Celtic have to tighten defence for Udinese test, admits Mjallby

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Johan Mjallby admits the Celtic defence have to cut out the mistakes which blighted their 2-0 win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Saturday if they are to have a chance against Udinese in their Europa League clash tomorrow night.

Midfielders Joe Ledley and James Forrest scored the goals in the Scottish Premier League win but the below-par performances of goalkeeper Fraser Forster, and central defensive duo Daniel Majstorovic and Glenn Loovens, was the main talking point among many of the Hoops supporters after the game.

Manager Neil Lennon acknowledged that all three would need to do better when facing tougher opposition and his assistant Mjallby reiterated that message ahead of the visit of the Italian side, who are joint top of Serie A.

"We shouldn't forget that last season we had the best defensive record despite being a very attack-minded team," said the former Celtic defender, at Celtic Park to help publicise an initiative which aims to build a legacy from the 2014 Commonwealth Games for the east end of Glasgow.

"So it has been a bit of a surprise that we haven't played as well this season in defence. Maybe it is because of injuries – we haven't been able to get a settled back four – but I agree we looked a bit edgy on Saturday.

"And we can't make mistakes like we did on Saturday when we play Udinese because, no disrespect to Inverness, Udinese is full of high-quality footballers.

"When you play in Europe the defence and the team needs to be spot-on and be solid, you can't make any silly mistakes because teams will punish you and that is something we have to definitely look into, to make sure we are focused.

"Away from home we have been looking more solid than at home which shouldn't happen. The team shouldn't be surprised when the supporters get nervy when we haven't got the results. We should be experienced enough and have enough character to improve in defence."

Mjallby claims cajoling rather than coaching is the key to getting players back to form. The former Sweden international said: "The players' state of mind, you can't really coach that on the training pitch. That's more down to speaking to them.

"You have to speak to them a lot. As a former player you know you are not always going to be 100 per cent, there are going to be mistakes.

"But we have to show more leadership, be more solid and make sure we are not making silly mistakes.

"I think we have experience so hopefully it's just a wee bit of a lack of form. Thursday is a good game for them.

"It is a great challenge to play against a team which will be a wee bit different to teams you play in Scotland.

"The good thing about Saturday was that we were solid at set-pieces against us, we have conceded goals in previous games, so that was a positive note."

Celtic lost away to Atletico Madrid in their Group I opener earlier in the month in Spain but Mjallby remains confident that the Parkhead side can qualify out of their tough group.

"It is important to win if we want to get through the group," he said. "But it is a difficult group. I would say it was nip and tuck between Atletico and Udinese with Rennes not far behind. It is down to belief when we play at home, to make sure we believe we can get the three points. The scenario should be that we are solid but not frightened to go forward because we always want to be attack-minded and hopefully that will be the case. And if we get a good result on Thursday we are back in it."

Mjallby revealed that midfielder Kris Commons is suffering from an illness to go with his groin injury but striker Gary Hooper, who limped off against Inverness with an ankle knock, will be available to face Udinese. Hooper confirmed: "My ankle is better. I trained today and I'm feeling sharp.

"You have to feel right in yourself and I feel good. It makes me available for Thursday but I don't know what the gaffer is going to do.

"It's a big game but we are at home and we have to go for it."

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