Graham Spiers in The Times on the biggest game an Irish side will probably play this season:
Scott McDonald aims to be ruthless in Russia
It is not always easy to fathom the Tony Mowbray style of play, despite all that is written and said on the subject. The Celtic manager tires of being labelled a romantic or an idealist, yet it is Mowbray himself who frequently refers to his particular philosophy of football in terms that sometimes sound haughty.
What is for certain is that the Celtic manager is trying to impress his own ideas on his new players, and that some of those ideas differ from those of Gordon Strachan, his predecessor. In summary, Strachan could be said to have placed great emphasis on shape and tactical discipline, while Mowbray, rightly or wrongly, permits a more instinctive, even off-the-cuff approach by his players.
This debate is heating up again, given the job facing Celtic in Moscow on Wednesday evening. In trying to overturn Dynamo Moscow’s 1-0 first-leg advantage in the Champions League third qualifying round, Mowbray insists that he will allow his players a freedom of expression that they perhaps did not have under their previous manager.
Having said that, two years ago Strachan brought Celtic to Moscow to face a very talented Spartak team, and scored in the Russian capital on their way to advancing to the group stage.
Footballers are often cagey when asked about their managers or coaches - untrusting as they are about what they might blurt into a microphone - but Scott McDonald offered on Monday a little insight into the differences between Mowbray and Strachan. And listening to the Australia striker, the hunch persisted that Mowbray remains a little more flexible in his approach.
There is a definite change [between Strachan and Mowbray] where the wide players are concerned, McDonald said. They are getting more opportunity to express themselves in the sense of moving around and not being told to stay out wide. They have sort of been given almost free roles now.
The players now have a freedom to play in areas the manager beforehand wouldn’t have liked. So that is definitely a difference. And Tony also wants his full-backs to bomb on’ even further than before.
It is nothing if not a positive manner of play the new manager has brought in. Hopefully that will create a lot of goals for myself - though it can also leave you a little bit open at times, as we have seen.
These comments only add to the intrigue regarding Mowbray’s approach to players such as Aiden McGeady and Shaun Maloney. Of McGeady, in particular, the new Celtic manager has been effusive in his praise, and it has left some wondering if Mowbray is keen to put a very different stamp on Celtic from that of his predecessor.
In citing McGeady so often, of course, Mowbray also only serves to remind us that it was the winger’s reluctance to stay wide on the park, as Strachan had so often insisted, which in part led to a conflict between the two men.
The downside to this perceived style of Mowbray’s is obvious - just ask West Bromwich Albion fans about it. As McDonald said, this new Celtic team does have a tendency to leave itself open and last week in Glasgow, Dynamo feasted on this vulnerability. As keen as Celtic are to emphasise that they could have scored two or three in Glasgow, Dynamo were also worth at least one more goal.
I think we played well in Glasgow - there is no question about that, McDonald said. We were more than comfortable and we created a few chances. After they scored, it’s true we nearly got caught a couple of times, because we were going for it.
This time we probably need to be a bit more ruthless in front of goal. If we get a chance I think we’ve got to take it. Hopefuly, if that chance comes early, and we take it, that will put all the pressure back on them. And to pull it off like this away from home would be massive.
If Mowbray and Celtic can pull off this feat on Wednesday night it would be quite a filip for the new manager and his team. Celtic’s away form in Europe, alas, is woeful, and it stretches back through the Strachan and Martin O’Neill eras.
It’ll be tough for us, but then again, maybe there is less pressure on us anyway, as people are not expecting us to do that well, McDonald argued. But we have our own expectations of what we want to do, and we’ll be looking to go out and be positive, and try to have a go at them from the word go.
If we can - like Dynamo did in Glasgow - get an early goal then it will change the whole complexion of the game. Hopefully, we can do that - it will certainly be our intention.