IT’S difficult to remember the last time Celtic made such a laboured start to a new campaign, having failed to win any of their opening three competitive matches so far.
The Celtic support is notorious for catastrophising any negative result, but despite the uproar certain sections of the media are trying to whip up it is far too premature to be pushing the panic button at this early stage.
It is evident that the doomed pursuit of Eddie Howe has put the club’s progress back by months, and it should never have been allowed to happen. If there was any inkling that he would walk away from the deal then it should have been a strictly time limited offer.
When Howe did eventually turn the job down the Celtic board turned to Aussie manager Ange Postecoglou in a move which came completely out of left field.
Three games into his tenure, however, and the team is without a win, out of the running for Champions League qualification and already playing catch-up in the domestic league.
I think we have seen enough in some of the games to suggest that his style of play on the field and his style of management off it can bring success back to the club.
It is refreshing to see that for the most part, the Celtic support are not getting on his back, instead putting the blame for the current malaise at the club fairly at the door of the board. That grace period won’t last forever though and Postecoglou will have to start showing results pretty quickly.
Against Midtjylland in the Champions League second round qualifier, Celtic were by far the better side in the first leg and took a deserved lead. Their inability to kill off games came back to haunt them, however, and allowed the Danish side to claw their way back into it and claim a draw.
Celtic got their noses in front in the corresponding away leg but when they were again pegged back, the players’ lack of fitness told in the extra-time period and by the end they were running on empty.
Postecoglou has commented on the need for reinforcements in the sports science department to undo the damage done to the players’ conditioning during the previous regime. Far too often last season they were unable to see out games and that will have to be remedied for this campaign.
With Champions League qualification gone, attention turned to league matters and a Saturday night meeting with newly-promoted Hearts at Tynecastle.
There were some dodgy refereeing decisions to overcome, as the Bhoys had a perfectly good goal chalked off for an incorrect offside decision. Referee Madden also allowed some Hearts players, and ex-Sevco player Halliday in particular, get away with some brutal tackling.
Despite controlling the match, the Bhoys’ failings in defence returned to haunt them once again. The free-kick from which Hearts scored their late winner was of the soft variety but a straightforward ball into the box wasn’t defended correctly and ended up in the Celtic net, in a carbon copy of the type of goal conceded far too regularly last season.
As expected, Sevco won their opening game with the minimum of fuss so a three-point gap has opened up already between the two Glasgow clubs.
The players allowed their heads to drop far too easily and too early last season so Postecoglou will have to guard against that. New players have come into the club and more will join over the next few weeks, but they will need time to get to grips with what the manager demands of them.
Olivier Ntcham has finally left the club and in truth, his compatriot Edouard should follow him as soon as possible.
Receiving no fee of any kind for Ntcham was bad business so the club will have to ensure that they wring every last penny out of Edouard’s transfer. In any event, he should never play for the club again, as his lack of effort over the last few games has been criminal.
Surely playing a striker of lesser ability but who will at least put a bit of effort in is preferable to a player who doesn’t want to be at the club and is very obviously protecting himself from the threat of injury.
Going forward for Ange and the players, the aim must be to keep the gap between themselves and the top at an absolute minimum. The first derby of the season rolls around quite quickly this year so hopefully by then Celtic will have the players in place that the manager requires, and they will have had enough time to gel as a unit, at least enough to do themselves justice.
On a more positive note, the members of Eire go Brach CSC were able to come together for the first time in over two years for their AGM on Saturday night.
It was, as always, a memorable occasion only marginally spoiled by the result at Tynecastle. The vibes are good regarding getting back to Celtic Park as a supporter’s club and having been away from the stadium for so long, the return can’t come soon enough.
I would personally like to echo the sentiments expressed at the meeting about the loyalty shown by the club membership who continued to give their full financial support despite not being able to attend any games in person. Their patience and understanding has been remarkable, unfortunately with the current Celtic board in place it looks likely to be tested throughout this campaign.