Celtic produced the football equivalent of waterboarding against Livingston
For their living-room watching supporters, there is only one way to sum up Celtic’s performance in the scoreless draw at home to Livingston.
It was torturous, it was the football equivalent of waterboarding. For the Parkhead men, this season has had more nadirs than Donald Trump’s presidency. Even so, aspects of the display at home to, admittedly, an opponent boasting the longest domestic winning run in the Scottish game were as impoverished as anything they have served up in the past six months. It hardly matters they are now 20 points behind Rangers with two games in hand, and that the Ibrox men will further stretch the yawning chasm between them and their supposed title rivals should they register a 16th league straight win in their Sunday Motherwell assignment.
A third straight Premiership encounter without a victory – supplying them only two points from a possible nine – means even restricting Steven Gerrard’s men to a single-digit title success now seems an unattainable outcome from this atrocious league campaign for Celtic. It is one from which they only 10-in-a-row could yet be 10 straight desperate displays.
Of course, Celtic will put their bereft nature, which against David Martindale’s team resulted in them having only one effort on target, down to them being bereft of attacking options because of their Dubai disaster … as really ought to be the shorthand for their warm-weather training camp. A jaunt that forced into isolation manager Neil Lennon, John Kennedy and 13 players – most damagingly for Celtic their entire frontline possibles in strikers Odsonne Edouard, Leigh Griifths, Albian Ajeti and Patryk Klimala, and goalscorers Ryan Christie and Mohamed Elyounoussi. Yet, against a vibrant, pressing visiting side, Lennon could still select eight regulars, and six full internationals – the Irishman picking the team from home as coach Gavin Strachsn again was his physical stand-in on the sidelines.
The midfield, indeed, in featuring Callum McGregor, David Tunrbull, Ismaila Soro, was almost at full strength. Yet, they could exert no real control and fashion precious few chances for Tom Rogic, deployed as a central striker in a 4-2-3-1. The logic of utilising the Australian in such fashion was understandable, even if it meant the Lennon bashers blowing gaskets online. It is surprising they have any gaskets left to blow, it must be said. Yet, they certainly do in also blowing them over Stephen Welsh giving way to the Nir Bitton in central defence, the Israeli’s costly and needles red card in the Ibrox derby not being a moment that will be forgiven readily by the club’s followers. Rogic’s role in this latest debacle will be picked over but it should be said that in the draw with Hibs, 19-year-old Camerson Harper was lightweight and ineffectual. The experienced playmaker, with his sublime technical ability, might have been expected to be able to hold the ball up and bring midfielders into play. He singularly failed to do so, though, and the close control and ability to weave past markers seem to have deserted a player that now appears alarmingly lumbering.
All of which doesn’t explain why it should have been Livingston that claimed the victory. Celtic were fortunate Efe Ambrose late on thundered a header wide when it seemed easier to score. As they were when Josh Mullin had a stinging effort that was deflected on to the bar, and the excellent Scott Robinson failed to make the most of a glaring opening.
It would be wrong to be one-eyed about the opportunities across the afternoon, mind you. In the closing minutes Armstrong Oxo-Flex – introduced for Rogic – came within a whisker of turning in a flashing cross from Anthony Ralston. The right-back one player who could be satisfied with his endeavours, despite a wild yellow card, in his first Celtic outing for a year-and-a-half. Moreover, Mikey Johnston as guilty of squandering a huge chance in the 58th minute. He painfully dallied when he should have put his foot through the ball after Jeremie Frimpong picked him out in acres of space outside the six-yard box courtesy of a superb surging run and cutback. Johnston’s overcooked and undercooked flicks and lay-offs also contributed to some woeful passing from Celtic in the first period.
Livingston were able to dictate as Celtic duffed around in excruciating fashion, and forced a series of corners in that opening period that, in the smallest of mercies for them, the home side were actually able to defend, for a change. Mind you, that might have had as much to do with Mullin seeming to hit the first man from many of those six set-pieces across the opening 45 minutes.
Scarily for Celtic, Livingston will relish the opportunity to face Celtic again on Wednesday on their own artificial source – even if Celtic will be restored to full strength for that meeting with all the isolating players returning in the next couple of days. When the Parkhead club have been untouchable champions, they have managed to struggle in Almondvale. The state they are in now, as – effectively – deposed champions and a devoid footballing force, a third draw in as many games would be a good outcome from midweek. The mighty Celtic haven’t just fallen, they have been hurled off a cliff edge with the ground not yet in sight.
Celtic 4-2-3-1: Hazard; Ralston, Duffy, Bitton; Frimpong, McGregor, Soro,Turnbull, Laxalt; Johnston (Henderson 66); Rogic (Oxo-Flex 80). Subs: Doohan, Taylor, Connell, Robertson, Harper, Welsh, Karamoko.
Livingston: Stryjek; Brown, Ambrose, Guthrie, Devlin, Bartley, Sibbald (Forrest 62), Lawson, Pittman, Mullin, Robinson (Hamilton 75). Subs: McCrorie, Fitzwater, Emmanuel-Thomas, Serrano, McMillan, Tiffoney, Taylor-Sinclair.
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