Brendan Rodgers felt compelled to apologise to the Celtic fans for the first time after a performance as he admitted his side lacked desire in a 2-0 home defeat by Hearts.
A free header from Lawrence Shankland and Stephen Kingsley’s 25-yard free-kick put Hearts two ahead inside 30 minutes and there was little sign of a Celtic comeback as they fell to consecutive league defeats for the first time in a decade.
“Our desire and the mentality right from the off was nowhere near the level of a Celtic team,” Rodgers said. “Very passive, and lacked fluidity.
“The game started a little bit slow, but our ability to keep the ball in the final third and create wasn’t quite there.
“Then, we got outdone very naively from a corner. The second goal was a fantastic free-kick, but, when you look at the build-up and what led to the free-kick, it was so passive it was frightening.
“It is a real, real sore one. For the first time I have been here, over my two periods, I would have to apologise to the supporters – because that level is nowhere near the standard of performances required at Celtic. Nowhere near it.
“That lack of consistency and mentality and desire, it is way, way off what this club demands. You’re sat there in mid-December with 60,000 in and that’s how you perform. It is not acceptable.”
Only two weeks ago Rodgers claimed he had never been angrier as a manager following a similar first-half performance against St Johnstone. They fought back to win in Perth but have now lost to Kilmarnock and Hearts and potentially lost their advantage in the title race – Rangers are five points behind but have two games in hand.
The Celtic manager absolved the “brilliant” Callum McGregor from blame along with Liam Scales and Matt O’Riley and added: “I can’t say I am surprised. I have seen performance level (dip) and (am) having to activate. When you are having to do that all the time then that is a worry.
“You can’t keep having to go into expletives, you need to find the solution and the ambition as a player to come into these games after a midweek game, after a good performance in the Champions League, you need to come into the game and produce the level.
“It always starts for me against the ball and when it’s so passive and you are not aggressive enough, that for me is always your desire and how much you want to win the game.
“Sadly for us that then goes on to the side when you have the ball and it just wasn’t good enough.”
Hearts ended a 14-game losing run at Celtic Park and secured their first win at the stadium since 2009.
Manager Steven Naismith felt his side’s composure was the key factor.
“The biggest aspect is when you win the ball,” he said. “You need to cause them problems, and I think we did that. Our composure on the ball leads to us getting the corner, it leads to us getting the free-kick that get us the goals.
“That’s not just luck for Shanks at the back post, it’s having a calmness in these big moments.
“Or whether it’s our defenders deciding they can see pass and they make the pass.
“I don’t think there’s a better team in Scotland that press than Celtic, they are really aggressive, they are really tough.
“And we played through it at times, we were good enough to do it, and that’s massively important when you are playing against the Old Firm.”