CELTIC have led in all six away games in Europe this season – and lost four of them.
The latest setback came in the BayArena when Bayer Leverkusen came back from trailing 2-1 with eight minutes to play to emerge victorious on a 3-2 scoreline.
The Germans followed FC Midtjylland, AZ Alkmaar and Real Betis in wiping out the Hoops’ advantage by turning the games on their head with a response that was too much for a visiting team lacking defensive composure and know-how when it was required most.
But former Parkhead hitman Chris Sutton is convinced his old team are making progress under Ange Postecoglou who arrived as manager only five months ago.
TAKE-OFF…Filipe Jota thumps in a left-foot drive against Bayer Leverkusen.
NET GAINS…Filipe Jota races behind the goal after his superb strike.
DREAMLAND…Filipe Jota contemplates his goal at the BayArena.
Looking at the see-saw form of the team, the outspoken media pundit said: “Perhaps that’s Celtic. They are playing high risk football and when it works it looks spectacular.
“But there are still too many silly moments defensively that are costing them. Thursday night promised a lot for long spells, but ended up hugely disappointing.
“It was familiar, too. Great attacking play, undermined by some moments of poor defending.
“There is no escaping the fact they have been shown up at the back at this level.
“Four goals to Bayer Leverkusen in Glasgow and another three in Germany. Four conceded in Spain against Real Betis, they also needed three goals to guarantee the three points in Ferencvaros.
“You just don’t get away with that when you mix it in the Europa League against teams from the top leagues on the continent.
“Yet, for all that, I do think there are some massive signs of progress under Postecoglou.”
Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “They went toe-to-toe with Bayer and almost got out of Germany with a remarkable result.
“For me, there is no doubt they have improved. I’ve got to be honest. I didn’t think Celtic would even get to the Europa League group stage. When they went out of the Champions League qualifiers, I couldn’t see a way past AZ Alkmaar at that stage of the rebuild.
“I didn’t think there would be much of a sniff once they got to the group stage, either.
GRIN AND BEAR IT…Ange Postecoglou on the touchline.
“To get within 10 minutes of taking it down to the last game to get to the knock-out stages was more than could have been expected.
“Dropping down to the Europa Conference League is hardly a disaster. It’s more like job done when you consider the state the side was in during the summer and the sheer amount of players who came in.
“It’s also pretty clear there is still work to do.
“The Celtic board should have seen enough to know the club is in safe hands with Postecoglou.
“He’s got the fans on board and he’s building a team that plays some devastating attacking football.
“Even a Bundesliga outfit like Leverkusen could’t contain Celtic’s front three and they are capable of scoring some sensational goals.
“Jota’s effort the other night was top class, from the ball from Joe Hart, the touch from James Forrest and the pass from Kyogo.
“The finish was sublime. It was no surprise coming from a player who would be a steal if Celtic can secure him for just £6.5million.
“That’s the kind of thing Celtic are capable of doing and when it works, it all works really well.”
SOMETHING TO PROVE…James McCarthy has failed to spark since his summer arrival.
The Hoops were leading 2-1 when Postecoglou made four substiturions in the space of five minutes when he was forced to withdraw the injured Nir Bitton and put on James McCarthy. James Forrest had run his race when he was replaced by Liel Abada in the 71st minute and at the same time Mikey Johnston came on for Jota.
Albian Ajeti, with nine goals in almost one and a half years at the club since his £5million arrival from West Ham, then came on for Kyogo Furuhashi.
The removal of Jota and the Japanese striker raised a few eyebrows. The German defenders even looked relived to witness their exits.
Sutton added: “The problems come when things have to change.
“The substitutions in Germany totally altered the game – for the worse.
“It’s no slight on the players who came on, but they were not as good as the ones they replaced. The replacements just didn’t work.
“I understand the front three are going to struggle to keep going 90 minutes when they are being asked to do so much running.
It’s a brutal shift being at the front of the press and being the ones doing all of the running in the final third.
“But taking them off took the threat away from Celtic and handed the initiative back to Bayer. They just don’t have the quality in reserve.
QUESTIONS…Anthony Ralston lost his composure at a crucial stage in Germany.
“Anthony Ralston took a heavy touch and made a poor clearance, but James McCarthy was on to shore things up, but he reacted too slowly for the second equaliser.
“At that point you were wondering if Celtic could at least hold on for a point, but the personnel didn’t help them. The pressure was too much for them to hang on at that stage and they didn’t have the reinforcements to see it out.
“That is why January is so important to Celtic. It’s massive.
“Postecoglou has done enough to earn the trust of the club – and he simply must be allowed to strengthen.
“He needs to hang on until the winter break, get through this period on the coattails of Rangers going in to the Old Firm game.
“There could be a trophy in the cabinet by that stage and what a boost that would be going in to the second half of the season.
“Celtic are going in the right direction under Postecoglou, but it will be the transfer window that will determine how fast he gets to the desired destination.”