Fireworks on and off pitch as silky Celtic send message to Rangers with six of the best

Fireworks off the pitch, and fireworks on it. Celtic put in one of their best performances of the season against Livingston to get them in the best possible shape for next weekend’s Scottish Cup clash with Rangers.

James Forrest celebrates opening the scoring for Celtic against Livingston.

The match started with a one-minute silence for Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh that was cut short by some loud pyrotechnics outside Celtic Park. Inside the ground, Celtic sparkled with some illuminating football. They sent Livingston a 6-0 rocket but had the scoreline been higher, nobody would have complained.

Some will say that this Premiership display was too little, too late given that Rangers already have the title in their hands. They would be right. But with the Scottish Cup Celtic’s last chance of making sure they have silverware to mark this so-far troubled season, it is imperative that they head to Ibrox for the fourth-round tie in the best possible shape. They are not far away from that.

Celtic: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

Celtic: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

The only negative for interim manager John Kennedy was an injury to James Forrest. Celtic are a different team with the talismanic 29-year-old. Playing on the right of a diamond, his surging runs and intelligence in linking up with those around him invigorates them. He opened the scoring and caused a fair amount of carnage, only to be quickly subbed on 59 minutes with a worrying-looking injury. This was his first league start in six months, and any spell on the sidelines would be savage blow to player, club and country.

Kennedy’s starting XI looked, on paper, his strongest. He made four changes to their starting XI. In came Greg Taylor, Callum McGregor, Mohamed Elyounoussi and Odsonne Edouard, with Diego Laxalt, Tom Rogic, Ryan Christie and Leigh Griffiths dropping out from the team that defeated Falkirk 3-0 on Scottish Cup duty.

The system is a 4-1-2-1-2 that can morph into a 4-2-3-1, with Scott Brown anchoring the midfield and allowing McGregor and David Turnbull to get forward and support the attack. While not completely in his pomp, Edouard was a right handful for Livingston’s centre-backs Jack Fitzwater and Jon Guthrie. His strike partner Elyounoussi once again impressed with two goals – it could easily have been more – and this display lends weight to the on-loan Southampton attacker being kept on for another season.

Celtic’s problem since Kennedy was handed control was not creating chances but converting them. Not here. The finishing was pretty clinical, and the fluidity of their attack will give Rangers food for thought. This was the first time Celtic has racked up a two-goal advantage by half time since last December.

And what of Livingston? It feels like their season is petering out, with a top-four place now a very forlorn hope. That defeat to St Johnstone in the Betfred Cup final has knocked some of the stuffing out of them. The only positive they could take from a wretched afternoon was the late introduction of Alan Lithgow, his first game since December 2019 due to a serious hip injury.

How the match unfolded

With both teams keen to attack, the opening stages were open. Livingston had not come to Glasgow to sit in and with the pacey Alan Forrest supporting Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, they carried a threat without ever engineering a tangible chance.

Celtic were much more incisive, with the creativity and movement of Turnbull, Edouard, Elyounoussi, McGregor and James Forrest causing problems.

James Forrest did have the ball in the net after 20 minutes, but the offside flag was raised well before it found the net. He didn’t have to wait long, however.

The opening goal, right on the half-hour mark, was a masterclass in quick passing. Turnbull fired the ball into Edouard on the edge of the Livingston penalty box, the Frenchman clipped it into space for Forrest to run on to and as goalkeeper Robby McCrorie advanced, Forrest rolled it past him.

Imbued by the confidence of that strike, Celtic went in search of a second and duly got it eight minutes later. Greg Taylor and Elyounoussi powered down the left flank and the Norwegian’s cross, via a deflection, found Turnbull in the box and the midfielder had the simple task of kneeing home into an empty net.

Livingston looked well and truly on the ropes at this point, although just before the interval Alan Forrest was set free, but with the angle tight, his shot battered into the legs of a well-placed Scott Bain in the Celtic goal.

Livingston made a double substitution at half time as Josh Mullin and Matej Poplatnik but it did absolutely nothing to change the flow of this match.

McCrorie made two fine stops within minutes to deny Elyounoussi but, from a corner that came from the second of his blocks, the ball evaded him as his own defender, Jack Fitzwater, netted past him.

The next goal, on 54 minutes, was much prettier as Elyounoussi curled a shot from outside the box into the far corner. At this stage, you really feared for a punch-drunk Livingston.

Celtic’s fifth goal was crafted in Norway. Kris Ajer went on a bit of a mazy, slaloming past tired Livingston legs, and he found Elyounoussi in plenty of space. His deft little dink found the bottom corner. He was replaced, denying him a shot at the match-ball but keeping him fresh for harder challenges ahead.

That wasn’t the end of the scoring, however. Efe Ambrose, back at his old stomping ground, perplexingly passed the ball straight to Ryan Christie and he made no mistake for 6-0

Fist clenched at the full-time whistle, Kennedy – still unbeaten in his caretaker role – can look forward to next weekend with some optimism.

Celtic: Bain; Kenny, Welsh, Ajer, Taylor; Brown (Soro 75), McGregor; J Forrest (Christie 59), Turnbull (Rogic 68), Elyounoussi (Griffiths 75); Edouard (Ajeti 68).

Livingston: McCrorie; Devlin, Guthrie, Fitzwater, Longridge; A Forrest (Ambrose 67), Bartley (Diani 67), Sibbald (Mullin 46), Holt; Pittman; Emmanuel-Thomas (Poplatnik 46).