'We can't ever go away from our principles again' - Celtic stalwart's warning after loss of team identity in cup loss
The midfielder makes plain that cannot be allowed to happen again in accepting the massive early season setback - as returning manager Brendan Rodgers beds in a raft of recent additions - already has created a pressurised situation. One that can be likened to the scenario the club faced two years ago as they faltered in the early stages of Ange Postecoglou’s tenure - losing their first three away games in the Premiership - as the Australian completely recast the squad subsequent to a number of major departures.
“I think that was evident to see,” said McGregor in reference to the 1-0 defeat at Rugby Park being the product of an un-Celtic like display. “There were too many long passes, we lost our way a little bit when the game became desperate and we were chasing a goal. We started hitting long passes, which is not us. I don’t mean good passes in terms of trying to play in behind, it was just sort of launching the ball and hoping for the best. That’s disappointing, that we don’t stick to the principles that we know work for us.
“It is surprising, and disappointing, at the same time. I think that is maybe what you get with a new group which is just at its infancy. I probably remember back to two years ago at this point, or slightly later, into September, when we lost at Livingston and it was much the same. Now we are at a crossroads in this group as well. We have lost a lot of key players, a lot of big players for us, so we have to find a new team. We have to find a settled team and then go back to the principles that make us a good team. It just shows you that if you don’t stick to that the game becomes random and that’s what happens. It is a big learning curve for sure. We have to learn from it and make sure it doesn’t snowball into two results, three results, four results. We have to find the answers quickly and find a way to settle this new group of players.”
Celtic fielded an all-new centre-back pairing of debutant Gustaf Lagerbielke and Maik Narwocki with Carl Starfelt having moved on earlier in the month, and Cameron Carter-Vickers and Stephen Welsh currently sidelined. Odin Thiago Holm was handed his first start in a midfield weakened by the injury loss of Reo Hatate and Aaron Mooy’s retirement with fellow summer arrival Yang Hyun-jun appearing from the bench in the left-winger role filled by Jota before his £25m move to Saudi Arabia. McGregor lays it on the line that any new signings must immediately meet the club’s demands.
“We talk about trying to settle people in but at Celtic you don’t have that opportunity. You go to Kilmarnock and lose and all of a sudden you’re under pressure. So we have to fix that internally, that’s down to the players, the manager and the staff. This is a massive reminder that you don’t have any right to just turn up and win any football match. We have to learn from this and it has to spark us.
“That’s life at a big club. For a lot of them coming in, this is the biggest club they’ve played for. And we have to help them, we have to settle them down. Again, it’s principles of the game and how you want the game to look. Regardless of whether you are winning or losing or drawing, you have to stick to that because that’s what we believe brings us success. It’s a learning curve for everybody but certainly the senior players will be vital in trying to settle the new lads in and trying to find this pattern we want to kick into.
“[What we know from two years ago is that] we stay calm under pressure. That is part and parcel of being at a big club. You will get bad results and it’s how you handle that, how you stand up and be counted in the coming days and weeks. Again, it’s just reinforcing the work we are doing on the training round. Trying to settle everybody as quickly as can, settle into the pattern and the rhythm that we want to play. It’s just repetition in training and trying to find that balance really, really quickly.”
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