Tuesday 28 February 2017

Mowbray faces uphill task to resurrect Celtic

Ewing Grahame

THE old adage has it that Celtic and Rangers are only ever three defeats away from a crisis but Celtic manager Tony Mowbray has already reached the stage where one more reverse may be enough to destroy his credibility.

Tuesday's loss at Kilmarnock was his season in microcosm, with an unbalanced side losing out to journeymen as a consequence of poor defending and finishing which was less than clinical.

Supporters' websites have this week been inundated with calls for Mowbray to be dismissed but the directors who paid north of £2m to prise him and his backroom staff from West Bromwich Albion will be loath to part with as much again in compensation.

However, should the unthinkable happen and Celtic are eliminated from the Scottish Cup by First Division stragglers Dunfermline at East End Park on Sunday then all bets will be off.

Mowbray (below) has transformed the squad he inherited, bringing in 13 new players while allowing 16 to leave. His team is a work in progress, then, but they appear to be reversing into the future.

For the first time in their history, Celtic are by some distance the wealthiest club in Scotland yet they are failing to make their financial superiority count where it matters most and are currently in danger of achieving the improbable feat of finishing third in a two-horse race.

Problem

Robbie Keane was the marquee (loan) signing on Monday, designed to address the problem of declining attendances for the remainder of the season but, even though Tottenham Hotspur are understood to be paying a sizeable chunk of the Irishman's £65,000 weekly wage, the unexpected defeat at Rugby Park undermined that ambition.

There have been several baffling decisions from Mowbray recently, not least in handing the captaincy to four players in as many weeks.

Gary Caldwell had the honour for the Old Firm match on January 3, even though he was about to be transferred.

Then Darren O'Dea, a defender considered surplus to requirements for the first half of the campaign (most of which was spent on the bench during a fruitless loan at Reading) was considered officer material in spite of having gone three months without competitive action.

O'Dea went from being skipper in the win at Hamilton last weekend to not even being stripped at Kilmarnock.

Defender Glenn Loovens -- who has had a desperately poor season -- was next to be given the armband but when Scott Brown appeared for the first time since October as a substitute at Rugby Park he took it from the Dutchman.

Most perplexing of all, though, was the decision to deploy the Scotland midfielder at left-back with Celtic trailing and in dire need of a goal.

The manager, as so often this season, claimed afterwards that he would take it on the chin: the problem for him is that a growing percentage of the club's support now believes he is in possession of a glass jaw.

Mowbray won nothing in four seasons as a centre-half with Celtic during the club's wilderness years of the early 1990s.

Even so, he made a better start to his playing career at Parkhead under Liam Brady than he has as the club's boss. The 46-year-old has won fewer than half of his 35 matches since he replaced Gordon Strachan, in spite of spending more money than every other SPL club put together this season.

With 23 SPL fixtures having been played and 15 remaining, Celtic currently trail leaders Rangers by 10 points, although the 20-goal advantage in goal difference enjoyed by Walter Smith's side is surely worth another point. It is the widest gap between the Old Firm at this stage of the season since January 2007 when Frenchman Paul Le Guen resigned as Rangers manager while 17 points behind Strachan's team. Rangers' next match following Le Guen's departure was a 3-2 Scottish Cup defeat by Dunfermline at East End Park.

Mowbray's men must attempt to salvage their season against the same opponents at the same venue in the same competition on Sunday.

The only SPL clubs Celtic have not dropped points to this season are bottom-six outfits St Johnstone, St Mirren and Hamilton Accies.

Hibernian are currently two points behind Mowbray's team with a game in hand, leaving Celtic in danger of missing out on a top-two finish for the first time since Mowbray was a player in 1995. Mowbray has lost 11 of his 35 competitive matches in charge of Celtic. It took his predecessor, Strachan, 87 games before he racked up 11 losses. Martin O'Neill, the manager Strachan replaced, went 91 matches before reaching that stage. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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