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Charlie Mulgrew's new year resolution

CHARLIE Mulgrew made a clean sweep of the player of the year awards in 2012 but the Celtic midfielder was just getting started.

Charlie Mulgrew believes there is plenty to keep the Celtic players motivated as they attempt to complete the league season unbeaten - and try to live up to the expectations of their fans
Charlie Mulgrew believes there is plenty to keep the Celtic players motivated as they attempt to complete the league season unbeaten - and try to live up to the expectations of their fans

It is surely asking too much to expect the 27-year-old to pick up the same collection of honours this time, but that doesn't mean the calendar year of 2013 shouldn't be regarded as his real annus mirabilis.

Mulgrew retained the undisputed faith of Neil Lennon at club level, while earning a similar degree of trust from Scotland manager Gordon Strachan. And, after years of wandering, for the first time in his career he also acquired a position.

The plaudits Mulgrew received in May 2012 were as much a commendation for his versatility and stoicism as anything else, but suddenly it seems almost sacrilegious to think of a Celtic or Scotland team without Mulgrew stealthily patrolling the defensive midfield area alongside Scott Brown.

It must be tempting for the player to exhale, but Mulgrew knows the moment you think you have cracked it is the moment you go into reverse. That will be in his mind, as ever, when Celtic visit Inverness Caledonian Thistle this lunchtime, when Mulgrew hopes to return after injury.

"It's been a good year," said Mulgrew, who has benefited from having the solid partnership formed by Efe Ambrose and Virgil van Dijk playing behind him in central defence. "We won the league and qualified for the Champions League again. That was a good achievement.

"There was more expectation on us this season after getting to the last 16 last year. We always knew it would be difficult, especially with the group we were drawn in, but the main thing was getting there. Hopefully we'll be back in 2014.

"It has also been enjoyable being involved with Scotland and playing as much as I have been with the national team. The manager has been able to get his ideas across and everyone has responded well.

"Maybe I have established a position, but I don't want to say anything too soon. I'm happy to do a job anywhere.

"But it's been good in that role and playing with Broony for club and country. I'll keep working hard and hopefully I can keep my place there."

With Celtic already holding a commanding lead atop the SPFL Premiership, but with no European football to sustain them, there is a danger of 2014 falling flat.

However, at Parkhead a couple of factors always mitigate against such an possibility. A week's break in Turkey in mid-January should help recharge the batteries and, in any case, the fans will be quick to remind the players if there is any loss of form.

Having gone 17 league games without losing, there is also much talk of the additional motivation of trying to remain unbeaten for the entire campaign.

"At Celtic, the fans demand we win games and play well," Mulgrew said. "We're only ever one game away from getting caned and being told by the fans that it's not good enough. So we need to keep on our toes.

"We also need to try to maintain our unbeaten record in the league. We don't talk about that run too much, but everybody knows we want to keep it going. We have difficult places to go to but we believe we can do it. We might have new players next month but even if not we still have guys to come back from injury and guys pushing for World Cup squads. There is a lot to play for."

Whether this edge and incentive still applies when it comes to the supporters isn't quite so clear. Although in excess of 46,000 fans paid to attend the 2-0 win against Hearts last weekend, the actual number present may have been nearer half that.

There are reasons for that aplenty but Lennon doesn't feel that the dispersal of the Green Brigade is one. He is hopeful of playing to a bigger crowd in their next home match, the alternative Glasgow New Year's Day derby against Partick Thistle on Wednesday.

Lennon said: "Looking at last Saturday it was the first time we'd had a home game televised for a while and it was Christmas as well which might have had a big effect on the size of the crowd.

"We are always looking to give fans value for money and we're always looking to bring a player in who might capture the imagination, but we're on a long unbeaten run and we can't do much more than that.

"Our away form has been very good but it's a little bit different at home where teams camp in for long periods of the game. I know it's up to us to try to break them down but we try to give the fans value for money at home as well.

"I would expect the crowds to pick up again. We have Partick Thistle on New Year's Day and I would imagine there will be a decent crowd for that one."

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