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Celtic target winning run over busy festive period

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Updated 20 Dec 2013 01:46:54

Celtic target winning run over busy festive period

Celtic assistant manager Johan Mjallby hopes the Parkhead side's packed festive schedule will help them get over their disappointment of exiting Europe.

The Hoops failed to emulate last season's achievement of qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League, finishing bottom of their group and leaving the Glasgow giants with just the Scottish Premiership and Scottish Cup to concentrate on

Having beaten Hibernian in their first match following the end of their European adventure, the Parkhead club face four games in the space of 12 days starting with the visit of Hearts on Saturday.

But Mjallby insists the thought of extending their 15-match unbeaten start to the defence of their league title will spur the players on to pick up some positive results over the festive period.

"It's always busy over Christmas and New Year so you're used to it and it's great in a way after the disappointment with Europe," Mjallby said.

"We have this unbeaten record and we have something to motivate the players with.

"And that's how it's going to be now, making sure the players are fully focused and keep progressing. Lately the performances have been very good and hopefully we can keep that up.

"We have players that we know can hurt other teams, and we have been waiting for a long time this season to see it really happening, but lately it's been great with free-flowing football -- that's the way we want to play."

Bottom of the table Hearts will provide the opposition on Saturday, just three weeks after the Parkhead club dished out a record 7-0 defeat to the Jambos in a Scottish Cup tie at Tynecastle.

However, Mjallby insisted his players wouldn't be complacent against Gary Locke's struggling side.

"It's not easy for them as they are a very young team and confidence-wise they have been struggling a wee bit lately," the assistant manager said.

"But the main thing is not for us to go in and think it's going to be 7-0 all over again. That's the worrying thing and something we need to press home, as we can't go into the game thinking it will be easy.

"It's never easy to win football games. We really need to be spot on, try to play with the tempo with which we have done lately away from home, make sure our passing is right and our full-backs are going forward.

"Goals change games, so obviously if we are solid at the back then we can push forward and focus on going ahead attacking-wise.

"We will really have to work hard and make sure we earn the right to play our football. We always respect everyone who comes here to play us. But we know we have good enough players and if they play well enough, we should get the three points."

Crisis club Hearts could have just 10 outfield players available according to assistant Billy Brown.

The administration-hit club -- docked 15 points and barred from signing new players -- have lost striker Gary Oliver to a leg injury and he joins Ryan Stevenson, back-up goalkeeper Mark Ridgers and midfielder Jason Holt on the sidelines.

Midfielders Jamie Walker and Scott Robinson are also rated doubtful and manager Gary Locke will have to delve further into his youth squad to make up a bench if they do not make the game.

"We try not to make excuses and we haven't done all season but things are getting close to the bone," Brown said.

"I have never been involved in a situation like this but who has? We just have to get on with it and do the best we can."

Fixtures (1500 unless otherwise stated)

Saturday

Celtic v Hearts (1215), Dundee United v Ross County, Hibernian v St Johnstone, Kilmarnock v Partick Thistle, Motherwell v St Mirren, Inverness CT v Aberdeen (1730)


AFP

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