One of the most memorable moments from a very flat opening 45 minutes was Ange Postecoglou’s frustrated roar where he voiced his displeasure at the team for passing backwards. Nir Bitton knocked the ball to Stephen Welsh, who then went back to Joe Hart. Usually such incidents are met with annoyance from supporters. But it was left to the Australian manager to amuse those sitting around the dugout with his shout which was also picked up by the Premier Sports microphones.
From a Celtic fan’s point of view, it would have been hugely encouraging to hear the manager and his demands that the team look to progress the ball, look to play forward, look to attack, rather than simply accepting easy possession. After the game he admitted he wanted his team to feel discomfort.
Postecoglou said: “I don’t want to be comfortable: I want us to be uncomfortable in terms of pushing the envelope as to how good we can be.”
It’s an attitude like that which has Celtic playing some of the best football in the country.
Green Brigade’s absence diminished the experience
Both managers were asked afterwards if the closure to part of the standing section where the Green Brigade are usually situated impacted Celtic’s performance. Postecoglou said it may have been a factor but didn't want to start making those allowances for his players, while John McGlynn noted that the Green Brigade provides Celtic with “an energy”.
The atmosphere was largely flat. A group of vocal Celtic fans were consigned to the top north west corner but it was clear the closure of part of the standing section diminished the fan experience as a whole. The decision was taken following concerns expressed from Police Scotland and Glasgow City Council over the flares at the recent derby with Rangers.
In this writer’s opinion, it is – unfortunately – a very killjoy view. No one can refute that the visuals created by the flares and smoke at the game were brilliant and added to the occasion.
There does appear to be a very snooty view towards such displays within some circles. It is high time a conversation was had to allow the safe use of such flares. After all, we want Scottish football to be the best spectacle it can be.
As an aside, Raith Rovers’ pocket of supporters backed their team well before the game kicked off, right through until the end, as they voiced their support of manager, John McGlynn who was very appreciative after the match of not only the backing he was given but the team in general.
There was a big penalty shout from the Raith Rovers players in the first half when Cameron Carter-Vickers controlled a Reghan Tumilty header which bounced up off the surface.
The Laws of the Game state it is a handball offence if a player “deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm, for example moving the hand/arm towards the ball”, or “touches the ball with their hand/arm when it has made their body unnaturally bigger”.
Carter-Vickers had his arms by his side when the ball skipped up. An argument could be made that he moved his arm towards the ball and got the benefits from doing so but in real time, going by the position of the linesman who was looking at the players back and referee Steven McLean it would have been a very hard call.
The penalty Celtic got at the end was more obvious with Sean Mackie sticking up his arm. Bizarrely, Ross Matthews was booked following the decision.
One of the biggest cheers of the game came in the 74th minute when Christopher Jullien replaced Carter-Vickers. It was his first appearance for Celtic in 410 days. He was a huge miss during the second half of the 2020/21 campaign. It will be interesting to see what role he has under Ange Postecoglou. Currently he is fourth choice behind Carter-Vickers, Carl Starfelt and Stephen Welsh. But the main thing is that he’s back on the pitch and playing.
Forrest and Johnston
There is no question that when everyone is fit and Postecoglou picks his strongest XI, the wide men are Jota and Liel Abada. Using Transfermarkt's stats, the pair have a combined goals tally of 24, plus 19 assists.
Against Raith Rovers, James Forrest and Mikey Johnston had a chance to impress. It was a chance neither really took. The latter started brightly and nearly scored early on. Increasingly, however, he was squeezed out of the game before suffering a second-half injury, the player visibly distraught at the thought of another spell on the sidelines. As for Forrest, his impact was minimal.
Rovers defensive concerns
A key issue for Raith recently has been scoring goals which led to the strong desire to sign a striker and ending up with the controversial addition of David Goodwillie. However, the centre of defence is now a new concern.
Christophe Berra has been struggling with a strain, Tom Lang has been ruled out long-term and then captain Kyle Benedictus went off injured at Celtic Park with a hamstring injury. It left the versatile Frankie Musonda and left-sided defender Sean Mackie as the defensive duo.
"You are just thinking ‘wow’ — it’s quite frightening,” McGlynn said.
“We had a settled defence that was working really well and Christophe has been a massive miss. Losing Kyle will disorganise the defence more, which you don’t want.”