Celtic debrief: Green Brigade fireworks, Kyogo Furuhashi solace, likely Rangers starting XI emerges

Livingston left to rue terrible start to second half as champions prevail

Celtic’s last match before Christmas was all about returns: the Green Brigade ending its 13-match absence, Daizen Maeda’s first start in since the start of November, Kyogo Furuhashi finding his shooting boots after seven barren outings and three precious points in the title race.

Stung after losing back-to-back Premiership matches and reigniting the title race with Rangers, the league leaders were presented with the perfect present in Livingston, a club that has never won in the east end of Glasgow, currently sitting bottom of the league and having scored just one goal in their past eight matches. This was gift-wrapped for the champions to get back on the horse and they did so with a perfunctory 2-0 victory.

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Not that it was entirely straightforward at the beginning. Manager Brendan Rodgers and the supporters watched on with vexed expressions in the first half as Celtic toiled to break down a stubborn wall of black. Livingston defended with the tenacity of lions and restricted Celtic to few chances of note. But they will lament the most awful of starts to the second half, conceding one minute in as Furuhashi broke the deadlock. A second goal from Liam Scales following not long after and the outcome was in no doubt thereafter.

Kyogo Furuhashi ended his eight-game scoring drought with the opening goal.Kyogo Furuhashi ended his eight-game scoring drought with the opening goal.
Kyogo Furuhashi ended his eight-game scoring drought with the opening goal.

Losing 2-0 to Hearts at home last weekend, on the back of a 2-1 collapse at Kilmarnock, had set alarm bells ringing within the support. Winning against Livi was an absolute necessity, substance over style required. Tougher festive tests await against Dundee on Boxing Day at Dens Park before Rangers visit Celtic Park next Saturday. A restoration of confidence levels is almost as vital as the result.

Rodgers is fully aware of the rancour the recent defeats have caused, coupled with Rangers – who are five points behind in second place and play Motherwell on Christmas Eve – resurgent and winners of the Viaplay Cup. The Celtic manager picked his strongest team for this match, with Maeda making a timely first start since injuring his knee against Atletico Madrid back in the Spanish capital. Celtic are a far better team for his energy, pace and directness. Furuhashi, on an eight-game barren streak, looked more comfortable with his compatriot helping him in attack. Paulo Bernardo was brought in to midfield ahead of David Turnbull and gave the team tempo. It would not be a surprise to see Rodgers deploy this XI in the derby.

Celtic Park has been a quieter place since the Green Brigade were banished from the usual posting in the North Curve. With their ban over, they made quite the din. Pre-match, they marched to Celtic Park with pyro and set off fireworks upon their arrival at the stadium a good hour before kick-off. A banner thanking fellow ultra group The Bhoys for their support during the suspension was also unfurled. The usual ditties were sung. It was a gentle re-introduction ahead of Rangers’ visit.

“Stand up for the champions,” rang around the whole arena in the opening stages as the Celtic fans tried to will their team to an early goal. Wave after wave of Celtic attack crashed against Livingston in the opening ten minutes but their back five held firm, largely thanks to James Penrice denying a Furuhashi effort on the goalline. The early siege came to nothing.

The Green Brigade were back after a 13-game absence.The Green Brigade were back after a 13-game absence.
The Green Brigade were back after a 13-game absence.

Livi manager David Martindale decided to change his goalkeeper, bringing in Jack Hamilton for Shamal George. The former Dundee and Hearts stopper had a nervy moment when spilling Luis Palma’s free-kick into the path of Matt O’Riley, but Scott Pittman came to his rescue. Then Tom Parkes scrambled the ball away after a fine Greg Taylor cross whistled across the goalmouth. Maeda was waiting to pounce.

This was all after 21 minutes but for the rest of the first half, Celtic were largely toothless. Livi carried no threat whatsoever in an attacking sense but they became increasingly comfortable in their surroundings. However, a big blow was dealt when the impressive Parkes blocked a howitzer from Cameron Carter-Vickers that required him to be replaced by Michael Nottingham. They never looked quite the same without him.

Martindale will no doubt have praised his players for their first-half endeavours, which is why the beginning of the second period will cause him great consternation. Most wide defenders should know by now that Palma likes to cut in from the left on to his right foot but he was too easily allowed to do so by Jamie Brandon and Nottingham less than a minute into the restart, allowing the Honduran to put in a havoc-wreaking cross-shot into the box. Furuhashi was quickest to react and stabbed home from close range and Celtic Park heaved a sigh of relief.

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Five minutes later, Celtic tied a bow on this. The goal was simple: Palma whipped an inswinging corner and Scales leapt highest to glance the ball into the far corner. Given the last time Livingston scored two goals was in August, Celtic fans could rest easy. A 2-0 defeat can perhaps be claimed as some sort of victory for Livingston, given their already fragile morale did not take a proper battering. Their next two matches against St Johnstone and Motherwell are far more likely to define their season.

The remainder of the match was played at a pedestrian pace. A decent chunk of home fans left early, perhaps to complete their Christmas shopping or escape the incessant rain. Unlike last weekend, there were no boos, no frothing fans fuming at the board, just applause, muted but still, a far happier camp than seven days ago. When they return to their paradise in seven days time, it is likely to be far less straightforward.



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