MATT O’RILEY kicked off for Celtic and within six seconds Alexandro Bernabei had surrendered possession to the hosts at Ibrox yesterday.
That pretty much set the wretched standard for what was to follow for the remaining 90-plus interminable minutes in Govan.
There is much for Ange Postecoglou to ponder after this woeful, feeble performance that was inexplicably turgid right from the off.
Forget the insistence of many this was a meaningless fixture with little at stake but pride. As my old media colleague James Sanderson used to say with unswerving regularity: “That’s bunkum.”
FACE TO FACE…Michael Beale with Ange Postecoglou before kick-off.
This was the opportunity for Celtic to keep their foot firmly implanted on their city rivals’ throat. This was the chance to leave Michael Beale wondering if he could ever figure out a way to get one over on his opposite number if he had failed in five consecutive attempts since the turn of the year.
The pressure from within would have mounted on the Englishman. Beaten in the League Cup Final and the Scottish Cup semi-final by Postecoglou while failure yesterday would have flagged up three unsuccessful league meetings.
The supporters may have begun to wonder if he was an upgrade on Giovanni van Bronckhorst, a manager who had guided them to a Europa Cup Final and a win in the Scottish Cup, ironically after a victory over Postecoglou and Celtic in the semi-final.
Beale may have found difficulty in selling his team to prospective transfer targets. Who wants to perform continually in the overpowering shadow of your city neighbours?
And for a team perennially struggling to get their finances in order, there is also the little matter of season ticket sales.
So, there was a whole lot more at stake in Govan yesterday than mere bragging rights for all of 24 hours before reality kicked in.
OH NO…Matt O’Riley reacts to his shot being saved.
Beale has already gone on record as saying Postecoglou is “a lucky man”. That, of course, is also bunkum (copyright: J Sanderson).
The Ibrox gaffer had every right to be pleased – and relieved – at the final whistle. Once again, though, he felt compelled to make references to good fortune that had guided Celtic to success in previous derby meetings.
“We started the game really well and took a chance – a very similar chance to two we’ve missed in two big games against Celtic this season,” he told Sky Sports. “The big moments went for us and in the other games this season they’ve gone for Celtic.”
So, there you have it, my friends. Celtic’s wins have all been down to the bounce of the ball, gifts from Dame Fortune who smiled in previous outings and scowled yesterday.
Postecoglou might have deserved a little more credit for game plans, team selections and strategies that had brought a modicum of success in four matches against Beale’s team.
Luck, or so it appears, deserted him yesterday. Overlook the fact that three of the back four at Ibrox may not have been on the pitch if there had not been injuries to Cameron Carter-Vickers and Alistair Johnston or some wear and tear on Greg Taylor who was granted a breather among the stand-by squad.
OH NO…Deizan Maeda can’t disguise his feelings.
Let’s not be churlish. The better and more determined team won on this occasion. Not one Celtic player will be able to reflect on this game and acknowledge within their heart their performance could not be improved.
This was a vital fact-finding mission for the Celtic manager. He introduced Bernabei, Yuki Kobayashi and Oh Hyeon-gyu to this fixture, a confrontation that provided the ideal setting to see how those players would perform in front of a 50,000 baying and hostile home crowd.
The Argentinian left-back is the veteran of the trio after arriving in Glasgow in June last year in a £3.75million transfer from top-flight Lanus. The Japanese left-sided defender and the South Korean striker joined in January.
There is much for Bernabei, Kobayashi and Oh to achieve at the champions and this is still a journey of discovery for three 22-year-olds.
On yesterday’s evidence, none is qualified to meet the demands of an encounter at this level. Brutal, I know, but these are the expectation levels at a club of Celtic’s standing.
OH NO…the South Korean striker misses with just grounded keeper Robby McCrorie to beat.
Postecoglou removed Oh in the 63rd minute after the frontman had a mere seven touches of the ball over that period. One was to miss the team’s best chance of the day when he knocked the ball against the outside of the post with just the keeper to beat.
That came only two minutes after Kobayashi had failed to react significantly to a rebound from Joe Hart who unfortunately teed up a shot for Todd Cantwell after pushing out a shot from John Lundstram. A goal from Oh at that precise moment would have removed a lot of the oxygen and energy from their opponents, which had been increased considerably by their early strike.
The Hoops centre-back was then brusquely pushed aside by John Souttar which allowed his opposite number a free header from a right-wing corner-kick delivery to double the home team’s advantage in the 34th minute.
Kobayshi remained on the pitch for the remaining hour with Postecoglou without a natural replacement on the substitutes’ bench while Carter-Vickers and Stephen Welsh watched from the sidelines, both injured and out of action.
OH NO…Liel Abada reacts after a poor first-half finish.
If nothing else, the manager will know it is a matter of urgency to add another central defender to his squad in the summer transfer window.
Kobayashi might have expected to get some assistance from his team-mate, experienced Swedish international Starfelt, but the fact is he was having his own problems to contend with. His passing out of defence was wayward and aimless for most of the day.
I felt sorry for Anthony Ralston. On a couple of occasions within a minute or so in the second-half, Starfelt, without the hinderance of a challenge from an immediate opponent, nonchalantly hit awkward high passes in his direction. The obvious pass was one across the carpet with the right-back in space to collect such a ball.
Instead, though, he would have had a better chance of receiving a pass delivered in his general vicinty if he had been occupying a seat in Row E.
Bernabei also saw out the full game, despite the fact Postecoglou had Taylor on the bench. I got the impression the manager, by this stage, was willing to see it through with the full-back.
In all, he replaced Oh, Liel Abada, Reo Hatate, Filipe Jota and O’Riley while introducing Kyogo Furuhashi, Daizen Maeda, Tomoki Iwata, Sead Haksabanovic and David Turnbull.
THREE AND QUEASY…Joe Hart and Anthony Ralston are helpless as Fashion Sakala races through to score the third goal.
That’s a fair old array of talent, but nothing Celtic did on this occasion made a dent on their opponents. O’Riley had the team’s one effort on target five minutes after the interval with a deft flick after robbing Ryan Jack and sidestepping the lumbering Connor Goldson. He was denied by an excellent save from the keeper.
All hopes of salvaging something from the game and leaving Beale and Co with a summer of turmoil were exterminated in the 70th minute following a haphard incident between Callum McGregor and Starfelt in which both gave the impression they had just been introduced to a football earlier that day.
That left Fashion Sakala with acres of space to utilise before rounding the unprotected Joe Hart and placing his shot into a gaping net.
It was little wonder Beale beamed in the immediate aftermath. He has now been afforded a platform to tell everyone and the office cat how wonderful his team will be in the new season and how the axis of power is about to swing across the city.
We can only hope Ange Postecoglou gets his customary rub of the green to ensure Celtic remain in pole position.
Good fortune and a lot of hard work might even see Celtic chasing a treble.