Andrew Smith's Celtic verdict: The bough must surely break for Neil Lennon - this cannot go on
Celtic, and Neil Lennon, cannot go on like this. It has been said before during this cataclysmic season, many times, but Wednesday night’s draw at Livingston must surely mean the bough will break. It almost feels inhumane for the Celtic board to allow Lennon to continue to be put through such agonies.
On the back of his verbally-taking-bodies, defiant-over-Dubai rant of a press conference, the Celtic manager couldn’t afford his side not to take full points from the Tony Macaroni Stadium. But, for a fourth consecutive game, that is exactly what they did. In typically ignominious fashion. And in a season when the ignominies have cascaded down, the latest is that the club are now on their longest league run without a victory since 2000. The only ten-in-a-row they might achieve from this game is ten Premiership games in which they have come up short.
The tin lid on an abject evening in the snow proved a 83rd-minute red card for Scott Brown for an elbow on Jaze Kabia, which came only five minutes after the captain had been brought on.
It followed Celtic squandering a half-time lead – hard earned after going a goal down – and a raft of early second half chances as it looked as if there would be only one winner.
Yet, a result that leaves them 20 points behind Rangers with now only two games in hand, they were condemned to by the standard failings.
There was much intrigue as to how Lennon would configure his side with all but the club’s unnamed player who had followed Christopher Jullien in testing positive for Covid-19 subsequent to the chaos-creating Dubai trip that forced the Irishman, his assistant John Kennedy and 13 players to isolate for ten days.
All the club’s mainstays returned to a much-changed side, except for Odsonne Edouard. His absence meant Mohamed Elyounoussi partnered Leigh Griffiths.
If that was unusual, Celtic’s mode of suffering an on-field setback was not. Livingston manager David Martindale had indicated exactly where his priorities lay in resting seven players from the weekend draw at Celtic Park ahead of Sunday’s League Cup semi-final. Yet, still Celtic allowed them to prosper in a very Livi fashion with a free-kick hoisted from deep seeing Ciaron Brown slip the attentions of Kristoffer Ajer to launch a header past Vasilis Barkas.
Yet, it was then the first half deviated from the sort Celtic have endured too often in this troubled season. For a start they did not start to feel sorry for themselves. For another, they bagged two goals from set-pieces situations.
Celtic were robbed of six attackers by the Covid contacts and the importance of such players was demonstrated when Elyounoussi produced a glorious side-foot volley from a crisp Leigh Griffiths corner for a 29th minute equaliser.
They then took a 38th-minute lead when a move that followed a David Turnbull corner being cleared led to Callum McGregor sliding in Nir Bitton – in a marginally offside position – to tuck away his first goal for the club in four years.
Livingston’s 58th minute equaliser, out of nowhere, came when Brown was not closed down by Ryan Christie in the right channel. He was able to fire in a low cross that was met by Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, who steamed in to get ahead of Greg Taylor and knock in from six yards as Celtic’s whiteout of a season went on.
Livingston: Kelly; Fitzwater, Guthrie, Brown; McMillan (Robinson 76), Lawson, Pittman, Serrano; Emmanuel-Thomas (Devlin 66), Forrest (Kabia 58); Hamilton (Reilly 58).
Celtic: Barkas; Ajer (Frimpong 79), Bitton, Duffy, Taylor; Soro (Brown 79); Christie, Turnbull (Johnston 82), McGregor; Griffiths (Klimala 70), Elyounoussi.