CELTIC face the nightmarish prospect of a barren season if they cannot sort out the disturbing deficiencies at the heart of the rearguard.

Brendan Rodgers acknowledges the fact that his defence miss the mighty presence of Cameron Carter-Vickers when the back-four rock is not available.

The USA World Cup centre-half was missing again as the hosts toiled to overcome struggling Livingston who netted twice and were denied a third which would have given them an unthinkable 3-2 lead when captain-for-the-day Joe Hart displayed lightning reflexes to block a header from Michael Nottingham.

The defender had come up for a right-wing free-kick and was alarmingly allowed a free attempt from six yards which brought out the best in the 36-year-old 75 times-capped netminder as he instinctively thrust out a foot to divert the effort to safety.

HIGH AND MIGHTY…Livingston’s Michael Nottingham rises above the Celtic defence to bullet a header at goal.

SAVED…Joe Hart instinctively thrusts out a foot to divert the effort to safety.

The holders eventually scored a third in the 86th minute when Daizen Maeda collected his first competitive Hoops hat-trick before Kyogo Furuhashi, a second-half substitute for the misfiring Adam Idah, whipped in the clincher in the 4-2 victory.

It was a disjointed, worrying performance from Celtic and there is little doubt they suffered from the inability of the defenders to bring any sort of rhythm to the team’s pattern by playing out telling passes from the back.

The second goal highlighted the problem when a careless ball from Stephen Welsh put Matt O’Riley in trouble with Jamie Brandon practically on top of the midfielder.

Before he had the opportunity to bring an awkward pass under control, his Livi opponent dived in, wrestled possession and fed a pass to the unmarked Tete Yengi. With Welsh out of position, Alistair Johnston forward on the right and Liam Scales wide on the left, the Australian frontman was afforded the opportunity to race into space.

BREAKAWAY…Jamie Brandon slips the ball inside Stephen Welsh to team-mate Tete Yengi with Matt O’Riley chasing and Liam Scales looking on.

HOLD ON…O’Riley tries to block Yengi’s path to goal.

WALLOP…Yengi turns inside O’Riley to fire in Livi’s second with Welsh looking on and Joe Hart helpless.

O’Riley tried his best to get back to retrieve the situation, but defending is not the playmaker’s forte and Yengi carved out an opening before whipping a wicked angled drive beyond the helpless Hart to make it 2-2.

Similarly in the first-half, a simple ball pitched forward by Cristian Montano split Johnston and Welsh to send Dan MacKay scurrying into acres of grass and he was allowed to carry the ball forward before unleashing a ferocious drive into the roof of the net for the visitors’ first goal.

Rodgers will know repeat performances will see his team destroyed by more capable and ruthless opponents, with no slight intended on David Martindale’s plucky West Lothian club.

The manager acknowledged: “Yeah, they are poor goals. You see whenever Cam is not in the team – with the greatest of respect – the security in the team. So, no, we weren’t very good at dealing with that I felt and the goals were on us.

ON THE RUN…Dan Mackay races into space as a pass from Cristian Montano splits Stephen Welsh (left) and Alistair Johnston (right).

TAKING AIM…Welsh is too late to intervene as MacKay lines up his shot.

STRANDED…Joe Hart hasn’t a chance as Mackay’s drive rips into the roof of the net for Livi’s opener.

“We gave away poor goals. We give the ball away, and with the first one, the first, second and third ball we didn’t get around it and then we are moving as the ball is getting played behind us.

“So, that’s not great from our perspective.”

Who knew the manager was such a master of the understatement?

Rodgers, speaking to the Daily Record, added: “It’s not the vulnerability, it’s when you have the level of players missing you then don’t have that same security.

“I don’t have any fears when we have those guys back. I just think that there’s a moment in any team when you are missing your best players then you will maybe not be as tight as you want to be.

“That is natural, but what is important is that you still have that threat and dynamism going forward.

“Okay, we conceded not great goals, but we still scored four and could have had a few more.”

When Celtic need to score four goals to beat a team such as Livingston at Parkhead, you have got to worry.

I am far removed from a pessimistic nature, but I am also enough of a realist to understand you are wasting your time attempting to build a fortress with sand as a foundation.

Sort it out, Brendan, before it’s too late.



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