BRENDAN RODGERS ego has been bruised and reputation battered in recent months as Celtic cartwheel through a sequence of unconvincing performances to vacate pole position in the Premiership.

This is new – and unwelcome – territory for the 51-year-old Northern Irishman after his first stint as manager of the Parkhead club yielded seven successive domestic trophies including two back-to-back trebles.

The shine has come off the veneer in his second coming after being catapulted into the hot seat in June following Ange Postecoglou’s hasty departure to Spurs in the immediate aftermath of the 3-1 Scottish Cup Final triumph over Inverness Caley Thistle.

As the sun kissed Hampden on an afternoon of blue skies, the Greek-Australian also kissed goodbye to Glasgow and his adoring fans after two entertaining years and five honours.

The bloke who inherited the shambles of the previous trophyless campaign was always going to be a hard act to follow.

COME ON, CELTIC…Brendan Rodgers roars encouagement at his players as they toil against Kilmarnock.

The Hoops hierarchy moved quickly to replace him with an “elite manager” and Rodgers was more than delighted to sign a cast-iron three-year contract in the hope of picking up where he left off first time-around.

Cracks began to appear in only his third outing when the holders were dismissed from the League Cup by Kilmarnock after a mystifyingly low-key performance from an admittedly new-look Hoops line-up with the likes of Odin Holm, Gustaf Lagerbielke, Maik Nawrocki and Yang Hyun-jun all making an appearance on the plastic pitch at Rugby Park.

The drab 1-1 draw with the same club at Parkhead on Saturday saw the champions open the door to lose the No.1 spot in the league 24 hours later to their nearest challengers from Ibrox who beat St Johnstone 3-0 in Perth to go two points clear with 12 games to go.

Rodgers is now in direct line of fire after failing to keep a steady hand on the tiller and former Celtic goal hero Chris Sutton was quick to have his say.

In the aftermatch of the stalemate against Killie, the outspoken pundit didn’t hold back as he said: “Let’s get it right – the result didn’t come as a great shock. Celtic have been bang average all season.

“I know Brendan was talking about the recent form and winning eight of the last nine.

“The wins have papered over the cracks, really. Performances haven’t been there. Celtic aren’t kidding anyone – they aren’t a good team this season.

“Everyone talks about stuff about the board and signings and this moment being a long time in the making. But Brendan Rodgers has to take responsibility.”

A MAN ALONE WITH HIS THOUGHTS…Brendan Rodgers watches the action unfold at Parkhead at the weekend.

Sutton, speaking to Sky Sports, added: “I can’t think of one player this season at Celtic who he has improved and that’s on the manager.

“You look at the points Celtic have dropped domestically. Forget about the Champions League campaign which was a disaster. If you just look at Celtic domestically in isolation, they have been poor.

“I can’t remember the last time a Celtic team were outplayed in halves of football by so many teams as they have been this season. And that’s on Brendan.

“Why is that? We’ve touched on the wide players. It was fast and furious under Ange Postecoglou. The brand of football they are playing is slow and predictable.

“There isn’t a fear factor at this moment in time. Teams fancy getting a result against them so the Kilmarnock result wasn’t a great surprise to anyone and that’s it.”

Rodgers is now experiencing a backlash to a season where his team have failed to impress on any sort of consistent basis.

He still has time to regroup and go again and the boss and his players will come under the microscope once more against Motherwell at Fir Park on Sunday.

If Philippe Clement’s side beat Hearts at Ibrox the previous day, the champions will start that game five points adrift with no room for error.

Rodgers admitted he liked “a challenge”, as CQN reported yesterday.

The Celtic manager certainly has one on his hands now.

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