CELTIC are an astonishing SEVEN points worse off in the Premiership than they were this time last season.
Neil Lennon led the team into the previous campaign in their historic quest for a tenth successive title.
He had strengthened the squad by splashing £5million on Swiss striker Albian Ajeti from West Ham and £4.5million on Greek international keeper Vasilis Barkas from AEK Athens. Shane Duffy was among four loan arrivals when he agreed a season-long deal at his boyhood idols from Brighton that cost the Hoops an up-front fee of £2million.
NUMBER ONE…Albian Ajeti is about to be congratulated by Kristoffer Ajer after scoring his first goal for Celtic, the winner against Dundee United at Tannadice in the third league game of last season.
The champions kicked off with a 5-1 win over Hamilton Accies on Flag Day in Glasgow on August 2 when Odsonne Edouard thumped in a hat-trick. Two points were dropped in a 1-1 draw against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park a week later, but the team won their next four outings, three of them away from home.
A late strike from new Bhoy Ajeti gave them a hard-fought 1-0 triumph over Dundee United at Tannadice and that was followed up by a 3-0 success over Motherwell at Parkhead. Duffy scored with a flashing header on his debut in the 5-0 triumph over Ross County in Dingwall on September 2 and the Republic of Ireland captain struck again in the 2-1 win over St Mirren in Paisley four days later.
Alarmingly, a sensational nosedive in form saw the team surrender the championship by a landslide 25 points at the end of a dire campaign that saw Lennon’s departure from Parkhead in February, only two days after an inexplicable 1-0 loss to Ross County in the Highlands. John Hughes’ struggling team were bottom of the league at the time.
On Sunday, Ange Postecoglou saw his new-look Hoops lose 1-0 at Livingston, who had gone into the game without a win while propping up the table.
LIVI HELL…Ange Postecoglou and assistant John Kennedy watch Celtic toil at Livingston at the weekend.
It was the third consecutive league reverse for the Greek-Australian gaffer after a 2-1 defeat from Hearts at Tynecastle on the opening day of the Premiership on July 31 which was followed by a 1-0 loss at Ibrox almost a month later.
The Hoops have romped to three victories in the east end of Glasgow as they have seen off Dundee (6-0), St Mirren (6-0) and St Mirren (3-0).
Former Celtic central defender Alan Stubbs said: “The perception is Celtic are playing better football under Ange than they were under Neil Lennon last season.
“But after six matches, they are seven points worse off than at the same stage last year. When you consider they eventually finished 25 points behind Rangers, that’s not a great omen.
“Steven Gerrard’s men haven’t been pulling up any trees this season, either, but they have been grinding out results and are back on top of the table.
“The directors at Ibrox gave Gerrard time because they could see improvements and he came good with the championship.
“The Celtic board must give Ange the same kind of backing.”
SIGNS ARE NOT GOOD…Neil Lennon trudges off after Celtic’s 1-0 loss against Ross County at Dingwall on February 21 – two days later he departed as Hoops manager.
Ex-Hibs and St Mirren boss Stubbs continued: “Celtic’s away form is a real concern. Livingston were bottom of the table, and in their worst period of form for a
long time, and yet they still won.
“When you look at the season overall, Celtic and Rangers can only afford to lose between three and five games and still expect to win the title.
“Celtic have lost three already, so there isn’t much wriggle room for them. Ange Postecoglou obviously inherited some problems when he took over this summer.
“The defence was the part of the team which needed strengthened the most.
“He’s tried to do that by bringing in reinforcements, but the keeper and back four is the unit which takes longest to knit together.”
Stubbs, speaking to the Scottish Sun, added: “Part of the problem is Ange’s style is so offensive that it can leave the back four exposed and sometimes there aren’t even four players back when moves break down.
“Celtic don’t have the balance right between attacking and defending at the moment.
“In fact, they are at their weakest and their most vulnerable when they are on the front foot, because a turnover can quickly put them under pressure.
“This is a problem which really needs to be resolved as soon as possible.”