ANGE POSTECOGLOU enjoyed the first three days of September – and then endured the craziest spell of his Celtic managerial career.
September kicked off with a breathtaking derby win at a packed and rocking Parkhead and concluded with a miserable, inexplicable loss in Paisley.
In between the 4-0 romp over Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s shell-shocked Ibrox team and the 2-0 nosedive against St Mirren, there had been two Champions League Group F encounters.
The first saw Postecoglou’s side turned over 3-0 in the east end of Glasgow and the second saw them unluckily held to a 1-1 draw in Poland.
GLASGOW BELONGS TO ME…Ange Postecoglou and Co celebrate Filipe Jota’s superb solo goal for Celtic’s second strike in the 4-0 derby triumph at Parkhead.
No-one would have believed that when David Turnbull rolled No.4 past Jon McLaughlin to add to the first-half strikes from Liel Abada (2) and Filipe Jota, that no other Celtic player would get on the scoresheet until the Premiership match against Motherwell on October 1.
Postecoglou witnessed his players pulverising their city rivals in a one-way contest as they notched their sixth successive league win of the campaign as they moved five points clear of their visitors at the Premiership pinnacle.
The manager beamed: “I’m really proud of the players. I know I’ve been saying that a lot lately, but it was an enormous effort today.
“We knew what was at stake. It was a big game and everybody was suggesting that it was our first real test, even though I thought we’ve had some tests already.
“But the boys showed that in such a big game, they’re able to perform at the highest possible level.
“I thought our defensive work was outstanding through the whole team. If there was one thing which was a stand-out, it was our press, our ability to close them down and not give them time in any part of the field, including when they got into our box.
CROWD-PLEASER…Filipe Jota accepts the acclaim of the delighted Celtic supporters following his goal against the Ibrox side.
“They’re a good team and they proved they’re a good team because they’ve beaten some very good teams, so we knew that we had to be on it and that’s the one area I was really pleased about.
“We’re a good football team, but we’re a hell of a pressing team, as well.”
Unfortunately, talismanic striker Kyogo Furuhashi had to be removed after only four minutes with a shoulder injury following a robust challenge from John Lundstram.
Carl Starfelt also went off with an injury before the hour mark with Moritz Jenz taking over his role alongside Cameron Carter-Vickers and the German looked very comfortable in the surroundings.
Looking ahead to the midweek European confrontation with trophy holders Real Madrid, the Greek-Australian added: “They’re a good team – that’s a bit of an understatement!
”It’s why you want to be at this football club. You want to be part of these big occasions and big nights – and it’s another great challenge for us.
“You want to measure and test yourself against the best and that’s what we’re going to do. They’re the best and we’ll test ourselves.”
PARADISE…Ange Postecoglou acknowledges the Celtic fans after the derby romp.
On the evening, though, the Hoops were on the receiving end of a devastating burst when the Spanish giants netted twice in four second-half minutes when Vinicius Junior and Luka Modric scored and they brought down the curtain with a mesmerising THIRTY-THREE passing movement before Eden Hazard rolled No.3 behind Joe Hart in the 77th minute.
It could have been a different story, of course, if skipper Callum McGregor’s 20th-minute left-foot howitzer had flown into the net instead of thudding against the inside of stranded Thibaut Courtois’ the right-hand post and ricocheting to safety.
Liel Abada and substitute Daizen Maeda both fluffed their lines when presented with glorious opportunities and the encounter still goalless.
If nothing else, the Celtic players were delivered a brutal reminder of the fine margins between success and nowhere at the highest level.
The wonderful support remained in place after the final whistle to applaud the eforts and endeavours of their team and it’s clear the manager has every intention of repaying the club’s loyal followers with a team that can go into this arena and compete against football’s A-listers.
Asked if he took pride from such a heartwarming and spontaneous reception at the conclusion of a three-goal defeat on home soil, Postecoglou replied: “No, I just feel the responsibility of bringing this football club to this level. That’s what these fans deserve.
“There is no starker reminder of that than the reception they gave us after the game.
“They deserve to see their football club competing with the likes of Real Madrid on a regular basis. And really competing.
“I feel that responsibility and I want to get us up to this level so that this club and these fans get what they deserve. I just think it is a measure of what our ambitions are.
“I make no secret of the fact that I want us to be a Champions League club competing at this level on a regular basis against the best.
“Just because it is our first foray into it for a few years, I want us to make up that ground as quickly as possible. It is not about being optimistic or pessimistic about it, it is about being determined to bridge that gap.
REAL PAIN…Ange Postecoglou screams in dismay as Callum McGregor smashes a shot against the reigning European champions’ woodwork in the loss at Parkhead.
“I feel that responsibility. I want us to be a Champions League football club.
“For that to happen, we have got to come out next week in a game that again is going to be tough, with fine margins, and be clinical in those kinds of areas.”
Eight days later, Postecoglou praised his players after their mighty efforts in Europe’s elite competition ended in a frustrating 1-1 stalemate with Shakhtar Donetsk in Warsaw.
The Hoops boss watched his team dominate a team that had struck four goals the previous week against RB Leipzig in Germany in the opening game in the section.
It’s turning out to be Group F for Frustration, but the Hoops gaffer said: “I thought the performance was excellent, though not reflected by the result I think we deserved.
“They’re a good team that can cause you problems, but, for the most part, we handled it really well.
“We started the game well, but they obviously got back in with a goal, but, again, we regrouped really well and in the second-half dominated the game.
“We created opportunities while limiting them. I couldn’t ask any more of the players. I’m just disappointed we couldn’t get the win.”
Celtic’s goal was credited by UEFA to Shakhtar defender Artem Bondarenko, but it was a delightful move which began with a raking crossfield pass from Josip Juranovic to Sead Haksabanovic, making his first start, and Reo Hatate made a clever, lung-bursting run to receive his pass.
The Japanese midfielder whipped in an angled effort that took a slight flick off the Ukrainian on its way into the net.
GURN AND BEAR IT…Ange Postecoglou’s frustration shows at the media conference after the 1-1 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk in Warsaw.
Annoyingly, however, dangerman Mykhail Mudryk was allowed to run clear of Juranovic and blast in the equaliser just before the half-hour mark that ultimately cost Celtic all three points.
Postecoglou added: “The first goal is always important, but at this level, every moment of every game is important because it’s Champions League football, it takes everything out of you and you have to be at your best all the time.
“We created chances and we were unlucky on a couple of occasion, but I couldn’t ask any more of the players.
“They gave everything, but we didn’t get the rewards. If we keep doing that, we will.
“It gives us another moment to reflect that that’s what we have to do at this level.
“We have to be at our best all the time for every minute of the game and that’s where we want to be.
“We want to test ourselves every time and we did that again on this occasion – and we’ll do it for every game in this group.”
Praise was transformed to puzzlement, however, on September 18 when the champions toppled to their first league loss just one day short of a year.
A grim-faced Postecoglou watched his team’s feeble performance in the 2-0 loss to St Mirren in Paisley.
SMILES BEFORE THE SETBACK…Ange Postecoglou gives the thumb’s up sign to fans as he looks around the Paisley stadium.
SAINTS AND SINNERS…Ange Postecoglou can hardly believe what he is witnessing as Celtic slump to St Mirren in Paisley.
The Hoops went into the encounter on the back of a 38-game unbeaten sequence in the Premiership with their last reverse coming in a 1-0 loss at Livingston.
The champions had scored 25 goals in their previous six league outings in a 100 per success rate until they fired blanks in an appalling. low-tempo display against Stephen Robinson’s side.
Home keeper Trevor Carson was rarely troubled while Joe Hart had to pick the ball out of the net twice following headers in each half from Mark O’Hara and Jonah Ayunga.
The second goal came after a blatant push in Stephen Welsh’s back by the Saints striker before he nodded in from close range, but referee Don Robertson, with a clear view of the incident, saw nothing untoward and, despite protests, allowed the goal to stand.
TV replays clearly showed a two-handed shove by Ayunga to clear the way for an unopposed header.
However, Postecoglou made no excuses at the end as he said: “Obviously, it is a disappointing day for us. Credit to St Mirren, they worked hard and got their just rewards.
“We were poor in every aspect of the game today and that is disappointing.
“There could be a thousand reasons for that, but, ultimately, we did not perform to the levels we usually do. The cold, hard reflection will come. We have had a decent run of results over the last year.
“Part of football is to see how you overcome setbacks and today was one.
“In every area, we were just not up to the levels we are usually at. We did not show the right tempo or intensity to work through teams, and sometimes, in the course of what we have achieved over the last 15 months, there will always be a reminder that comes along to tell you not to get too far ahead of yourself.”
NUMBER ONE…Joe Hart is helpless as Mark O’Hara is unchallenged at the back post to head in St Mirren’s opener.
NUMBER TWO…Stephen Welsh flies through the air after a blatant push in the back from Jonah Ayunga before the Saints forward doubles his side’s advantage. Referee Don Robertson, with a good view of the incident, unhesitatingly awards a goal.
MAKING A POINT…Joe Hart has something to say to the referee’s assistant after the decision to allow the second goal to stand.
Asked if the six changes in the team from the side that drew with Shakhtar in midweek may have caused a reaction, the Hoops gaffer answered: “Team selection is on me. If I got that wrong, then it is my responsibility.
“I do not think anyone was a stand-out performer today. As a collective, we were just not at the levels we want to be at.
“I feel more for our supporters who have to sit on it for a couple of weeks. For us, you know, we have to get back up and get going again.
“Football will always remind you if you are getting too far ahead of yourself. We still have a lot of improving to do, individually and as a collective.
“Today was a reminder of that.”
Celtic now have a two-week break during the international window and return to action against Motherwell at Parkhead on October 1.
At a glance, here are the ins and outs at the champions during a hectic summer.
Filipe Jota (Benfica), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Spurs), Daizen Maeda (Yokahama F Marinos), Alexandro Bernabei (Atletico Lanus), Aaron Mooy (Shanghai Port), Benji Siegrist (Dundee United), Moritz Jenz (Lorient, loan), Sead Haksabanovic (Rubin Kazan), Oliver Abildgaard (Rubin Kazan, loan).
SOLD: Christopher Jullien (Montpellier), Boli Bolingoli (Mechelen), Ross Doohan (Tranmere Rovers), Ben Doak (Liverpool), Ewan Moffat (Blackpool);
LOANED: Vasilis Barkas (FC Utrecht), Albian Ajeti (Sturm Graz), Conor Hazard (HJK Helsinki), Liam Scales (Aberdeen), Adam Montgomery (St Johnstone), Ismaila Soro (FC Arouca), Osaze Urhoghide (KV Oostende), Mikey Johnston (Vitoria Guimaraes), Liam Shaw (Morecambe), Johnny Kenny (Queen’s Park), Ben Wylie (Airdrie).
RELEASED: Nir Bitton (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Tom Rogic (unattached), Karamoko Dembele (Brest), Ewan Henderson (Hibs), Luca Connell (Barnsley), Jonathan Afolabi (Bohemians), Kerr McInroy (Kilmarnock), Ethan Mitchell (Annan).
September 3: CELTIC 4 Rangers 0
Abada (2), Jota, Turnbull
September 6: CELTIC 0 Real Madrid 3
September 14: Shakhtar Donetsk 1 CELTIC 1
September 18: St Mirren 2 CELTIC 0
* TOMORROW: Don’t miss the seventeenth thrilling instalment of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE tribute to Ange Postecoglou.