Thursday 19 April 2018

Anthony Stokes urged not to be 'obsessed' with goals as Celtic find some head space

ROSS COUNTY 1 CELTIC 4

Jamie Holland

THE sports psychologist who has worked with Anthony Stokes believes that the Celtic and Ireland striker should be able to play free from pressure in their must-win Champions League clash with AC Milan at Parkhead later this month.

Dan Abrahams, who worked with Stokes for two years when he was at Hibernian and whose advice helped him win a move to Parkhead in 2010, said: "If they have to win and can't lose, why not go for it? They can go into the game with a nothing-to-lose attitude.

"If anything, the pressure has been taken off and it should make it easier to play with freedom.

"Anthony, like all strikers, has to focus on the things that help them score and contribute to the team – making runs, pulling defenders out of position – rather than becoming obsessed with scoring," added Abrahams, who has also worked with West Ham and England striker Carlton Cole as well as other players he cannot name due to confidentiality.

"If strikers go two or three games without scoring they must not rehearse the failure; they have to keep positive."

Stokes, who recently signed a new contract with the Scottish champions, has not scored in his last six appearances for the Hoops and it was left to defender Virgil van Dijk and midfielder Joe Ledley to remind him how to hit the target in Saturday's comprehensive win over Ross County in Dingwall.

The victory – the first time they have won a league match at Victoria Park – guaranteed that Neil Lennon's Bhoys will take a five-point lead into their next domestic outing, at home to Aberdeen, on November 23.

Four goals, each one a header, saw off a tame County side who had not benefited from the enforced leisure of having not completed a fixture since October 19 because of the abandonment of their derby meeting with Caley Thistle and the subsequent visit to St Mirren.

In contrast, Celtic began the afternoon peevish and sluggish, but left in jaunty mood.

They were put out by having to make their longest league journey of the season not much more than 48 hours after getting to their beds at home after their 1-0 Champions League defeat by Ajax and they looked leggy for much of a scrappy first half. Van Dijk had a header on target, which was blocked, and another which went wide during a spell when Emilio Izaguirre toiled to direct a cross into the appropriate areas. At one point, after another failed effort by the Honduran, Lennon strode to the edge of the pitch and hollered: "What were you thinking about, Emilio?"

If that amused the County fans near the dugouts, they found that the joke was on them five minutes before the break when Izaguirre picked out Van Dijk for a header which skipped across the box and in off the post.

The template established, Celtic beat out a pattern for the rest of the afternoon – a Charlie Mulgrew corner off Van Dijk's skull, another pinpoint delivery from Izaguirre and a cross of equal quality from Darnell Fisher both directed into the net by the Ledley cranium. For Van Dijk, the goals were his first for Celtic and, when asked if the manager had taken time to work on his timing in the air, the Dutch centre-back replied: "Definitely. My attacking headers have to be better.

"Defensively I don't think I have any problems, but the attacking can improve. I am still working. I have made progress, of course, and I have played at the highest level in the Champions League so you learn in every game. I am in a good flow now so I want to stay in this line."

Irish Independent

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