THE acute disappointment that Ange Postecoglou was feeling in the immediate aftermath of Celtic’s agonising Europa League defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in the BayArena on Thursday night was obvious for all to see.

He sat in the post-match press conference with his shoulders slumped and shook his head as he looked back over a match against Bundesliga rivals in Germany that his charges had, for a spell in the second-half, threatened to win.  

But the Greek-Australian manager is by no means despondent about the future despite a 3-2 loss that ended the Glasgow club’s hopes of making it through to the knockout rounds of the competition.

Postecoglou is adamant Celtic have made considerable progress in Europe during his five months in charge even though they will now finish third in their section and drop into the third tier Conference League after Christmas. 

The fact they had posed serious problems for formidable opponents who had thrashed them 4-0 at home in their opening Group G outing back in September gave him some satisfaction as well as hope they can hold their own at a high level on the continent.

His determination to make Celtic a force that foreign sides fear is certainly greater than ever.

“I’m not low,” he said. “I just want us to be a team that competes at this level and I get disappointed when the players and the fans put everything into it and don’t get the rewards. 

“I take that to heart, but it just further fuels the fire within me to make sure we get to where I want us to get to. We are a team that can compete at this level. 

“We are not at Bayer Leverkusen’s level, absolutely not. But that is where we want to get to and we went out, hung in there and gave ourselves a chance for a result and also found out that, while the gap is there, I think it was smaller than it was the last time we played them.

“People can make their own assessments based on what they see and what we are doing. Some people might look at it and see results like Leverkusen and think we’re not there. Others might see that we are developing and think that through this Europa League tournament we have got stronger.”

European football is new to Postecoglou as well as many of his players – Liel Abada, Kyogo Furuhashi and Jota had never played at such a high level before moving to Scotland in the summer.

The Celtic manager is convinced they will all have gained invaluable experience from their Group G campaign and should be better placed to go through next time around.    

“You know there is some learning in there as well,” he said. “The last 15 to 20 minutes we didn’t control the game as we should have. 

“We had some good opportunities, but, again, we haven’t been in this situation with this group of players and the more we expose them to these kind of games the better we will be. I think we will take belief out of it too. 

“They were disappointed in the dressing room, they felt like they had come off and were unlucky and they are disappointed they didn’t see the game out. So that’s the kind of attitude you need. Next time we are on the same stage we want to make sure that we see games like this out.” 

The demands on the Celtic manager and his charges are relentless; they will now turn their attention to beating Aberdeen in the cinch Premiership at Parkhead tomorrow and maintaining the pressure on top flight leaders and defending champions Rangers.

Postecoglou is unsure if Nir Bitton, who performed well in central midfield against Leverkusen before limping off injured, will be available for selection. However, he intends to make personnel changes in the wake of a draining evening in Germany.

He has sensed that James McCarthy, the Republic of Ireland internationalist who has made just three starts since joining his boyhood heroes back in August, is ready to show supporters what he has to offer. 

“I was a bit disappointed to see Nir come off,” he said. “In terms of how he is going to be, I’m not really sure. We will assess him, but he has been pretty influential for us and did well to help set up our second goal in Germany. 

“It was disappointing to have to take him off because I just felt we needed him in there just to help us control that middle of the park. But I thought James McCarthy did okay when he came on. I was going to put him on anyway.

“James is getting there. There have been those signs and he is ready for an opportunity now. That may come on Sunday or it may come next week. He is ready for that.”

Postecoglou added: “Being ready for Sunday, that’s the key now. That’s a big game for us back in the league where we are on a good run and want to continue that. 

“Particularly being at home at Celtic Park against Aberdeen who are a good side and who have picked up some results recently. 

“It’s a good challenge for us because the players put so much into Germany physically and emotionally and I am going to have to make a couple of changes just to freshen them up. But absolutely we have to be on our game.” 

Postecoglou revealed he had no idea that Josip Juranovic was going to attempt a Panenka when Celtic were awarded a penalty against Leverkusen just before half-time – but was impressed with the Croatian cap’s audacity and pleased he netted the equaliser.

The full-back has now scored from the spot three times in attempts and is likely to retain spot kick duties going forward. “I didn’t know he was going to do that,” said Postecoglou. “I will have to make a decision on whether he keeps them before Sunday. But it was all good.”