Mjallby input key to ending Hoops' wait for league title
Nine years ago, Johan Mjallby was the menacing, monolithic Swede at the heart of Martin O'Neill's defence, which set a record for Scotland's top tier by conceding just 18 goals in 38 games.
In the season just finished, Sweden captain Daniel Majstorovic assumed that role as Celtic posted set another SPL record. Not only did they concede fewer goals than any of their rivals (22) but they also made history by racking up 23 clean sheets in the 38 fixtures.
It was the stingiest the Hoops rearguard has been since Mjallby was at his peak in 2002 -- and Majstorovic claims that Neil Lennon's number two deserves the credit for the current team's ability to repel opponents. Mjallby takes the club's defenders for specialised training and Majstorovic believes that his hands-on contribution has been overlooked.
"In the training and as a person he is totally different," said the 34-year-old. "On the pitch he is a winner but outside of the pitch he is very calm and relaxed and won't talk much unless you need advice.
"He is always in the right spot. It is important to have somebody around you like this. He has a lot of input on (organising the def-ence). So far he's been very good."
Majstorovic is convinced that Mjallby's good cop-bad cop routine with manager Neil Lennon can inspire Celtic to their first championship in four years next season and he believes that's the least the players can do to repay his mentor and Lennon.
"(Johan) always says the right things and he complements the gaffer well. They have done a fantastic job taking over a squad of so many new players and new characters, with differing qualities. We owe them all a title."
Meanwhile, Hearts received a fillip yesterday with the news that they will be one of the seeded clubs when the draw for the third qualifying round of the Europa League is made next month.
A fortunate combination of results elsewhere in Europe last weekend means that Hearts will be in the top half of the draw, thus avoiding such potentially awkward opponents as Atletico Madrid, Red Star Belgrade, Palermo and Kenny Miller's Bursaspor. Jim Jefferies' side won only one of their final 12 league matches last season but managed to hang on to third place and they have strengthened their squad by signing Jamie Hamill, Danny Grainger and John Sutton from Kilmarnock, St Johnstone and Motherwell respectively.
Potential opponents they could be paired with come July 15 include Sligo Rovers, Hajduk Split of Croatia, and Cypriot side Omonia Nicosia. The ties are due to be played on July 28 and August 4. (© Daily Telegraph, London)