Hoary old phrases like, “Trophies are not awarded in February” will be heard today. While this is technically true, let me add another, last night’s performance was Season Defining.
I worried before the game that our midfield would be too new for the occasion and too lightweight for the ‘robust’ opponents. As it transpired, anyone in blue who intended to offer a robust and in-your-face derby baptism, were like statues, compared to Reo Hatate, Matt O’Riley and Callum McGregor. For the majority of the game, Callum played the Masked Virtuoso No. 6 role, before moving to the No. 8 position, then ending at No. 10. Quite a shift for a man carrying an injury.
Throughout the first half I continually said, “It’s all about the movement”, but then I watched Josip Juranovic and thought, “When did I last see a Celtic right back put in a performance like this?” Yes, movement was the masterplan, but the reality is, Celtic have far better players.
Metrics detailing the effectiveness of shots from outside the box give you a sniff of what might happen when a player pulls the trigger from distance, nothing more. Outcomes depend on your survey population. If I shoot from 20 yards, one outcome will occur. If Reo Hatate shoots from the same distance, another. Reo’s conversion ratio from distance will surly drop, but goodness, what an outstanding threat he is.
With Cameron Carter-Vickers in front of you, a goalkeeper should put in a calm performance. Joe Hart had a relatively easy evening, but with the score at 1-0, he raced from goal to smother a through ball which evaded the Celtic back line. It was a crucial intervention, within minutes Celtic were 2-0 ahead and there was no way back. Across a pulsating 90 minutes, this detail could be overlooked. That would be an error.
The only goal I have seen back on video (so far) is the third. Before watching, the question was, Where did he come from? When Reo Hatate crossed from the left, Liel Abada was standing at Springfield Cross – believe me, I’ve watched it repeatedly.
You’ll hear people talk about having a change of pace. Liel started his run at a sprint, then, when it was too late for his defending full back to react, he dropped a gear and exploded forward. Barisic, the full back in question, dropped to the ground, knowing the horrors he was about to witness. It was too late to do anything else. That change of pace brought Liel into the heart of the box unmarked.
The finish looked easy. I remember Kenny Dalglish, who watched on from the stands, made the same thing look easy at Celtic Park. It was not easy, it was masterly. Leil met the ball on the drop volley and allowed the pace of his run to apply the necessary force to tuck it away.
At halftime, one of my sons held up his fingers in a ‘5’ gesture? Oh, to be brought up in an era when we expect to score so many against the other side of the city. Ange is too clever for that. Four days earlier, Matt O’Riley got cramp during a game, Callum McGregor has been out with a serious face injury, Reo Hatate is still going through his preseason regime. We started the second half intent on maintaining our winning lead, an objective delivered with comfort.
As we discussed, trophies are not handed out in February. But to paraphrase that old antifascist, this is not the end of the Ange Postecoglou development plan for Celtic. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Enjoy your day.