On its own, winning 0-3 at Livingston would not move the dial, but the manner of Saturday’s win surely did. Joe Hart’s (correctly awarded) red card sent the flare up, Celtic would have to play on plastic for over an hour with 10 men. This followed a tiring game in Rotterdam, where they finished with 9 men. Aspiring challengers knew this was a chance to claw the champions back into the mix.
Livi’ manager, David Martindale’s post-match comments told the story better than anyone, “We have to give credit to Celtic, they are a very good team”. The visitors had better players in every position and were collectively devastating to their hosts.
Early in the season, though it is, Matt O’Riley has shown clear signs he has stepped up a gear from last term. He is so much more composed on the ball, a benefit of confidence. His run into the box just after the break, was timed to perfection. The Livingston keeper could only claw Daizen Maeda’s bum-shot back into play, where Matt lunged to finish. He is a great example of player development. It is never linear and never guaranteed, but with correct support, talent will rise.
After Matt scored, Livingston never threated Celtic. Alistair Johnston and Greg Taylor played a classic full back role, instead of taking up their normal advanced position. Taylor in particular enjoyed his afternoon.
It should surprise no one that Maeda came alive when Celtic went a man down. He is a player who thrives on space to fill. Instead of being hedged in against the wing, he played in a central role for the last hour of the game and gave the Livi defenders a torrid time. A low centre of gravity is his secret weapon. He can thrust his body between opponent and ball, and remain upright, where others would be brushed aside.
Whatever hope our challengers had that Hart’s red card would crack open an opportunity, was long gone before Daizen finished the scoring with a fine shot from outside the box. This Celtic team can go anywhere in Scotland and win, as performances at Piddodrie, Ibrox and Livi atest.