As far as fixtures go in the Celtic domestic footballing calendar, playing Livingston away at the ‘Tony Macaroni Arena’ is a proposition which is sure to send shivers down the spine of any diehard supporter involved with the Parkhead side.
The sense of dread when discussing this specific match brings about a footballing form of PTSD, which can certainly be backed up by our form when you look at how much the team have struggled on their travels to this ground in the past decade or so. The Bhoys have failed to win any of their games in Livingston on league duty since 2007, a record which Ange and his side will be looking to rectify come Sunday lunchtime.
If you were to look up the definition of a ‘bogey ground’ in a Hoops-themed dictionary, then the page would surely show a large illustration of the Lions’ dreaded surface, which Celtic unfortunately must play on come Sunday afternoon. Plastic pitches and Glasgow Celtic are certainly not a match made in heaven and come Sunday afternoon the Bhoys will have to face up to the challenge again.
What was once a league where 25% of the pitches were artificial as recently as last year, this plastic surface at Almondvale is the only one of its kind following the relegation of Hamilton Accies and Kilmarnock the previous season. Even still, this stadium and particularly its surface has caused Celtic far more problems than the ‘Fountain of Youth Stadium’ or Rugby Park ever did.
Our last visit to the wretched turf occurred in the middle of September last year, in which Andrew Shinnie scored a well-taken strike despite Celtic’s domination of the ball and overall play that day. What was so frustrating about that day was the fact that Celtic had started brightly in that game and were pressing the Livi team into submission early on yet did not find the breakthrough which allowed the opposition to capitalise. Despite having 80% of the possession that day, the Hoops crumbled to a loss to David Martindale’s side which left fans wondering where this league campaign was heading after a mixed start to the season.
This defeat was coupled with another disappointing result against Sunday’s opponents this season, in which Martindale’s men held Celtic to a 0-0 draw. This result was made to be even more infuriating thanks to the gift the home side were awarded due to Ayo Obileye’s swing on Kyogo in injury time. The resulting penalty taken by Giorgos Giakoumakis was a weak one, easily saved by Max Stryjek to secure a point for the visitors.
Thankfully, the team have since recovered and find themselves still three points clear of their fiercest rivals. Rangers, who play against Aberdeen on the Saturday, will be looking to close the gap before the start of proceedings in Livingston, which makes their dropped points against Motherwell last Sunday even more important as Celtic will remain top regardless of their result (barring an 11-0 win against Jim Goodwin’s Dons!).
Despite a decent second half showing against St. Mirren on Wednesday, in which Cameron Carter-Vickers and Callum McGregor both scored to secure a 2-0 victory, there have been questions over whether the team’s overall performance levels have dipped. Over the past few games, it seems that slack passing and overhit crosses are starting to become a familiar part of the squad’s showings, as well as certain players potentially showing signs of burning out, which is not ideal specifically at the business end of the season.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however, and it comes in the form of a well-needed break for the side. The next scheduled game after Livingston in the Hoops’ calendar is the Scottish Cup tie against Dundee United, with a 12-day gap in between the two fixtures. This will surely be ideal for Ange and his players to both recuperate and get some much-needed training sessions completed, which can only benefit the team as they move into a critical point of the season.
Giorgos Giakoumakis, returning to the side after an illness kept him out of the games against Hibs and St. Mirren, will be looking to rectify the earlier penalty miss with a stellar performance against the West Lothian side on Sunday. His presence and physical attributes have been missed in his absence, and a focal point up front may be the way to go against an imposing Livingston backline.
Overall, the game against Livingston, much like every other game domestically just now, is a must-win affair. Despite the poor record against the opposition, the team cannot afford to let the lead at the top slip as the league really is at a knife-edge as things stand. Now would be a perfect time to break the Tony Macaroni Curse!