Tony Mowbray's will take his Celtic side to Ibrox today for the first time as a manager and victory for the Celts in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League game will take them seven points clear of the Huns after only seven games played but the boss fears that such a commanding lead at such an early stage of the season could make his job harder. Can't work that one out? Let Tony explain....
a thing if it ain't got that swing....
"If we win, it gives us a bit of breathing space but, if anything, it makes my job a bit more difficult," said Mowbray. "If we find ourselves seven points in front so early in the season it will be harder to maintain the players' focus and maintain the demands every week. The days you think you are doing okay are the days when someone is ready to knock you down."
Mowbray himself has made the trip to Ibrox as a Celtic player and he was asked how his team today compared to those squads he'd been a part of in the nineties. "I don't know." he said "Time has moved on, football has moved on. When I was there Celtic were playing catch-up. Brian Laudrup was playing for Rangers and I'm not sure we had any Brian Laudrups in our team, even though we had some very talented Scottish players like Paul McStay and John Collins."
The boss acknowledged the fact that Celtic have allowed the squad to degenerate from the quality, star studded line-up of just a few years back. "I don't think Celtic have any greater armoury going to Ibrox now. A few years ago when this club was buying a lot of English Premier League-quality footballers, that was maybe something that you could say. Chris Sutton, Neil Lennon, Henrik Larsson, John Hartson and other players at a very high level. I don't think you could say just now that this is the case."
Stephen McManus, in the team ahead of an in-form Glenn Loovens, slipped up against Rapid Vienna last Thursday when his slack pass resulted in the Austrians scoring a goal in just three minutes and again questions are being asked about the best central defensive partnership at the club. "Individuals know when they have made mistakes," said the manager. "I do not think I've criticised people by name. Players know. I was that player once. The relationship between manager and player is built up over a period of time and is one of trust. You win respect as a manager by your knowledge and the way you treat people. I don't mistreat people."
Captain McManus, Gary Caldwell and Glenn Loovens have all been benched recently as the manager tries to find his best combination in the crucial central defensive roles. Loovens scored the winning goal against Hearts two weeks ago and his goal threat allied to his sterling defensive performances of late might just see him recalled to the side today, but Mogga is playing his cards close to his chest on this one and he's a hard man to read. "On Thursday, I rotated as I saw Rapid as a counter-attacking team and felt we would have a lot of the ball at the back, so I put my most composed defenders there," said Mowbray. "Ibrox might be a totally different game. I cannot imagine Rangers are going to sit off our defenders. They are all international footballers who all know each other's game and whatever combination I select, they will try to make it work."
As always midfield will be a key area and speculation is rife that the Celtic boss will sacrifice one of his forwards and bring in Barry Robson, recently returned to the squad after a long-term injury, in order to win the midfield battles. Mowbray refused to confirm or deny his battle plan for Ibrox but he insisted that whatever changes he makes will be made with a positive goal in sight. "If I pack the midfield that would never be for a defensive reason," he said. "Sir Alex Ferguson uses one up front and three in midfield when Manchester United play Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal or in Europe. That is because when you play the best teams you cannot give the midfield away. We have played against good teams already this season. Dynamo Moscow, Arsenal and Rapid. It is a different level of football and, with total respect to some of the teams we have played in the SPL, Rangers bring a different proposition to us. You want to test yourself against the best teams, and it is a big challenge for us to go to Ibrox."
"The overriding emotion of all Celtic fans is that we go and win the match." concluded boss Mowbray. "I do not think they really care how we do it but that goes against the ethos I believe in because I would like to go there, win, and do it in a little bit of style. If we go there, play poorly and win I will probably moan after the game, but I will be happy that we won and are seven points clear at the top of the SPL."