Having thrown away the 2004-05 Scottish title in the final two minutes against Motherwell on the last day of the season, Martin O'Neill's reign at Celtic ended on a high with victory in the Scottish Cup. However his successor, Gordon Strachan, could not have asked for a worse start to his tenure at Parkhead as his side faced Slovakian champions Artmedia Bratislava on July 27, 2005 in the Second Round of Champions League qualifying.
After a 16-month break from football, Gordon Strachan's arrival at Celtic to replace Martin O'Neill was somewhat muted. The Daily Record's Colin Duncan noted that the former Southampton manager ''cheerily slipped almost unnoticed back into Scotland'' but then the Hoops fans were still celebrating their cup win four days earlier.
After five glorious years at Parkhead, winning three SPL titles and three Scottish Cups, O'Neill had become a fans' favourite before he chose to quit the game to care for his sick wife. The Irishman was a tough act to follow, but Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, had been left in no doubt over who should replace him, saying: "When Martin confirmed finally his decision, Gordon became the unanimous choice of the board. When we met, his knowledge of the game, his coaching expertise, his enthusiasm and desire to win were the clinchers."
Before the football had even begun, though, Strachan found his man-management skills tested as he was thrown into the middle of a bitter war of words between the club and fans' favourite Jackie McNamara. The former Hoops' captain had chosen to leave soon after Strachan's arrival to join English Championship side Wolves, and had reacted badly to suggestions that money was at the heart of his decision.
"My reputation is being damaged in the eyes of the Celtic supporters and I'm not having that," McNamara fumed to the Daily Record. "I told Gordon I was not going to be accused of being a money-grabbing mercenary who had moved the goalposts during contract talks when my move to Wolves has got nothing to do with hard cash. I'm going to Molineux for the same money I got in my last season at Celtic. I am very angry over the way I've been treated because I feel my name has been dragged through the mud to spare Celtic's blushes."
With Celtic fans unhappy at the treatment of a man who had given a decade of service to the club, Strachan's task of winning over the fans was made harder by something that O'Neill had alluded to when he told them to get ready for life "in the slow lane" back in 2003: the fact that that Celtic would never progress far without significant backing in the transfer market.
Moves to persuade giant defender Bobo Balde to stay at the club proved successful, but the loss of (among others) Rab Dougles, Chris Sutton, Paul Lambert and the influential McNamara on free transfers had Strachan struggling against the tide. He brought in the little known trio of Shunsuke Nakamura, Artur Boruc and Maciej Zurawski, but despite an outlay of over £6 million they were hardly the kind of big names that were going to endear him straight away.
In fact, Strachan had little time to build his squad before the first game of the season was upon him. Celtic's failure to defend their league title had seen them drop into the qualifiers for the Champions League and, at the end of July, they were preparing to face Slovakian champions Artmedia Bratislava (since re-named to FC Petrzalka 1898).
Under current Slovakian coach Vladimir Weiss Snr, Artmedia had demonstrated their fighting spirit to overcome a 2-0 deficit against Kazakhstan side FC Kairat in the First Round with an aggregate score of 4-3 but few thought they would cause the Scottish side many problems.
Bratislava's Tehelne Polie stadium played host to the first-leg, as Artmedia's own 10,000 seater - the Stadion Rapid - was not deemed fit to hold UEFA competitions, but the handful of Hoops supporters who had made the trip were soon wishing they were somewhere else. With striker Chris Sutton stretchered off with a suspected fractured cheekbone after an accidental collision with skipper Neil Lennon, Celtic failed to get a hold on the game and it was no surprise when Blazej Vascak unselfishly squared the ball to Juraj Halenar to slot home the opener just before the break.
Celtic's Slovakian defender Stanislav Varga could have been forgiven for holding back on his fellow countrymen, but Strachan's fiery half-time team talk appeared not to make a difference as Halenar returned the favour for Vascak to double the lead in the 57th minute. Ten minutes later, Aiden McGeady, who had replaced the injured Sutton, missed an open goal to the groans of the Celtic fans in the stands and Halenar's thunderous long-range volley beat goalkeeper David Marshall to end the Hoops' hopes of revival.
Starting a heavy defeat in the face, Strachan's wild gesticulations on the touchline failed to galvanise his downhearted players and Martin Mikulic fired a late fourth before Halenar completed a last-minute hat-trick to hand Celtic their worst result in 42 years.
"I have been manager for eight years and a player for 25 years and this is out-and-out the worst football night I have ever had," Strachan told the Guardian after the game. "Disappointment would be way down my list of adjectives.
"Next week and other things are not my worries at the moment. You are talking about 33 years in football and the backroom staff and players. That's a lot of years but this is new to me and I don't know what to say after a result like that. I am in shock and it's very hard to be coherent and talk about my future and what will happen after this result. But I am not thinking about the next game just now."
Adding later that it was ''difficult to look anyone in the eye,'' Strachan also revealed that his watch had stopped working at full-time; a lasting reminder of the pain inflicted. The headlines the following day were not kind but, after what is arguably the worst managerial debut in Scottish history, Strachan's good times were only just around the corner.
What happened next? In an incredible second leg back at Parkhead, Celtic won 4-0 thanks to goals from Alan Thompson, John Hartson, Stephen McManus and Craig Beattie but ran out of time before they could get the all-important fifth. Instead, Artmedia went on to become one of the first two clubs ever to advance from the first qualifying round into the Champions League group stage, finishing third in the group after beating FC Porto 3-2 in Portugal.
Another shock defeat in January to First Division side Clyde in the Scottish Cup saw Strachan in the spotlight once more, but he proved his critics wrong by ultimately leading Celtic to the SPL title with six matches remaining and bringing home the League Cup trophy as well. On a personal level, the end of his first season also saw Strachan named 'Manager of the Year' by the Scottish Football Writers' Association, although it was never enough to truly win the hearts of the Celtic fans.