'Sloppy' defending undermined Celtic's bid for the championship, admits Mjallby

But assistant manager believes caretaker Neil Lennon has brought passion back into Parkhead side's play
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The Independent Football

Celtic assistant manager Johan Mjallby admits sloppy defensive play and poor away form meant they were never destined to be champions this season. But the Swede feels the missing passion and resilience has been emerging since Neil Lennon took charge.

Lennon has guided Celtic to victory in all five of the Scottish Premier League games he has been in charge of since Tony Mowbray was sacked.

The latest was a 2-0 victory at Tannadice on Sunday against a Dundee United side who had not been beaten for 11 matches and Mjallby admits that type of performance was much improved from some of the displays he watched on television earlier in the campaign.

"From what I have seen, we haven't been good enough defensively as a team," the former Celtic centre-back said. "Unfortunately we have conceded too many sloppy goals, especially away from home.

"We haven't been good enough away from home. We have conceded too many stupid goals, especially in the last 10 minutes in games. It's hard to be top of the table when you don't defend solidly.

"That has probably been our downfall this season, but if you look at it attacking-wise, I think we have players who can hurt opponents."

Celtic's nadir in the SPL was the 4-0 defeat by St Mirren last month that proved the final straw as far as Mowbray was concerned. And while their season plunged further with a Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by Ross County after Lennon had taken over, Mjallby feels the interim boss has otherwise done what was required.

"Obviously, it has been hard to do much with tactics because we only had eight weeks to go," Mjallby said. "The main thing was to lift the spirit and I think we have seen them work a wee bit harder for each other.

"The only bad game we had was the big game and it still hurts that we lost in the cup semi-final. But I think, after the disaster against Ross County, we have seen a bit more passion in the team. I think they work harder for each other out on the pitch.

"You all saw that on Sunday against Dundee United, which was a hard game. We were much more solid than we were before. If you are solid at the back then we have got firepower up front that can change games for us."

Meanwhile Rangers chairman Alastair Johnston is hoping to fund summer signings at Ibrox and wants Walter Smith to remain as manager.

Smith captured his second SPL title in succession at the weekend amid uncertainty about his future and while the club searches for a new owner.

"I am very much on record saying that the absolute ideal outcome is that Walter stays with Rangers and stays in the position he is in," Johnston said. "I feel confident that we'll have some money to spend."

Johnston, based in the United States, will fly to Scotland next week and hopes that Smith's future will become clearer once he has had talks with parties who have expressed an interest in taking over the Govan club.

Rangers' debts are around the £30m mark and it emerged yesterday they are being investigated by HM Revenue and Customs over alleged offshore payments made to players. Johnston said: "I have meetings with the bank, got meetings with the rest of the board and meetings with other interested parties and talking to Walter Smith and chief executive Martin Bain is high on my agenda with respect to how we deal with things.

"So I would hope to have a clearer picture within the next two weeks as to what the circumstances will be and allow Walter to make that decision.

"There are a lot of moving pieces that have to be addressed and Walter needs to be satisfied that he is making the right decision whatever that is when he makes it."

Businessman Douglas Park has confirmed that he has spoken to Dave King, the South Africa-based millionaire Rangers director, who is reportedly interested in buying the club.

Park, whose has interests in several car franchises and a coach company, would not reveal what was discussed with King but admitted that any takeover would be "impossible" unless certain conditions were agreed with Rangers' owners, Murray International, and the club's bankers, Lloyds.