Sunday 18 March 2018

Flicker of Celtic light extinguished by Mowbray

Roddy Forsyth

THE sun was in its heaven. Tony Mowbray was in the Celtic press room. The mood wasn't big enough for both of them.

By the end of Mowbray's pre-match briefing for tonight's clash with St Mirren in Paisley, the sky had clouded over. The tone inside was a matching shade of grey.

Bowled a soft ball to start, with the suggestion that progress was being made in his reconstruction of the team because -- for the first time in two years -- Celtic had played three consecutive games without conceding a goal, Mowbray promptly doused any flicker of enthusiasm for the achievement when he retorted: "Football is about winning games, it's not all about keeping clean sheets.

"It's not a bad statistic, but I am not giving it too much consideration because we have young defenders and they are doing very well. Sometimes if you talk about how good it has been, it can become a story in the next game if you lose a couple of goals."

When the obvious point was made that at least with clean sheets games are not lost, Mowbray's response was: "I don't build my teams like that. We try and keep clean sheets in every game and we try and score goals in every game -- that's how you win games."

It was only a few weeks ago that Mowbray declared that he enjoyed nibbling at the advantage carried by league leaders and that he had pursued that activity to advantage with West Brom in the Championship when teams who had previously been better placed began to feel the heat.

The situation presents itself again tonight. If Celtic beat St Mirren while Rangers are engaged in trying to shake off Dundee United in their Scottish Cup quarter-final replay at Tannadice, the Ibrox side's margin in the SPL table will be cut to seven points. A splendid opportunity, perhaps, for Celtic to nibble?

"We can't influence anyone else's games other than our own. All we can do is try and win our games," said Mowbray. "I won't play any psychological games. I am only interested in my own team trying to win their games. I can't affect what happens elsewhere."

Then, one irrepressible optimist put it to Mowbray that in recent weeks the side had begun to play more in the fashion he would like to see in the long term.

"The watchword has been consistency. We have strived for that consistency this season and you can write about whatever reason you think has caused that lack of consistency, whether it be injuries, changing personnel, decisions in big games -- whatever it is. But the team, at any given moment, can play some pretty good football and we can also shoot ourselves in the foot, but we have to keep ticking along, so let's just wait and see if we can win tomorrow and on Saturday and keep it going.

"I think we are playing no better, no worse than we have for most of the season." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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