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Season Review 2009-10
|Matches: 2009 - 2010 | 2009-2010 Pictures | League Table | Statistics|
- Tony Mowbray new manager at the start and then sacked in the same season for poor results.
- No major trophies won.
- First time in Europa League groups (revamped UEFA Cup).
- Neill Lennon comes in as caretaker manager.
- Rangers win League.
A new manager and a new season. Few (if any) disputed the departure of the former manager (Gordon Strachan) after the travails of the past season saw us slip behind a poor Rangers side. The support was depressingly apathetic and the players dejected, so change was necessary. Following the traditional drawn out process of finding a new Celtic manager, the board finally revealed ex-player Tony Mowbray as the new Celtic manager to a generally positive response. He had the experience and knowledge of Scottish football (formerly a Celtic player and later a Hibs manager) to know what to do and what to expect. The priorities? Rebuild the squad and win the league. All else was secondary. Note, Gordon Strachan's recommendation was Mark McGhee (then the Motherwell manager).
It all began so well. Many managers dream of winning silverware at Wembley (in England at least) and in a strange twist of fate that's how Mowbray's career at Celtic began! A victory in the inaugural "Wembley Cup" pre-season tournament saw us walk up the hallowed steps (sic!) of Wembley to pick up the non-event cup, but in another light it was very much a nice cap to a good pre-season which could only have been a better preparation for the side if there were actually a few less games played. A morale booster and set our confidence high; it wasn't to be so good again.
Never going to be easy but Mowbray shored up the squad. Donatti was brought back into the first team but a bright start was all but over when he was sadly sold. He was the only notable departure from the playing squad, he wanted to return to Italy after a mixed time under Gordon Strachan.
Players to have been brought in early on included N'Guemo on loan, Fortune, Fox and Zhang Zhi. Additionally, Zaluska moved in as reserve goalkeeper behind Boruc to give us more back-up.The hoped for changes in the defensive personnel never materialised and was to cost us later on. In some ways Tony Mowbray likely didn't fully realise the problems that were left behind by his predecessor or it was a case that we were simply unsuccessful in getting some of the players who he wanted. The inflated cost to bring in players (wages plus transfer fees) was really hampering any ambitions we may have had, and it was really beginning to show. Lots of projects and potential is what we were to work off of for the season, and Mowbray repeatedly made it clear that he was building for the long-term.
First mission was to qualify for the Champions League, and it turned out to be a step too far for the new manager. After a 1-0 home defeat v Dynamo Kiev, we rallied round to win comfortably two nil in Ukraine. Nice for us to finally win away in the European Cup as well, but losing at home was a travesty. The second qualifying round saw us needing to overcome Arsenal who at this point were the in-form side in European football, and we got hammered. The away match was marred by UEFA's recanting over a blatant dive by Eduardo for a penalty that killed off the whole set of ties. In truth, we were unlikely to win but that isn't the point. Little that Mowbray could have done with the squad we had but we were now dropping into the reformatted UEFA Cup/Europa League.
Back domestically, across the city the Huns were continuing in financial free-fall, and as their poor efforts in Europe were to show what a poor squad they really were. We had little excuses to at least compete.
Start of the new season and it all began very well, and a string of entertaining and competent victories saw us recover after the miserable end to the previous season. We’d managed to score some sizeable victories starting with a 3-1 win over Aberdeen and then we carried on in this vein including a 5-2 win over St Johnstone (and got Fortune off the starting blocks), to take a 4pt lead into the first game v Rangers. Players were bedding in and others were getting back in to shape (e.g. Maloney).
The first game against Rangers changed it all. Biased refereeing saw us denied clear penalties and we lost a game we shouldn’t have. Yet in retrospect this game turned the first half of the season domestically and little went right from there.
We started to drop points to the smaller teams, such as draws with Motherwell (0-0) and Falkirk (3-3). Then we actually started to lose in the league, 2-1 to Dundee Utd and 2-1 to Hearts. Admittedly, there were some good wins in between as well but there was no consistency in our results, and we’d gone from 4pts ahead to 4pts behind at the end of the December.
As for the league cup, we were knocked out by Hearts which was a body blow to Mowbray. This defeat signalled the real start of any dissent against the new manager by a section of the support. He may have been new to the role, but not all the support is patient although the dissenters were still very much in the minority at this point.
Back to Europe, the Europa league games punctuated the first half of the season, but was no respite! We were up against old nemesis Rapid Vienna and Rangers’ German friends “Hamburg”. Nothing to write home about. We squandered our chances, and we were lucky to not come bottom of the group. None of the teams were any good and our form didn’t do anyone any credit. A fuller review at the following link: Europa League 2009-10.
If anyone was to simply summarise the season to end December, there would be few who would disagree with the conclusion that it was a very poor set of performances overall and it was unacceptable to see us behind the Huns by such a margin into January.
The turn of the year started little better. Despite a great performance against Rangers in the Ne’er Day derby, we drew! We scored only to see them come back within a minute and score. We were squandering chances to get back into the title race.
The Rangers games had really now set the tone. What has to be highlighted is the number of dodgy decisions in these games. Paranoid? How can you be paranoid with so many bad decisions. Two stonewall penalties not given and a clear goal not given in the other. A disgrace. We haven't helped ourselves with squandering our opportunities but you need correct decisions else all is a farce. What were we to do?
Too many games were squandered and too many players were under-performing. Mowbray likely didn't appreciate the task ahead of him when he took on the job, and underestimated the quality and morale of the squad he was handed. His predecessor had left a bit of a mess with a very imbalanced squad.
However it must be said that compared to the last season, the football was much better to watch and the manager was more respectful of the support than his predecessor. The changes in personnel had seemed to make a difference, yet results hadn't improved since last season.
Mowbray should have rectified this in part with more new players in the past summer but he didn't or he wasn't given the backing to do so (you can take what you believe).
Anyhow, one aspect was renewed and that was spats between the Celtic manager and the press. Mowbray was an easy target for the morons in the press, and he let publicly known his distrust of them after some incidents. Problem is that they are faceless and unanswerable, but he isn't and it was a fight best left alone. We'd bigger challenges ahead.
Mowbray hadn't helped the morale of the squad by being willing to publicly criticise the players for poor results, threatening changes in January if things didn't pick up. This led to early criticism on his man management style and the players ended up needing a head to head with him to resolve issues before they deteriorated any further. A big contrast to Strachan who was way overprotective of the same players last season when he was in charge. From one extreme to the other; a balance had to be found.
It shouldn't be thought that Mowbray was wholly disliked. Players like Fortune came on the strength of Mowbray's appointment and there was no public signs of dissent despite any periods of poor performances in the first half of the season.
A January Revival? (sic!)January after the Huns game should have been the revival but it was the biggest bust that could have happened. A defeat to a mediocre Hearts put us further behind the Huns for the league, and there were few who'd dare say we'd be able to claw that all back. The pivotal defeat was the two-one loss to Hibs. At this point we went ten pts behind the Huns and the league for many was now over. Mowbray had a lot to recover with everyone.
In the winter transfer window, Mowbray moved to make the changes to try to salvage the season. Possibly the biggest clear-out in many a year, he shipped out a number before bringing in Braafheid from Bayern Muncih, Kamara from Fulham and unbelievably Robbie Keane from Spurs. The last one was a major coup and was seen as a way to revitalise the support. A big name with Irish connections, it spurred on many and a huge crowd gathered late at Celtic Park to welcome him in. He was to repay us well in goals and entertainment.
Many were pleased with getting a large return on the sale of some players (Caldwell, Fox and Robson), but the departure of Barry Robson generated a mixed response. Question is: was this enough to save the manager? There were enough people already openly questioning his position. Seeing a poor Rangers side ahead of us by a huge gap at this stage in the season was disconcerting.
So was this to be a glorious reboot of our season? From the start, it definitely wasn't to be. Mowbray erred badly and played Robbie Keane in the starting side just one day after signing. It was a catastrophe and we lost to Kilmarnock 1-0, or first defeat in around 32 games against them! It was demoralising and hit a new low (we kept stepping back). Heads were hanging low and the support were getting more frustrated and vocal.
It was a mixed bag from there on in, any victory was seen as a hopeful turning point but then we'd thrown it away with a poor result. Against Aberdeen in February, we led 4-2 only to then see our new signing Braafheid throw it away with an unnecessary penalty that allowed Aberdeen back in, and they unsurprisingly stole a draw late on, and we were put effectively stuck 10pts behind the Huns. Last chance to get back in the league was to defeat Rangers, and a 1-0 defeat by them in a very poorly refereed match, saw the title stay at Ibrox. They hacked and tortured our players, and then somehow we lost Scott Brown after a bit of play acting by one of the Hun players. It was all just farcical.
Maybe things could have been so much different. Mowbray's fate was sealed, and the defeat by Rangers signalled the end for many. It wasn't just a league defeat but also Mowbray’s time as manager. Rumours had begun over his tenure: Gordon Strachan was to be brought back, Mowbray had offered to resign three times already (but board said no), there were fallouts with Neil Lennon and Peter Grant etc etc.
However, the loss of points against Rangers wasn’t the sole reason for our poor league season. Smaller clubs were taking points off of us with ease, the small sides knew we were a wounded animal and took confidence in this when they faced us. We’d dropped too many silly points, and our main men were not performing when they should have had gathered some consistency. Samaras was hit and miss, and there have been too many apologists for him, he shirked challenges too easily. McGeady was brilliant and frustrating. Great runs were wasted with soft or wayward final shots on goal. The defence was as disorganised as ever and this fed through to the rest of the team. The midfield never settled, and the attack was saved only by Robbie Keane’s form.
Must repeat the countless number of dodgy decisions that Rangers obtained in the matches against them and you can sense frustration. This is not paranoia. Two stonewall penalties not given in the first, a clear goal chopped off in the second, and in the third Scott Brown sent off whilst Kyle Lafferty was given nothing and countless Hun hacking not being carded. It was a farce. Credit to the club who made their frustrations and concerns over the situation public but to no avail. The Huns were in command and if we are to recover we have to fight for it all again.
Amidst all this was the increasingly fractious relationship with the press. Mowbray didn’t help with some of his ramblings getting increasingly inane, such as: "You can look as deep into the result as you want and it's obviously not a great result but there were positive reasons why it was a negative result". Answers on a postcard….
The denouement could never have been penned any worse than it turned out to be. After a string of games that saw us return to some kind of form, Celtic were to face St Mirren in the league mid-week in a game much overlooked by many. What should have been a straight forward victory turned into a nightmare. The team was lacking any form of composure and allowed St Mirren an unwarranted lead. What should have been a kick up the bells was little other than the start of a roll for St Mirren. We lost by an embarrassing margin of four goals to nil with little to reply from ourselves in terms of genuine chances.
It was all over. It was a worse swansong than even that of John Barnes.
On 25 March 2010, Tony Mowbray was sacked as manager as Celtic, and his main coaching staff (Peter Grant & Mark Venus) followed him.
Mowbray is not naïve. He'd done well at his previous jobs and had a fair pedigree. The problem is that the Celtic job is a step way ahead of his previous jobs (or a few steps) and he appeared unable to relate to the players at this level and make a go at it. He was not suited to the role as manager at our club.
Most can deny it if they want, but there were no dissenting voices at all when he was appointed, and it was only really in the last 2-3 weeks of his reign that the majority of the support had decided that he to go.
A fuller review on Tony Mowbray can be found at the following link: Tony Mowbray Biog.
Lennon comes in as Caretaker ManagerNeil Lennon stepped up as the new caretaker manager to pick up the pieces. A demoralised and humiliated squad needed to turn things around fast. Our aim had changed to consolidating second place, a task that was becoming ever more difficult with Dundee Utd breathing down our necks. It was that bad. The remaining league campaigns were also a chance to regain some pride.
Apart from that there was the Scottish Cup semi-final. It was to be a mere formality for the club, taking on lowly Ross County from the lower leagues. The question was just how many we would win by; the answer was actually we lost two nil! Another embarrassment, but disturbingly the support was little shocked by the result. It was just another low mark for the first team and illustrated how demoralised the support was at this point. Lennon deserved better from the players who'd let themselves down. Sadly, it was now sealed that we were to finish the season without any major silverware.
Back to the league and the contrast could not be starker. Eight games to go and even though the margin was too big to overcome to win the league, squeezing the gap was a must. If it wasn't for the low morale of the support, the run the club were to take would be more loudly lauded than it is. A good run of eight league wins in a row was a great way to end what was otherwise a forgettable season.
Lennon kicked backsides and engendered some team spirit and motivation into the squad. After labouring against poorer opposition earlier on, we managed to win some games at a canter.
Lennon was not afraid to upset egos either. Benching the wayward Braafheid for the much maligned Naylor paid off (he even grabbed a goal v Rangers). He allowed the players a bit more of a freer role as well. He made his ideas clear as per the following quote:
“See projects? Forget it. I’m sick of hearing it. I’m sick of hearing about two- and three-year plans. I don’t buy into it. It’s about now. You don’t have time as a Celtic or Rangers manager. Projects are something my daughter does at school. I’m a football man, only interested in results, performances and players. I don’t care about two years’ time. I might not bloody be here.”
The highlight in this period was May 4th and the 2-1 victory over the Huns to halt our poor stream of results in the derbies (first win against them since December 27th 2008), and it at least raised confidence in the manager's ability. Overall we recovered, although too little too late. Must add the boost that Robbie Keane gave us. Fabulous rate of goals, around 15 in 17 games, with some being sublime. However, it must be noted that he didn't score against Rangers in two games nor did he score in the game v Ross County, so could be said that he didn't score when it mattered most. Overly harsh but there is a point in there.
Another main point was the ability of the side to come back after losing the lead or coming from behind. Under Mowbray heads would have gone down and we'd have sunk further (e.g. the St Mirren 4-0 defeat). In the final run of games we managed to regroup and recover. It was great to see and credit to the players & the new management.
Cynics might add that it was the end of season and teams weren't as competitive as before the league split. Possibly some truth in that, but the matches were actually as competitive as ever in the league. Dundee Utd could have made second place, but our resurgence along with Robbie Keane's form saw us consolidate second place. Poor that it had come down to this.
Lennon’s run was partly reminiscent of Frank Connor's brief reign back in the nineties. Both succeeded in instilling renewed vigour as the interim manager. In Connor's case, his successor ruined what was inherited. We can only hope that once settled that we can carry on where the club left off at the end of the last season and that history doesn't repeat itself as happened after Connor’s brief run.
ReflectionsSo was it all bad? We’re more than just wins & losses. One event stands out more than anything else, and that was the wonderful surprise of Paul Lennon and “the Good Child Foundation” (Thailand) (see link for overview). That, if little else, helped to put a smile back on all our faces. It really reflected wonderfully on the Celtic culture, and support has been universal in raising funds and gathering equipment for their needs.
Anything else? What would have happened if we had picked Mark McGhee? For interest, Mark McGhee was the new Aberdeen manager for this season and they didn’t even make the cut! We shipped ten goals against them in 3 games, and they finished 9th in the league. We may whinge about Mowbray, but looks like we might have got lucky passing Mark McGhee for the job. Phew!!!
|17||Marc Luque Crosas|
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