Strachan on the road to emulating Stein and O'Neill

Last updated : 27 January 2009 By Mikbhoy

There's no European football to look forward to but for the first time since he's been in charge Gordon Strachan's side is approaching the business end of the season with their dreams of a domestic treble still alive. The next stop in their quest will be the National Stadium tomorrow when they face Dundee United in the semi-final of the Co-operative Insurance League Cup.

"It's a new one for us because, since I've been here, I don't think we have been top of the league, in the semi-final of the League Cup, and through to the later stages of the Scottish Cup." said the Celtic manager "Before now we've always been out of one of the trophies. So, this is an important game for us and we have prepared well for it. We showed with our performance against Kilmarnock in the last round of the League Cup how much we want this. But that's just the way these players are, even in training. A lot of the time we watch them at Lennoxtown and just hope they have not left anything out on the training pitch ahead of the games, there is so much intensity about it."

The Bhoys have vital games in all of the competitions over the next three weeks and if they come through that period unscathed then Strachan will have taken a giant step towards joining that elite band of treble-winning managers just as his predecessor Martin O'Neill did in 2001. Dundee United, though, won't be turning up at Hampden to play a supporting role in Celtic's run to glory, this is a team with some belief in themselves and a team who fully deserve their third-top position in the SPL table. "You know what you are getting when you play United," said Strachan "They are a band of lads who are fit and enjoying their performances at the moment and we have to deal with that. They also say they enjoy playing against us. Fine, we enjoy the challenge."

Celtic are four points clear at the top of the SPL table after Saturday's results but from a low of losing to the Huns back in August to a high of moving ten points ahead after beating them in their own midden and everything in between it's certainly been a season of highs and lows for Celtic so far and the mood of the fans naturally changes with every loop of this roller-coaster ride. "We understand that. This is all about emotions, and we understand people get emotional." said the gaffer "People who watch the game, that's what they enjoy about football, the emotions of going up and down. We, as players and management, have got to be different but it's not a problem because the players listen to me. I told them last year when we were going through a sticky patch they could either listen to me, or listen to what is going on elsewhere. I think the way we finished proved who they were listening to."

The boss is still convinced that rotating his squad will benefit the club but it's obvious to most observers that some players are considered too important to be part of his rotation system. "I think that kind of thing happens at other places, too," said Strachan. "If you look at Chelsea when Jose Mourinho was in charge, there were one or two players who never got changed. There was a rotation within his side, but you have to have key members who you know are on a roll and you have to let them go with it."

Scott Brown is one of those key players and the £4.4million buy from Hibs is at last living up to the hype. "Last year we had glimpses in games of what he can do, but not with this level of consistency. That's been a huge thing this season, and Scott's shown he is understanding what his game is all about."

The forward line has been constantly rotated through necessity rather than design but with the recent return from injury of Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink Celtic now have all three main strikers fit and raring to go at the same time. The manager has choices to make and most observers think it's a matter of which big guy partners the on-form Scott McDonald.

"Sami (Georgios Samaras) played at Pittodrie the week before." said Strachan "I explained to him the reason Jan was starting against Hibs was because I felt his record was good against them. I also thought there would be more crosses into the box, which would suit Jan, and that the game would benefit Sami coming into it later. But we will continue to decide who is going start according to the opposition and conditions."