Following the previous weekends first league defeat of the season, where the football on display was as absent as the non existent match report that didn't follow it, Celtic, travel sick after the last minute venue changes, courtesy of the "Garbage" (Rubbish) strike, were under the cosh to get back to winning ways. It was a weekend littered (outrageous pun) with events, which would ultimately end in the unfortunate trip to Scarborough's finest casualty ward.
Despite Celtic possessing possibly the largest squad in the TSSL Media League, the season so far has been riddled with player injuries and absenteeism, once again calling in to question the possible need for reinforcements. Balancing a squad with the talent and ego's of Celtic's stature is a tumultuous task, and adding to it will be calculated, methodical process we come to expect from Tibby the technician.
Injuries and absenteeism aside, another element beyond the realms of Celtic's control are the wonderful little people dressed in smart black uniforms we affectionately call ref. And, while my documentation of the dictators empowered by the all conquering whistle in trusted upon them, has been quite extensive, this episode trumps all before it -Including, any game at any level.
You may recall the harrowing critique of the first female referee I, and I am sure many others, were blessed with a few weeks back. After a 40 minute drive out of Toronto, to the suburbs, the last thing I was anticipating was the sight of being graced with her presence once again. Luckily, she was only summoned to marshal the byline, but more worrying, or should I say disturbing, was the family of ref's that would officiate the game. Lord of the manner, the husband was the ref, his wife the lineman, or should I politically say, assistant ref and, barely legal, the daughter completed the family line up on the opposite wing. How, any sane farther can subject his teen daughter to what was bound to be a barrage of screaming expletives is baffling, especially given Morton's bullying tactics.
So, with the Adams family (thanks Jude!) eagerly bringing a start to proceedings, Celtic took to the new unfamiliar surroundings with the untested front line of Fitzpatrick and Imnaishvili. A front line that would see almost everyone playing a role in at some point, such was the lack of attacking depth, with Teague still injured and Curley taking care of family business.
The new attacking formula though, wasted no time at all, and marked their intent with the first attack of the game after barley 5 minutes had elapsed. Monaghan scurried down the right wing and squared the ball at pace to Fitzpatrick, who unwittingly flicked the ball into Imnaishvili's path. Imnaishvili looked like he had the goal at his mercy, only for the Morton keeper to smother the opportunity.
Chances between these two sides are usually few and far between, and Celtic looked impregnable in defence with the much hyped pairing of Stuckmann and Mercier. Stuckmann was dominating the Morton number 4, making the ample 6ft Englishman look like a midget with some towering headers.
With the scores level, the first half came to abrupt and premature end, after an aerial battle between the Morton Goal keeper and Monaghan left both players flat on the deck. A cross was floated in from the left wing, with the trajectory falling perfectly between both players, giving the illusion that both were favourite to win the ball. The reality though, only accommodated for one player in that much air space, so with both players bravely putting their head on the chopping block, a collision was imminent. We now all know what it sounds like when a human head thuds into another human head, and the resulting horrific injuries that follow.
After the sickening sound of heads clashing, initially first concerns were for the Morton Keeper, who landed heavily and immediately began screaming, a sound I was all to familiar with a couple of weeks earlier. However, and with so often the case, its the person that remains quiet and relatively motionless, which is where concern can go over looked. Monaghan, dazed, was left with a nasty cut to the brow and a brusie that was comparable in size to that of a golf ball. The ambulance was called and that would be the last action Monaghan and the Morton keeper would see, although the keeper remained on the sideline.
After a lengthy delay Celtic eventually started the second half in a subdued mood, as thoughts were still very much preoccupied with the concerns of Monaghan's injury still fresh in the mind. The injury meant more shuffling of the pack by Tibby, which saw Bredin in the unfamiliar roll of left back, while McCallam debuted in attack alongside Prior.
While this was McCallam's first taste of a striking roll, he had already threatened before the end of the first half with a neat turn and shoot effort which whisked past the post. McCallum continued to make a nuisance of himself, and half way through the second half burst in to the box only to be checked by the Morton left back. The challenge looked shoulder to shoulder, but McCallam's testimony clearly stated that the Morton defender had deliberately obstructed him, while he was at full tilt. The Morton defense were livid, and while they argued pointlessly to the anal retentive ref, I noticed a cheeky call from Celtic Goalkeeper, Fourie to manager Tibby. The substance's of the call was at first not obvious, until I realized Fourie was actually running towards the penalty spot. With Celtic still muttering between themselves as to who would take responsibility, the nod had already been granted to Fourie and he was eagerly lining up the ball.
Fourie, feeling invincible following his compatriots epic battle with the British and Irish Lions, which culminated in a monstrous 53 metre match winning penalty by Morne Steyn, looked to emulate the Bull's fly half albeit by considerably closer range. With an unorthodox starting position, that looked like Fourie was about to unleash a toe poke, we waited nervously for the ref's whistle. Eventually, after the ref finally explained his reason for delaying the kick, Fourie's moment of reckoning was here. Fourie focused and poised, began his canter towards the ball, picked his spot and confidently drilled the ball straight down the middle, while the keeper dived incorrectly to his left.
With Fourie's successful conversion, it will be a battle to see who gets the next spot kick, an enthusiasm which can only be a good thing for the Celtic Squad. However, if Fourie has any aspirations to take future penalties, he will need to work on his goal celebration, which resembled a hyper active dog let off its leash for the first time in a park, disobediently running aimlessly away from anyone. here boy, here boy!
After we manged to catch the runner way Fourie, and bind him to his rightful place between the sticks, it was unfortunately only moments later that he would himself be facing a penalty. After all the constant moaning and appealing for apparent hand balls spotted from the length of the pitch, the barrage had finally warn the ref down, who was itching to even up the score. In what was a carbon copy of the Celtic penalty, a Morton player was obstructed/shoulder barged except that the force was not strong enough for him to go down. However, the ref still judged that enough contact was made, and happily awarded a penalty.
The big Morton number 4, stepped up and scuffed his penalty which ended up bobbling over Fourie's hand, who had dived the right way. It was not the most convincing penalty you are likely to see, and the Morton player may need to confide in the Celtic Keeper before he takes another one.
Before the ref brought an end to the game, there was still time for another bizarre twist in an eventful day. Stuckmann, who had an excellent game, reacted to a challenge by the tricky Morton number 7. Both players squared up in a contest comparable to David and Goliath. And, much like the the biblical tale, Goliath ended up on the floor. The Morton player's push to the chest proved to be Stuckmann's weak point and embarrassingly he theatrically collapsed to the ground, a textbook manoeuvre straight out of the Jurgen Klinsmann book of diving. The Morton players rightfully ridiculed the act, but the ref, who must have thought he was in charge of a Premier league game, whipped out a straight red. Ironic that you will see far worse, career threatening challenges go unpunished on a weekly basis, only for straight red's to be issued liberally for hand bag shenanigans.
Off the back of defeat, Celtic steadied the ship after facing a tough Morton side with many players out of position. The draw, puts added pressure on next weeks game against the talented Multinational, as Celtic will need to get back to winning ways to keep their title challenge on course. I am open to suggestions for man of the match??