TAKEN in isolation, Celtic’s defeat to Lazio on Tuesday night could almost be explained away. The Stadio Olimpico isn’t an easy place to go at the best of times, never mind when you are missing some of your most creative players in attack, and are having to rely on a host of fringe men.

But coming as it did as the 15th consecutive group stage match without victory – a record for a British club – and in the context of almost two decades now of such nights on the European stage for Celtic punctuated by the odd miraculous triumph, it points more to a longer-term underlying cause rather than short term player absences.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing for the Celtic fans who attended the game – apart from the fact many struggled to gain access to the stadium, and those who did had to run a Roman gauntlet to avoid being hit by flying pyrotechnics – is that the loss and the manner of it was entirely expected.

Even as the clock ticked towards the final 10 minutes, and Celtic were in the ascendency, there was always a feeling that the same old movie was about to be replayed. And so it proved.

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Indeed, even the players who have been at the club for much of that spell which has brought with it such ignominious milestones are starting to get a little peeved at the club’s consistent failure to punch even at their weight in European competition.

The disparity between the finances of Celtic and the other teams in their Champions League section is obvious, but their policy of signing mostly ‘project’ players in the summer is a further impediment to their ability to compete in such company.

In fact, taking those factors into account, even captain Callum McGregor admits he isn’t surprised by the outcome, not only in this season’s Champions League, but going back 20 years or so.

“The run isn’t on this group,” McGregor said.

“It’s happened over a long period of time.

“Maybe people can look at the guys who have been here longer than others, and potentially label that at them. But it’s a top competition and teams are spending millions and millions to try and win this thing.

“So there is a level there and compared to our budgets it makes it difficult. Especially when we’re the type of club we want to be, where we are signing young talent, developing it, and selling it on.

“We have been like that, probably, for the last 15 to 20 years. So that maybe tells you this isn’t a big surprise.

“But the wish for the players is that when we get to these games we want to do well. We’re just stuck in that wee rut at the minute where we can’t get one. And the whole thing continues.

“But, listen, we’ll keep trying and we’ll keep coming back. We’re giving a good account of ourselves in the majority of the games so we’re not too far away.

“Maybe with just a little bit more quality at this level we can maybe do something.”

That line about the need for some added quality has been relayed by Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers on multiple occasions this season, and it was interesting to hear his captain echo those thoughts following the defeat in Rome.

It seems he too is keenly aware that Celtic are short in some key areas, and furthermore, that the club’s summer transfer dealings rather left them taking a water pistol to a gun fight.

As well as that, there was the cursing of their luck, which again deserted them at a key moment as a deflected shot fell to Ciro Immobile - of all people - in front of goal for Lazio to finally break Celtic’s resistance.

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Not that McGregor was attempting to paint the defeat as a hard luck story, but there is some truth to the notion that some of their losses in the Champions League have been unfortunate, and that a break here or there could have put a more creditable complexion on their campaign.

“It was a sore one,” he said.

“It kind of followed the same pattern as the rest of the games, if I’m honest.

“We had good spells in the game and were then hit with that sucker-punch at the end.

“Listen, at some point we were going to have to open up. Maybe in different circumstances we could have played for the draw and seen the game out by not being too gung-ho to try and win it.

“But we had to win to try and go through. And when you do that, that can happen given they have a top-quality striker who comes on to score two goals.

“It’s just disappointing that it’s following much of the pattern. But I guess we can take positives, at least, from parts of the performance.

“I felt we were doing enough in the game. We could hear their fans getting frustrated and we had talked about that before the game.

“We felt the longer the game stayed at 0-0, we’d give ourselves a really good chance. And we could all feel that in the stadium.

“Really, if anyone was going to score, it was probably going to be us. They get a bit of a break too, with the boy scuffing the shot, and it doesn’t fall for us.

“We’ve probably not had one of those. Kyogo had a chance across goal, and if it’s similar, we get a tap-in. So, it’s small margins.

“Again, that’s been a story of this campaign. But ultimately it’s disappointing we went away with no points again.

“But I just feel we need that first win and the good feeling starts to come back. We will then maybe get more and more results.

“But right now, we’re maybe just at the stage where we’re not quite getting there.”