Unprecedented run leaves Ange Postecoglou with grim 124-year Celtic managerial first

The already-deep scarring of Ange Postecoglou’s first league campaign at the Celtic helm has been laid bare by the wounding that ensues from the loss at Livingston on Sunday.

Ange Postecoglou is the only Celtic manager since 1897 to lose his first three away league matches. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Ange Postecoglou is the only Celtic manager since 1897 to lose his first three away league matches. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

A third successive defeat on the road in this embryonic championship - following on from the 2-1 reverse on the opening weekend away to Hearts and the 1-0 loss against Rangers at Ibrox - not only means that the Parkhead club already have lost as many Premiership games on the road this term as in the whole of their disastrous last season. Far more damagingly even for Postecoglou, the sequence is entirely unprecedented for any Celtic manager across their opening three away league games dating right back from when Willie Maley was the first individual handed the team reins in the summer of 1897. That move gave way to him taking two away games to post a first victory on the road across his first title assault - a scoreless draw away to Hearts followed by a 3-0 success at the home of St Bernard’s that September.

Regardless of the state of the club or the team when any new Celtic manager has taken permanent charge, or the player turnover they have required to deal with across the early stages of their tenure, three consecutive defeats have never been the product of their first three league encounters in unfamiliar surroundings. Most, indeed, have won their first game in such circumstances.

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Jimmy McGrory did not, when his first official competitive football came with the post-war resumption in 1946-47. He had to deal with a 2-2 draw away to Clyde, a 6-2 defeat at Aberdeen and a 2-2 draw in Hamilton before a 1-0 win at Hamilton.

Postecoglou watches on as Livingston condemn his Celtic side to a third straight away league loss. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Meanwhile, Jock Stein hit the ground running courtesy of his first match in charge resulting in a 6-0 drubbing away to Airdrieonians in March 1965. His successor, Billy McNeill, also enjoyed a first game away league victory, which came with a 2-1 win away to Morton on the opening August afternoon of the 1978-79 championship.

It was the same story for the man who replaced him five years later as Davie Hay presided over a 2-0 success against Hibs at Easter Road in the late August curtain-raiser for the 1983-84 league campaign.

McNeill’s subsequent return was marked by a 4-0 thumping away to Morton as the club kicked off their triumphant centenary season of 1987-88 in the second week of August.

Liam Brady’s side eked out a 4-3 win over Dundee United when his first league outing took Celtic to Tannadice, and replacement Lou Macari - in October 1993 - enjoyed the ultimate away day for his first day in the dug-out with a 2-1 success over Rangers at Ibrox.

Tommy Burns experienced something similar. His league opener in 1994-95 ended with a 1-1 scoreline in Falkirk, but the next away assignment in the championship brought a 2-0 derby dumping of Rangers in the closing days of August 1994.

Wim Jansen, and his recent striker arrival Henrik Larsson, famously endured a miserable afternoon in the first weekend of the 1997-98 league campaign thanks to a 2-1 reverse for a new-look Celtic against Hibs at Easter Road. However, both made amends when their next match outside Parkhead secured Jansen’s men a 2-0 victory over St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park in August 1997.

Parallels have been drawn between Postecoglou’s league start and the faltering start experienced by Jo Venglos in 1998-99, the last time Celtic only had nine points following six top flight games. And indeed the Czech failed to win any of his fir st three league away games. However, following a 3-2 loss at Aberdeen, he at least secured draws with a 1-1 outcome in Dundee and a scoreless derby encounter at Ibrox before a 2-1 win away to Motherwell in October 1999.

His replacement John Barnes had no such early teething problems with a 5-0 whipping of Aberdeen at Pittodrie in August 1999 a misleading sign for what was to unfold. A very different scenario from the next year, with the 2-1 win over Dundee United for Martin O’Neill’s men in his first league away game setting Celtic on the path to regaining the title.

His successor Gordon Strachan also claimed the title first time out. He didn’t have the easiest time of it away from Celtic Park in the championship initially, though, when he assumed the reins in the summer of 2005. A 4-4 draw at Motherwell was followed by a 3-1 loss at Ibrox before he got it right with a 4-0 success at Dunfermline.

Tony Mowbray kicked off his ill-fated eight months as Celtic manager with a 3-1 win at Aberdeen in August 2009. The successful pattern continued under Neil Lennon. He won both his first league away game as interim - a 1-0 success at Easter Road in March 2009 - and when appointed permanently...another 1-0 the outcome of an opening weekend trip to Inverness in August 2009.

Ronny Deila had no problems knocking off a 3-0 victory away to St Johnstone in his first league outing as Celtic manager that rolled around in August 2014. Meanwhile, Brendan Rodgers’ enjoyed a 2-1 win against Hearts at Tynecastle to begin his Celtic stewardship in August 2016 en route to an invincible domestic treble, before Lennon had the same result at the same venue when he was placed in interim charge following Rodgers’ flit to Leicester City in February 2019. A second permanent spell as Celtic manager then began for Lennon with the 2019-20 league campaign. It witnessed a 5-2 win at Motherwell in a first away game for a championship campaign that would subsequently secure the club a record-equalling ninth straight title, in a league season abridged by the Covid-19 pandemic.

All of which demonstrates Postecoglou certainly is making a mark distinct from those that have gone before in his role - only just in a wholly undesirable fashion.

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