Sport Soccer

Friday 26 May 2017

Mowbray chasing cloudwith silverlining

Roddy Forsyth

SOMEWHERE over the rainbow, way up high, is a Celtic team managed by Tony Mowbray which plays celestial football before enthralled capacity crowds. They win, too.

Back on planet Earth, Celtic's best run of results this season remains four consecutive victories -- three of them at home -- between November 28 and December 12. Amidst a landscape cratered with dropped points and exits from tournaments, the manager insists that those who fret about inconsistency and lack of achievement should redirect their gaze from results to performances, because therein lies the soul of the side he is trying to create.

One may have sympathy for a coach charged with the task of a wholesale reconstruction which has been bedevilled by injuries to key players. However, Celtic have reached the stage where any favourable judgement of the season depends on the three remaining rounds of the Scottish Cup.

Having been ejected from the Champions League, Europa League and Co-operative Insurance Cup, and with their title aspirations on life support, Celtic travel to Kilmarnock today in the only competition realistically left open for them to win.

In recent years this would have been the equivalent of a bye for the Hoops. That changed on February 2, when Mowbray's players lost 1-0 at Rugby Park, despite being buoyed by securing Robbie Keane on loan just before the previous evening's transfer deadline.

The good news for Mowbray and Celtic is that Chris Maguire -- scorer of the goal that beat them last month -- is cup-tied and cannot face them today and also that Killie reverted to type against the Old Firm when they played a pressing game that disrupted Rangers for half of their match on Tuesday before being stung by defensive errors after the break.

Jimmy Nicholl, Kilmarnock's assistant manager, is not making any unduly favourable assumptions about his side's prospects, despite last month's success.

Different

"People will say we beat them last time but this is totally different," said the Northern Irishman. "If you are playing against the Old Firm you have to have the fear of losing, the fear of being humiliated and getting beat by five or six. That drives you on.

"I have seen it when my teams have played against the Old Firm. That's why people ask the question, 'how come you did that against Rangers and Celtic and you don't do it against the team at the bottom?'.

"If Celtic keep getting told that this is their last chance for silverware they will be more determined to do something about it. If their players have the fear of losing, then that makes it really hard for us."

Meanwhile, Cameron Bell, the Kilmarnock goalkeeper -- whose last performance against Celtic was exceptional -- disclosed how he frustrated Keane on the Ireland striker's Hoops debut.

"There are loads of things we have to do if we are to win this cup tie," said Bell. "I watched DVDs of Keane before his debut and looked at the way he played and the way he finished. I knew I couldn't go down too early and it was something that I focused on.

"I was standing behind everybody and I could see his movement -- it was phenomenal. It was maybe a case that the Celtic players weren't on the same wavelength at the time, but now they have clicked and they have started scoring goals.

"So I will have a look at some of the games he has played since then and have a look at his finishing again. Sometimes his finishing is outstanding and there is nothing you can do, but if it gives you that little edge then you might have a chance.

"But we will be going into the game thinking that we can beat them again."

And if Kilmarnock's thinking becomes reality, the end of Mowbray's rainbow is going to seem a long way off for Celtic and their restive support. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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