Mowbray senses happier days ahead for Celtic

TONY Mowbray last night painted a happier picture of life at Celtic after his side breathed new life into their championship challenge with a 4-1 win against ten-man St Johnstone, while Falkirk manager Eddie May ripped into his players after a dismal 4-1 defeat at home to Dundee United left them rooted to the foot of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.

Celtic's timely win in Perth leaves them seven points adrift of leaders Rangers, on whom they have one game in hand, while Dundee United – courtesy of a David Goodwillie goal and a Jon Daly hat-trick – leapfrogged Hibs to reclaim third spot in an intriguing SPL table, which will be further reshaped following the full midweek card of fixtures which take place tomorrow and on Wednesday.

Bringing further cheer to those who favour Celtic is the news that Scott Brown and Shaun Maloney will return to full training today, while Scott McDonald, Mark Wilson and Stephen McManus are all likely to join them tomorrow.

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"We will be stronger as we move on rather than weaker," said Mowbray, who watched his side stage a comeback against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.

Liam Craig had given the hosts a 12th minute lead from the penalty spot but the game turned on its head just seconds into the second half when Graham Gartland was red-carded for bringing down Marc-Antoine Fortune. Mowbray conceded this had been a significant moment, with all Celtic's goals coming against a depleted and exhausted opposition.

"It's worth pointing out it was a turning point," he said. "They (St Johnstone] had shown how competitive they were able to make it."

Fortune started the comeback after 64 minutes, and added his side's third nine minutes before the end. Georgios Samaras put Celtic ahead in the 77th minute while substitute Pat McCourt rounded things off in style with a stunning solo goal.

It left Mowbray in better spirits, although he did point out that he always felt "pretty happy" when asked about the cheering properties of the result. But the manager has encountered difficult times of late. His side's faltering form in the league was compounded by a newspaper report last week that alleged Mowbray had told Scott Brown he was finished at the club.

The midfielder is on the comeback trail after injury and Mowbray made a point of explaining the boost this gave Celtic at another crucial stage of the season. The team is back in action again on Wednesday in the league, when Hibernian are the visitors. Rangers travel to play St Mirren on the same night.

"Scott Brown will be desperate to pull on a shirt on Wednesday again after ten weeks of being out," Mowbray said. "That's the boy he is, and I will have to assess the danger of him getting himself injured again from going in too soon."

Mowbray was careful not to describe the win in terms of what it meant for Celtic's title challenge. It was just another win, he claimed. But an important one.

"I don't see today as anything swinging towards anybody," he explained. "We just have to keep playing the way we are against a side (Hibs] who come to Celtic Park in good form and confident mood. I think it's just the three points which are important. There is another game coming very quickly and the strength of the squad will begin to be significant."

As well as the return of Brown, Maloney and McDonald, Celtic have also been bolstered by defender Jos Hooiveld's arrival from AIK Solna. The form displayed by Fortune is another positive. The two goals he scored yesterday were only his fourth and fifth league strikes of the season.

"He works extremely hard for the team each week," said Mowbray. "No one needs to persuade me of his qualities. I see them every week. The kid keeps going through the outward criticism he gets.

"He doesn't get any criticism from me. I am fully aware of his talent."

St Johnstone manager Derek McInnes said his side just had to dust themselves down and look to Wednesday night's trip to Dundee United after a painful afternoon.

The home team had looked more than capable of getting something from the match at half-time, when they led 1-0. But Gartland's dismissal changed everything and St Johnstone were a ragged outfit by the final whistle.

"For 45 minutes we looked the better team," said McInnes. "But Celtic are the one team you don't want to go one man down against because of their pace and trickery. I don't think we deserved to lose 4-1 – but we have to take our medicine.

"I have no doubt Celtic would have asked questions of us in the second-half even with 11 men," he said. "But with us reduced to ten they smelt blood."

Falkirk manager May, meanwhile, launched a blistering attack on his own players after defeat to Dundee United saw them squander the opportunity to climb off the bottom of the table. "I'm not going to protect them," May said. "They were absolutely murder. They have to take responsibility. The application and the quality weren't good enough, and there aren't going to be any hiding places.

"I've seen it for years in football – a manager protects his players. What a lot of b******s. They have to go and take responsibility out there, and they certainly never did that today. People say you might lose the dressing-room. Well, if I've got the dressing-room like that, Jesus Christ – I'd rather lose the dressing-room.

"I treat them with respect. I treat them right. All I ask for is effort and application, and I certainly never got that."

After their previous league game earned them a point at Celtic Park, this was a severe setback for Falkirk, and May saw no reason to pretend otherwise. "The only difference between this and Celtic is playing in front of 60,000 people," he continued.

"Playing in a great arena with no hiding place. When you come back to Falkirk, playing in front of 4,000 people, do you really fancy that on a Sunday afternoon? I think you got your answer today.

"They get paid very good money here. So stand up and earn your bloody money. I'll tell them that to their face. If they like it, they'll get on with it. If they don't like it, they're not at the right place at this football club."

This result was a fourth win in a row for United caretaker manager Peter Houston, who after initially saying he did not want to be considered as a potential full-time successor to Craig Levein, may now be softening his stance somewhat. "I'm thinking long term for the football club it might be better bringing somebody else in," Houston said. "I like doing my training, I like my coaching, and having worked with Craig I knew what my job was. We'll wait and see."

Jon Daly, who scored a hat-trick for United, said Houston had the backing of the playing squad. "I, for one, would love him to get the job," the striker said. "I know other players would, too."