Celtic march on with dominant win over Livingston
Celtic showed no signs of letting up in the title race as they brushed aside Livingston 3-0 in a one-sided Parkhead encounter.
Left-back Greg Taylor eventually breached a resolute Livi defence in the 29th minute with a thunderous drive and three minutes later Japan attacker Daizen Maeda rather fortuitously added a second.
Fellow countryman Kyogo Furuhashi struck on the counter just before the break with his 21st goal of the season and perhaps surprisingly that was the end of the scoring.
Livingston, fourth in the table, went into the match unbeaten in six games but they were simply outclassed by a side who have lost only once in 24 league games this season.
Rangers’ 3-0 win at third-place Hearts means Michael Beale has eight wins and a draw in nine league games as Gers boss.
However, he has been unable to put a dent in Celtic’s nine-point lead at the top of the table and belief and confidence in the east end of Glasgow appears unshakeable.
Lions boss David Martindale had promised to play a containing game at Parkhead and they certainly began in that fashion, after bringing in Ayo Obileye, Jason Holt and Andrew Shinnie for Sean Kelly, Stephen Kelly and Steven Bradley.
Celtic took possession of the ball from the kick-off and were reluctant to give it up.
Livi keeper Shamal George was warned by referee Nick Walsh for time wasting with only nine minutes played.
However, the champions, with Matt O’Riley and Maeda in for Liel Abada and Aaron Mooy, should have taken the lead a minute or so later when Maeda reached the byline and fizzed it across goal but somehow Jota failed to make contact from almost on the goal line.
In the 21st minute, the Portuguese winger tested George with a curling free-kick from 25 yards as the home side retained their iron grip on the game.
The almost inevitable breakthrough came just before the half-hour mark when Taylor took a pass from midfielder Reo Hatate inside the Livingston box and, from 16 yards, fired across George and into the far corner of the net.
The second goal had an element of fortune, when Obileye’s attempted clearance from six yards following O’Riley’s cross into the box struck the face of Maeda and ended up in the net.
Livi were offering almost nothing in attack but they nearly reduced the deficit when a slip from Celtic defender Carl Starfelt allowed Bruce Anderson through on goal.
However, the Livi striker curled his shot past Hoops keeper Joe Hart but off the far post and supporting midfielder Stephane Omeonga could not get his shot on target.
Celtic’s third came when Livingston had thrown players forward.
Omeonga failed to cut out a long pass from O’Riley and Furuhashi collected the ball and outran Livi defender Jack Fitzwater before slotting low past the helpless George, and it withstood a VAR check for a foul and offside.
Furuhashi missed the target with a good chance within a minute of the restart, Maeda headed wide from close range just before the hour mark and there were several other near misses.
The rain became heavier in the closing stages and 21-year-old South Korean striker Oh Hyeon-gyu, made his home debut as replacement for Furuhashi – among a host of substitutions – demonstrating the increasing strength of this Celtic squad who continue to motor.