In the aftermath of another Champions League defeat, it would be easy to say ‘same old Celtic’.
The result – losing 2-0 to Feyenoord in Rotterdam in their opening group game – seemed familiar at this level but, at times, this was an accomplished display by the Scottish champions.
Getting positive results in the group stage has been increasingly elusive and not many expected Brendan Rodgers’ side to emerge with a win, or even a point in the Netherlands.
Top seeds Feyenoord have been flying of late, and boast significant recent European pedigree even if it’s six years since they played in this competition.
But the outcome, ultimately, was one in which an element of chaos took over. It’s happened before at this level.
This script felt different, though, and perhaps offers encouragement for Celtic ahead of two upcoming home fixtures.
Rodgers’ side played well in that first half, better than on many away days, before the hammer-blow of a concession deep into injury time signalled the start of the demise.
“What we showed is that we’re going to be competitive,” the manager said.
“We started off really well. We looked a threat and progressed the ball well. With better decisions we might have had an opportunity to get in front.
“Unfortunately for us we get two players sent off. It’s a difficult level at 11 v 11. The players kept going, it was harsh on them.”
Remember the context. The idea that Liam Scales would arguably be Celtic’s star man in a Champions League tie seemed fanciful a month or so ago. He has emerged as a player of potential for Rodgers going forward.
Celtic also had key players missing. All defenders. Cameron Carter-Vickers, plus new signings Maik Nawrocki and Nat Phillips. Carl Starfelt has left since last season and that loss of experience also counted.
Despite all of that, Rodgers’ side showed a high level of control, initially, against their fancied opponents. The squad will likely improve as injuries clear.
“Celtic shaded it for me in the first half. They had the better chances to score,” said Sportsound pundit James McFadden. “They have to take the positives which there were plenty.
“Overall, in general, he’s got to be happy with the performance of his players along with the disappointment of losing the game.
“The decision-making in the final third, the willingness to maybe take that chance going forward or play the pass, that was there. That’s the things they can look at and say ‘Can we do that better?’
‘It could have been three, four or five’
Notably, Celtic’s centre-back pairing had no Champions League experience at all heading into this.
Inexperience eventually cost the Premiership side with both Gustaf Lagerbielke and Odin Holm earning red cards which could, and should, have been avoided.
Those quick-fire moments meant there was no way back as Feyenoord seized on the opportunity.
“I’m very disappointed with the two sending offs and playing with nine men is obviously very difficult,” Rodgers continued.
“The first one, [Lagerbielke] you just have to shepherd it through to the goalkeeper, don’t get into the fight as it’s getting to Joe Hart, it’s just inexperience.
“And Odin is a fantastic young player, he’ll learn from that, you can’t go to ground like that, particularly in Europe and he’ll learn from that.”
Learning is what Celtic now need. They’ve shown a capability to offer something that Rodgers will hope will bring the points to meet his aim of European football beyond Christmas.
Despite being two men down, the scoreline remained respectable as captain Callum McGregor pointed out post-match.
“It would have been easy to lose three, four or five at that point which is testament to the group,” he said.
“Then to get two men sent off in quick succession takes the game away from us. It’s hard enough with 11 men, never mind nine. We’ll learn the lesson.
“There are five games to go so hopefully they’ll be walking off thinking we didn’t give up. We didn’t quit. We were still fighting for each other at the end.
It’s a disappointing night but we have five games to try and fix it.”
The former Celtic midfielder Aiden McGeady shared that optimism and insisted the manager would have been heartened by much of what he saw.
“I think he’s never going to be happy after a 2-0 defeat but that’s probably the happiest I’ve seen a manager after a 2-0 defeat,” he said on Sportsound.
“I think he’s looking at the first 60 minutes and saying to himself and to the players ‘we’re at this level and we’ve shown that, we just have to be a bit more clinical and a bit more cute with our final ball, with decision making’.”