Callum McGregor spoke of Celtic being at a “crossroads” following their shock Viaplay Cup exit to Kilmarnock on Sunday.
The Hoops captain did not like what he witnessed from last season’s treble winners at Rugby Park, where Marley Watkins’ second-half goal sparked an unlikely post-mortem into Celtic’s last-16 demise.
Boss Ange Postecoglou left for Tottenham at the end of the season after completing the clean sweep and winger Jota and defender Carl Starfelt have also gone, while returning manager Brendan Rodgers was without Alistair Johnston, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Reo Hatate and Oh Hyeon-gyu for the trip to Ayrshire.
Rodgers gave a debut to Swedish defender Gustaf Lagerbielke alongside fellow new signing Maik Nawrocki, with a first start for summer recruit Odin Thiago Holm, while another new face, Yang Hyun-jun, came off the bench.
The exit from a cup competition Celtic have won six times in the last seven years stung McGregor, and the Scotland midfielder recalled a 1-0 cinch Premiership defeat at Livingston in September 2021 – a fourth loss in five games under Postecoglou which left them trailing leaders Rangers by four points, before they recovered to win the title and League Cup.
McGregor said: “We didn’t have enough quality. I think that was evident to see. 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’s a massive reminder that in cup football if you don’t turn up on the day you have absolutely no right to think that you can just come and win games of football.
“Probably because our cup record has been so good that is what everyone thinks, that you just roll up and it happens. It never happens like that.
“Firstly we have to look internally, us as players. Did we do enough? The answer is no. 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. 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.
“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 ground. Trying to settle everybody as quickly as we 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.
“With this result we all have to realise that we have to go pretty quickly. It was similar at this point two years ago when we put ourselves under pressure.
“Now you have to react, you have to find something within yourself and within the team and within the group that sparks us into life. Because that’s what we need to do now.”