.
I had forgone hope that our performances would get above functional this season so I was over joyed that we reached pleasing heights at the weekend. The dynamic reason for this was Stuart Armstrong.
I raised my eyebrows at the absence of Ntcham who, Forrest and Brown apart, has been our most consistent player, but Armstrong showed why he was chosen. A performance of energy and enthusiasm that we have lacked for long spells for this season.
This encouraged Sinclair and Rogic who used the space and time afforded to them to great effect. Our hope is that this level can be kept against better opponents.
28 March 2018
A new era was suppose to start for Scotland on Friday night. It didn’t start with a bang, it didn’t even start with a damp squib. It was worse than that. It was mostly ignored.
Alex McLeish is the main reason for this. McLeish has a haunted look and is the derelict house at the end of street that has been chosen to be refurbished after all other options fell through.
McLeish successful period is now tainted. He has been chased out of every job since, the suit of yesterday’s man is tailored perfection. The appointment sums up the unimaginative committee who didn’t have the brains to think of anyone else. McLeish is the poster boy of everything that is wrong with Scottish Football. But I do wish him well. There is talent available if he chooses to select it.
23 March 2018
There is a lot of questions and many more answers why Celtic have struggled performance wise this season. Some of them simplify the game others complicate. The facts are this we have dropped points in ten games this season and we are scoring under 2 goals per game. These two things are related with the later being the main cause of the former.
We are like a band that have been propelled to headline Glastonbury after an unstoppable debut album but have to rely on their clogging written on the road second album to fill up the set.
We deserve to be headliners and could still pull of the encore of our dreams with the hits from the first album but lets not dress up the fact that the set has been patchy with plenty of forgettable moments.
We deserve to be headliners and could still pull of the encore of our dreams with the hits from the first album but lets not dress up the fact that the set has been patchy with plenty of forgettable moments.
14 March 2018
It was a game that we were meant to lose. Everyone told us so. The day we were put in our place and we did our best to prove everyone right. Gifting goals, chances, a sending off and a team selection that tried to fit round pegs in square holes.
That Brendan took risks with his team selection was respectful to the fact that we were facing the highest spenders and Scotland’s form team.
This teams desire and hunger has been questioned. Not anymore. We dug in at Aberdeen and now at Ibrox. The three goals we scored were all worthy of winning any game and our quality shone through.
Nine points clear and our aim is not to lose any further meaningful games from now to the end of the season. Do that and we are legends again.
5 March 2018
Saturday was comfortable. Morton were adrenaline fueled for the first quarter of the game but offered nothing there after. We got the job done without getting out of second gear. Some questions remain. Scott Sinclair looks like Scott but it just isn’t happening for him.
Tom Rogic is once again finding his sea legs and we are awaiting his talented ship to be launched. Patrick Roberts made the bench look more attractive. Marvin Compper isn’t just a figment of football manager and Dembele has scored three in two games.
This season we have been a race horse who has stopped for water once too often and there is now a race. We still have a bit to spare before we hear the hoofs of the others but we now need focus on the finishing line and stretch our thoroughbred legs.
28 February 2018
The game against Aberdeen won’t be remembered for the flowing football, the goalmouth chances or be included in any DVD bonus disc but after a tough to take European outcome it was as good as we could get and a welcome 3 points.
There was regrets in Zenit. We never turned up against a side who won’t trouble the later stages of the tournament. After a barn-storming home leg it was the hope that ultimately disappointed us as the performance didn’t come as a surprise.
Brendan was brought to the club to help us develop and compete in Europe. The financial gap is unbridgeable but giving a decent account of ourselves isn’t and that has been sadly lacking in Europe this season. The word regression is being wrongly used though as injuries have played a major part in disappointment.
21 February 2018
The word for our home form is frustrating. There is a consistency in our inconsistency. Out of the five games we have dropped points at home; four of them have come before or after a European tie and all have seen changes made to the starting eleven and the formation. Also, four of them have come when Scott Brown hasn’t played.
After our brilliant performance against Zenit where, against all reasonable thought, we are taking a goal and a clean sheet to Russia, our manager made seven changes. It should come as no surprise then that we never got going. This wasn’t helped by the constant petty fouling that went unpunished until late in the game.
That’s not an excuse. We’ve struggled for balance this season between rest and results. This is a massive week for the club.
14 February 2018
As the Forrest fire ripped through Thistle in the opening ten minutes it seemed like it was going to be a case of how many. Our own failings made the contest closer than it should have been.
The comfortable second half was forgotten as we clung on for the final eight minutes and only a last ditch tackle from Tierney saved us from having an undeserved replay.
Our manager spoke of being measured on last season historical achievements with the emphasis on the word historical. Despite the supporters want; it is harsh on the players to expect them to repeat this. A natural drop off in performance, injuries and teams being better against us all have contributed to our relative struggles.
Saturday is where we are and I’m comfortable marvelling at Tierney punching the air after a replay saving tackle. is where we are and I’m comfortable marvelling at Tierney punching the air after a replay saving tackle.
6 February 2018
I was feeling rather foolish for all of 45 minutes after my article last week, bemoaning our lethargy, as we demolished Hearts with performance levels not seen since Brussels and Aberdeen when autumn was a twinkle in our eye. By the end of the 90 minutes on Saturday I was thinking that I wasn’t hard enough on the squad.
Saturday was a cocktail of woe. Kilmarnock were fantastic, Rodgers made an absolute mess of the enforced substitutions when he figured that throwing on an attacker instead of an available defender would work and we just didn’t fancy the battle with no player willing to take a risk for fear of injury, ridicule or making a mistake (delete as appropriate).
The Hearts performance says the light is still burning, Kilmarnock says Rodgers needs to find a way of keeping it on.
27 January 2018
I can’t wait for the winter break. Oh, wait we have had one. Our woes – it’s all relevant! – pre winter break are still evident and the worry is that without root and branch surgery and a better medical team we will limp along from match to match hoping rather than expecting to play well.
Yes, our bar has been raised to unsustainable standards but we are only asking for our players to be able find each other on a consistent basis with a forward pass and not to just passively safe pass. We have lost all verve and spark. We are team that has an idea but no confidence or ability to implement it.
We are as weak performance wise now as at any point in the last few years and any team should fancy their chances against us.
22 January 2018
Our return and comfortable victory against Brechin City (seeing us score a goal from kick off without the opposition touching the ball) doesn’t answer any of the burning questions that we have had during the winter break.
Those on field questions may have started to get answered by the time you read this after our Glesga Derby against Partick Thistle but the squad questions won’t be answered until the final day of this transfer window to see exactly where we are.
There is a desire to return to the intensive domination that we know that we are capable off but an understanding that this is going to be difficult with the injuries we have to our most creative players. With those players missing we need to move the ball quicker and with purpose to create rather than the brilliance individual.
15 January 2018
This winter break is almost over and most Celtic fans I speak to wish it would last slightly longer. Our squad need more recovery time and also coaching time.
The feeling is this is now the new manager transition season. This is the season we should have had last year but we decided to break the mould along with records. We have peaked with this squad and some players reached heights they will never reach again.
January is a difficult time to improve your squad. Teams will only get rid off players who are not featuring, unless silly money is involved and signings are to freshen up things while hoping to maintain ability level. Squad building is the managers attempt at being greater than the sum of your parts. It feels like we haven’t attempted anything yet to raise standards.
8 January 2018
There is no domestic football to hold my attention and in truth like my team i am glad of the break. It’s been a tough couple of months on both the wallet and time.
Not that I’m complaining, it means that we are successful, but I understand where the players come from when they say they are mentally tired at the same routine. For a fan that routine usually involves buying tickets, arranging transport, childcare, time off work and juggling the realities of real life for a past time that treats you shabbily on the whole. When we get into the cold and dark I look at those nordic countries with their summer football in envy. Our season starts in July so the switch to a summer calendar with a longer winter shutdown shouldn’t be that difficult to switch to.
3 January 2018
When we suffered defeat a look at the next run of fixtures I thought that there was a good chance of going into the winter break at least eight points clear of second place and double digits clear of third.
That has happened and we are satisfied.
On Saturday the game should have over by half time but in the end, like other games at home this season, we were fortunate to gain a point as we failed to match the opponent raising their game.
But you credit the opponent and don’t be embarrassed by your frailties on the day.
That is only a short term problem. The management have eventually admitted what we have all seen. Empty vessels struggling to the dock that is the winter break.
Predictions are the heartbreak of fools but history nods to calmer waters
26 December 2017
We have answered the questions posed by defeat emphatically. While not obtaining total dominance in the three games since we have had spells where the our fire has smouldered back into life. We all mused that it was more mental fatigue than physical and that has been proved. It’s also been proved that if we match the work rate and physicality shown by our opponents our skill and ingenuity will win through. All three games were more comfortable than the score lines suggest but we are still willing the winter break to toll it’s bell. Rest is needed and also change which is now easier to do as we are no longer carrying the invincible tag.
It feels like chapter one of Brendan Rodgers story is ending and the next one is beginning in January. I for one can’t wait.
18 December 2017
“Hello darkness my old friend, i’ve come to talk to you again” could sum up the events of the weekend but it doesn’t. After 585 days we lost a game of football in such spectacular fashion it was a fitting way to lose a spectacular record.
As The Invincibles entered football purgatory the support felt like they had just ended a intense period of therapy after an abusive relationship. It is time to move on, look back and now enjoy what was achieved and thank the players for it.
Sunday proved how phenomenal they had been over the last 18 months. How much work, honesty, determination, skill and delight they have gave us. We were a boxer who had taken one too many punches and one to many fights.
It’s now time to stop preserving and start achieving again.
11 December 2017
The last 20 minutes of this game will be examined with such magnified intensity that it will catch fire. What shouldn’t be forgotten is that the first 70 was so one-sided that this shouldn’t have been a contest. It was due to our creeping failings in a bizarre 3 minutes where we lost two goals but also had two chances to but the game out of sight.
It’s a strange feeling being disappointed with this Celtic team. Some would say that you have no right too because of what has been achieved in the last 18 months. While that is true you can be disappointed by throwing away a comfortable two goal lead and not turning up for another European game. On Tuesday and Sunday we creaked like a hut in a gale but the hut is still waterproof.
27 November 2017
I’ve always been told that bad decisions even themselves out. So, with that in mind for once benefitting from a bad decision in showpiece event seems long overdue. Maybe the list of others that we have been on the wrong end of will now be revenged.
Not that it gave me any pleasure to be reminded about the failings of our referees. It just seems that they are wired to take the limelight with bad decisions.
The game itself was like watching dead air. One team showing signs of lethargy and the other showing little signs of imagination gave the whole occasion a tense and flat feel. The game was won during a fifteen minute spell when some football broke out in between stalemate.
Maybe Craig Thompson did us a favour when he gave us the only talking point?
20 November 2017
This was a terrible game that didn’t deserve the bright day and the goal that won it. Leigh Griffiths free kick was like christmas lights being switched on in grey, damp town centres. A cause for celebration amongst forgettable fare.
We move onto Paris on Champions League duty. Europe’s capital of romance is an ironic location for a competition that has become as romantic as finding bunk beds and two back-packers in your hotel.
I know we are privileged to be in this competition but this game has the feel of ticking it off before the final game where a positive result or anything less than a four goal defeat will see us slip to our european level, which we will celebrate as progress.
Sunday is the most important game this week and we need to turn up for that.
13 November 2017
I wish I could say that watching the World Cup play offs has been enjoyable. Nothing to do with regrets that Scotland failed once again but all to do with that nearly all the games have been balloons that have never inflated.
All have highlighted the problem with the format and international football’s favouritism for pragmatism, which makes viewing utterly mind numbing without a partisan passion. International football used to be the pinnacle but now it’s far behind elite club football.
The other night we were told that we had seen the future of Scotland as the players had technique and athleticism to succeed against mid-ranking international teams.
That’s all and good but judging by this weekend’s games finding some defenders and learning to defend for a stodgy nil nil should be our new manager’s remit.
6 November 2017
On 21st April 1917, Celtic lost to KIlmarnock ending a run of 62 games unbeaten. Brendan Rodger’s Celtic surpassed this record at the weekend with a comfortable victory at a historically tough venue. There is parallels between the two teams that the managers built.
Malley’s team were described as the “best-managed professional club the game has ever seen”, and Malley had a knack of taking players who seemed “nothing special” and infusing them with “Celtic Spirit”.
Rodgers has upped the level of professionalism of the club, in coaching, tactics and attitude to a wholly modern elite level. The team is 99% made up of players that were deemed nothing special a little over 18 months ago.
The next big story in the Scottish game will be the club that ends our run, just like it was when Malley’s dominance ended.
30 October 2017
As we equaled our own 100 year unbeaten record the question was asked if this was the best time that I have had watching Celtic. This is different from other signpost moments. In our centenary year I had youthful naivety and believed that it would always be that way. The nineties then happened and we had Wim winning our first league title in ten years. That was more a relief though.
Along came Martin O’Neill. His time is like a thousand fireworks going off behind your eyes when you think about victories. Brendan is from the same cloth as O’Neill. He has taken the club up another step but in completely different times. Brendan has delivered an unprecedented consistency and performance level. It’s akin to a fine wine. A fantastic buzz, a great after taste and it will be ageless.
21 October 2017
Sometimes games don’t reflect the scoreline. Where the sequence of scoring suggests a dramatic enthralling game filled with tension but in reality it was nothing of the sort. Saturday’s semi final at Hampden was one of those games. While we howled anytime Craig Gordon tried to pass the ball out, Hibs failed to grasp the momentum and trouble a team that was dead on it’s feet.
Football games are thousands of little moments and decisions. Some are coached others are instinctive. Then there is the lucky breaks that you need, the ball needs to fall correctly, your players need to be in the right place and the opposition players in the wrong place.
All those factors and games like Saturday make our 60 game unbeaten domestic run all the more remarkable. It will end but it won’t be forgotten.
24 September 2017
I spent the weekend in a football mad city where like Glasgow the love off the game is as deep as the river that has shaped it. The love of the game no longer extends to the Glasgow Derby it seems as it doesn’t surf the hyperbole pinned on its lapel by TV companies and media.
As I watched the biggest and most expensive pantomime in world football West Ham v Spurs had the attention of 99% of others. I never even had an HD feed. The media can create narratives and drama but when it becomes editorial policy to create controversy, conflict and competition when there clearly is none on view then the horse is fit for glue.
Our run will end sooner rather than later but some will be disappointed with the identity of the team that does it.
14 September 2017
I’m not going to indulge in the ironic moan about financial might ruining the competitive nature of Europe’s premier competition. The uber-rich can stamp their feet about that and set about rearranging the furniture to suit their tastes.
Football has had a defined ecosystem. Clubs from bigger towns, with bigger stadiums and with a bigger fanbase were always at the top of this chain since professionalism fluttered it’s eyelids at the amateur game. These clubs were always, mainly, the most successful and attracted better players. The natural order of that ecosystem has now been altered by the introduction of artificial super predators who mock the natural historical order.
If we stepped off UEFA’s gravy chain we would still be the biggest fish in our own pond. It will stay that way unless an oil state fancies buying a Scottish club.
11 September 2017
A footballer’s life is never dull and can lead them to strange places that they didn’t know that existed. Take Odsonne Eduardo. One day your training in the heat and beauty of Paris, the next you’re in a rain swept Lennoxtown, unable to communicate with any of your team-mates.
You then make your debut on a plastic pitch that has seen better days, in a stadium that has a temporary stand down one side where you’re introduced to the industrial nature of the Scottish game. You take a while to get into the game but eventually find your speed, which defenders find difficult to stop. Couple this with skill, rawness plus an unmistakeable Frenchness then you have an interesting season watching how much game time the player will get.
He’s shown enough to suggest it will be enjoyable and absorbing.
4 September 2017
Strange and as unlikely as it seems, Scotland are now peering through the letterbox of a possible playoff spot hoping that someone will let them in. It’s testament to Strachan’s sheer stubbornness that he has lead us to this position.
Most would have walked after the first half of this campaign but he is now the longest serving manager since Craig Brown and we have just won back to back games in qualifying for the first time in ten years.
Most successful or semi decent international teams are made up of a core from one or two clubs and are extremely organised. Six Celtic players started both games aided by the impressive Andrew Robertson, first Liverpool player to score Scotland since Kenny Dalglish,and Matt Phillips. Strachan is the man for the job and he must remain so after October.
28 August 2017
Sometimes a game of football is just absolutely so absorbing that the end result doesn’t really matter. You’re just glad that you witnessed it. There is two ends of the spectrum regarding the type of game that is absorbing.
One is the reckless run-away train that hurtles from end to end as both teams slog it out. Like the second half against Astana. A game that was more school boy than Champions League.
Or like Saturday where a magnificent run looked like it was end due to a horrendous mistake, some heroic defending, stout organisation despite the effort, commitment and a skillful onslaught by ourselves.
Our run will come to end. We know that letter is coming and Saturday’s first half Euro hangover is a taste of how it may come. Whatever happens we can’t fault our players endeavour.
22 August 2017
The most solid foundation you can have is rock bottom. While it’s wrong to suggest that when Rodgers took over the club was at rock bottom it certainly didn’t look to have a solid foundation.
We played a usually tension fraught Champions League Play Off last week but by 70 mins, were looking towards the Champions League. But we have no sea legs and our lead looked slender after the opening of the second half.
Overall though we dominated a tough tie for the majority of the two games, scored eight goals and only looked ropey when we downed tools and the momentum switched but, importantly, was regained.
Since Rodgers arrived he has transformed the thinking of the club from one that hoped to qualify for the Champions League to one that expects too. Raised expectations built on solid foundations.
14 August 2017
Football is littered with pantomime villains but it’s also full of those, who have an extended interest in the game, believing – in their own fickle minds – that players are actual villains. Villains who deserve to be abused for 90 minutes.
Last week, Kyle Lafferty took centre stage at Celtic Park last week, charging around failing to get sent off and he reacted to the crowd when being substituted. This week Neil Lennon spoke the unwritten truth then over celebrated a Hibs goal at Ibrox. Fans called for the death penalty for both men. The only thing in common is some fans abusing these players think Scotland 2017 is actually Belfast in the early eighties.
We have been told to move on over the summer but the only thing that needs to move on in the game are these fans.
7 August 2017
A new season. The pitches are pristine green, the goal mouths beg to be dived in but if you look closely you can see the base of sand that will appear in the winter gloom. Scottish Football is also built on a base of sand that will soon be exposed. When exposed there will be no winners or losers just more questions, accusations and regrets.
The game on the pitch is the easiest part not to question. Not dark just light. Leigh Griffiths, after his heroics at Hampden, has lifted his game to a level that most didn’t think possible. He is a testament to listening to coaches, hard work and making the best of your talent.
He’s talismanic already in this early season but will be a welcome addition to the Celtic Centenary Club before it is out.