Glenn Loovens and Celtic captain Stephen McManus suffered an Ibrox nightmare on Sunday when the bumbling duo gifted the Huns a two goal start early in the game. Even though Celtic rallied and scored themselves soon after with an Aiden McGeady penalty, and then went on to dominate the match, those two early strikes, and the obligatory baffling refereeing decisions on two more stonewall penalty claims, were enough to give Rangers all three points. Johan Mjallby can't believe the defenders made such basic errors.
"Two silly mistakes in the first fifteen minutes cost Celtic the game." Mjallby told the Daily Record. "And Rangers won because of it. It was always going to be hard to get back into the match after that kind of start. I don't want to be too critical of Loovens and McManus because you don't become a bad defender overnight. The two centre-halves need to work in tandem as a unit and the defence needs a relationship and an understanding that did not appear to be there at Ibrox. You don't have to be the strongest or quickest guys around but need to be able to read the game properly - simple things like not letting the ball bounce for the second goal for example."
"If you're a defender like Loovens you can't allow Miller to push you away from the ball and muscle you out of it." said Mjallby. "Kenny pushed Glenn aside to score the second goal and that should not be allowed to happen. Both Loovens and McManus are never going to be as quick as Miller but need to use their heads, read the game and stand their ground. In my day playing for Celtic at Ibrox we had Balde, Valgaeren and myself in defence. None of us was the quickest but we all read the game well an developed a clear understanding of how each other played."
"I knew straight away when Bobo was going for a ball, even ones he had no chance of winning." said the ex-Celtic defender. "I would tell Bobo sometimes he didn't have to contest every challenge and commit himself. What Bobo, Joos, and myself did have, though, was the element of intimidation. Even Chris Sutton could play as a centre-half and he too was a fearsome prospect. Celtic relied heavily on those towers of strength at the back and when we played at Ibrox we used that to our advantage."
"Sometimes you sensed the Rangers strikers didn't fancy it." said Mjallby, who is now a popular TV pundit for Swedish channel TV3. "It did get into their heads they were going to have a hard time coming up against three powerful players like Bobo, Joos and me. If players run out with thoughts like that in their minds they will inevitably have a harder time. You can win a lot of Old Firm games with sheer intimidation, brute force and physical aggression."
"But Miller had clearly decided beforehand he was going to take the Celtic centre-backs on." he continued. "You could see from the very first whistle he fancied the challenge. The Celtic defence were not intimidating enough to Miller and that's why he managed to score his two goals. I can totally understand why Mowbray is having a go at his defenders. But it is up to him to rectify the mistakes and find which two out of three defenders he prefers as a central pairing. The defending at Ibrox was poor to say the least and the players involved will know they need to cut out those silly mistakes immediately. That kind of defending will cost the team vital SPL points."
Mjallby also insists that the lack of faith in those behind you can create indecision and loss of confidence amongst the rest of the team. "If the likes of Shaun Maloney and Aiden McGeady are to function perfectly Celtic need to have a firm platform." he said. "They need to be solid at the back as that instils confidence in the creative players like Maloney and McGeady. Even if those guys take someone on and lose the ball they will know they have a solid defensive set-up in place to cover them and that would mean they don't have to track back 100 per cent. There seems to be uncertainty in those areas at the moment and the more creative players are having to do their fair share of tracking back."
But despite his criticism of the core defenders Johan believes that, although they may not have shown it recently, they do possess the quality needed to play for Celtic. "Defenders always have to be certain of what they are doing when they go out on to the pitch." said the ex-Sweden international captain. "There is a lot of pressure on them to get things right especially at a club like Celtic. The quality is most definitely there in all three of Celtic's central defenders, maybe they just lack a bit of confidence right now. The answer to all Celtic's defensive problems is a simple one. The team have to work harder on the training ground and eradicate the silly mistakes. If the players can do that Celtic still have a good chance of winning the title. The one positive thing is Celtic are still top of the SPL and that is the base the manager and players now have to work from."