On-fire Celtic are expected to turn up in Livingston tomorrow and claim all three points. John Hartson knows that is a reasonable assumption but he insists no one at the West Lothian club will be conceding defeat easily.
“Celtic are on a great run but Livingston have already beaten Rangers at home, they’ll be buoyed by that and feel they can beat Celtic, they’ll go in with nothing to lose,” said the former Celtic striker, who did some coaching at Livingston last term and knows the players and their attributes. “They’re a tough team to beat, very well-organised.
“They’ve had a bit of a blip recently and lost a couple but they’ll feel they can go toe-to-toe with Celtic. They’ll have a big crowd in and feel they’ve got nothing to lose. Everybody expects Celtic to go there and win, it would be a huge upset if Livingston win the game but they’ve proved that they can take on the big boys already this season and they’ll fancy it, they really will.”
Two defeats in their last couple of league matches have resulted in Gary Holt’s Premiership newcomers slipping down the standings but, with a game in hand on some of the teams above them, they have a points tally more in keeping with the top half of the table than the bottom.
“If I’m honest, they were big favourites to get relegated, they’d had two promotions under David Hopkin,” said Hartson. “Am I surprised [at how well they are doing]? Slightly. The big one there for me is Davey Martindale, he does a lot behind the scenes, he’s fantastic with the players. He runs the whole show up there and he’s a very good coach.
“The key for Livingston is the three centre-halves. If I’d taken the job I’d have gone in and said ‘look, I want you three to run this dressing room’. They’re men and they’re strong, they have a competition of who can score the most goals, they’re great at set-pieces, for and against. Declan Gallagher and Alan Lithgow are two boys David Hopkin brought in and gave big opportunities, and the boy Craig Halkett. The three at the back are monsters, they keep the ball out of their own net and attack the ball – Lithgow got eight goals last season, Halkett the same. They’re good lads to have around the football club”.
Hartson is also a big fan of Ryan Hardie – in his second loan spell from Rangers – and Lee Miller, who he says elevated the club to another level.
“I was there nine or ten months, sometimes twice a week, Davey would give me a bag of balls, I’d take the strikers and goalkeepers and give them a few tips, little musings of my experience,” added Hartson.
“We couldn’t believe Falkirk let Lee go, he’s great in the dressing room and a brilliant professional and Ryan Hardie I pulled to one side and said, ‘you should be in the Rangers first team, you shouldn’t be here.’”
But as dogged as Livingston are, Hartson says it will be tough to corral a Celtic team who are finally hitting their stride domestically, especially on the back of a morale-boosting win over Leipzig in the Europa League on Thursday.
“Celtic playing the way they are, scoring goals and keeping clean sheets, I felt the two Hearts games put down a big marker. But I know Brendan will have a lot of respect for Livingston because of what they’ve done and where they’ve come from. He will leave no stone unturned in terms of his preparation.”