Well, that was a strange one.
Strange in that I’m sitting here after another defeat and not for the first time this season wondering if what I’m seeing is really what’s unfolding in front of my eyes.
Is this really a Celtic side which is getting better or are we imagining that in our wish to see something that isn’t really there?
And the answer is that we’re not.
We are not imagining it.
This is a different Celtic team, a better Celtic team, one with more to it than any Celtic side we’ve seen in a while. Ange’s style has made us a better attacking force. This is not an illusion, and nor are we incorrect to be confident in the future.
There are worries, sure there are.
People who want to be cynics are going to say that it’s another away game and another defeat.
But absolutely meaningless nonsense.
Tonight we played in Spain where no Celtic side has ever won.
If people want to talk about the away record they can do so on Sunday night if we’ve not won.
Better yet, they can do it at the end of October when we’ll have visited the grounds of every one of the sides we expect to finish alongside us in the top six; Hibs, Motherwell and Aberdeen. If I were a betting man (and I am) I’d wager that we’re going to be pretty happy with how we come out of that run, because no team in Scotland will live with us going forward.
And here’s the really important thing; no Scottish side, including the pretenders at Ibrox, is going to have the quality in their ranks that we faced tonight. But for all that quality here’s the undeniable truth; our wounds were entirely self-inflicted.
This was not, as we’ve seen so often, a Celtic team that went abroad and got comprehensively beaten.
We were well on top for the first 35 minutes, and then two defensive lapses inside a 180 seconds cost us.
We foolishly allowed the same thing to happen in the second half; two goals in a horrible minute and a half.
But we were not outplayed our outgunned.
We simply came up against the kind of team which punishes mistakes.
And what were the mistakes? The first is simple panic in the backline and a failure to clear the ball. The fourth goal is a bad one to lose, but the kind you see teams score every week. I’m not going to pull my hair out over it.
The second and the third are the genuinely troubling ones from the point of view of how we play.
Their second was our attempt – our failed attempt – to play the offside trap.
The third is down to Ralston being out of position when the guy goes marauding down the right.
Here’s the thing; those goals were preventable with simple reminders to people as to where they are supposed to be. This wasn’t a case of wholescale defensive calamity. We made basic errors punished by the kind of team who will do that to you.
There are a lot of our fans who ought to watch more football. I say that with the greatest respect, but a growing sense of frustration.
Because I’ve seen Ralston getting blasted for his display tonight which was generally good but for that glaring positional error for the third goal.
I’ve seen Soro getting blasted. Why? Because he’s this week’s whipping boy.
He was excellent before being subbed; his booking apparently gave some people nightmares, but watch his performance. He never shirked a single tackle. He continued to play his role. That boy has the bottle (and the discipline) to play the toughest role in the team and in all of football.
Ajeti continues to offer answers to his critics; we’re seeing the footballer, at last, that Lennon paid big money for but couldn’t manage to inspire.
We should give that guy the clean slate he deserves.
Nobody got pass marks in that dire campaign.
If you were looking for proof that this is the “same old Celtic” losing daft goals away from home in Europe, it’s there to be found.
But look closer.
Can you imagine what would have happened to a Lennon team which conceded those two early second half goals?
They have fallen apart and we’d have been on the end of losing six or seven.
We saw Rodgers’ team collapse just like on several occasions, and we did lose by those kinds of margins.
But this team kept its cool and kept trying to play football. That we scared the home side into a 2-0 lead in the first place is telling of what these players can do.
It’s amazing to be sitting here after a game against a side as good as this and cursing three minutes of defensive lapses that have ultimately deprived us of three points, rather even than one, but that’s where we are tonight.
We scored three times in Spain; that’s an amazing feat for a team missing two of its best wide men and two of its three strikers.
We also missed our first choice left back and our captain.
So there is mitigation even on a night when I’m actually pretty impressed by much of what we witnessed.
So it’s another defeat and if you’re a cynic (or an enemy of Celtic) you might be looking at that and thinking “this team isn’t doing terribly well, is it?” but from my vantage point I see real things to be optimistic about, real signs that Project Ange is coming along nicely.