A first nine-in-a-row this season by Celtic might not serve as any portent concerning their grand ambition for the campaign. Yet, in racking up their ninth straight win across all competitions to maintain their grip on pole position in the Premiership table, their play was once again dolled up to the nines in spells.
Never more so than in the contributions from jack-in-a-box performer Jeremie Frimpong. It might seem bizarre to alight on the contribution of a right-back on an afternoon that brought an opener from Odsonne Edouard, a double from the redoubtable James Forrest, another goal from Scott Brown and a late, warmly-greeted cameo from a sprightly Leigh Griffiths.
But the Dutch 18-year-old is the sort who has the capacity to captivate like a double-jointed acrobat. Maurading down the right with a maziness that had the crowd whooping with delight.
“Frimpong is amazing,” said the Celtic manager of a player who cost an initial £350,000 from Manchester City in a deal that could rise to £1 million. “That performance, in isolation, is one of the best I’ve seen from a right-back at Celtic. It had everything, pace, power, assists, shots on goal, recovery runs, defending. For a kid at 18 to come into a daunting environment like this – he’s handled it brilliantly. He’s made us a better team, there’s no question about that.”
Asked who deserved the credit for unearthing the player, Lennon grinned: “Well, I don’t want to brag about it… No, myself and Damien [Duff, Celtic’s first-team coach] watched him in a development game here and then John [Kennedy, assistant manager] had a look. We thought he was a very talented boy. Nick [Hammond, head of recruitment] did a bit of groundwork on him and we were delighted to get it done. We thought he’d be a good emerging talent, a development player. But meteorically, he’s come through. It’s all down to him, no-one else. It was a team effort getting him, but his performances are down to him.
“People think he struggles with height but he deals with it with great upper body strength. He can’t have any ligaments in his legs because when he goes down he just jumps straight back up again. He’s amazing with the ball and a real find. He’s contributing immensely right now and it’s his place to lose. When you look at the games where Jeremie and Tom Rogic has played, the volume of goals has been unbelievable.”
The volume could have been doubled easily yesterday. Livingston dug in, but found themselves in a hole when Ricki Lamie made a hash of cutting out a curling crossfield pass and Edouard inflicted full punishment in sauntering through on goal and chipping over Matija Sarkic for a 19th minute opener.
Gary Holt’s men benefitted from Celtic passing up some gilt-edged first-half opportunities, but had their goose cooked 57 minutes in when Brown hit an effort that was going wide but diverted off the knee of Jon Guthrie to wrong-foot Sarkic. The visiting keeper was then let down by his defenders seven minutes later when he blocked a crashing driven Frimpong effort with his face only for the ball to loop way up in the air and Forrest to show technique – and expose defensive doziness – to meet it on the volley and put it away as would a tennis player with an overhead smash. The winger took his tally for the season to 13 in added time when, played in by Ryan Christie, he shaped to hit the ball to his left before jabbing it into opposite corner.
It was Frimpong who stole the show, though. And the youngster, who said he had been given early advice by Celtic coach and all-time great right back Danny McGrain, paid tribute to his club captain for his ability to make such a seamless transition to life at Celtic.
“When I get on the pitch I just do what I do best – just go and attack and help the team out as much as I can too defensively,” said the player, whose conversion from winger to full-back at 15 came, he said, because “I couldn’t finish”.
Frimpong continued: “I am just going to keep working harder and harder and hopefully the manager will keep putting me in. When you want to play at the top you can’t be shy, you just have to go and play. I have been ready for this all my life so it is good. Everyone has been helping me but Scott Brown in particular has been helping me a lot. He says just do what you do because no-one can live with you, just go and show the fans what you can do.”
No team seems capable of living with Celtic at the minute, never mind Frimpong.