FIRE UP a new football game. Take your pick which. Football Manager, FIFA, Actua Soccer, whatever came before that. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is you load it up, select your team, start a new game, get all excited to take the (virtual) world by storm and… your best four players are unavailable. Disaster.

That’s what Ange Postecoglou faces at Celtic just now.

No first-choice centre-back, no first-choice central midfielder, no first-choice winger, no first-choice striker. The spine of Postecoglou’s ideal team is strewn across the Lennoxtown treatment tables.

Sunday’s defeat to Livingston extended a lengthy domestic away-day hoodoo to nine games stretching back to February 14. With such a defeat comes the customary suggestion that the Greek-Australian must needs find the fabled ‘Plan B’.

This usually includes some mix of the words “direct” and “pragmatic” and carries with it the implicit image of the ball becoming better acquainted with the rarefied air around whichever stadium was the scene of the Hoops’ latest crime.

Against Livingston, however, it seemed that Plan A was really more Exhibit A; incriminatory by its absence. It was all very un-Celtic, as we’ve come to know them this season anyway.

Even in the matches they have lost this term there has been ‘Ange-positive’ signs. Enough creativity and attacking verve to justifiably counter the individual errors and defensive lapses.

On Sunday, that wasn’t the case.

There was loads of passing… but without much of the purpose that Postecoglou has repeatedly encouraged.

There was loads of pressing… but without much in the way of a creative spark to take advantage of the gaps that usually creates.

There was loads of running… but without much of the accompanying intelligent movement Postecoglou’s system absolutely requires.

READ MORE: Livingston defeat exposes Celtic’s away-day demons and raises tactical questions - Sean Martin

Among that distinct lack of attacking penetration Celtic still, statistically anyway, created enough to score once and Stephen Welsh will know himself even marginally better defending prevents the Andrew Shinnie goal.

As well as Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Kyogo Furuhashi and long-term absentee Christopher Jullien, Celtic were also without first-choice left-back Greg Taylor for the match too.

In to replace the captain was James McCarthy for a full debut. There is something to be said for a ‘destroyer’ in midfield. An aggressive presence to keep the intensity at an acceptable level.

That’s not what Celtic missed on Sunday though. If anything, that’s the one thing McCarthy did try to do – he launched into a few ferocious tackles and was audibly directing team-mates around the place on several occasions.

No, what Celtic lacked in midfield on Sunday was not a play destroyer but a play dictator. What they lacked in midfield was, quite simply, McGregor.

What the captain brings to the side is a different kind of leadership to his predecessor – although Scott Brown was never just a destroyer, no matter what narrative may be spun about him at times. ­

McGregor brings a performance bar set so consistently high it’s usually only truly appreciated when he’s gone, which is rare enough for a player who has routinely bagged upwards of 50 matches a season for the past few years.

His blend of composure, quality and urgency when receiving and releasing the ball has been irreplaceable in ‘Ange-ball’ thus far, so it’s no surprise it seemed exactly that when the chips were down at Almondvale.

Just ahead of that area, the creative axis of David Turnbull and Tom Rogic looked like they could cause problems at various times but the former relied mostly on his set-piece acumen while the latter’s apparent craving for a few extra touches limited his effectiveness.

They, like every other player, are allowed to have a poor game; the key once again is the dearth of viable alternatives to come off the bench when they do.

Celtic Way: Presumed Celtic strongest XI, with currently injured players in redPresumed Celtic strongest XI, with currently injured players in red

In that sense, the departure of Ryan Christie no doubt hurt the quality of the squad. There was, however, always the chance he would be leaving with his January contract expiry looming large. Crucially, he also wanted to leave which virtually negates any ‘what-if’ scenario.

Likewise, a player of Olivier Ntcham’s ability would have been nice to have among your options but his race had been run at Celtic and it is telling the team that eventually took a punt on him are only just outside the EFL Championship relegation spots and not operating at the higher level most who have witnessed him at his best would have predicted he'd reach.

When it comes to the wide areas it is worth noting there is a certain volatility inherent in starting with two inexperienced players in key positions. Jota and Liel Abada have bags of talent but there can be no doubt James Forrest is still the club’s premier winger and his absence, felt deeply last season, has already begun to hit the Hoops where it hurts in this one.

Up front, Albian Ajeti has hit the goal trail recently and Giorgos Giakoumakis has yet to get the chance to make an impact but the influence of Kyogo is already clear for all to see. He is a tone-setter for the attack in a similar way that McGregor is for the rest of the team. A massive miss.

On occasions such as Livi away, Postecoglou’s answer is not and will not be a complete change of tactics. Aside from anything else, he clearly doesn’t feel it would be fair on the players to continually tell them one thing – to trust the process and his system – only to spring a totally different thing on them when the heat is on (“ignore that ‘we don’t stop’ stuff lads. Punt it up, we hit and we hope from now on”).

It’s not going to happen. The way Postecoglou wants this team to play has been clear from the day he took the job. He trusts the gameplan will work in the end. He will live or die by that belief.

And that’s what the club knew it was getting when he was given the job.

If you watch a Scorsese film, don’t be shocked when you hear swearing. If you get a dog, don’t be startled when it barks. If you recruit an attacking football ideologue as manager, don’t be stunned when he doesn’t suddenly send his players out to lump it and look to pick up second balls because they’ve gone behind in a game.

And, crucially, if you don’t back that attacking football ideologue with the type of players he requires to pull it all off, don’t be surprised when there are occasions it doesn’t work out.

That’s where squad depth and recruitment rears its head again and when the attention must shift to the wider picture at the club.

READ MORE: Celtic are too soft and good football won't save Ange Postecoglou if the league table continues to jar - Alison McConnell

What Celtic are going through at this moment in time is a rebuild. A particularly tricky one. As well as the – frankly far too large – turnover of players required this summer Postecoglou has faced added complexities such as the Dominic McKay situation and a club structure many perceive to be outdated.

That another variable emerged in the past couple of weeks in the form of injuries to winger Forrest, striker Furuhashi and captain McGregor is but one more piece of evidence that the job he has been doing so far – both the ups and the downs of it – has been in spite of these troubles.

It does not excuse a genuinely poor performance, of course, but it is to some degree a mitigating factor in how he is being perceived more generally nonetheless.

Yet football is not a video game. There is no cheat code, no way round injuries and unavailability issues. There is, in short, no way any manager can bank on having his best XI on the pitch week in, week out without ever having to change it. 

So, yes, Postecoglou certainly has questions to answer over the Livingston defeat. Undoubtedly so.

But the Celtic hierarchy – whoever that term now encompasses – have ones of their own to answer, too. Chief among those is that, when things aren’t quite clicking, why has the man they’ve got in to front their rebuild been left short-handed since the day he walked on site?

He needs to rack up some wins while laying the foundations but let’s see what Postecoglou can build with his key four men back before any talk of writing him off gathers steam.