Celtic came from behind for the second time in a week to go top of the Premiership with a 3-2 victory over Livingston.
Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, had hinted that Christopher Jullien might not be available because of a training injury and the Frenchman was absent from a team which showed three changes from the line-up against St Mirren, with Jeremie Frimpong, Olivier Ntcham and Albian Ajeti coming in. James Forrest, Patryk Klimala and Odsonne Edouard were the three to drop to the bench, Edouard’s presence being not wholly unexpected, given his recent variable form.
Livingston also had three in and out with Ciaron Brown, Craig Sibbald and Scott Tiffoney replacing Scott Robinson, Lars Lokotsch and Alan Forrest.
The inclusion of Tiffoney paid an early dividend when his cutback into the box was handled by Kris Ajer for a penalty kick which was converted in style by Jason Holt.
It was the second time in 72 hours that Celtic had fallen behind to an early goal scored by unfancied opposition, having conceded soon after kick-off to St Mirren in Paisley on Wednesday.
The visitors’ elation was short lived as, within three minutes, they allowed Callum McGregor a clear sight of goal from 25 yards prompting the midfielder to rifle a dipping drive beyond Robby McCrorie. The stadium announcer only just had time to show the multi-angled replays when Celtic took the lead, this time from much closer range after McGregor and Greg Taylor combined to supply Ryan Christie for a tap-in.
Celtic seemed to have ended the game as a contest six minutes after the restart when Christie and Ntcham cut Livi apart to release Ajeti for a convincing finish, but the drama had not yet played itself, as the visitors demonstrated just inside the final quarter hour when Julien Serrano produced a duplicate of McGregor’s earlier strike with a fierce drive from distance into the far corner of the net.
Between times, there was an oddity guaranteed to captivate pub quizmasters as James Forrest came on for Celtic and his brother Alan took the field at exactly the same time for Livingston.
Elsewhere, St Mirren’s woes were extended by Dundee United at Tannadice, where Lawrence Shankland and Adrian Sporle netted for the hosts and, although Dylan Connolly got one back for the Buddies, their chance of salvaging a point was undermined by the red card shown to right-back Richard Tait.
Kilmarnock were also reduced to 10 men at home to Hamilton but superiority of numbers did not prevent them winning 2-1. Ross County, meanwhile, banished the gloom off last week’s 5-0 thrashing by Celtic with a 1-0 win over St Johnstone in Perth.
Two of Scotland’s European participants are in action on Sunday at Pittodrie, where Aberdeen meet a Motherwell side who were forced into extended action by Coleraine in the Europa League, when the tie in Northern Ireland went to extra time and a penalty decider after ending 2-2 on Thursday. Motherwell’s hero was goalkeeper Trevor Carson, who saved three kicks to put the Steelmen into the next round.
Mark O’Hara was one of three Motherwell players who converted successfully and the midfielder’s enjoyment of the experience was not diminished by the fact that his team’s European experience this season has consisted of two encounters with Northern Irish opposition with little in the way of atmosphere.
“After missing football for so long, it’s actually enjoyable,” he said. “My body felt surprisingly fine on Friday despite playing extra-time and penalties. These are the games you want to be involved in as a professional footballer.
“Europe is a goal for everyone so it’s definitely not a chore playing two games a week. There was definitely a different feel to the Coleraine game as they had people in the stand. You could hear a lot of shouts. I’ve not played in Europe before so I don’t know what a hostile away crowd is like.
“The way we ended up winning the other night had everyone buzzing by the end. And now we’re going to play Hapoel Beer Sheva in Israel, a country that a lot of people wouldn’t get to visit in their lifetime, so it’s a great experience.
“We know who we could potentially get in the next round too so the path is there for us to progress if we apply ourselves properly. There’s a real incentive for us to achieve our goal of going into the group stage.”