JOHN KENNEDY insists Celtic will be ready for Ibrox on Sunday after safely manoeuvring the Livingston minefield.

Strikes from Paulo Bernardo and Matt O’Riley plus an own goal from Jamie Brandon saw the champions ease to a 3-0 victory over David Martindale’s scrappers following a scoreless first-half.

Kennedy, taking over the touchline duties with manager Brendan Rodgers banished to the stand as he served a one-game SFA suspension, was delighted the players didn’t hit the panic button in a dour opening period when the visitors had to wait until the second minute of stoppage-time to at last get a shot on target.

Kyogo Furuhashi twisted and turned inside the box before unleashing an angled low drive which saw Shamal George somersault to his right to beat the ball to safety.

CELTIC STAND-OUT…John Kennedy watches the action from the Livingston touchline.

Thankfully, the Hoops maintained their concentration and the breakthrough effort arrived shortly after the turnaround when the keeper produced anoter stunning stop to push away a close-range drive from comeback Bhoy Reo Hatate.

A superb low whiplash strike from substitute Bernardo doubled the advantage and O’Riley nonchalantly rolled No.3 into the opposition’s net to bring down the curtain on a job well done.

Kennedy, who was delighted the team’s first shut-out in seven games, said: “What we were pretty much focusing on was the performance. Coming here, it’s always easy to get wrapped up in the pitch, but our focus was purely football.

“I think you saw that from the players. At half-time, we could have been a goal or two up, but we just had to be patient.

“It’s easy at this point in the season, when there’s a lot of talk about things and we’re getting towards that stage, to hit the panic button and go chasing something.

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS…Matt O’Riley congratulates Paulo Bernardo after the second goal with Cameron Carter-Vickers about to join in.

“But we never, we stayed calm and the goals obviously came in the second-half just from playing the way we were playing and doing the things we were doing – that’s what the players know best.”

Kennedy, speaking to Celtic TV, continued: “You have to control the game, to sustain attack and be aggressive with the ball, but, at the same time, not have too many turnovers.

“And we had to deal with Livingston’s direct play because it can be awkward if they get up in our half and around the box in set-plays and crosses. That’s when they are a real threat.

“But with Kyogo driving it from the front, plus the wingers, and in behind that, we just limited them in having any sort of accuracy in long balls and from that we were pressing from behind.

“The midfield were also picking up second balls and we had a few attacks from there.

COMEBACK BHOY… Reo Hatate shrugs off Jason Holt as puts in a solid 65-minute shift on his return.

“So, that part of the game was crucial for us and coming to Livingston is about what you do with the ball, but for us a massive part of it is how we defend and stop them getting near the box. We did that superbly.”

Kennedy also applauded the return of Japanese playmaker Hatate who lasted almost an hour in his first start of 2024.

The assistant boss commented: “He’s a top player. He’s had a few good weeks’ training and seeing him in training we just knew he was good to go and I think everyone can see what he brings to the team.

“It was good to see him on the pitch again, it was good minutes for him and the squad is starting to come together now.”

Looking ahead to the third derby of the campaign – with Celtic triumphant in the previous two outings – Kennedy added: “Having the clear week is giving us plenty of time to prepare and getting the boys recovered as this pitch takes its toll, as well.

“So, we can get fully recovered and have plenty of training for the game and when that comes around we’ll be ready.”

The champions, who are bidding for their twelfth title in 13 years, go into the encounter a point ahead with only seven matches to play.


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