CELTIC’S bid for a historic tenth successive title while making a splash in the Champions League after two consecutive disappointments hit the rocks in 20 shattering days in August.
The first points of the new campaign had already been squandered in the second outing in a dismal stalemate at Kilmarnock in which Boli Bolingoli made a cameo appearance.
Unbeknownst to anyone at the club, the Belgian defender took an unauthorised break in high-risk Spain only a few days beforehand and broke the government’s quaratine rules upon his arrival. The Hoops were in direct line of a ferocious backlash from the Holyrood chiefs with two games against St Mirren and Aberdeen postponed at a crucial stage of the season with the players still working on their match fitness.
Today, in Part Five of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE series, we look back to a traumatic period at the start of the season that had disastrous and long-reaching ramifications for Celtic.
The nine-in-a-row champions struggled at Premiership new boys Dundee United at Tannadice, but there was a ray of sunhine on the horizon with the likelihood David Turnbull would at last complete his move to Parkhead.
The story continues…
THE WINNER…Albian Ajeti thunders in his first goal for Celtic against Dundee United at Tannadice.
DUNDEE UTD 0 CELTIC 1
NEW Bhoy Albian Ajeti was the toast of Tayside tonight as he struck his first goal for the club following last week’s £5million arrival.
The Swiss international showed his chance-snatching qualities when he struck with the only goal of a tense encounter seven minutes from the end.
The Hoops dominated the first-half, but had nothing to show for their efforts at the break.
Odsonne Edouard smacked a ferocious shot off the post and keeper Benjamin Siegrist made two excellent saves from the French ace and Ryan Christie, but it was yet another 45 minutes of frustration for the visitors.
Newly-promoted United were clearly up for the challenge and were not timid in their approach as they contested every ball.
However, Neil Lennon’s men should have taken the lead in the 12th minute when a Christie cross was deflected into the path of Edouard who left the goalkeeper stranded with a sweeping first-time drive from12 yards that thundered off the edge of the upright and past.
In the 28th minute, Christie whipped in a dangerous right-wing free-kick that was met by Nir Bitton, but, unfortunately, the Israeli’s eight-yard header whipped over the bar.
POINTING THE WAY…new £4.5million keeper Vasilis Barkas had a quiet day on Tayside.
Vasilis Barkas was virtually a spectator as the Hoops camped in United’s half, but there was still no sign of a breakthrough, despite some strong running on the flanks by Jeremie Frimpong and Greg Taylor.
Christie snapped onto a ball from Callum McGregor to sizzle in a low drive from 16 yards, but Siegrist was alert and dived to his left to make a smart save.
Mohamed Elyounoussi set up Olivier Ntcham with a chance in the box, but the midfielder’s first touch was heavy and his shot was blocked by Mark Reynolds. At this stage, it was beginning to look like a reun of the 1-1 draw against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park with United players throwing themselves at efforts from Celtic.
In the 40th minute, Elyounoussi combined with Edouard for an opportunity at an angle on the left, but once again the home keeper made a fine diving save to his left.
Referee Andrew Dallas had already booked McGregor for an accidental collision with Luke Bolton and, equally bewilderingly, awarded United a free-kick when Reynolds clattered Frimpong in the box. Baffling.
Celtic started the second-half in whirlwind fashion with Ntcham firing over an inviring left-wing cross that flew across of the goal with no takers.
And then Christie brought out a world-class high-flying save from Siegrist as he threw himself to his right to palm away a blistering 25-yard drive from the playmaker.
The Scotland international followed that up with two more efforts that were off target as he tried to find his range.
Lennon made his first change in the 61st minute as he sent on James Forrest for Elyounoussi.
JOY BHOYS…Albian Ajeti races away in celebration after breaking the deadlock at Tannadice.
In 74 minutes, Albian Ajeti and Kristoffer Ajer came on for Taylor and Ntcham as Lennon freshened things up.
And the switch proved to be a masterclass from the Hoops gaffer as Ajeti claimed the only goal of the game in the 83rd minute.
Celtic weaved an intricate move down the right with Scott Brown featuring heavily before he slipped a pass to Christie. He moved the ball to his cultured left foot and walloped on another vicious effort from 25 yards.
Siegrist once again got to the shot as he punched the ball away, but it was quickly returned into the box and, after Edouard had a shot blocked, Ajeti swooped onto the rebound to hammer in an eight-yard effort with the United defence in disarray.
Patryk Klimala joined the action in place of Edouard with four minutes remaining as the visitors played out the contest to pick up three precious points..
Now all eyes will turn to Parkhead on Wednesday and the crucial Champions League second round knock-out qualifier against Hungary’s Ferencvaros.
TEAM: Barkas; Frimpong, Jullien, Bitton, Taylor; Brown, Christie, Ntcham, Elyounoussi (sub: Forrest 61), McGregor; Edouard (sub: Klimala 86).
HEAVENS ABOVE…Albian Ajeti blows kisses after his matchwinning strike.
CELTIC new Bhoy Albian Ajeti thanked Neil Lennon after he scored the late winner against Dundee United at Tannadice last night.
The £5million Swiss striker pounced in the 83rd minute to rifle in the points-clincher to seal a crucial 1-0 victory against stubborn opponents who rarely ventured out of their own half.
Vasilis Barkas had to wait until the 68th minute to make a save when he dealt capably with a rasping drive from Jamie Robson, but, apart from that brief moment of menace, he could have watched the game from the stand.
It was down to Ajeti to make a dream Premiership debut after coming on as a substitute for Olivier Ntcham in the 74th minute as Lennon’s men searched for a breakthrough goal.
With the clock ticking down, Ryan Christie, who wasn’t afraid to have a pop at Benjamin Siegrist’s goal throughout the encounter, had a long-range effort punched into the air by the keeper.
Ajeti kept the ball alive with a header at the back post, but it looked as though the chance had gone when Odsonne Edouard was crowded out yet again by a posse of Tayside defenders.
However, the ball broke to the Swiss international and he wasted no time in slamming a drive through the packed defence into the net.
PARADISE…Albian Ajeti holds aloft the Celtic jersey after completing his £5million move from West Ham.
Persistent manager Lennon kept in close contact with Ajeti for weeks to ensure the former West Ham frontman joined him in the team’s bid for a historic tenth successive title.
And the player, who rarely got a look-in at the London club after arriving last summer in an £8million switch from Basel, insisted his confidence in front of goal stemmed from that belief shown by the boss.
Ajeti, who made a cameo appearance in the 6-0 midweek Champions League first round qualifying victory over KR Reykjavik, said: “First of all, it was a very tough game, I’m happy we can take three points back home.
“I’ve scored my first goal for Celtic which makes me very happy actually, but great compliments to the team, it was not easy to play here away, but we did it very well.”I think the gaffer knows the quality of everyone in this team and it was just a matter of time when the first goal happened.
“I’m happy I could help the team in this difficult moment.
“I think all of them have the confidence of a champion. They put so much effort day by day in training, week by week in game and I’m just trying to conduct myself for the team and I’m doing it day by day.
“I came with a lot of confidence because of the gaffer Neil Lennon, he talked so many times to me and I think there is not much more to say about the confidence when the gaffer wants you.”
WAIT FOR IT…David Turnbull poses with Neil Lennon in the Celtic boardroom after agreeing a switch from Motherwell. The deal collapsed, but the midfielder got his wish a year later.
DAVID TURNBULL will finally sign for Celtic in a £3million deal THIS week.
The talented Scotland Under-21 international midfielder looked as though he had sealed a move from Motherwell in June last year only for the switch to collapse when a knee problem was diagnosed during his medical.
However, Hoops gaffer Neil Lennon didn’t drop his interest in the powerhouse and the champions have scouted him twice since the start of this season.
Recruitment chief Nick Hammond and No .3 Gavin Strachan have both watched Turnbull in action and the reports have been encouraging.
The player was forced to undergo surgery last year and only made his comeback in February just before football went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
WANTED MAN…Tom Rogic scores against Livingston, but it looked as though the popular Aussie international playmaker was heading for the exit in August 2020.
Turnbull, who turned in a Man-of-the-Match performance despite the Fir Parkers’ 1-0 loss against Hamilton Accies at the weekend, is now attracting attention from across the border.
Norwich City wanted him last term, but the youngster knocked back the-then Premier League outfit as he admitted Parkhead was his preferred destination.
It looks as though he will get his wish and put pen to paper on a four-year deal within the next few days.
Scotland’s title kings are already getting a replacement into the squad for Australian international Tom Rogic who is on the brink of a £4million move to a club in Qatar.
* TOMORROW: DON’T MISS: 20 DAYS THAT ROCKED CELTIC (PART SIX): Champions League disaster, raging Lenny slams his ‘wantaway’ stars