Meet Tickety-Bhoy, otherwise known as Paul O’Neill. He has followed Celtic since his first introduction to Kenny Dalglish in the 1970’s, and has been a member of Éire Go Brách CSC Béal Feirste, Ireland’s biggest Celtic supporters’ club, for the past 25 years.
Following the club has taken him almost literally all over the world, with trips to European destinations and more long-haul jaunts to Celtic conventions in Las Vegas a yearly occurrence (pre-pandemic).
He has been writing as Tickety-Bhoy on and off now for about 20 years and sees it as a welcome departure from the more mundane aspects of life. You know, the ones that pay the bills. When not following the Bhoys, his other passions are horseracing (as in the Cheltenham pic!) and travelling. Quite likes the odd game of cards (although never with Dúlra) and rarely says no to the odd sociable with his mates to discuss all things Celtic.
IT may have taken a fair while longer than it should have done, but with Neil Lennon eventually stepping down from his second spell as Celtic manager it is time for the club to start thinking ahead and planning how to reclaim their place at the top of the Scottish football tree.
CELTIC appear to be hitting a little bit of form just now, unfortunately all a bit too late to be of any relevance in the race for the league title, but I suppose it’s better than losing and at least they’re keeping Sevco honest.
THE unrelenting cycle of disappointments for supporters of the Bhoys continued this week with more upheaval, players leaving, terrible football and the announcement that, after 17 years, CEO Peter Lawell was finally taking his leave of the club.
There hasn’t been an awful lot of football played over the last week with Celtic missing out on any action at all last weekend due to the Betfred Cup semi-finals.
Despite Saturday’s disappointment at Ibrox leaving their 10-in-a-row ambitions hanging by a thread, Neil Lennon and his players must not throw in the towel IT’S all over bar the shouting for Celtic’s league title challenge this year as defeat at Ibrox last weekend has surely signalled the end of their magnificent run of nine championships in-a-row.
THE hostile mood around Celtic Park has softened somewhat over the past week with a couple of morale-boosting victories enough to temporarily ease the pressures on Neil Lennon and the board. I don’t think anyone’s getting carried away just yet as one of those wins was in a European dead rubber but it certainly makes a change from the dark clouds that were enveloping the club in the last few months. The recent run of poor results has caused deep divisions between the club, the players, the manager and the board with some of the protests and banners outside the stadium crossing the line between measured criticism and outright threats. For a club with so much recent success, it has become obvious that there are some within the support who are unable to deal with a bit of adversity and for whom the words “faithful through and through” mean nothing. Hopefully from now on the headlines will be taken up more by events on the pitch than those involving protesting fans outside Celtic Park. The change in fortunes began last Thursday and while the final game in Europa League Group H meant very little in the grand scheme of things, for Celtic there was still a lot at stake for French visitors Lille. A victory would have seen them top the group at the expense of AC Milan, theoretically giving them an easier draw in the knockout phase. Whether he was using the tie to give a few fringe players some game time or bowing to fan pressure to change things up is a question which only Neil Lennon can answer but whatever the basis of his decision to finally hand starts to Soro and Turnbull in midfield, it was completely vindicated. Both players had exceptional games, with Turnbull providing the creativity and Soro the steel in the middle of the park. The ex-Motherwell man was at the heart of everything good that Celtic did going forward, sending in a pinpoint corner for Jullien’s opener then threading the pass which led to Frimpong winning a penalty for the second. He capped off a brilliant personal display with the winner in the second half. Lille showed that it’s no fluke they are top of Ligue 1 in France, ahead of the likes of Lyon and PSG, as they twice came from behind to level the score. The Celtic we have become accustomed to over the past few months would probably have tried to play for the draw and in doing so went on and lost the game. There was a never say die attitude about Thursday’s performance, however, which saw them take the lead for the third time and on this occasion they comfortably held on, with Soro particularly effective in nullifying the away team’s threat. The win didn’t change their last placing in the Europa League group but it did ensure that they wouldn’t finish with the lowest European points tally ever by a Scottish team and it went a long way towards instilling a bit of belief back in the players. Lenny thankfully resisted the temptation to reinstate the men who had been so ineffective of late in their next game against Kilmarnock on Sunday. Turnbull and Soro continued in midfield with Conor Hazzard also keeping his place in goal.The 2-0 victory lacked the dynamism of the Lille game. In fact, it was quite mundane and run of the mill but that was exactly the type of win that Celtic haven’t been able to achieve in a number of months. They looked assured at the back, didn’t give Killie very many chances and scored their goals at the optimum times in the match. In doing the basics well they gave themselves the platform to go and win the game in a fairly straightforward manner. Even going in goalless at half-time, there never looked to be any anxiety among the players or in the dugout, there was always the belief that the goals would come at some point. Having sat out a number of recent fixtures, Shane Duffy will now be feeling a lot better about things as he got on the scoresheet against Kilmarnock with a trademark thumping header from yet another of Turnbull’s excellent corners. Keeping a clean sheet would also have given the big Derry man a huge amount of satisfaction as, by his own admission, we have not seen the best of him. Hopefully there’s a lot more improvement to come. The two wins have stopped the rot to some extent and will see the Bhoys approach this weekend’s historic Scottish Cup final in much better heart. Nevertheless, there was a bit of disgruntlement amongst the fans at Lenny’s assertion that he will look to utilise those players who were instrumental in getting to the final. While that loyalty is admirable to some degree, I don’t think that Celtic are in that strong a place right now that they can hand out cup final starting slots based on sentiment alone. The players who have come in and taken the jerseys should have a chance at keeping them, particularly when there is a trophy at stake. A Celtic win at Hampden on Sunday will see them rack up 12 domestic trophy wins in a row, a feat which will surely never happen again. Therefore, no risks should be taken in terms of team selection or tactics. The last couple of victories have been built on picking the best players based on current form and playing to their strengths. This is not the time to interrupt the little bit of momentum the team are currently enjoying, nor would it be wise to throw away the goodwill among the fans which the last two games have engendered. There is a cup final to be won.Tickety-Bhoy!
IT looks like one step forward and two steps back for Celtic just now as their Jekyll and Hyde season continues to anger and baffle us in equal measure.
IF Celtic manager Neil Lennon felt under pressure after the derby day defeat a few weeks ago, then I think it’s safe to say that it’s gone up a few notches since then.
This article was written before last night's 1-3 defeat to AC Milan in the Europa League.
AFTER an interminable week of decidedly dreary international football, it’s back to domestic action for the Bhoys this weekend as the first meeting of the season with Sevco takes centre stage in the race for the Scottish Premiership title. Not only did the hiatus deprive us of proper football for a couple of weeks but events outside of the club’s control could have put a severe dent in their title challenge. The international break was a personal triumph for Shane Duffy who, despite disappointing results for Ireland and a failure to qualify for next year’s European Championships, performed excellently for his country and will hopefully come back to Celtic Park safe and sound. There was a COVID scare among the Ireland squad which left Celtic supporters fearing the worst but at the present time the big Derryman has managed to avoid the virus and is good to go. The main fear with Duffy is that in playing in three competitive internationals, with one of those going to extra time, he is bound to suffer from some mental and physical fatigue. It is anything but ideal preparation for him, and every other Celtic player away on international duty, going into a game of the magnitude of this Saturday’s. The international break didn’t go so well for some other members of the Celtic squad, however, with at last count, at least four players either definitely out or in danger of missing out on this weekend’s game. All four are, of course, COVID related. The players definitely out are Christie, Bitton and Elhamed and while all three have done well in recent weeks when selected, there are ready-made replacements within the squad and none of these players will have been a nailed-on starter. Their lack of availability does deprive the squad of some depth, nevertheless. Odsonne Edouard has not been setting the heather alight this season in the way that we know he can but of all the players that could miss the derby he is the one that could hurt Celtic the most. We all know that the French striker is unplayable on his day and it was hoped that his early season funk was caused by the transfer window and all the speculation that surrounded him. Now that the window has closed and he remains a Celtic player he will hopefully get back to his usual self. Whether or not that will happen this Saturday remains to be seen. The upheaval resulting from so many players affected by virus related issues calls into question the entire international schedule and in particular, the Nations League, a competition whose reason for being I am still trying to work out. The countries themselves don’t seem to take it that seriously, and certainly not as seriously as proper qualifiers. If it was designed to bring in extra revenue, which seems at the minute to be not just the main factor but indeed the only factor taken into account when making major decisions in football, then the lack of crowds at matches and the money they bring in would negate that argument. Clubs are putting massive resources into creating COVID secure bubbles for their players and the testing statistics would suggest that those measures are working. All that is undone, however, when players from all around Europe come together and bring their germs with them. Celtic have responded to fans’ appeals for them to bring their players home by insisting that FIFA call the shots and unfortunately in that respect they are correct. When it comes to international football, the rules are weighted heavily against the clubs i.e. the organisations that actually pay the players’ wages, in favour of national squads. There are some loopholes which can be exploited of course, particularly in the case of injured players etc. But even that wasn’t enough to prevent Nir Bitton playing for Israel last week when the player and his national coach disregarded Neil Lennon’s explicit instructions that the utility man was not to play for his country due to injury. Bitton played, and while surprisingly he didn’t aggravate his injury, he did catch COVID and will now be unavailable for Saturday’s derby. Taken in isolation, this one incident could have been written off as just one of those things but placed alongside all of the other misfortunes suffered by members of his playing staff, Neil Lennon must be wondering what he has done to deserve such bad luck. What he needs to remember, however, is that such adversity can lead to unexpected gains. A few years ago, Celtic were forced to play a striker who up to that point had not seen a lot of game time, one Moussa Dembele, in the first derby of the season due to an injury to Leigh Griffiths. Griffiths had been on fire in the early part of the campaign and his absence was seen as a massive blow for then manager Brendan Rodgers. Dembele came in, announced himself on the big stage with a hat-trick, and the rest is history. Saturday’s game could be a huge opportunity for Klimala, Ajeti, Turnbull or even the returning Griffiths to come into the side and make themselves a hero. Neil Lennon also has a shot at redemption as the knives have been out for him a little bit this season. I don’t think there’s any real animosity towards Lenny as even his most ardent critics can surely appreciate what he has given to the club as player and manager for many years. His tactics, formation and team selection have all been questioned in recent games against Sevco however, with the opposition allowed to win the midfield battle and dominate games. Celtic got lucky in the League Cup final last year, but their luck ran out at Celtic Park in the New Year game where, as much as it hurts to admit it, Stephen Gerrard’s team were worthy winners. If Celtic get to grips with the midfield it should give them the platform to get the ball down and play a bit of football allowing the superior players in the Hoops’ 11 to propel themselves back to the top of the league. There can be no excuses this Saturday, not even the Coronavirus, for the men going for 10 titles in-row. Tickety-Bhoy!
THE campaign is really starting to crank up for Celtic with another week where they had a perfect record of played two, won two.
RESULTS-WISE it has been another good week for Celtic, which resulted in them topping the league table for a short time. Given that they had been as many as nine points behind Sevco a few weeks ago, this has been some turnaround. Steven Gerrard’s team have now reclaimed top spot but only by a single point, and with a game in hand, the Hoops have taken a slender advantage in the championship race. Performances, however, have left a lot to be desired and whilst grinding out wins while not playing particularly well is a desirable trait for any team with title aspirations, there will definitely come a time when points will be dropped if standards don’t improve. Celtic’s last two wins came by the narrowest of margins and it’s easy to see where the problems lie. The defence is simply giving away too many chances to the opposition and have been guilty of conceding some very preventable goals. They have allowed their opponents to score the first goal in each of their last two games and won’t always be able to rely on the attackers bailing them out. I think most Celtic fans would have been happy when Neil Lennon reverted to a back three to accommodate the three very talented centre backs currently at his disposal, as it allows the rest of the team a lot more freedom going forward. We have seen the fruits of that already, with the team in free-scoring form. However, it does leave gaps at the back and opposing forwards have been having a field day. I think it’s fair to say that Jullien, Ajer and new Bhoy Duffy are still getting to know each other and will take time to gel. In addition, Jullien hasn’t been fit enough to start the last two games so that doesn’t help. When all three are fully fit and used to each other’s game, we will see a massive improvement, however with the 3-5-2 formation, as well as seeing sweeping, entertaining football going forward, we will have to accept that there will be weaknesses at the back. This puts an awful lot of pressure on our new Greek goalkeeper, Vasilias Barkas, and if I’m being honest, he hasn’t been convincing in any game so far. He appears to be a decent stopper but shots from distance don’t seem to stick with him and very often bounce back into the danger zone. His handling generally has also been suspect. Again, he’s a recent addition and playing in a new country and a new league, so I think a certain amount of leeway must be given before we can judge the big man. In recent matches, Lennon’s team selection has been called into question and whilst Lenny has forgotten more about football than the vast majority of us will ever know, that hasn’t stopped the keyboard Klopps and online Ancelottis querying every change in the line-up. There are obviously things going on in the background concerning certain players which we are not privy to, but so far there has been little or no continuity, and a feeling that some players are undroppable no matter how poorly they are performing. Given what Lenny has achieved for Celtic in the dugout, I am of a mind to let him get on with it, however, and remain convinced he will soon find the right balance. Over the last week the Hoops needed two wins to go top of the league and put a bit of pressure back on Sevco and despite the narrow nature of wins away to St Mirren and at home to Livingston, they managed to do just that. At St Mirren Park last Wednesday, the home team took an early lead, but Celtic didn’t panic and patiently played their way back into the game, eventually claiming a 2-1 win. It could have been a lot more comfortable had Odsonne Edouard found the net with his second half spot-kick, but it wasn’t to be and the Bhoys were forced to play out a nervy ending to the game. Having just come back from injury, Edouard has not looked his usual self and it was no real surprise that he was left out completely for Saturday’s game against Livingston. In Albian Ajeti, however, Lennon has a more than adequate replacement and the Swiss striker’s expert finish in the second half proved to be the decisive goal in a high-scoring encounter. Ajeti has now scored four times in five appearances, three of those as sub, and he gives the impression that he’s loving his time at Celtic Park so far. His movement and pace are a nightmare for defenders and for me he has a touch of the Jorge Cadetes about him in the way that he makes quick, darting runs, latches onto through balls and whips them into the back of the net before the opposition can set themselves. He hasn’t played with Edouard as much as we would like but if these two get on the pitch together for a sustained spell, there could be fireworks. Ajeti’s strike created a two-goal cushion on Saturday, but defensive lapses were again evident and Livi’s second of the day made for another uneasy finale to the match, but the three points were eventually secured and with it, top spot in the league table. Over at Ibrox, they haven’t been asked any serious questions so far this season and having witnessed Celtic claw back a nine-point gap they would have been feeling the pressure for the first time. A trip to high-flying Hibs provided them with the opportunity to show their mettle and to be frank, they blew it. Jack Ross’s men have been playing well but given Sevco had not conceded a single league goal this campaign, this was a test for them too. The visitors buckled under the pressure of losing top spot in the league, however, and conceded twice in a 2-2 draw. They are back on top by a single point but Celtic will have that game in hand up the cuff and as long as they eliminate the dodgy stuff at the back it shouldn’t be too long before the league table starts to take on a more familiar look. Tickety-Bhoy!
I THINK it’s fair to say that Celtic will be pretty content with how the last couple of weeks have gone. In the early part of any season, the priority is to get into a good rhythm as early as possible and it appears that, despite the stop-start nature of the campaign so far, the Bhoys are finally finding their groove. On the pitch they have managed to go some way in making up for the horror show in Champions League qualifying by comfortably winning their next two league games with something to spare. They have also managed a decent bit of transfer business both in and out of the club and in that respect the squad is already looking a lot stronger than it did a few weeks ago. Ireland international Shane Duffy has been on the club’s radar for most of the summer and it was a mixture of joy and relief when they finally got the deal over the line during the recent international break. The big Derry man is initially on loan at Celtic Park but if an agreement can be reached over the next 12 months which suits all parties, then I’m sure a more permanent arrangement will be forged. Duffy has a wealth of experience at the top-level of football and I’m sure he won’t have come cheap, but his capture shows that the board are taking the particular challenge that this year presents seriously. He will hopefully develop a strong understanding with whomever his defensive partner or partners turn out to be this year and as we have already seen, he will pose a serious threat at the other end of the pitch as well. Getting Shane in was important, but an equally shrewd bit of wheeling and dealing was needed in getting disgraced left back Bolingoli out the door. Turkish outfit Istanbul Basaksehir have taken the Belgian defender, again officially on a loan deal, but with an option to buy at the end of 12 months. That would be an outcome that would greatly benefit the Bhoys. Coming back after the international break, Celtic manager Neil Lennon will have been delighted that, firstly, some of his players got a bit more playing time in their legs but more importantly, they all came back relatively unscathed. Star forward Odsonne Edouard had missed two games through injury, including the defeat by Ferencvaros but he played, and scored, for the French U21s during the international hiatus. He came back fit enough to start against Ross County last weekend and he wasted no time in getting on the scoresheet for his club, calmly slotting a spot kick into the corner of the net after sending the goalkeeper the wrong way. That was enough to set the Hoops on their way to a very comprehensive 5-0 victory. On paper, teams like Ross County should never pose any real threat to Celtic but on their own patch anything can happen. All it takes is for a few Celts to have an off day, for the opposition to smother the game and stifle the Bhoys’ attack, or for the home goalkeeper to have an inspired game and suddenly three points become one, or even none. Even at this early stage of the campaign, every point is crucial so there is simply no room for complacency or a lack of preparation. With Shane Duffy seemingly the final piece in the jigsaw at Dingwall, Neil Lennon was able to revert to the 3-5-2 formation which brought them so much joy in the second half of last season. It could have been a risk doing this in Duffy’s first game after what he described as his “dream move” to Celtic Park but luckily the dream continued into his debut in a match where he contributed plenty. As a defender, his first priority is keeping it tight at the back and in helping the team to achieve a clean sheet he was successful in that endeavour. We know, however, that he can be a potent weapon up front from set-pieces and he put the icing on the cake of his own performance in the second period, rising highest to get on the end of Callum McGregor’s corner and plant a brilliant header into the County net. Hopefully this is just a taster of more to come from the big defender. Duffy was one of five different scorers in the match and the fact that all three strikers got on the scoresheet will also have given Lennon immense satisfaction. Ajeti scored yet again, his third in consecutive games in the Hoops. He is a proper livewire in and around the six yard box and if, as is claimed, he’s still not yet at full match fitness then we have a lot to look forward to. The fans have been crying out for someone good enough to partner Edouard and in Ajeti, the club may just have found him. David Turnbull, another new signing, also made his first appearance in a Celtic shirt against the Staggies. Turnbull had to endure the agony of an aborted move to Parkhead last summer and could have been forgiven for thinking his chance had gone. Neil Lennon promised him, though, that if he could overcome the injury that the failed medical uncovered last year then he would still be in the Celtic manager’s thoughts. To be fair to the lad, he didn’t let that setback get the better of him and after working hard to get back to fitness he is playing as well as ever. He started the season in great form for Motherwell and, after confirming his switch to the east end of Glasgow, will be hoping to continue in the same vein in Celtic colours.Celtic’s nearest rivals, Sevco, have also been doing what they have to do domestically to put the pressure on 10-in-a-row. They haven’t conceded in the league so far and are scoring goals, but for all the bravado surrounding their start to the season, Celtic could nevertheless be top of the league by this weekend if they overcome St Mirren on Wednesday night and Livingston this Saturday. The Ibrox team will have a chance to go back to the top but for Celtic it’s imperative that they put the pressure on and see if Gerrard’s men are up to it. They have had things pretty much their own way up to now but the Bhoys are now clicking into gear and should be firing on all cylinders come the first meeting of the two teams in around a month’s time. Tickety-Bhoy!
THERE is a definite feeling among the Celtic support that this season hasn’t fully got off the ground yet.
IT’S been a turbulent week for Celtic and Scottish football as a whole, as the Covid-19 protocol breaches by Hoops’ left back Boli Bolingoli and the Aberdeen eight continue to dominate the headlines.