Neil Lennon has stressed there is no panic after Celtic fell to their first domestic defeat of the season against Livingston and in doing so surrendered the Premiership leadership to Rangers.
The Celtic manager picked a strong side to face the West Lothian club and made only one change from the team that defeated Cluj in the Europa League last midweek.
But Lennon’s hopes were dashed by a straight red card to Scotland midfielder Ryan Christie after just 25 minutes following a dangerous challenge on Scott Robinson.
Robinson recovered after treatment and scored the first goal shortly after half-time. Lyndon Dykes added a second after 74 minutes as Celtic struggled to muster any kind of response. It is the first time they have failed to score a goal in 20 matches so far this season. Rangers, meanwhile, struck five times against Hamilton Accies at Ibrox to leapfrog Celtic at the top of the Premiership.
“You can’t panic but I am expecting better,” said Lennon, pictured. “I did tell them before the game that the fixture was a concern. It’s a dangerous opponent in a dangerous environment. I knew Livi would be up for it and they were. We needed to match that.”
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard recently accused Livingston of playing close to the line of what is acceptable – and in some cases over-stepping it. Ibrox midfielder Joe Aribo received 20 stitches to a head gash sustained in a clash with Livingston’s Ricki Lamie in Rangers’ Betfred Cup win last month.
Lennon, to his credit, focused only on Livingston’s divisive synthetic pitch rather than their robust approach in his pre-match press conference and, as it turned out, Celtic were the ones who paid the cost for an over-the-top challenge. Lennon had no complaints about the red card shown to Christie, pictured, by referee Willie Collum after 25 minutes. “I have no issue with the red card,” he said. “It’s totally unlike him but he was late. It may look worse than it was in slow-motion but yeah, it’s a red card. I’m not happy about it and it cost us, but it’s not like Ryan.”
The Celtic manager agreed tiredness may have played a part following Thursday’s impressive win over Cluj. Moritz Bauer, who came in for Hatem Elhamed at right-back, was the only change from that night.
“It’s possibly down to fatigue,” said Lennon. “They are human beings and they put a lot into the game on Thursday. Then you need to play a long time with ten men, so that could have been a factor.
“I hoped the subs would help us but they didn’t really impact the game as we would have liked. I didn’t reallythink about making more changes. We put a strong team out. We were comfortable early on in a difficult environment without really testing their goal. I felt we were in control until the red card.”
It was the first time Lennon had
suffered defeat by a domestic rival other than Rangers since returning to Celtic after Brendan Rodgers’ departure in February. His concerns about facing such an awkward side as Livingston, voiced in a pre-match press conference on Friday, were borne out in a way he had not wanted as Celtic slipped two points behind Rangers.