Livi left the east end of Glasgow with their heads held high despite their return to the Ladbrokes Premiership ending in defeat to champions Celtic at Celtic Park.
Goals from Tom Rogic, Odsonne Edouard and an Olivier Ntcham penalty had Brendan Rodgers’ side 3-0 up early in the second half leaving Livi fans fearing a heavy defeat, but it was the Lions who had the last word as Scott Robinson grabbed a late consolation to reward their battling display.
Livi player-boss Kenny Miller made three changes from the 2-0 win over Berwick Rangers in the Betfred Cup as James Brown, Robinson and Lee Miller came in for Callum Crane, Jack Hamilton and Nicky Cadden.
The Lions’ aim in the early stages was to keep things right and frustrate the seven-in-a-row champions but that plan was blown out of the water inside seven minutes as the Hoops took the lead when Jonny Hayes’ cross from the right found Rogic unmarked and he glanced a header past Liam Kelly to leave Livi up against it.
Celtic came close again on 17 minutes as Kelly’s punched clearance fell to James Forrest and he wriggled into space inside the box but his effort was blocked. Ntcham then released Callum McGregor three minutes later but Kelly was out smartly to gather the loose ball before the Scotland international could get on the end of it.
Livi had their first chance on 20 minutes when Scott Pittman tried his luck with a dipping half volley from 20 yards that sailed a couple of feet over the crossbar. Normal service quickly resumed, with Celtic in control, and Rogic teed up Ntcham at the edge of the box but his first-time effort took a deflection and was comfortably saved by Kelly.
Two minutes later, though, the Lions’ deficit was doubled, with Rogic once again involved, as he broke forward before playing in Ntcham and his low cut back left Edouard with a simple tap in at the far post. Ntcham then tried his luck with another long range effort on 38 minutes that was straight at Kelly.
McGregor almost added a third for Celtic before the interval as he latched onto a fine chipped pass from Edouard before attempting a chip of his own that could only hit the side netting.
Half-time: Celtic 2-0 Livingston
The second half started in the same way as the first as the home side were awarded a penalty on 50 minutes when Declan Gallagher was adjudged to have brought down McGregor in the box. Kelly picked up a yellow card for his protests before Ntcham stepped up and coolly slotted the penalty home low to the keeper’s left.
With 40 minutes still to play, the Lions could be forgiven for fearing a heavy defeat but they stayed resolute in the face of continuing pressure from the champions. After Kelly had to be alert to tip a Forrest cross over the bar, Jozo Simunovic got on the end of the resulting corner but saw his header well saved by the Livi keeper. Mikael Lustig was then denied a fine goal as his long range volley was bravely charged down by the Lions defence.
Livi made two changes on the hour mark as Lee Miller and Brown were replaced by Jack McMillan and Steven Lawless before the home side followed suit soon after, Kieran Tierney and Leigh Griffiths, still the record holder as Livi’s youngest ever goalscorer, replacing Edouard and Hayes.
Griffiths was quickly involved as he tried to get on the end of Rogic’s through ball but it was just in front of him and Kelly was able to gather. Rogic and Griffiths then linked up again but Steven Saunders made a fine last-ditch block before the Aussie midfielder weaved his way through the Livi defence before firing a low shot across goal and just wide of the far post.
Livi sub McMillan picked up a yellow card on 69 minutes for pulling back Griffiths before the Celtic subs combined, Tierney finding Griffiths at the back post to send a header straight at Kelly. Rogic, Livi’s tormentor in chief, was replaced by Mikey Johnston four minutes later before Livi’s final change saw Kenny Miller replaced by Jack Hamilton.
Griffiths latched on to a ball over the top on 75 minutes and tried to round Kelly but the Livi keeper got back well to make the save before he was picked out by McGregor five minutes later, this time teeing up Forrest for an effort that was well blocked by Gallagher.
The Lions goal was leading a bit of a charmed life and the Hoops came close again on 82 minutes when Kelly’s punch fell to Simunovic but he had to react quickly and sent his effort high over the bar. Ntcham then found Griffiths three minutes and he teed up McGregor for a strike that was deflected wide for a corner.
Livi enjoyed their best spell of the game in the final few minutes and came close to a consolation on 89 minutes as Egli Kaja burst down the right and curled in a fine cross that was met by Hamilton but his header flashed a yard wide.
The Lions’ efforts were to be rewarded, though, and three minutes into stoppage time they had their consolation when a free kick was turned on by Hamilton for Robinson who beat Craig Gordon to the loose ball before tapping into the unguarded net.
It mattered little in terms of the match but it was nevertheless a memorable moment for the travelling fans as the Lions marked their top flight return with a goal at the home of the champions, just the 18th conceded by Brendan Rodgers’ in 39 home Premiership games, and ensured they had the final say on flag day at Celtic Park.
Full-time: Celtic 3-1 Livingston
Celtic: Gordon, Lustig, Ajer, Simunovic, Forrest, Brown, Ntcham, Hayes (Tierney 61), Rogic (Johnston 73), McGregor, Edouard (Griffiths 61)
Subs not used: Bain, Hendry, Sinclair, Christie
Goals: Rogic (8), Edouard (26), Ntcham (50 pen)
Livingston: Kelly, Saunders, Halkett, Gallagher, Brown (McMillan 60), Byrne, Pittman, Robinson, Kaja, L.Miller (Lawless 60), K.Miller (Hamilton 77)
Subs not used: Stewart, Lithgow, Jacobs, Cadden
Goals: Robinson (90)
Referee: Nick Walsh
Match Report: Andy Crawford
Photos: Rae Irvine