DCSIMG

Hamilton 0 - 1 Celtic: Jos Hooiveld calls for 'unstoppable' effort in bid to catch Rangers

NO SOBER judge would rush to interpret Celtic's scrambled but merited victory at New Douglas Park as the day Tony Mowbray's reshaped side emerged as the new irresistible force of Scottish football.

The jury remains out on Mowbray's grand vision for his team after a Saturday lunchtime assignment in Lanarkshire which saw them achieve the primary objective of avoiding any further damage to their already fragile title bid.

But after a largely forgettable contest, settled by substitute Morten Rasmussen's first goal for the Parkhead club, there was at least one witness prepared to offer the view this was the start of something very special for Celtic. Step forward Jos Hooiveld. The Dutch central defender, one of six Mowbray signings in the starting line-up at New Douglas Park, made a solid debut for his new employers.

Like many of his compatriots, Hooiveld is not short of self-confidence. An imposing character on and off the pitch, the 26-year-old was happy to proclaim Celtic will be "unstoppable" in their quest to overturn Rangers' 10-point lead at the top of the SPL, a deficit he insists is less than daunting.

"There have been a lot of changes in the squad, but it's a good group of lads who are all really hungry and want to win prizes," said Hooiveld. "Now we just have to make sure all of our heads are focused in the same direction.

"If we make sure of that, I think we are quite unstoppable if we can play with confidence, keep the ball and not do strange things. Youthful things have to go out of our play, we have to be more like men, but I think we are progressing in a good way.

"Of course we can still win the league. I have been in worse situations before and gone on to become champions. In Sweden last year with AIK, we were 11 points behind Gothenburg at one stage and ended up winning the title by four points. That was a nice time. You need character and guts to pull it back. If there is a 50-50 in a game, it has to become a 70-30 for us. It has to be all or nothing and we have to show quality as well."

At a time when the Celtic captaincy, currently in the possession of Darren O'Dea, appears to be in a transient state, Hooiveld's forceful demeanour may see him quickly emerge as a contender for the role. He certainly views himself as someone who provide leadership, with or without the armband.

"That's my strength, I want to win everything," he added. "I demand a lot from myself and I demand a lot from other people. If things are not going the way they should, I try to change it.

"When I played in Finland (for Inter Turku), I was the captain twice in the cup final and also when we won the league. I have always just been myself, whether I've been the captain or not. I will always lead from the front in a battle. Sometimes it will be terrible, but most of the time it goes well."

Hooiveld survived a couple of shaky moments in the opening stages against Hamilton, his rustiness understandable as he played his first senior match in almost three months. But he looked more commanding as the afternoon wore on, forming a promising partnership with 18-year-old Josh Thompson.

"At the start of the game, I wanted to do too much and show everything I have got," admitted Hooiveld. "But then I realised I just had to do my job and it was a nice, ordinary game. I grew into it quite well, the defending part went really well. I have to grow a bit in playing more football, because that's part of my game, but that will come.

"I feel I'm getting close to match fitness. My head is clear, which is nice, and I'm hungry for the ball. It was nice to play alongside Josh. He can be a really good player. He is strong, athletic and he has everything. He can go far."

If the Hooiveld-Thompson partnership provided Mowbray with cause for encouragement, so did his central midfield pairing of Ki-Sung Yueng and Landry N'Guemo. On a difficult playing surface, the young South Korean suggested he has both the physical attributes to cope with Scottish football and the technical ability to become a significantly influential Celtic player. The return of N'Guemo from Africa Cup of Nations duty with Cameroon certainly restored greater balance and stability to the Celtic engine room.

On the debit side, Mowbray's team were too often a feckless lot in the attacking third of the field. Chinese international Zheng Zhi looked ill-equipped for the wide role he was given, while Aiden McGeady's final pass or shot from the other flank was generally poor.

Hamilton, who coped admirably with the absence of key men Alex Neil and Mickael Antoine-Curier and saw Brian Easton make a fine return to their colours on loan from Burnley, appeared on course for a precious point but were undone by Mowbray's 64th minute introduction of Rasmussen for the ineffective Georgios Samaras. Just three minutes later, the Danish international pounced on a loose ball in the Accies penalty area and bundled a low shot beyond Tomas Cerny. It was the kind of 'scruffy' goal Mowbray had predicted Rasmussen would score for Celtic and the 25-year-old certainly showed predatory qualities lacking elsewhere in the club's striking roll call.

Perhaps he should have been handed the ball when Celtic were awarded a stoppage time penalty kick as Marc-Antoine Fortune went down under Mark McLaughlin's challenge. Fortune took it himself and saw his effort saved by Cerny. This was a day, however, when even Mowbray would be forced to concede that the result mattered far more than the scoreline or performance.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Ki Sung Yueng (Celtic)

The South Korea international is comfortable in possession and passed the ball well despite poor underfoot conditions. His set piece delivery was excellent and Celtic should have made more of some of his corner kicks. Always eager to get forward, Ki also forced the break of the ball which led to Morten Rasmussen's winning goal.

 
 
 

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