Brendan Rodgers apologised to Celtic supporters after they lost back-to-back league games for the first time in a decade and said his players lacked “desire and passion”.
First-half goals from Lawrence Shankland and Stephen Kingsley earned Hearts their first league win at Celtic Park since 2007, opening the door for Celtic’s title rivals Rangers, who can go top if they win their two games in hand.
The Celtic supporters turned on the board during the game and booed the players off the pitch after a limp performance that saw the club’s 52-game unbeaten league home run come to an end.
“I want to apologise to the support base – I don’t think I have ever had to to that with regard to performance but today they deserve it,” Rodgers told Sky Sports News after the game.
“It’s mid-December and you get, 60,000-odd fans here and the lack of desire and passion was just really really poor. It wasn’t the whole team, Callum Mcgregor was brilliant, trying to drive the team on, and one or two others.
“It is just that consistency and mentality. We won a game in midweek and have played some really good football at times. There is a mentality that you need to have consistently and we didn’t have that from the off.”
Pressed on why Celtic are struggling, Rodgers added: “It is mentality and an ambition and a drive from within and a spirit that keeps pushing you.
“Guys like McGregor, who have this incredible mindset – he had to play two or three positions to try and get the team going in the game – that is something that comes from within. We need to activate that.”
Rodgers, who made two changes to the side after Wednesday’s Champions League win over Feyenoord, accepted the blame for his players’ drop-off from midweek.
“I think it is always hard after a game in the week,” he said. “The performance level was nowhere near it – I take responsibility for that because I pick the team to go out and perform.
“So the result is on me. But at a club here you need that consistency and mentality because every game there is an expectation to win. We are playing in front of a full house, and we didn’t perform, and that disappoints me.”
Asked about criticism of the board, Rodgers added: “You do your talking on the pitch and today was on myself and the players. Today was nowhere near the level of a Celtic player and that is something that falls on me. So I need to find the answers for this group and to ensure we can gain that consistency in the team.”
Rodgers was reluctant to concede that Celtic had given Rangers encouragement in the title race after two consecutive league defeats, but acknowledged his side need to step up their performances.
“There’s a long way to go,” he said. “There’s so much more to play for but certainly what we have seen in the last week. We need to bring our game to a completely different level.”
Celtic’s next Scottish Premiership match is at home to Livingston on December 23, while Hearts host St Mirren on the same day.
Both matches kick off at 3pm.