Thursday, October 22, 2009

A time to deliver

Celtic in the Europa League, the Scottish Football Blog.Tony Mowbray was being as philosophical as ever yesterday when he spoke about being a “performance” coach. Leave it to others to judge his team on “results.”

A jolly Corinthian approach for sure but one that doesn't quite answer his growing band of critics. Results matter and nowhere is that more keenly felt than in the east end of Glasgow.

A solitary point from league games against Rangers and Motherwell hints at a falling off of domestic form. Another single point from two Europa League games suggests that Celtic's continental dealings thus far have offered all the restorative powers of an 18-30 weekender in Ibiza.

New coaches, as much as great coaches, need luck though and whatever hardships he has so far endured Mowbray does not find himself adrift at home or abroad. An apocryphal “Crisis, what crisis?” quote might have crucified Jim Callaghan but Mowbray might glance at the league tables and offer a similar sentiment.

At this stage in both campaigns he is but one result away from topping the pile, well placed to take advantage of any slip ups from pacesetters who have no aura of invincibility themselves.

Time and patience, Mowbray would argue, are all that is required. For that though you need calm heads and everything that surrounds Celtic exists in a state of constant anxiety, emotions never far away from boiling point. To soothe the masses he needs results.

The visit of Hamburg tonight would be as good a place as any to kickstart the Mowbray revolution.

Hamburg looked like being the main force in the group before a ball was kicked but they were humbled 3-0 by a Rapid Vienna side that rarely looked much more than ordinary in drawing with Celtic the last time out.

Unlike Celtic the Germans did bounce back from an opening day defeat but the 4-2 home victory over Hapoel maybe hints at a defence that can be exploited.

To take advantage of that Mowbray will need to coax a more rumbustious performance from his charges than he has of late.

In talking often and at length about playing football the “Celtic way” the manager has been keen to convey the message that he is the perfect fit for Parkhead. He may well be. But he might not be the perfect fit for the resources he currently has at his disposal.

Against Motherwell Mowbray's starting 11 was entirely inherited from Gordon Strachan. Given that there appears to be a wide gulf between the tactical outlook of the departed ginger pragmatist and his artistic successor the players might be forgiven for paraphrasing Bobby Jones and Jack Nicklaus and asking why they are being asked to play a game with which they are not familiar.

New coaches, as much as great coaches, need the ability to inspire, transform and adapt. Mowbray's major failing so far is his apparent inability to stamp his mark on this group of players. He needs to find a way to do that and do that soon.

Discovering the alchemy he needs against Hamburg will not be easy and might need some brave decisions. A time to gamble.

The stakes are higher than simply a valuable three points. His honeymoon might have been short lived but if Mowbray can find some magic tonight he'll take a step towards making the faithful believe that he can be the man of their dreams after all and not, as some increasingly suspect, an embarrassing drunken mistake.