Celtic make worst league start in 23 years - but what’s going on?

By Andrew SouthwickBBC Scotland

The worst start to a league season in 23 years. No domestic away wins in seven months. Six losses out of seven on the road in all competitions this season. A fourth defeat in five games.

The statistics do not make pleasant reading for Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou, with the 1-0 reverse at Livingston leaving his side languishing in sixth place in the Scottish Premiership after six games.

"We've played well in every game," the Australian told BBC Scotland, while questioning his side's consistency in the league.

"It's not good enough. If we want to be successful we can't continue not picking up results in these games. That's the test for us."

Are Celtic on the cusp of finding their feet and going on a positive run, or do their problems run deeper?

Poor on the road

Last season, Celtic finished 25 points behind Rangers and ended the campaign without silverware. Neil Lennon left as manager in February, with John Kennedy steering the ship until the summer.

Yet, throughout the campaign Celtic only lost five league games - three of which were to Rangers. They have now suffered three defeats already this season.

The last time Celtic started a campaign so poorly was in 1998-99. Back then they were the ones who had just stopped Rangers' attempt to win 10 titles in a row, but drew four times and lost twice in the opening eight games of their title defence.

This season they have played free-flowing attacking football at times. They scored six against Dundee and another six against St Mirren. Even in Spain on Thursday away to Real Betis, they were 2-0 in front and had plenty of chances, but lost the game 4-3. That attacking verve was missing in West Lothian.

Alarmingly they have not won away from home domestically since 14 February. That's nine games, six of those defeats.

"It's a staggering statistic for a team like Celtic," said former Livingston boss Gary Holt on BBC Sportsound. "I've been impressed with them, but how do you deal with adversity, and is that mentality that they haven't won away from home getting into them?"

Celtic's points totals after six games
Celtic's points totals after six games

Lack of match winners

Striker Odsonne Edouard has departed for Crystal Palace, Ryan Christie has moved to Bournemouth and Leigh Griffiths is on loan at Dundee.

It's a new era at Celtic Park. Japanese star Kyogo Furuhashi scored seven goals in his first eight games, but he is out of action for at least a month after being injured on international duty. James Forrest and captain Callum McGregor are also sidelined.

Albian Ajeti scored in midweek against Real Betis in the Europa League, after two goals five days earlier in the 3-0 Premiership win over Ross County. The Swiss striker has scored those three goals in eight games, but made little impact on Sunday.

"That was just Livingston's second win in 19," said Holt. "Celtic did nothing, they disappointed me, they were trying to score the perfect goal. Livingston had the best chances in the game.

"Kyogo does stretch the game, he comes short, he goes into the channels, and Ajeti doesn't do that. The two centre-backs will never have an easier game.

"Sometimes when you're missing the main focal point of the team it can fester into the rest of the players, they just think 'we're a goal behind, we don't look like we're going to score'."

Former Celtic goalkeeper Pat Bonner questions whether Celtic rely too much on Kyogo.

He told BBC Sportsound: "Possession doesn't get you anything if you don't have an end product.

"The players that are out on the pitch should be able to create more than that. They did start the season off really well, they were scoring goals. They've gone back a bit today.

"They need to get their players back, Kyogo is key to them, but they can't rely on one player. The rest of them have got to step up now."

What's coming up?

The fixture list looks testing for Celtic, especially when their away record is considered.

Three home games in a row are up first; Raith Rovers in the League Cup, a Premiership game against Dundee United, then a Europa League meeting with Bayer Leverkusen.

Then comes a tough October.

Their next three Premiership away games are at Aberdeen, Motherwell and Hibernian. Celtic failed to win at two of those venues (Pittodrie and Easter Road) on their last visits. Motherwell and Hibernian are also, ominously, above the Parkhead side in the table.

Although five teams are above them, Celtic fans are probably only looking at Rangers. They are already four points behind their Glasgow rivals as they try to wrestle the title back across the city.

Steven Gerrard's side were heading six points clear of Celtic before a second-half Motherwell goal denied them a 22nd consecutive Premiership win at Ibrox.

"It could have been a lot worse," said Bonner. "They [Celtic] got away with it, with Rangers drawing, and the day before Hibs and Hearts drawing.

"They can't afford to keep dropping points and creating that gap to Rangers."

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