It’s a day that’s been 12 years in the making.
76 days after the 1-0 win over Partick Thistle that sealed their place in the top flight, Livi return to the Ladbrokes Premiership for the first time since 2006, though their opening task could hardly be more daunting as they travel to seven-in-a-row champions Celtic.
Since they last tasted top flight action in a 1-0 defeat at Falkirk in May 2006, the Lions have gone all the way down to the bottom tier and come all the way back up again, and no match demonstrates the progress made in the last nine years better than going toe-to-toe with Brendan Rodgers’ double treble winners.
A lot has changed since that unforgettable afternoon at Firhill, not least in the manager’s chair as David Hopkin chose to bow out at the top with Kenny Miller coming in as player-boss. Ten more new faces have been added to the playing squad including former Falkirk midfielder Craig Sibbald, while League One title winner Liam Kelly has returned to the club on a permanent basis.
Let’s look ahead to what is sure to be a memorable afternoon in the east end of Glasgow.
How has our opponents’ season gone so far?
It might be the first match of the league season, but it’s far from the first competitive action either side has enjoyed in the new campaign.
While the Lions came through their Betfred Cup group as unbeaten group winners to secure a last-16 clash with Motherwell, Celtic have successfully negotiated the first two of a possible four qualifying rounds in the UEFA Champions League, doing their best to boost Scotland’s co-efficient ahead of our return to European competition next season – well, we can dream!
The Hoops kicked off their campaign in Armenia back on 11 July, sealing a comfortable 3-0 win over Alashkert thanks to goals from Odsonne Edouard, James Forrest and Callum McGregor before repeating that scoreline in the return leg, Forrest again on the scoresheet alongside a double from Moussa Dembele as they made light of Jozo Simunovic’s early red card.
That success took them through to face Norwegian champions Rosenborg, and goals from Edouard (2) and Olivier Ntcham proved enough as a 3-1 home win was followed by a goalless draw in Trondheim that sealed a clash with AEK Athens in the next round.
Is there any injury news ahead of the big game?
The Lions will be without Ryan Hardie and Raffaele De Vita for their top flight return, though it is hoped that Hardie isn’t too far away from a return following the foot injury he sustained against Dundee United in the final regular season match of last season. Raffa’s prognosis isn’t so good, as he continues to recover from the knee ligament injury suffered in the second leg of the playoff semi final against United.
Livi might come up against former player Leigh Griffiths as the Celtic frontman has returned to full training following a thigh injury but are unlikely to face highly-rated Frenchman Dembele, who missed both legs of the tie with Rosenborg through a hamstring injury. Dedryck Boyata and Mikael Lustig might feature, having missed both Champions League ties following their World Cup exploits.
How does the head-to-head between the two sides look?
Grim, if you’re a Livi fan! The two sides have met 20 times with the Lions’ only positive result being a goalless draw in the first ever meeting in August 2001, a match fondly remembered by Livi fans for Javier Sanchez Broto’s penalty save from Henrik Larsson. Nineteen successive defeats have followed, including an agonising 3-2 loss at Celtic Park on Boxing Day 2001, Larsson snatching an injury-time winner after Livi had twice battled back to draw level.
The closest the Lions have come to beating the Hoops was at Celtic Park in February 2003, when a Rolando Zarate strike had Livi 1-0 up with 13 minutes left only for goals from Momo Sylla and Chris Sutton to snatch victory for Martin O’Neill’s side.
Here’s hoping 21st time’s a charm!
What do the bookies make of Saturday’s match?
It may come as a shock to you but the Lions haven’t been given much hope of securing a famous win over the champions, with league sponsors Ladbrokes offering odds of 28/1 for Kenny Miller’s side to come out on top. Celtic are 1/8 to start their title defence with a victory while a draw is a 15/2 shot.
If you fancy the Lions’ player-boss, a former Rangers striker, to get the only goal in a 1-0 Livi win, that’s available at 450/1 while a repeat of the goalless draw from the two sides’ first meeting is 20/1.
Looking at the season as a whole, you can get odds of 1000/1 for the Lions to end Celtic’s dominance and win the Premiership title so, in other words, it’s five times more likely than Leicester City winning the Premier League in 2015/16.
Sadly, Ladbrokes also make Livi 5/2 favourites to finish bottom but hey, we’ve made a habit of defying expectations in the last couple of years, haven’t we?
How much is it to get in?
Admission is by ticket only and tickets must be bought from reception at the Tony Macaroni Arena by 2pm on Friday. The prices are as follows (restricted view prices in brackets):
- Adults – £28 (£25)
- Age 13-16/Over 65 – £18 (£15)
- Under 13 – £10
How about travel?
As ever, the LiviLions Supporters Club will provide return travel to all away Premiership matches. Two buses have been filled for this weekend’s match but, in the event of any cancellations, the pick up times are:
- Pumpherston (The Cawburn Inn) – 12.40pm
- Mid Calder (The Black Bull) – 12.45pm
- Dedridge (Crofthead Farm bus stop) – 12.50pm
- The Tony Macaroni Arena – 12.55pm
- Carmondean (The Saltire) – 1.05pm
- Bathgate (opposite The Dreadnought) – 1.15pm
- Harthill services – 1.25pm
The return fare is £9. Keep an eye on the Livi Lions SC message board here for news of any cancellations for Saturday’s bus.
If you aren’t able to get on the bus, let the train take the strain with half-hourly services from Livingston North to Bellgrove, which is around 20 minutes walk from Celtic Park.
What if I can’t make it?
Fear not, we will have live text commentary on our Twitter feed @LiviFCOfficial from 3pm, while highlights courtesy of Roger That Productions will follow after the match.
We all can’t wait for Saturday and we hope to see you at Celtic Park for what will be, regardless of the result, a landmark day for the Lions.