FROM the very start, many predicted this season would be an uphill struggle for Celtic. Bedding in a new manager was one thing, but Ange Postecoglou's first remit in the job was to almost completely rebuild the playing squad too.

That they have overcome most of the challenges laid down to them to be leading the Premiership by six points with five games to go is worthy of praise, even if it was cold comfort to the Celtic manager in the aftermath of their Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Rangers.

The bigger picture of course is that carrot still dangles in front of his team, but while the title is tantalisingly close, Postecoglou is expecting there may be some further rough terrain to navigate on their way to their ultimate goal.

His men have proven themselves adept at quickly recovering from setbacks so far this season, though they haven't been forced to absorb a gut punch of the nature of the one they suffered on Sunday thus far.

That recovery too will be an uphill battle, but one Postecoglou expects his men to rise to. As he explained to his players in the aftermath of the game on Sunday; ‘the road to success is not downhill’. He found it a little harder to explain though why many of his players appeared to be struggling up a fair old slope as they strained to match the run of Calvin Bassey that led to the Rangers winner, mind you.

Indeed, it seemed that for most of the afternoon, and particularly in extra-time, that the Rangers players who had played 120 minutes against Braga on Thursday evening – albeit against 10 men for the most part, and even nine towards the end – had the greater reserves of energy to draw on.

“I didn’t see it that way,” Postecoglou rebutted. “They did press us, but I still thought we had our moments to play through, and we did.

“In these kind of games you know you’ve got stay strong, get through the sort of sticky patches and wait for your moments to take advantage.

“I don’t think either side dominated the game, it was pretty even, and it was decided by one moment.”

That one moment – the Carl Starfelt own goal – may well have settled the tie in terms of the scoreline, but the Cameron Carter-Vickers miss, when the defender’s shot hit the crossbar from close range with Celtic already a goal to the good, also has a strong claim as the match’s sliding doors moment.

To focus on either as an explanation for the eventual outcome though is a little reductive, and there will be plenty of other aspects of the Celtic performance that Postecoglou will be chewing over in the days that follow.

It could be argued that it was the greater impact made by the Rangers substitutes that ultimately swung the game back in their favour after Greg Taylor had opened the scoring for Celtic.

That goal came in Celtic’s best spell of the match, with Matt O’Riley making a positive impact as he managed to free himself from the dual shackles of Calvin Bassey and John Lundstram that had so limited the contribution of Tom Rogic.

For all their much vaunted squad depth though, there was a seriously patchwork look to the Celtic defence in particular as extra-time got underway. Anthony Ralston – who had come on in place of the injured Josip Juranovic – ended up deployed at left-back, with young centre-half Stephen Welsh forced to come on as an auxiliary right-back following the departure of Taylor.

With a clearly ring-rusty James Forrest pressed into action ahead of Welsh on the right flank and Kyogo too still searching for sharpness up top, Celtic’s attacking threat was seriously blunted, and they looked shaky defensively too as Rangers penned them in towards the end of extra-time.

Ultimately, they buckled, and in that instant their hopes of a Treble were extinguished. That may have been a fanciful hope at the start of the season, and that it was a realistic proposition for so long is to Celtic’s credit, but Postecoglou doesn’t think the loss of that opportunity will be playing on the minds of his players.

“I never thought about Trebles or Doubles, that’s language that’s used here,” he said. “I’ve never thought about that in my career and I won’t think about it now.

“Every competition is an opportunity to be successful. For us at the moment we’ve won one trophy this year, that’s back at Celtic Park.

“Obviously our main goal this year was to become champions, and that’s still in our hands. We’ve got five games to do that and that’s what we’ve got to focus on.”

It can be easy for those not emotionally involved of course to look at bigger pictures, and the league title chase is of course what really matters to Celtic this season.

But focusing on the long-term goal doesn’t mean ignoring the short-term pain, even if Postecoglou has vowed not to allow it to derail his team from their ultimate aim.

“I think that is selling ourselves short and our supporters short,” he said. “Our supporters came [to Hampden] hoping to see us get to another final.

“I don’t think you can take these opportunities for granted, you don’t just assume they’re going to come around every year. All of them are hard-earned, and when they come around you want to take them.

“I don’t think we’ve lost perspective and I don’t think it’s a matter of tailoring your language to make sure the players feel good about it.

“The reality of it is we were in a semi-final [on Sunday], a tight game as we knew it would be, and unfortunately we didn’t progress.

“That doesn’t change anything about next week, whether we won [against Rangers] or not, the goal is still the same.”