Celtic may have stretched their Premiership lead to a surely unassailable 13 points but that should not take away from a Livingston display that stretched them to breaking point.
In the final analysis, the injury-time equaliser from Tom Rogic that – coupled with Hamilton’s win at Ibrox – gives the champions a planet-sized cushion in their march to a ninth straight title meant honours even in all respects at the Tony Macaroni stadium.
Celtic’s unwillingness to give up a five-month unbeaten run away from home in domestic competition deserved the reward that came from Odsonne Edouard gliding down the left channel to square for the Australian attacker to sweep in with the help of a deflection. Yet, Gary Holt’s men deserved tangible reward from an engrossing encounter for their tenacity in repelling a late siege, never mind for the fact they held the lead for an entire 45 minutes after recovering from the loss of an early Callum McGregor goal. They mistakes they forced through their sheer force of will to strike back through Jon Guthrie and Scott Robinson might easily have brought up a winning double over a team that had won 19 of their previous 20 league games.
The Livingston display meant the level of apprehension Celtic held going into the game was well founded - even allowing for the fact that they were seeking a 15th straight away victory in all domestic competitions. It could be no other way when memories of the last time they failed to win on the road in Scotland were stirred by their return to the scene of that defeat.
The genuine challenge Gary Holt’s men are mounting for one of the European places has shown that their 2-0 win over Celtic in October was simply in keeping with the discomfort they are capable of inflicting on any opponents on their artificial surface.
Livingston were seeking an eighth straight home win in a nine-game unbeaten run within their own environs, while Celtic – as Lennon acknowledged pre-match – had not scored in either of their visits to the ground since the hosts regained top-flight status.
Celtic exhibited a drive and aggression early on and, for all that the plastic pitch in West Lothian can engender football that can appear as synthetic as its materials, the visitors worked the ball around to tease openings with impressive intent in those opening stages. Yet, Livingston are not shaken off easily and after slowly working their way into the encounter, it was the home side that drew the first save of the evening, with Fraser Forster forced to push a Guthrie skimmer round the post.
It was to prove the precursor, though, to home keeper Robby McCrorie, on loan from Rangers, having an inauspicious role in Celtic’s 16th-minute opener. McGregor certainly got whip and curl on an knuckle-ball hit from the edge of the box after he shifted neatly from left to right, but it was strange to see McCrorie flummoxed by a shot that crossed the line in a middling area.
Yet, whatever the Livingston keeper’s shortcomings on that occasion, they were knocked into a cocked hat by the blunder from his opposite number Forster that gifted the home side an equaliser eight minutes later.
The long throw in the hands of Livingston is a formidable weapon, and one that Celtic became increasingly troubled by last night. That doesn’t explain how the on-loan Southampton keeper simply dropped the ball that he came to claim after it was hoisted in by Ciaron Brown. It didn’t tell the whole story of the goal that ensued, though, with Guthrie alert and accurate to hook in with his back to goal.
As Livingston forced Celtic into an arm wrestle that made the confrontation swing back and forth, Lennon’s men sought to step it up, and Edouard smacked the inside of the post appraoching an interval of an enthralling tussle.
It became all the more so when 50 seconds into the second period, the home team induced Celtic into further defensive calamity. It is easy to merely focus on Livingston’s drive and desire when assessing their remarkable competitiveness, but they took the lead last night through speed of thought and movement as well as muscle. Jullien may have sold himself and fell to the ground to allow Dykes to speed away from him after latching on to a ball thumped down the left but his cut-back was pristine and so was the finish from Scott Robinson that followed. Incredibly, it was only the player’s second goal of the season after his first came in the early season victory over Celtic.
Lennon’s men may have made the running thereafter, but the two teams traded chances. An erratic clearance from Jullien led to Dyke’s curling just over seconds before defending of the first order resulted in Edouard, through on goal, being denied by a superb last-ditch tackle from Guthrie. That Livingston could not hold out - despite the excellence of Guthrie and former Celtic defender Efe Ambrose on his home debut- should not detract from a herculean effort from the home side.