I need to have a moan first. What was going on with that League Championship flag today? It looked more like an advert you find on a lampost in a retail park telling you about half price sofas. Championship flags should be white and green saltires with big, bold, badly-stitched lettering that says: “LEAGUE CHAMPIONS (WHATEVER YEAR)”.
These games are sometimes non-events. The first game of the season contains excitement, hope, expectation and demands, but the games often peter out long before the final whistle as the players are not up to speed. That wasn’t the case here. No, we were sharper, fitter, more intelligent and just better than a St Johnstone side that looked like they wanted to be anywhere other than Celtic Park. They took 30 minutes to kick one of our players and, for a Tommy Wright side that contains Murray Davidson, that takes some doing.
Mikey Johnston started it off. He controlled a long pass, broke into the box, then sent the defender one way, then the other, before stroking the ball into the far corner. In the first-half, he found pockets of space that last season he wouldn’t have found. He’s developed football intelligence that you only get from playing competitive league football on a regular basis. He had out-grown the development squad and he has now announced himself to the first-team.
That Ryan Christie wasn’t quoted at this point last season seems unbelievable now. After two seasons on loan at Aberdeen, it seemed that his Celtic career would be one of a few games and a lot of unanswered questions. Forever destined to have a decent career but never with us. Well, since that afternoon at Murrayfield he has proven to be another gem that our much-scrutinised transfer policy has produced. Another player flourishing away from Derek McInnes.
He adds vitality, exuberance and threat from midfield. His first and third today have already nailed their place in any goal of the month competition. I loved the third – in off the underside of the bar. A perfect unsaveable sweet spot. He needs to stay fit as in his previous two purple patches he has been hit with injuries that have seen him miss a few games.
There was an electricity in the crowd today. Seeing your football team playing great football is a simple pleasure that never gets less enjoyable. The goals lifted the nerves that we may have felt in this quest for nine. But it ended up being a marker laid down. Not just to the rest of Scottish football but to ourselves. We have set the standard. There were and are doubts. A changed squad and a new manager but our hardcore are still there.
Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo has now stopped trying too hard to force himself into games and impress in his new home. He is now relaxed and lets the game unfold. He gets involved naturally using the attributes that we identified before signing him. Hatem Abd Elhamed could have folded today in his debut in front of 60,000 after one closed-door game. He could have looked nervous. He could have done the easy thing, but he didn’t. He supported James Forrest, he made attacking runs, he did his defensive duties and looked like he had a lot of energy.
While Christie will get the plaudits, Calum McGregor will slip under the radar. He is the glue that joins our forward play together. I don’t think he was raised in Pollock and trained at Lennoxtown. He must have some Iberian DNA in him. Losing him would be a massive loss to the club. Another one getting into that category is Kristoffer Ajer. He has an appointment at Glasgow Ink next week to get a captain’s armband tattooed on his bicep.
The Green Brigade sang the praises of Odsonne Edouard. I was asked today if I thought that he will go for more money than Moussa Dembele. My thought is I’m just going to enjoy the unflappable Frenchman who does everything to a soundtrack by Air. No matter if he’s step-overing defenders, or setting up team mates, or rounding goalkeepers, there is a chilled calm about him. Olivier Ntcham seems slightly more sulky but his strike today was the perfect technique that we know he has.
Leigh Griffiths rounded off the seventh heaven afternoon with a strike from outside the box. Apart from Christie’s second, all our goals were unstoppable. St Johnstone could review and pick bones but the answer is that there was very little they could do to stop them. They allowed us to play and we were in tune and willing to reach the high notes.
If we have many more days like these, Neil Lennon’s Celtic are going to be a joy.
Kevin GrahamListen to the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind podcast