Sunday, 26th March 2006: Ne-Yo’s ‘So Sick’ sits at the top of the UK hit parade, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey star in timeless classic: ‘Failure to Launch’ and it was the last time Celtic recorded a league victory over Livingston in Livingston. Granted, Livi hadn’t been in the top flight for the majority of the intervening years, but still.
As a result of this unwanted record and having already lost 1-0 here earlier in the season, this fixture had been built up, in some cases, as a make or break game to see if Ange Postecoglou’s side had the minerals to go all the way in the title race.
Thankfully, this noise seemed to be coming from outside Lennoxtown and Ange’s men put on their best display in weeks to dispatch David Martindale’s gang 3-1 and stay top of the league.
Ange’s pre-match comments where he praised Daizen Maeda and James Forrest hinted at what was to come from his team selection. Anthony Ralston, Nir Bitton and Forrest came in for Josip Juranovic, Reo Hatate and Liel Abada. This selection was widely questioned online before kick-off, with fans calling for the inclusion of Giorgos Giakoumakis to combat Livingston’s physicality.
Celtic played to the conditions and their passing and direction of attack had a clear pattern of play in the first half to create overloads in the wide areas. Maeda’s constant movement and work rate caused Livingston’s centre-backs all sorts of problems, dragging them out of position and forcing them and the keeper in to rushed clearances.
Despite a positive start from the hoops, it was Livingston who had the best chance of the opening exchanges with Joe Hart making a brilliant save from an Ayo Obileye volley.
Celtic stuck to their plan and soon had the chance to go ahead as referee, Nick Walsh, awarded a penalty for a handball by Jack Fitzwater. This chance was squandered.
Regular penalty taker, Juranovic, was on the bench so up stepped the captain, Callum McGregor, who fired low against the outside of the post.
This disappointment was fleeting and the league leaders took the lead two minutes later thanks to Maeda, who nodded home after Carl Starfelt saw his header from a corner saved. This was Celtic’s first goal against Livingston this season.
Although Celtic dominated the half, they could have gone in level at the break after Obileye saw his header crash off the bar in the last meaningful action of the half.
This scare just before the interval reminded the visitors that a game is never safe at 1-0 and the team came out all guns blazing for the second 45 and doubled their lead almost immediately after Nicky Devlin turned a Ralston cross into his own net.
The goal of the game was scored by James Forrest who finished a great move as all of ‘Angeball’ was on display with the team hunting in packs to regain possession followed by two quick forward passes between the lines saw Jota release Forrest who finished superbly low across the keeper and secure the points.
Livingston did, however, grab a consolation goal with Andrew Shinnie reacting quickest to a lose ball in the box to stab home under Joe Hart.
This made it 29 domestic games unbeaten for Celtic. Top of the League, one of the trickier away venues ticked off and eight league games to go it’s all to play for and confidence should be sky high from everyone involved with the club.
Ange was clearly delighted to get the three points: “I think our performance was excellent. We started the game very well, played at a high tempo and put them under a lot of pressure when they had the ball and created a lot of chances and scored good goals.
“We’ve got to keep getting stronger and I think we are. We’re in a good space to keep getting stronger to the end.”
The Celtic Exchange Man of the Match: James Forrest
A constant threat down the right; Forrest was involved in everything good Celtic tried to do.
He used all his experience to get Celtic up the park with his close control and link-up play vital on the artificial surface. It was great to see the winger back among the goals and this will hopefully see him kick on as we approach the business end of the season.
Celtic’s next match
Celtic take a break from league action and travel to Tannadice for a rare Monday night game as they face Dundee United for a place in the Scottish Cup semi-final.
A free midweek will give Ange and his staff more time to work with the players on the training ground while also providing some a much needed break from games in what has been a busy schedule since the winter break.