Ange finally snaps
It's been coming. Ange Postecoglou has been pretty exemplary at keeping a lid on his frustrations since his arrival in Scottish football when it comes to decisions involving referees. Speaking last year, the Celtic boss explained why he avoided any referee chat: "I’ve seen people who take a different approach and really get riled up about refereeing decisions or things outwith their control and I think, ultimately, my responsibility rests on what happens between the white lines on the turf."
But Ange is only human, and just two weeks after the introduction of VAR in Scottish football, it has succeeded where the pre-technology days failed in getting a rise out of the Greek-Australian. "What the hell were we waiting for?" he asked after becoming exasperated with repeated delays during his side's 4-2 win over Dundee United. Six goal checks - some longer than others, the United penalty award for handball which referee David Dickinson gave after being summoned to the pitchside monitor, and the red card review for Craig Sibbald that ultimately led to no action being taken, all resulted in lengthy delays.
"It seems like any time the ball touches your hand in the box - apart from when you are playing Hearts away - it's a penalty". Postecoglou was calm in his delivery but his seethe was evident in his strong choice of words, and who can blame him after Alexandro Bernabei was penalised and cautioned after the ball inadvertently struck his arm, when just a fortnight ago Hearts defender Michael Smith was let off the hook for an incident that appeared more clear cut?
In two weeks VAR has made vast changes to the matchday experience, with regular interruptions resulting in stop-start games which are running much longer. A hindrance to any team such as Postecoglou’s Celtic who base their game around tempo and intensity. There were five minutes of added time at the end of the first-half at Celtic Park, when it truth it could have been as much as seven or eight with the VAR stoppages coming on top of treatment received by United goalkeeper Mark Birighitti following a collision with team-mate Ryan Edwards. On Friday night, Aberdeen's match against Hibs kicked off 15 minutes earlier than the Kilmarnock v Livingston encounter but finished at near enough the same time. VAR has also been inconsistent in its approach - as highlighted by the handball decisions - and has even had one of its calls overturned in the shape of Tony Watt's rescinded red card last week. Teething problems were forewarned and until VAR becomes quicker and slicker - and officials work out exactly what constitutes a penalty for handball or a red card - that is the frustrating reality Postecoglou and the rest of Scottish football will have to live with.
Seven changes were made to the Celtic team that started against Dundee United, continuing the recent trend where Ange Postecoglou has rotated his side from one match to the next to avoid burning out his players over the course of a hectic spell of fixtures. But it seems certain players are immune to the changes. Injuries can account for Cameron Carter-Vickers and Mortiz Jenz being two constants in central defence, with Stephen Welsh and Carl Starfelt both unavailable for a period and no other recognised centre-halves in the first-team pool. The same does not apply to midfield, where both Reo Hatate and Matt O'Riley have started all 11 of Celtic's matches since the beginning of October. On one hand, that highlights the importance the duo have to Postecoglou's system. On the other hand, it points to a lack of trust the Celtic boss has in the other midfielders in his squad. Yes, captain Callum McGregor is a big loss with the midfielder's knee injury set to keep him out until after the World Cup, but options to give either O'Riley or Hatate a rest have been overlooked with Oliver Abildgaard, James McCarthy and more recently Yosuke Ideguchi remaining permanent fixtures on the bench. Indeed, the last time O'Riley and Hatate were left out of the starting 11 was on September 18 at St Mirren, when Celtic suffered their only domestic of the season. Postecoglou, it seems, is not willing to make the same mistake again.
'Enough is enough' banner
What was evident when approaching Celtic Park on Saturday was the number of supporters taking part in foodbank collections. The message behind the work was then made clear by a banner unveiled by the Green Brigade in the standing section of the stadium before kick-off which read: "Enough is enough. 25% of children, 20% of working age people, 14% of pensioners live in poverty." It is a section of the Celtic support which has been criticised and have indeed cost their club in fines for some of their actions over the years, most recently a distasteful anti-monarchy banner displayed during a Champions League tie in Prague, but raising money and awareness for local causes with the aim of helping struggling families during a cost of living crisis is something to be commended.
Celtic player ratings
Hart 6, Ralston 7, Carter-Vickers 6, Jenz 6, Bernabei 4, O'Riley 6, Hatate 7, Turnbull 6, Haksabanovic 8, Giakoumakis 6, Jota 8. Subs: Taylor 6, Furuhashi 7, Abada 7, Forrest 6, Maeda n/a.