CELTIC 3 LIVINGSTON 0
RELENTLESS Celtic were unstoppable as they overcame the Livi spoilsports at rainswept Parkhead this evening.
The West Lothian outfit set up to frustrate the champions, but the Hoops maintained a positive outlook right from the off and the contest was effectively over with Ange Postecoglou’s men three goals ahead at the interval.
Greg Taylor, who scored earlier in the season against the same opposition, Daizen Maeda and Kyogo Furuhashi, with his 21st of the campaign, were the men on target to make sure the Hoops maintained their nine-point advantage in their pursuit of a second successive Premiership crown.
There was an added bonus for the home fans who braved the elements of another glimpse of South Korean new Bhoy Oh Hyeon-gyu who came on late in the game.
He was a stud’s length away from getting his first goal for the club when he just failed to connect with a low ball from Liel Abada in the closing moments. It’s only a matter of time before the powerhouse frontman claims that crucial opening strike.
REIGNING IN THE RAIN…Ange Postecoglou maintains a positive outlook.
Postecoglou prowled the touchline under cover of his hood for most of the game, but he must have been wearing an outsized smile as he witnessed his players decimate stubborn opponents.
Livi keeper Shamal George was warned by referee Nick Walsh for time-wasting – after NINE minutes!
It must be said that the West Lothian club have never turned up in the east end of Glasgow with any intention of adding to the entertainment value.
A minute later, Filipe Jota contrived to produce an amazing miss from two yards following some excellent play between Reo Hatate and Maeda on the left.
The pacy winger whipped in an inviting low cross that zipped across the face of goal and the Portuguese ace missed the ball completely when it looked as though he must claim the breakthrough goal.
The visitors, as expected, played five across the back with four operating in front of them leaving just Bruce Anderson to chase the odd ball that was thrown forward.
Around the 20-minute mark, Jota tested George with a well-struck 30-yard free-kick, but the keeper took it cleanly at his right-hand post.
But there was absolutely nothing the netminder could do to prevent the champions from taking the lead in the 29th minute through Taylor.
TAYLOR-MADE…Hoops defender Greg Taylor sends a left-foot drive past Shamal George for the opener.
The left-back, adding his weight to attack, was in a superb position after Alistair Johnston had picked out Hatate on the left. He rolled it in for Taylor who took a touch and then buried a low left-foot drive from 16 yards beyond the despairing George at his left.
Three minutes later, Maeda doubled the advantage after a bit of ping-pong in the congested penalty area. Johnston, Taylor and Hatate were involved in the build-up before O’Riley curled in a cross with his educated left foot.
It bounced around before Ayo Obileye desperately attempted to hook it clear and only succeeded in hitting the ball off the face of Meada with the ricochet flying past the startled George.
It wasn’t pretty, but they all count.
There was a brief scare for the Hoops when Carl Starfelt stumbled trying to clear a long ball and lone striker Anderson was given the opportunity to have a go at goal.
Joe Hart stretched full-length to get a touch to the effort to knock it onto the left-hand post and the chance was gone.
HANDS UP IF YOU’RE HAPPY…Daizen Maeda is congratulated by Kyogo Furuhashi and Matt O’Riley after the seond goal.
The second goal had forced a change of shape and attitude on Livi and it gave Postecoglou’s side to turn the tables on them and look for counter-attacks.
A minute into stoppage-time, O’Riley capitalised on the inviting spaces behind the defence and he picked out Kyogo with a breathtaking 40-yard pass that eliminated a visiting defender and was taken on the run by the Japanese predator.
He moved forward menacingly while faced by Jack Fitzwater and then simply accelerated into space and drove a low effort past the stranded keeper for the third.
Remarkably, VAR checked the strike for a possible foul AND then offside before the goal was awarded. It’s obvious comedy sketch writers are alive and well and scribbling away furiously in the technical studios in Glasgow.
The Hoops were in control in the opening minutes of the second period as they continued to take the game to the opposition and Meada should have made it 4-0 on the hour mark.
GOAL-DEN BHOY…Kyogo Furuhashi runs away after gliding in the third strike.
Johnston knocked a ball to Jota who launched a laserbeam pass to the Japanese attacker whose timing to get in behind the defence was perfect. Unfortunately, Maeda got his angles all wrong and hit his attempt wide of the left-hand post.
In the 63rd minute, Aaron Mooy and Liel Abada came on for Jota and O’Riley as Postecoglou made his first changes.
Twelve minutes later, Oh Hyeon-gye and David Turnbull came on for Kyogo and Hatate as the home side continued to pile on the pressure.
Callum McGregor, strolling through his 401st appearance for the club, was given a rest with five minutes to go when new Bhoy Tomoki Iwata came on to stretch his legs.
There was no more scoring in the second-half, but Celtic had their chances as they kept the flow of the game heading towards George.
All in, a good evening for the Hoops who also managed to keep their sixth successive clean sheet.
Not a bad night’s work all round. Take a bow, champs!
TEAM: Hart; Johnston, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor; O’Riley (sub: 63), McGregor (sub: Iwata 85), Hatate (sub: Turnbull 75); Jota (sub: Abada 63), Kyogo (sub: Oh 75), Maeda.