Celtic, it’s safe to say, aren’t having the best time of it with Livingston next up.
Having lost more ground to Rangers on Monday night, the Bhoys’ squad is decimated. The 1-1 draw with Hibs was valiant considering the circumstances. However, once again, Celtic were punished by a late set-piece, allowing Kevin Nisbet to snatch a point for the Hibees (BBC).
What better time, then, to meet the SPFL’s in-form side?
Livingston have been this season’s surprise package, having started slowly. Gary Holt left Livi in November, with his side sitting in 10th. The departure of Lyndon Dykes meant that goals were at a premium, while the club was leaky at the back. There’d have been decent odds on a return to the Championship.
Yet, here we are in January. You’d be forgiven for dreading Celtic’s next match; I know I am.
Yes, Celtic have much to fear from a side featuring Efe Ambrose who – and I don’t think it’s controversial to say this – would get a game for the Bhoys this season.
With that in mind, Livingston host Aberdeen tonight. Celtic will need to watch very carefully to see how David Martindale’s side operate.
Goals across the pitch, with Celtic man’s brother on form
James Forrest may have missed most of this season, but his brother is “doing bits”, as people far younger than me would say.
Alan Forrest may have taken a wee while to get going in West Lothian. However, with 4 league goals, he’s amongst Livi’s top scorers, only behind centre-back Jon Guthrie (WhoScored?).
Martindale’s side have replaced reliance on Dykes with the ability to spread goalscoring responsibilities. Like his brother, Alan is a winger. The former Ayr United man’s end product is improving.
Scott Robertson, Scott Pittman and Josh Mullin have pitched in with their share. You get the sense that if Livi added a top-flight quality striker to the mix, they could do even better.
It’s their clinical striking that’s made the difference. Livi haven’t overwhelmed with shots on target this season, averaging 3.1 per game. Still, they’ve found the back of the net three times in each of their last two matches.
A particularly impressive hammering of Jack Ross’ Hibs was the summit of this recent attacking purple patch.
For reference, Celtic manage an average of 7.1 shots on target per game in the Premiership (WhoScored?).
Aberdeen’s stubborn defence will be a real test for Livi. Over the last six matches, the Dons have conceded three times, and two of those were against Rangers (BBC).
Efe Ambrose Ballon D’Or; former Celtic man leading Livingston defence
Livi play a compact 4-2-3-1, with two defensive midfielders anchoring the back 4. That back 4, by the way, features a rejuvenated Ambrose.
The Nigerian cartwheel specialist has enjoyed an upturn of form under Martindale, and at 32 offers both experience and energy at centre-back. It’s often forgotten that Ambrose won the African Cup of Nations with Nigeria in 2013 (Daily Record). His leadership and know-how is an asset to Livi, despite his reputation as being mistake-prone.
Alongside the ex-Celt, Guthrie is having a superb season. Averaging 1.1 tackles and 2.1 interceptions a game, the 28-year-old has been key to Martindale in 20-21 (WhoScored?). His distribution, however, is not the greatest; by pressing Ambrose and Guthrie, Celtic might find opportunities.
Like Aberdeen, they’ve only conceded 3 in their last 6 games. Unlike the Dons, however, they won all 6.
With Celtic lacking a recognised striker, an already tough Livingston visit is looking increasingly treacherous. The key to this game, from Celtic’s point of view, will be constant pressure. Using the energy and pace of the youngsters the Bhoys will have to play, Martindale’s side could be vulnerable under an attacking press.
They haven’t had to deal with that too much over recent weeks. Given more time on the ball, they’ve created opportunities with ease, and defended steadfastly. Nonetheless, you’d expect Gavin Strachan to instruct his side to battle relentlessly, finding weaknesses where they can.
With their compact defence, Livi can be got at on the wings. Crosses into the box are where the West Lothian side are vulnerable, as proven by Killie on Boxing Day (Sky Sports). St. Johnstone also scored via a cross in their 2-1 defeat to Livi (SPFL/YouTube).
Celtic will be watching to see what Aberdeen do against Livingston tonight. With any luck, the Dons can derail Livi ahead of a tricky Saturday meeting.