Mowbray says Keane can inspire Celtic Park
THE Robbie Keane factor and the galvanising effect of a capacity home crowd will be arrayed against Hearts tonight as Celtic attempt to eat into Rangers' substantial advantage in the Scottish title race.
Celtic's largely reconstructed side is designed to revitalise a stuttering championship challenge but that creates its own problems, according to Glenn Loovens.
"We don't have time, that's true, but if you bring eight or nine players in you can't expect it to come right away," said Celtic's Dutch central defender.
Most observers have written off Celtic's chances of overhauling what is effectively an 11-point gap (because of the goal difference) between themselves and the defending champions. Tonight's outing against Hearts takes on an extra edge because the Tynecastle side have beaten Tony Mowbray's men twice already this season. Another swing of points in Rangers' favour would all but confirm the Ibrox side in a second successive title, as Loovens acknowledged.
"We know that, so we have to make sure we keep winning our games now and hope that Rangers drop some points, that's for sure," he said. "At Celtic there's always pressure to win leagues and it's easier when you're on the pitch if you're 10 points in front, but we have to deal with it.
"It's always difficult against Hearts, so we have to make sure we score and stay tight at the back," said Loovens, who has played with an extraordinary number of partners in central defence this season -- "five or six, I think".
His latest alliance is with the teenager Joshua Thompson and that pairing will almost certainly be used again this evening. "It's easier if you get a run with someone and Josh is new but he's a quick learner and a good young boy and I think he will have a great future."
Mowbray has sympathised with his defenders because of the amount of chopping and changing they have endured and although he bridled when it was suggested that his back line has been brittle, he acknowledged that there were difficulties which had not been remedied.
"It's changed a fair bit so it's a little bit unfair to say that. We have suffered from injuries and that's why I was saying I would like competition, to compensate for injuries or lack of form," said the Celtic manager. "I don't think teams are creating lots of chances against us. We won 1-0 at Morton and at Hamilton but, as I have said, there's room for more competition in that area. We tried exceptionally hard for a couple of players and got very, very close."
The marquee name who was lured to the east end of Glasgow, albeit on loan until the end of the season, will ensure that Celtic play in front of a full house, a factor which was manifestly absent when they lost to Hearts in October.
"I think supporters want to see talented players, individuals who excite them and get them off their seats and Robbie fits the bill," said Mowbray. "We need to find consistency of wins now and hopefully Robbie will play his part in that against Hearts. I'm sure he is looking forward to the experience of playing at Celtic Park and the support he will get from the fans of the club."
Celtic are still without Andreas Hinkel, Jos Hooiveld, Darren O'Dea, Paddy McCourt and Shaun Maloney, but none of the players who beat Dunfermline in Sunday's Scottish Cup tie at East End Park have been added to the casualty list. Hearts, though, are beset by personnel difficulties.
Ismael Bouzid is out of contention because of a hamstring injury, while Andy Driver will miss the next two or three games after suffering a recurrence of his knee trouble. However, despite being down to what he termed "the bare bones", Hearts manager Jim Jefferies will not recall Jose Goncalves, the defender who has declared his intention to leave in the summer.
Jefferies, who returned to Tynecastle for a second stint as manager two weeks ago, declared that he would field only players who were committed to the club and although he has been accused of double standards by continuing to select Michael Stewart and Christian Nade -- both of whom are also out of contract at the end of the season -- he defended his decision yesterday.
"Other boys are out of contract but I've not made any decision about them. I've seen Jose Goncalves play and he's a good young player. I've had four meetings in two days and in those four meetings I'm sitting talking to Jose getting the vibes that, for some reason before I came here, he refused the contract. If he doesn't want to do that, it tells you he doesn't want to play."