Much of the focus in the run-up to this encounter was trained on Livingston’s robust tactics, following comments from Steven Gerrard after a recent Betfred Cup tie here. The Rangers manager won’t be complaining about the Premiership’s ultimate awkward squad now.
Of course, after all the pre-match fuss about Livingston's strong-arm approach, it was Celtic whose hopes foundered after they were penalised for serious foul play. Ryan Christie is an early candidate for Scotland's player of the season but there was little honour and few mitigating factors for a studs-up challenge on his fellow No 17 Scott Robinson midway through the first-half.
It was, in that time-honoured phrase, admittedly out of character for him. Nevertheless, it was also worthy of a red card, duly whipped out by referee Willie Collum in double quick time. The only solace for Celtic is that Christie did not do himself any serious physical damage, as can happen with such out-of-control lunges. Robinson did feel the force of the impact and spent some time on the Astroturf receiving treatment.
The Livingston midfielder recovered to play a pivotal role in the game before eventually being substituted after 74 minutes, with the game having firmly lurched in his side's favour. Lyndon Dykes’ cushioned lob a minute earlier sent a minor tremor through Scottish football since it all but sealed a depleted and dejected Celtic’s fate. It also gave Livingston their first ever win over the Parkhead side. Robinson’s opening goal just two minutes into the second half was the shot of self-belief Livingston needed.
Not only is this Celtic’s first domestic defeat since 12 May, it is the first time they have failed to score a goal since that 2-0 reversal against Rangers – 22 games ago. They have not struck at this particular stadium in their last two visits and, like Rangers recently, found the going tough against a side who are arguably even better at what they do than last season.
What they do is not to everyone’s taste. This win takes Gary Holt's uncompromising side back into the top six after a worrying run of three successive league defeats. So they won’t care about the opinion of others. They never have.
Livingston took time to re-set themselves to the new task presented by the turn of events on 24 minutes. Playing against ten men is never easy, especially when the ten men of Celtic still easily eclipse the financial value of their eleven. Nothing was guaranteed by the uneven numbers.
Celtic could even count themselves fortunate not be reduced to nine men early in the second half when a Christopher Jullien elbow floored Dykes, his nemesis all afternoon. Livingston might also have lost a man following Keaghan Jacobs’ lunge on substitute Jonny Hayes in the dying moments, by which time the damage was done as far as Celtic were concerned. Jacobs received only a yellow card.
Some may argue Celtic had been brought down to Livingston’s level. They certainly had in a football sense – and that’s a compliment to the hosts. There was little in the contest when it was 11 v 11. Both teams had half-chances. Holt actually thought his side played better at this stage of the game.
The contest hinged on Christie's rash challenge, the consequences of which means Celtic are robbed of the player for at least one further match. More serious was what it meant for their prospects yesterday. Christie will long harbour regrets about contesting a 50-50 in the middle of the park with quite such recklessness.
Neil Lennon had no complaints about the red card. What he was upset about was Celtic’s response. They were too often slow to react to situations, most obviously when Livingston opened the scoring after an attack down the right. Steven Lawless’ cross found Robbie Crawford, who had time and space to slip an angled ball behind a static defence. Robinson was alive to it, his marker, Moritz Bauer, was not. The Livingston midfielder had been played well on side by Bauer and Kris Ajer, who had lost possession in midfield in the first place. He slammed a shot past Fraser Forster into the top corner.
Robinson had a chance to make it 2-0 after 64 minutes after good work from Marvin Bartley, who left Scott Brown for dead in the left-hand corner of the pitch. The Livingston skipper picked out Robinson, whose shot was saved by Forster’s outstretched leg.
Lennon, who had sent Vakoun Bayo on for James Forrest after the loss of the opening goal, made another change after 72 minutes, with Hayes on for Boli Bolingoli. Hayes had barely taken up position on the left when Livingston struck again.
Goalkeeper Matija Sarkic sent a free kick deep into Celtic territory. Dykes, whose hold-up play provided Livingston with a rewarding outlet all afternoon, ran into the space behind Jullien and hoisted a clever effort over Forster.
Dykes was guilty of wasting a similar chance in the 1-0 defeat earlier this month against Rangers, when his attempted lob landed on the roof of Allan McGregor’s goal. There was no mistake this time. Livingston, a newish club from a newish town, had finally made their mark against Celtic, nearly 25 years after their metamorphosis from Meadowbank Thistle.