Sport Soccer

Monday 20 January 2020

Right Bhoys balance still eluding Mowbray


Roddy Forsyth

HAVING produced the football equivalent of running a bath without putting the plug in, Celtic and Aberdeen contemplate the week to come with greatly contrasting moods.

Since their wholesale reconstruction in the January transfer window, Celtic have won one, drawn one and lost one, scoring six goals and conceding five as the run of victories needed for a credible title challenge continues to elude them, so much so that they are back trailing Rangers by 10 points.

Aberdeen, meanwhile, have been stuck in the middle with Raith Rovers, Hibernian and Celtic, drawing three consecutive matches.

They face Raith again tomorrow night in their Scottish Cup fifth round replay at Pittodrie, desperate to put an end to the sequence of lamentable results that have haunted them in the knockout competitions in recent years.

When Tony Mowbray was appointed Celtic manager last summer much was made of his addiction to attacking play, exemplified by the one-touch passing game that took his young West Brom side to the Premier League.

When he arrived some wondered how he would address the balance at Celtic, where swashbuckling football is in the genes, but where ragged defending had become an increasingly costly feature of the side’s performance.

The answer, on current evidence, is that he has greatly added to firepower while having yet to remedy Celtic’s alarming tendency to take needless hits.

Against Aberdeen on Saturday, Celtic twice led by a goal and once by two goals, yet Mark McGhee’s players were able to draw level repeatedly and finish with numerical superiority at 4-4 when Republic of Ireland’s Darren O’Dea was sent off for a second yellow card in injury-time, thus compounding Mowbray’s difficulties at the back.

From middle to front, by contrast, Celtic are over-endowed with options. Aiden McGeady, Marc-Antoine Fortuné, Diomansy Kamara and Robbie Keane all featured at Pittodrie and each scored, but all the time the back door was swinging wide open and beckoning Aberdeen to barge through.

This they did with verve, netting through Michael Paton and Darren Mackie in the first half and twice from Steven MacLean after the break, once from the penalty spot after Edson Braafheid had inexplicably thrown up his arm to handle in the box and then from a close-range drive when Celtic marking was again conspicuous by its absence.

With O’Dea suspended for the visit of Dundee United on Saturday, Celtic urgently need to have Andreas Hinkel and Glenn Loovens back to fitness.

Mowbray, whose benchmark is performance rather than result, was typically phlegmatic in his analysis. “The first half was as poor as we have been,” said the Celtic manager.

“We didn’t get a grip of the game and yet we scored a couple of great goals. To score four goals away from home and yet not to win the game is obviously disappointing.

“At 4-2 we felt the game was just about done but we gave them a lifeline inexplicably with a penalty from nowhere – you saw it and I saw it and why his hand went up I’m not sure – so it was ultimately frustrating,” added Mowbray.

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