ALAS, progression from the Champions League group stages, or even into the Europa League via third place in their section, proved beyond Celtic this season. It is reasonable though for manager Ange Postecoglou to argue that progress was made nonetheless.

Even before the tournament kicked off, Postecoglou vowed that if his team were going to go down, they would go down swinging. And he was true to his word, for better or for worse.

It is also true to say that Postecoglou’s focus on the bigger picture, as justifiable as it may be, shouldn’t detract from Celtic’s shortcomings in this group stage. And by extension, the shortcomings of his own football philosophy.

The all-out attacking approach is laudable of course, and hugely exciting to watch. Even in Champions League group stages of the past where Celtic have finished with a far greater points return and even qualified to the knockout stages, their supporters have probably never been so entertained.

That isn’t thin gruel. But neither will the Celtic support be quite so willing to stomach the same shortcomings should their team find themselves in a similar position this time next year, presuming that they make it back to this stage once more.

Even accounting for the considerable caveat of Celtic’s transfer and salary budget in comparison to the teams they were coming up against, a fair portion of the damage that was inflicted upon them at least partly came by their own hand.

Most obviously, there was their remarkable profligacy in front of goal. Then there was their willingness to desert the midfield area, and so be caught out time and again on transition. There was even Postecoglou’s decision to play both Giorgos Giakoumakis and Kyogo against Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday night, a bold move which ironically seemed to upset their flow and stymie their attacking threat.

All of these issues can be easily identified, but finding a cure for them may prove extremely difficult.

How do you solve the problem of your strikers missing chances at the top level? Well, buy better ones of course! But identifying and – crucially - affording strikers better than Kyogo and Giorgos Giakoumakis on Celtic’s budget? Not easy. More likely is that Postecoglou will hope his existing players have taken on board the harsh lessons of life at the top level and will be better equipped next time around.

As for their defensive naivety? Well, the payoff for the thrills of Angeball is the spills it can lead to at the other end.

Before the tournament started, I felt that Postecoglou may make one concession to his preferred formation for the step up in level, and play with two sitting midfielders rather than just the one. As it turned out, he ended up with an extra forward on the pitch instead.

Questioning Postecoglou on his tactics elicits only a roll of the eyes, a wry smile, and a trademark ‘Mate…’ It is pointless. He is never going to change, and the vast majority of Celtic fans would never want him to.

The challenge then lies in how he does improve the existing group he has, and how he supplements that group so that Celtic can not only return to the Champions League next season, but come away from it with something tangible to show for their efforts alongside the considerable and deserved plaudits that have come their way.

Postecoglou’s aim is to make Celtic a Champions League club. Not only in the stands with the famed Celtic Park nights under the lights that even opposition players now seem to relish, but on the field, too. Consistently. And there are plenty of signs to suggest that his team aren’t in fact a million miles away from that goal.

They have been competitive in every game they have played, even for an hour against Real Madrid in Glasgow before the class of the reigning champions won out. That isn’t just from the eye test either.

If xG is your thing (expected goals, for those of the old school), then all the underlying signs are positive for Celtic. Across their five group games so far, they reasonably could have been expected to score 7.2 goals based on the quality of chances they have created. They have scored only three.

By contrast, Tuesday night’s opponents Shakhtar may have been expected to score 3.3. They have scored eight, due in no small part to the brilliance of Mykhaylo Mudryk, in fairness.

There is an argument then that Postecoglou can’t do much more than what he has already managed. His set-up is allowing his team to create enough chances, and he isn’t the one on the end of them failing to stick them in the pokey.

Hope then, springs eternal. The progress that Postecoglou desired in terms of his team staying in this season’s competition may not have ultimately come to pass, but the progress he has made since setting foot in the door has the Celtic players and supporters believing that one day soon, they may very well belong at Champions League level once more.