CELTIC 2 LIVINGSTON 1
CELTIC restored their nine-point advantage at the Premiership pinnacle as they overcame a stubborn Livi side at rain-lashed Parkhead this evening.
The champions maintained their 100 per cent home league record in a lopsided occasion where they dominated for 45 minutes, but lost their way a bit in the second period.
An own goal from Ayo Obileye and Kyogo Furuhashi had the Hoops two ahead before Nicky Devlin nicked one in stoppage time before the interval.
VAR wiped out what looked like a good goal from Liel Abada in the 71st minute before the game came to a conclusion following seven minutes of stoppage time.
IN WITH A SHOUT…Anthony Ralston congratulates Kyogo Furuhashi after netting a crucial goal.
The victory and the points are welcome, of course, but there was a definite sag in momentum after the break which offered hope to the opponents. Thankfully, no damage was done, but this game should have been out of sight long before the end.
Inside the first 15 minutes with the Hoops dominating, Kyogo had the first opportunity as he swivelled in a congested penalty area, but his whiplash effort was well off target.
Then Reo Hatate whipped over a low cross from the right that flew across the face of the goal with no takers and Greg Taylor repeated the feat with a ball in from the left.
Hatate then hit the outside of the right-hand post with keeper Ivan Kononvalov scrambling across his line. Next up, Anthony Ralston fired over the bar from 25 yards as the Hoops continued to control the confrontation.
Amazingly, the breakthrough goal came in the 22nd minute from a Livi player – but, thankfully, it was in his own net.
Abada slung in another dangerous cross from the right and central defender Obileye was caught on his heels as the ball struck him and flew into the top corner of the net from six yards.
If he had missed, Kyogo was lurking behind him and ready to pounce.
NUMBER ONE…Livi defender Ayo Obileye is crestfallen at the near post after diverting in Liel Abada’s flashing right-wing cross.
NUMBER TWO…Kyogo Furuhashi races away in triumph after thumping in what proved to be the winner.
It was all one-way as the champions relentlessly bore down on Kononvalov and the Russian produced a super diving save to his right to push a 20-yard shot from Ralston round the post.
He then denied Kyogo who attempted a close-range effort and then it was Jota who saw an angled drive smuggled wide of the near post by the overworked visiting netminder.
In the 35th minute, an effort from Hatate appeared to strike Livi skipper Devlin on the arm, but, after a swift VAR check, no penalty-kick was awarded – and no-one in the ground was one bit surprised.
Colombian left-back Cristian Montana was getting involved with Abada and wasn’t too fussy how he was dealing with the threat of the Israeli flyer.
Goal No.2 just had to come and it arrived on half-time after another swift piece of interplay when Ralston picked out Abada with a searching pass and he sizzled in another inviting low ball.
Kyogo’s timing was perfect as he got in front of Obileye to first-time an unstoppable drive into the net at the near post.
Unbelievably, Livi pulled one back only moments later in their only attack of the entire half.
A simple through pass found its way through the heart of the Hoops rearguard and Devlin materialised in front of a startled Joe Hart with Greg Taylor trying desperately to cover for his awol team-mates Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt.
The opposing defender stretched to get a toe to the ball to touch it away from the helpless Hoops keeper who had hardly touched the ball in the opening 45 minutes plus three minutes stoppage-time.
As the first-half ended, the hosts had claimed 81 per cent of the possession and 16 shots at goal with nine on target. The West Lothian opposition, on the other hand, had a solitary effort – their goal!
Stephane Omeonga became the first booking of the evening for referee Euan Anderson after a wayward challenge on Jota.
Ralston, who had taken a couple of knocks in the first-half, finally gave up 11 minutes into the second period and was replaced with Alexandro Bernabei who came on at No.3 with Taylor switching to the right.
in the 57th minute, Montana picked up his inevitable booking after pushing over Abada in full view of the match official.
NO GOAL…Liel Abada can’t hide his disappointment.
Worryingly, the tempo dropped with the champions becoming sloppy in possession and careless with their passing as Ange Postecoglou looked on from the touchline.
It was no surprise when the manager made a double substitution in the 64th minute with Jota and Hatate withdrawn to make way for Sead Haksabanovic and David Turnbull.
Moments later, Hart was required to make an athletic stop to push away a snap shot from Steven Kelly in another rare assault from the visitors.
Kyogo also managed to pick up a yellow card when he attempted to close down an opponent.
In the 71st minute, the dreaded VAR struck again to rule out an Abada effort which would have restored Celtic’s two-goal advantage.
There was a lengthy break before referee Anderson checked the touchline monitor and decided the Israel attacker was offside.
It looked as though Abada had been in an offside position at the start of the move, but defender Morgan Boyes got a last touch of the ball which looked to have played him onside.
He clipped a neat effort beyond the advancing keeper and celebrated what looked like his tenth goal of the season.
But new technology once more denied Celtic in baffling circumstances.
In the 82nd minute, Postecoglou made another double change when he sent on Giorgos Giakoumakis and Aaron Mooy for Kyogo and O’Riley.
Ref Anderson made a diabolical decision when he booked Bernebei after Jason Holt had clearly taken to the air in fairly theatrical fashion after the merest touch from the Argentinian defender. The whistler bought the act, the Celt threw the ball away in frustration and the match official was swift to flash a yellow card.
With the game heading into seven minutes of added-on time, Abada sent a shot wide of the far post when he should have at least hit the target.
The match limped to a conclusion with the job done, but it should have been a more emphatic scoreline.
Now all eyes will be back on Paradise on Christmas Eve as the champions host St Johnstone.
TEAM: Hart; Ralston (sub: Bernabei 56), Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor; O’Riley (sub: Mooy 82), McGregor, Hatate (sub: Turnbull 64); Abada, Kyogo (sub: Giakoumakis 82), Jota (sub: Haksabanovic 64).