ANGE POSTECOGLOU was proving to be a remarkably resilient individual as he prepared for the first challenge of October – a game against Aberdeen, led by much-decorated former Celtic skipper Scott Brown, in a midday kick-off at Pittodrie on Sunday October 3.
The Greek-Australian had watched his team collapse to a 4-0 home loss to Bayer Leverkusen on Thursday in their second consecutive Europa League Group G defeat following the 4-3 loss against Real Betis in Seville the previous month.
The reversal against the Bundesliga club was the seventh match in which the Hoops had been toppled in the manager’s 17 games in charge, with two also ending in stalemates.
The encounter in the north east against Broony and Co would be Neil Lennon’s successor’s fourth league game on his travels – and he has lost the previous three at Tynecastle, Ibrox and Livingston. He may also have been aware the team had not won an away Premiership fixture since they had beaten St Johnstone 2-1 in Perth on February 14.
EAGLE EYES…Ange Postecoglou watches Celtic in action.
Did Postecoglou begin to feel the ice cracking under his feet?
“I love this,” he declared. “This is what I’m passionate about and I’ll make sure that we get to where we want to get to.
“This part of the process is not new to me. You know it’s going to be a hell of a challenge because we have changed 50 per cent of the squad, we’ve had significant injuries to key players, we are trying to change the way we play, all of those things.
“I felt we could have been further along, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to shy away from it or that I have lost any resolve in what I’m doing. My history, wherever I’ve been, the starts were always difficult, always challenging.
“There were always people who were going to be sceptical about it inside and outside the dressing room.
“I enjoy the bit where it’s up to me to make people believe in what we’re doing and it starts with the players. I’ve got to get them to believe in the journey we’re on.
“Instead of just dragging people along, I need them to join in on where we’re heading and lead from the front. But I love that bit. I enjoy that bit. I don’t want to shield the players from the expectations.
“They’ve got to want this as much as I do and as much as the fans do and they’ve got to want to turn it around.”
AWAY DAZE…Ange Postecoglou celebrates Celtic’s 2-1 win at Pittodrie, the team’s first away league win since February 14.
Postecoglou continued: “There is nothing wrong with adversity. I grew up understanding it’s what makes you strong and you’ve got to go through it.
“I can’t shield the whole group from the adversity we are going through because if you can push through it you’ll become stronger out of it.
“Over time, I am happy to be judged. It’s up to me to show the way forward. That’s why I’m here. And I will. All I need is a few to keep us moving forward and the rest will buy in.
“I’m really passionate about this and I’m not going to shy away from the fight.”
At Pittodrie, Postecoglou saw his new-look team stop the rot as summer arrivals Kyogo Furuhashi and Filipe Jota claimed the strikes in a 2-1 victory and the manager admitted: “I have felt it’s in the team, but we’ve just not been able to get over that hump. Hopefully, today gives them the confidence that they can.
“It was pleasing. Everyone is well aware of our struggles away from home going into last year.
“I think the manner in which we did it today showed tremendous character to get ourselves back in front after they equalised.
“I think the players were searching for the winner, they weren’t going to settle for a point. I’m pleased for the players that they got their rewards.
”It was a good chance for the boys to stand up. I have no doubt there is great character in this team.”
A fortnight later, Postecoglou was once again hailing his players after another success away from home, this time at Fir Park where goals from Jota and David Turnbull handed them a 2-0 win.
The gap between Celtic and the Ibrox side was cut to four points when Hearts claimed a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Steven Gerrard’s outfit in Glasgow the same afternoon.
WINNERS…Ange Postecoglou salutes his Celtic players.
Quizzed if the league leaders dropping a couple of points was “icing on the cake” for his team, Postecoglou smiled: “Well, I thought the Premiership race was over, mate, so I’m not looking at the table any more.
“We are just kind of doing our own thing and it’s of zero significance for us.
“I think what is more important to us is that we get some belief out of today. It’s one thing to get a victory here, but to control the game like we did today should give the boys some real belief.
“For us, and me, in particular, the turning point is we’re just more settled now.”
A 2-0 win over Ferencvaros in Europe at Parkhead followed in an unusual Thursday afternoon kick-off and the manager applauded the fact his players had been persistent in their pursuit of goals.
He observed: “We’re never going to be a team that tries to slow things down or just take control for the sake of it.
“You saw at the end there, at 2-0 the game was over, but we were still trying to get a third and a fourth.
“We want to be relentless and we want the opposition to know we’re going to keep going to the final whistle irrespective of the score and I think there are good signs that that stuff is slowly coming along.”
UNDER COVER…Ange Postecoglou watches the Hoops overcome Hibs 3-1 at Easter Road.
The team boss praised the 50,427 fans who turned, but, possibly tongue in cheek, added: “I apologise to all the employers who had little productivity as they were missing people and schools may have been empty, but they come here, create an energy and we have to match that with our football.
“When we have that – and it’s happened in the past, for sure – you become a formidable force.”
Four days later, Greek striker Giorgos Giakoumakis, bought for £2.5million in August after scoring 26 times for VVV-Venlo who were relegated from the Eredivisie, netted his first goal in the 2-0 home win over St Johnstone. Josip Juranovic doubled the advantage with expertly-taken penalty-kick.
Next up was a trip to Easter Road to face Hibs and goals from Anthony Ralston, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Kyogo Furuhashi, claiming his tenth of the campaign, ensured a 3-1 win.
HAPPINESS…Ange Postecoglou can’t hide his delight.
Postecoglou said: “I thought our first-half was as good as we’ve played this year, especially away from home against a good team.
“We were really fluent and really dynamic, we created some good chances and scored some good goals. It was pleasing to see because that’s the kind of team we want to be. We want to be able to take it to teams away from home as well as home, so that was pleasing.”
Unfortunately, there was little to put a smile on Postecoglou’s face three days later in Glasgow where the Hoops had to settle for a soulless scoreless stalemate against Livingston in which Giakoumakis fluffed the opportunity to collect three points in stoppage time with a woeful penalty-kick that was virtually a passback to keeper Max Stryjek.
Two games against Livi, no goals scored and five points dropped.
It was far removed from title-winning form.
October 3: Aberdeen 1 CELTIC 2
October 16: Motherwell 0 CELTIC 2
October 19: CELTIC 2 Ferencvaros 0
Kyogo, Vecsel (own goal)
October 23: CELTIC 2 St Johnstone 0
Giakoumakis, Juranovic (pen)
October 27: Hibs 1 CELTIC 3
Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Kyogo
October 30: CELTIC 0 Livingston 0
* TOMORROW: Don’t miss the sixth thrilling instalment of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE tribute to Ange Postecoglou.