Makeshift Celtic are still without victory in 2021 despite ending Livingston’s eight-game winning run in a compelling Scottish Premiership draw.
The hosts, in their second game without 13 self-isolating and manager Neil Lennon, struggled to create chances and are 20 points behind leaders Rangers.
Josh Mullin rattled the crossbar as Livingston threatened a first win at Celtic Park in a dominant second half.
They stay fifth after their first dropped points in seven league games.
Celtic retain two games in hand on Rangers, but are now three without victory and this latest blow to their already paper-thin hopes of a 10th successive title was no real surprise.
The consequences of Christopher Jullien’s positive Covid-19 test again deprived stand-in boss Gavin Strachan of a recognised striker and prompted him to deploy midfielder Tom Rogic up front. That lack of cohesion was evident throughout the side.
Nir Bitton’s return from suspension to partner Shane Duffy at least gave Celtic an experienced international centre-back pairing. But the defence – so often Celtic’s Achilles heel this season – was creaking from the start as Livingston swarmed all over them with a high-intensity, pressing gameplan.
Duffy in particular was suspect, sending passes astray and needlessly inviting pressure.
For all Livingston’s impressive play, though, their wayward finishing was the key factor in the end to David Martindale’s winning start as head coach.
Defender Jon Guthrie wasn’t far away from finding the top corner with a volley from the edge of the area, and Scott Robinson flashed a header wide moments later in Livingston’s strong opening.
But it was Celtic who came closest to a first-half breakthrough as Callum McGregor fired inches over the bar and Jeremie Frimpong wriggled free inside the box to force a solid near-post save from Max Stryjek.
Celtic’s defensive flaws were again evident after the break as they carelessly gave away possession and Robinson pounced to curl narrowly wide.
Livingston defender Efe Ambrose should have marked his return to his former club with the opener, only to screw a free header horribly off target, and Scott Pittman couldn’t convert at the back post.
Livingston looked the likelier in a pulsating finale, yet either side could have nicked it. Mullin thought he’d scored with a close-range strike that Conor Hazard somehow tipped on to the bar.
And young Celtic substitute Armstrong Okoflex was then inches away from connecting with Anthony Ralston’s inviting ball across the six-yard box as the game finished goalless.
Man of the match – Josh Mullin
What did we learn?
None of the Celtic fringe players given a chance to impress amid the club’s Covid troubles this week have made a compelling case.
This was a largely insipid performance from a team containing more than enough individual talent to secure a much-needed win.
Livingston, meanwhile, will be kicking themselves at failing to achieve the milestone of a first-ever away victory over Celtic. After 13 previous fruitless visits, this was their chance to make history.
They nullified the hosts and had a verve about their play that Celtic couldn’t match, but a lack of composure in front of goal was Livingston’s downfall.
What did they say?
Celtic coach Gavin Strachan: “Tough afternoon. Livingston are playing really well and imposed their style of play more than we did.
“We expect a bit more and were disappointed with the first-half performance. We had a bit more control in the second half, but wanted more shots at goal.
“With events that have gone on, the players’ confidence has probably been affected.”
Livingston head coach David Martindale: “I thought we could have got more out of the game but Celtic had chances as well.
“Some of the players are disappointed, so it shows how far we have come as a club.”
A rematch. Celtic will have their players, and manager Lennon, back from quarantine when the sides meet again in the Premiership, this time at Livingston’s Tony Macaroni Stadium, on Wednesday (20:15).
Celtic then have a free weekend while Livingston face St Mirren in the Scottish League Cup final at Hampden on Sunday, January 24 (16:00).
- 56RalstonBooked at 29mins
- 19JohnstonSubstituted forHendersonat 66′minutes
- 18RogicSubstituted forOkoflexat 80′minutes
- 33LawsonBooked at 84mins
- 6BartleyBooked at 67mins
- 10SibbaldSubstituted forForrestat 62′minutes
- 17RobinsonSubstituted forHamiltonat 75′minutes
- John Beaton
Match ends, Celtic 0, Livingston 0.
Second Half ends, Celtic 0, Livingston 0.
Shane Duffy (Celtic) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jack Hamilton (Livingston).
Diego Laxalt (Celtic) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jack Hamilton (Livingston).
Attempt missed. Steve Lawson (Livingston) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left following a set piece situation.
Foul by David Turnbull (Celtic).
Alan Forrest (Livingston) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Attempt missed. Nicky Devlin (Livingston) right footed shot from the right side of the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Steve Lawson.
Steve Lawson (Livingston) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Ismaila Soro (Celtic) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Steve Lawson (Livingston).
Foul by Ewan Henderson (Celtic).
Nicky Devlin (Livingston) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Livingston. Conceded by Conor Hazard.
Attempt saved. Josh Mullin (Livingston) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the top left corner. Assisted by Scott Pittman with a cross.
Attempt missed. Nicky Devlin (Livingston) right footed shot from outside the box is high and wide to the right.
Substitution, Celtic. Armstrong Okoflex replaces Tomas Rogic.
Attempt missed. Efe Ambrose (Livingston) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Josh Mullin with a cross following a set piece situation.