TOO GREENFOR RED DEVILS? Gordon Says 'rusty'Celts Need More Time to Gel

Article excerpt

Byline: STEPHEN MCGOWAN

IT SHOULD, on paper, be a catchweight contest. Sir Alex Ferguson, the godfather of Old Trafford, has been piecing together and plotting Manchester United teams for the best part of 20 years.

Gordon Strachan, on the other hand, was asked to rebuild an ageing Celtic team capable of reaching the last 16 of the Champions League in a little over 12 months.

The evidence of a narrow 1-0 victory at Aberdeen would suggest that the Parkhead manager is getting there. But not nearly soon enough.

The footballing locomotive of Manchester United is hurtling like an express train as Celtic trundle over the level crossing. Time is the enemy and the knowledge the Parkhead team are improving can't disguise the fact that Old Trafford in the Champions League is no place for fine-tuning.

Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink's second goal in two games would suggest that one problem has been solved. A sterling debut from Thomas Gravesen would also imply that Stilian Petrov is now old news.

Merely acquiring the parts of the jigsaw is of little use, however, if the transfer window leaves little time to assemble them into a recognisable whole.

As he bemoaned a 'rusty' performance from his hastily-assembled side on Saturday, Sportsmail asked Strachan if another week or two might have been of benefit in the run-up to Manchester.

Suppressing a wry smile the Parkhead manager responded: 'I would like to put it back a few more months, actually. As a coach, you would like more time with the players. Some of them are not used to some of the terminology and I would like more time to work with them, but you have to get on with it.' Had Strachan watched Saturday night's Match of the Day, then his optimism levels might have improved ever so slightly. A decent Spurs side succeeded in carving United asunder time and again, forsaking every chance before them.

Such is the manner in which Hesselink has started his Celtic career, few would expect the Dutchman to be so wasteful given the opportunity.

'Jan is a big presence,' said Strachan. 'Not just on the field, but in the dressing room. He does not say much but what he does say is funny and he loves his new team-mates.

The relationship will get better.' Hesselink was unfortunate to be denied what looked a clear penalty kick for a Zander Diamond challenge before the interval. In the end,

however, Strachan was left with a bigger concern, in deciding who to play alongside his new [pounds sterling]3.5million signing from PSV.

Polish striker Maciej Zurawski was an invisible figure in this game, while Kenny Miller's assist for the winning goal could not disguise the fact he has yet to score for the club.

But Hesselink prefers to drink from a glass half full. Aberdeen's enviable home record was destroyed by a side less than impressive at times and the Dutchman believes Celtic can only improve given time.

'We have a few new players and, once we know how best to play with each other, then we can play even better,' said Hesselink.

'It's a very positive point. Some players don't know how I play or how Thomas plays or the other new players. So, if we get used to each other, we can make some more goals. But the start is there.

'Going to Manchester not knowing each other well is difficult, but that's football. We have to work like we did in Aberdeen and defend like we did. …