There was nothing new about the circumstances that brought a sixth away loss in seven such trips. With admirable grit and determination, David Martindale’s men suffocated their visitors after leaving them initially gasping with air courtesy of a superbly executed 25th-minute strike from Andrew Shinnie.
Celtic have now lost as many league games to teams outside of Rangers this season than they did in the entirety of their dismal last campaign. Now, as then, they are marshmallow soft, as demonstrated in the concession of a goal that came from the first chance they had to defend following an opening spell of utter dominance.
Celtic in the Postecoglou-era – admittedly as he fields an ever-changing team on the back of bringing in a whole new one new in the summer - haven’t been able to reach the Champions League, win against Rangers, or take three points from a league away game. As you were.
Shinnie’s goal, that came from a break down the left that led to Jackson Longridge flighting in a cross, was a thing of beauty. The makeshift striker held off Stephen Welsh all too easily, but then crafted the near impossible by crash unstoppable angled drive into top corner on the half-turn. Only a superb reaction stop with an outstretched hand from Joe Hart stopped Livingston going two-up and though Max Sryjek had saves from Albian Ajeti and David Turnbull in the second period, Celtic were bereft of the necessary guile and invention to open up their hosts. And their manager admitted as much in calling the front half of the team “terrible”.
The outcome will reverberate from Celtic and Postecoglou as there was a whole heap resting on it. There could be no mitigating circumstances offered up for failing to post a first away league win in seven months. It didn’t matter that Celtic hadn’t secured a victory in their previous four outings on the dreaded plastic of the West Lothian venue.
Livingston, in propping up the cinch Premiership with a mere one point from their five games, ought to have been there for the taking for Postecoglou’s side.
Yet, what Celtic’s previous five losses from their six encounters on the road has demonstrated, is that they can be got-at – by seemingly any and all opponents that face them within their own environs. There was much praise for their attacking intent in the midweek 4-3 Europea League defeat in Seville to Real Betis – much of it dished out from the Celtic manager himself. Yet overlooked in that was that the tie marked the first time Betis had scored four times in a game since December 2019 – with that quartet claimed against a team from the Spanish third division in a cup tie.
Certainly, the need to constantly reshape his line-up hasn’t helped Postecoglou develop a rhythm within all facets of his side, and there was disjointedness once more with the four changes from midweek.
The appearance of Boli Bolingoli at left-back in the absence of Greg Taylor was an unexpected call from the Australian, and a bold one. No-one expected the Belgian to be seen again in Celtic colours following his unauthorised covid-regulation breaching trip to Spain that was the initial destabilising of 10-chasing season that utterly came asunder. Football often mocks such absolutes. Bolingoli will be flogged, no doubt, after failing to show up particularly well, but the issues for Celtic over their latest shortcomings were universal – as Postecoglou seemed painfully aware afterwards.
A first start for James McCarthy was less surprising with Callum McGregor still unavailable through injury, but it proved a shock just how much the Republic of Ireland midfielder was unable to exert an influence on proceedings beyond spraying passes inaccurately. There were so many inept displays in the Celtic ranks, as Livingston centre-backs Jack Fitzwater and Ayo Obileye dealt with everything that came there with distinction and Shinnie shone for his endeavours.
As a result, the two clubs at Almondvale find themselves meeting each other travelling in different directions. Many felt that this was shaping up as a season too far for Martindale and his men, but with that first win they were able to climb from 12th to ninth, and have reaffirmed their capacity for producing results out of the ordinary.
Meanwhile, the grand talk about Celtic being a club on the way up under a new manager whose fresh impetus was supposed to make them lethal and dazzling has taken the most severe dunt. Even on the back of the Europa League loss one Celtic blogger was lauding Postecoglou for giving him his “pride” back in his team. The display served up at Livingston was the sort that caused such fans to adopt a desperate prejudice against Neil Lennon. Whatever the summer upheaval that faced Postecoglou, the season is now two months old, and yet it seems for every step forward, Celtic are capable of taking two back.
Livingston: Stryjek; Devlin, Fitzwater, Obileye, Longridge (Forrest 65), McMillan (Bailey 60): Williamson (Pittman 60), Holt, Penrice, Lewis; Shinnie. Subs: Barden, Montano, Kelly, Anderson, Bailey, Forrest.
Celtic: Hart; Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Welsh (Bitton 72), Bolingoli; Rogic (Johnston 72), McCarthy (Soro 72), Turnbull; Abada, Ajeti, Jota. Subs: Bain, Scales, Bitton, Soro, Montgomery, Ralston.