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Celtic break down stubborn Livingston to return to top of table

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Brendan Rodgers watched from the stands as his Celtic side eased to a 3-0 win over struggling Livingston to return to the top of the cinch Premiership ahead of next Sunday’s mouthwatering showdown with title rivals Rangers at Ibrox.

Serving a one-match touchline ban for comments made about the match officials following the 2-0 defeat at Hearts four weeks previously, the Hoops boss would have been mildly concerned at half-time as his side struggled to break down the stuffy Lions.

But an own goal early in the second period from Jamie Brandon broke the hosts’ resistance and further goals from substitute Paulo Bernardo and Matt O’Riley helped Celtic move a point above Gers, who have a game in hand.

The defeat left Livingston, who failed to threaten Joe Hart’s goal all afternoon, 10 points adrift of Ross County at the foot of the table with just seven games remaining.

The Lions, who had won only one of their previous 22 league matches, made three changes to the team that started the 3-0 defeat at Hibernian before the international break as Michael Nottingham, Mikey Devlin and Scott Pittman replaced Cristian Montano, David Carson and Joel Nouble.

There were two tweaks to the Celtic side that defeated St Johnstone last time out, with Liam Scales taking over from Stephen Welsh at centre-back and Bernardo dropping out to make way for influential Japanese midfielder Reo Hatate, who came in for his first Hoops appearance in almost three months after being sidelined by a calf problem.

The Hoops had most of the ball in the first half but struggled to create clear opportunities. Hatate pinged a shot just over the bar in the fifth minute after O’Riley’s corner picked him out unmarked just outside the box

An incisive move in the 24th minute allowed Alistair Johnston to fizz in a powerful cross from the right, but it had too much power on it for Kyogo Furuhashi to be able divert the ball towards goal.

There was a contentious moment when Furuhashi went down in the box under a challenge from behind by Devlin, but play was waved on and a VAR review did not see any reason to overturn the initial decision, much to the visitors’ anger.

Towards the interval, Hatate curled an effort just wide from 20 yards out and then in first-half stoppage time Celtic forced Shamal George into his first save of the match when the Livi goalkeeper did superbly to get down to his right and keep the ball out after Furuhashi had cut in from the right and curled a low shot towards the far post.

Following a frustrating first half, the huge travelling support, occupying three of the stadium’s four stands, were able to celebrate breaking the deadlock in the 49th minute.

The goal came in the scrappiest of fashions as Hatate’s shot from six yards was saved by George and ricocheted in off the unfortunate Brandon after Nicolas Kuhn had dispossessed Steven Bradley wide on the right and cut the ball back for Furuhashi, who helped it into the danger area.

George made a couple of impressive saves to deny Kuhn and Furuhashi, but the keeper was helpless in the 72nd minute when Bernardo, who had entered the fray seven minutes earlier, unleashed a pinpoint low strike from 20 yards into the net after driving at the Livi defence and playing a one-two with O’Riley.

Celtic were in full control and O’Riley sealed the victory in the 83rd minute when his low shot from just inside the box squirmed too easily through George and into the net.

Playwire

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