BRENDAN RODGERS admitted he expected it to be “awkward” as he prepared to kick off his second time-around career as Celtic manager.

It didn’t take long for the Irishman to realise how devastatingly accurate that pronouncement would be.

All was going according to plan as the champions embarked upon their bid for a third successive title when they overcame Ross County 4-2 on Flag Day at Parkhead on August 5 2023.

David Turnbull got the ball rolling on the crusade with a crisp penalty-kick beyond Ross Laidlaw and Kyogo Furuhashi doubled the advantage with a trademark whiplash close-range strike.

MAKE MINE A DOUBLE…David Turnbull is congratulated by Daizen Maeda after netting his second goal in the opening 4-2 league win over Ross County at Parkhead on August 5.

Half-time was nearing when stylish midfielder Turnbull, starting the game ahead of fans’ Reo Hatate, added a third. Game over after 45 minutes with no likelihood of an extraordinary comeback by the Dingwall visitors.

Jordan White knocked one in after some lamentable defending from a left-wing corner-kick, but Matt O’Riley, displaying signs of things to come, rifled in a fourth. Carl Starfelt, in his farewell performance before heading for La Liga with Real Betis, deflected in a drive from James Brown to complete the scoring.

The Swede would have hoped for a more fitting last hurrah.

The following week at Pittodrie, Rodgers saw his team notch up a well-earned 3-1 triumph with strikes from Liel Abada, Kyogo and O’Riley with the only moment of discomfort coming when Bojan Miovski was unguarded to claim a first-half leveller.

However, the wheels came off in the third game of the season when the Celtic gaffer suffered his first domestic Cup defeat at the 25th hurdle.

SHOPPING LIST…Brendan Rodgers takes notes as Celtic collapse to a League Cup defeat against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.

Rodgers saw his lacklustre team topple to a 1-0 defeat from Kilmarnock at Rugby Park to exit the Viaplay League Cup when Marley Watkins struck the only goal in the second-half.

Summer signings Maik Nawrocki, Gustaf Lagerbielke, Odin Holm and Yang Hyun-jun all figured as a disjointed side surrendered the trophy they had won six times in the previous seven years and two terms in succession under his predecessor Ange Postecoglou.

In the aftermath of a disastrous departure from the competition, Rodgers admitted: “We’re very disappointed with the result and the performance. We didn’t do enough to win the game.

“Our players worked hard enough, but we needed to have a bit more quality and our passing needed to be better.

“For the goal, we’re disappointed. Obviously, we had a man off the pitch, but we have to compete better from a throw-in and they end up getting a cross in our box. So, it was a disappointing day for us.

TOUCHLINE TRAUMA…Derek McInnes makes an appeal as Brendan Rodgers stares straight ahead as Celtic surrender their grip of the League Cup against Killie.

“We were nowhere near our level in terms of quality and precision of passing. Going into the final third we couldn’t create much, so it was disappointing from that aspect.”

Rodgers recognised the requirement for some top recruits who can be introduced straight to the top side and added: “I think you can see we need that quality.

“We’ve had quality go out of the building, so we definitely need that quality in.

“But the club will work very, very hard to get the players in that can improve us and make us better. That’s something we’ll do over the period of time between now and the close of the window.”

The only goal of a scrappy encounter arrived in the 59th minute when Greg Taylor was off the pitch having treatment and Killie exposed the missing left-back when Daniel Armstrong whipped in a low cross and Watkins, from a marginally onside position, knocked the ball wide of the helpless Joe Hart.

CRUNCH…new Bhoy Maik Nawrocki is challenged by Killie matchwinner Marley Watkins.

The response from the travelling fans was mercifully muted, but a section let their feelings known a week later following the drab scoreless stalemate against St Johnstone, who started the day rock-bottom of the Premiership.

It was another mystifying display with the hosts finding difficulty to create genuine opportunities.

The best of the chances fell to O’Riley, but, on this occasion. the cutting edge deserted the classy playmaker and the Perth club survived.

The manager led his players around the pitch to acknowledge the support and was met by a vehement reaction from some irate followers who appeared to be waiting to pounce to voice their opinion on the Irishman’s return.

A visit to Ibrox eight days later awaited Rodgers as he desperately attempted to get his team back on course – and answer his critics among the support.

*TOMORROW: Don’t miss the sixteenth instalment of the remarkable Brendan Rodgers Story so far.

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