At a ground that has appeared uniquely capable of giving them the fear, they were absolutely fearless. Their Almondvale bogey wasn’t just laid to rest. It was slayed. There can be no certainties about the destination of this title even with just eight games remaining when two of these encounters will pit the Glasgow challengers against one another. Yet, the driven, purposeful manner Ange Postecoglou’s men set about ending a run of five games without a win at a venue Celtic had not tasted success at since 2007 suggests they won’t be dislodged from the summit easily.
Their assignment in West Lothian appeared the ultimate test of Celtic’s title credentials. David Martindale’s team, with the opportunity to return to fourth place, have been one of the form teams in the country; never mind a club that has seemed to put the hex on the Parkhead side whenever they host them on their plastic pitch.
Yet, aside from a spell of pressure subsequent to Andrew Shinnie’s close-range finish that followed 56th minute throw-in – a quickfire response to Celtic going three-up through James Forrest – the home side could not live with the league leaders.
A first win for Postecoglou over Livingston at his third attempt didn’t just represent atonement for the 1-0 defeat in September at the same venue that has given way to a 29-game domestic unbeaten run for Celtic. It served as vindication – both for the Australian and those he entrusted to end the hoodoo. Much has rightly been made of the wholesale retooling of the Celtic squad that Postecolgou has presided over. Yet, as his team rediscovered the zest and assurance that has been in short supply since their thumpings of Rangers and Motherwell a month ago, the old guard was to the fore.
It is unusual to see a Celtic starting XI that features five players not recruited since the summer. But astutely recognising the contributions made by Nir Bitton, Tom Rogic and Forrest as substitutes in the midweek victory over St Mirren he started all three in a line-up that also boasted pre-Postecoglou Celtic performers Greg Taylor and Anthony Ralston. All delivered, as did Daizen Maeda. A player who, as with Forrest, the Australian had backed this week in the face of grumbles over their form.
Celtic’s character shone through in shaking off a penalty miss from Callum McGregor, who thumped the post in the 13th minute from a spot-kick awarded for a Jack Fitzwater handball. Within four minutes, they had the lead when a corner that shouldn’t have been given led to a Jota delivery and a Carl Starfelt glancing header that drew a smart save from Max Stryjek, only for Maeda to smash in from point-blank range.
Celtic were then in total control, though survived a scare when Ayo Obileye looped a header on to the bar just before the interval. It proved really their only one of the afternoon courtesy of them making it two 28 seconds of the restart that they made their dominance count when a Ralston cross from the right was turned into his own goal by Nicky Devlin.
The no contest moment then arrived 10 minutes later, and was of huge significance to Forrest, who latched on to a defensive splitting pass and netted from a tight angle on the left. His first league goal of the campaign, it means he is now among only a handful of players to score in 13 consecutive top flight campaigns in the Premier era.