Impressive Celtic banished their Livingston blues to secure a signature win in the race in to become Scottish Premiership champions.
The league leaders were dominant for long spells en route to a 3-1 victory with Daizen Maeda, a Nicky Devlin own goal and James Forrest strike restoring their three-point advantage over Rangers.
Any victory at a venue they haven’t tasted glory at in 15 years would have been devoured but the intent stamped all over the display bodes well amid their title ambitions.
Ange Postecoglou was rightly chuffed with the way his Celtic side performed from start to finish.
The pre-match smoke and thunder added to a noisy atmosphere as the away supporters filled three stands while making a fair old racket.
Aerial battles will have been part of the pre-match plan for the league leaders and that’s why Carl Starfelt was left cursing himself as he duffed his header after finding space in the box.
The Swede was dozy seconds later as he allowed the imposing Joel Nouble to win a corner and that led to Ayo Obileye hooking a shot on target that was expertly tipped clear by Joe Hart.
But Celtic dusted themselves down quickly and started to exert a level of dominance which has been a rare occurrence at their bogey ground.
And they were given a chance from 12 yards out but McGregor cracked the post after Nick Walsh awarded a penalty for handball.
There’s no doubt the ball hit the big Englishman but he made an impassioned case that he had no chance to get his arm clear as he used it for balance while on the deck.
However, McGregor made a hash of it.
Postecoglou’s side were emboldened rather than crestfallen in the immediate aftermath and the opener came moments later when Maeda peeled off to the back post to nod home.
Livingston keeper Max Stryjek was gutted to see his stunning save to deny Starfelt count for nothing but he won’t be as peeved as Martindale.
Tony Ralston got the final touch on the corner that led to the goal, it was a clear goal kick and referee Walsh could have used some help from his assistant.
That strike changed the mood music and led to a sustained spell of pressure that saw Jota and Maeda have attempts on goal.
Tom Rogic was back to his threatening best but Livingston were nearly level when Obileye cracked the crossbar just before the break.
And the good vibes continued after the interval as Devlin turned Ralston’s cross into his own net after a free-flowing move put Celtic into a threatening position.
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Maeda looked dangerous and his tireless energy while leading the press led to him robbing Obileye and the Japanese international released Rogic but there was, perhaps, just too much on his instant through ball.
And it was three when the excellent Jota released Forrest and the Scotland international made it 13 consecutive seasons with a goal in the top flight by tucking past Stryjek from a tight angle.
But Celtic got an instant reminder of the danger Livi possess as another cross ball caused panic in the visitors’ backline.
Andrew Shinnie then made it two goals from two games at the Tony Macaroni against Postecoglou’s side as he reacted first after a throw-in caused more danger than it really should have.
But Celtic demonstrated their growing maturity as they managed the game well in the immediate aftermath of the Lions’ attempted fightback.
And the next best chance was for the visitors as Maeda’s scuffed effort back across Stryjek failed to finish off a one-touch move that would have been the pick of the day.
The next best chance was once again for the men in green and white, as substitute Liel Abada was left open-mouth after Livi’s acrobatic effort kept his rebounded strike out.
Craig Sibbald had a late effort well saved from Hart.
Both teams kept going but there was always going to be one winner.
Here’s three talking points from the Tony Mac.
Celtic make their case
Nothing is won, nowhere near it, but Postecoglou was rightly chuffed and knows his side have cleared a major hurdle. Extra confidence is gained with five out of their final eight matches set to be at Celtic Park. Yes, their defensive inability to deal with set plays remains a cause for concern but everything else was a roaring success.
Whatever the concerns about the recent attacking swagger, teams in the SPFL struggle to create chances against a team who have conceded fewer than anyone else in the top flight. There’s eight games to go and real belief.
Jota eats good
He never went bad, to be fair, but even the Portuguese star turned had looked leggy in recent weeks – the pitfalls of a non-stop schedule. But the Benfica loanee was excellent at the Tony Mac and served up a constant threat down the left wing from first minute until last. His stunning cross from him just before the penalty was the type the absent Kyogo would have been on hand to turn home.
Wide men, almost by rule, have dips in form in a position that’s often all about confidence. And Jota’s ability to thrive among the rigors of Scottish football is what marks him out from the pack. Landing this thrilling talent on a long-term deal remains a no-brainer. His pass for Forrest’s strike was inch-perfect.
hail the dale
The likeable Livi manager was the toast of British football last year as his story of redemption resonated with many within the beautiful game. The appreciation of the work he was doing amid while awaiting the all clear to become the Lions’ full-time boss.
There’s a compelling case to be made his work this season is even more impressive than their 14-game unbeaten run. Even after a day to forget.
He has molded a new team that rightly is pushing for a place in the top six. He was up in arms at times during the contest as he vexed over his side’s inability to keep Celtic off them but again that shows the incredible demands he puts upon both himself and his squad.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.