LIVINGSTON 0 CELTIC 3
A SPECTACULAR stoppage-time strike from Daizen Maeda capped another true grit performance from the champions this afternoon.
Celtic were down to 10 men for over an hour against tough and committed opponents following a red card for Joe Hart.
Brendan Rodgers’ men led at half-time through a Reo Hatate penalty-kick and Matt O’Riley, another tireless performer, doubled the advantage shortly after the break.
THAT’S MY BHOY…Matt O’Riley congratulates Daizen Maeda after the Japanese striker’s goal that made it 3-0 for Celtic at Livingston.
And a welcome three points on dangerous territory were secured when Maeda, who had chased down everything from start to finish, made certain when he latched onto a head-flick from substitute Oh Hyeon-gyu to win the ball on the edge of the penalty area.
The action man twisted one way, went another, dragged the ball to his left foot and sent an explosive drive thundering into the roof of the net.
It was a fitting reward for the selfless individual and his galvinised team-mates in a match where they had to dig in once again to get over the line, much in the same fashion of the endeavour at Ibrox a fortnight ago.
The first ordering-off of Hart’s career came in the 29th minute when he had to race from his line to deal with a through ball as Mo Sangare threatened.
OFF AND ON…red-carded Joe Hart leaves the pitch to commiserations from Brendan Rodgers as Scott Bain prepares to take his place.
There was an accidental clash just a yard outside the box and both players went down in a heap. Referee John Beaton didn’t hesitate to reach for the red card as he must have deemed the veteran No.1 had denied the Livi forward a clear goalscoring opportunity.
VAR checked to see if the home player was onside in the build-up to the move and there was no reprieve for Hart when the lines proved he was just onside.
Scott Bain immediately replaced his team-mate and James Forrest’s first start since the turn of the year came to an early conculsion when he was withdrawn to make way for the substitute netminder.
The shotstopper’s first action was to take a goal-kick after James Penrice fired the award into the sidenet.
The Hoops had taken the lead in the 14th minute with Hatate’s penalty-kick after Greg Taylor had split the home defence with a quickfire through pass into the track of the Japanese midfielder.
NUMBER ONE…Reo Hatate fires in the opening goal from the penalty spot.
Luiyi De Lucas flattened his opponent and earned himself a booking in the process. Hatate took the effort and sighed with relief when Shamal George appeared to dive over the fairly tame attempt.
The ball struck the keeper’s elbow before bouncing into the net. It was hardly convincing, but no-one from the Hoops contingent was complaining.
The game played out as anticipated with Livi snarling and snapping at everything and putting themselves about.
Gustaf Lagerbiekle and Liam Scales looked to have been singled out as long balls were pitched forward for Sangare and Joel Nouble to chase.
The champions’ cause wasn’t helped following some sloppy passing with Callum McGregor looking the only composed player in the midline. Far too many passes went astray to be comfortable for the manager.
The skipper, in fact, helped to keep the scoreline blank in the tenth minute when he hacked the ball off the line after Hart had pulled off an excellent diving save from a low angled drive from Bruce Anderson.
There was a bout of ping-pong in the penalty box before the ball was nudged forward and the captain materialised to clear the menace.
NUMBER TWO…Matt O’Riley stabs the ball past Livi defenders to double the Hoops’ advantage.
Amazingly, Celtic netted No.2 three minutes into the second period after Kyogo had raced clear on the right before whipping over an inviting low ball.
Maeda got his feet mixed up in front of goal and his half-hit attempt was pushed clear by George. However, O’Riley latched onto the rebound and lashed home from close range.
That was the masterful midfielder’s fourth strike of the season – one more than he scored through the previous campaign.
Bain had a rush of blood to the head only moments later when he presented Nouble with an opportunity, but the Hoops escaped when the Livi frontman lobbed the ball onto the roof of the net.
NUMBER THREE…Daizen Maeda bamboozles the Livi defence before thumping in the points-clincher.
On the hour mark, Rodgers put on Tomoki Iwata for his compatriot Hatate who had struggled for the bulk of this confrontation.
Oh came on from Kyogo in the 71st minute and the South Korean should have scored a third goal eight minutes later after being set up with a neat pass from O’Riley.
However, the powerhouse hitman lashed the ball off target when he knew he should have done so much better.
Maeda showed him how it was done later on to seal the deal on the dreaded plastic pitch of the hosts.
TEAM: Hart; Johnston, Lagerbielke, Scales, Taylor; O’Riley, McGregor, Hatate (sub: Iwata 60); Forrest (sub: Bain 31), Kyogo (sub: Oh 71), Maeda.