Celtic’s final preparations for their top-of-the-table clash against Rangers took the shape of two matches against sides who are used to life in the bottom half of the division.
After back-to-back defeats in the Scottish Premiership for the first time in nearly 11 years, Celtic faced the outift who are currently rooted to the bottom of the league, David Martindale’s Livingston.
As Livi held firm in the first-half against a plethora of Celtic chances, Brendan Rodgers’ men just couldn’t breach their rearguard. The damage was done in the first six minutes of the second-half, however, with Kyogo Furuhashi putting the Hoops ahead before Liam Scales added to that opener to ensure a composed and professional Celtic performance was rewarded with all three points.
Celtic continued their attempts to build momentum ahead of Saturday’s massive derby encounter as they travelled to Dundee where they recorded a dominant and convincing victory at Dens Park on Wednesday night.
Much like the Livingston match the previous weekend, it was a real game of two halves as Celtic were knocking on the door for the entirety of the first-half, but to no avail. Their efforts were finally rewarded in the second-half, as Paulo Bernardo’s first Celtic goal opened the game up before an unlikely brace from substitute Mikey Johnston wrapped up all three points for Celtic.
All eyes are now on Celtic Park for Saturday’s Glasgow Derby. With Brendan Rodgers lining up against Livingston and Dundee with the same starting XI, it would have been expected that the same side would also face Rangers. An injury to Cameron Carter-Vickers after 55 minutes at Dens Park may have put paid to that plan, with Stephen Welsh getting vital minutes in his legs to combat such a potential blow.
In preparation for the vital clash against Rangers, we took a closer look at how the team performed in the two games leading into Saturday:
LIVINGSTON – 6: It was an incredibly quiet afternoon for the experienced English stopper as Livingston couldn’t muster up a single shot on target for him to contend with, the first time that has happened across all Scottish Premiership games this season.
DUNDEE – 6: Celtic’s defence was on top form once again as they limited Dundee to just the one shot on target over the course of the 90 minutes. It was another comfortable performance from Hart but he cannot allow complacency to creep into his game given the lack of activity.
LIVINGSTON – 6: The Canadian didn’t have as much involvement in Celtic’s attacking play against Livi, something that could have helped Celtic break down their compact defence a bit quicker. He handled his defensive duties well, however, and turned in a solid performance.
DUNDEE – 6: A knock the Canadian suffered in the first-half meant that he struggled to have much involvement during the opening 45 minutes. He hasn’t exactly set the world alight this season and will be looking to raise his game as we reach the halfway mark.
LIVINGSTON – 7: Carter-Vickers was composed and assured as he marshalled the defence in what was his 100th appearance for Celtic.
DUNDEE – 6: The American may feel unlucky not to have won his side a penalty in the first-half following an incident with Dundee keeper Trevor Carson, but he was substituted with an injury in the second period in an unrelated incident that leaves him a major doubt for the upcoming derby.
LIVINGSTON- 7: The Irishman was impressive alongside his American partner as they prevented Livingston from having a single shot on target. He also got involved at the other end of the park as he grabbed his third Celtic goal.
DUNDEE – 6: Scales grabbed an assist on a day where his distribution wasn’t as accurate as it usually is. He picked up a needless early booking that could have provided a cause for concern, but the lack of attacking threat from Dundee meant that he wasn’t targeted further.
LIVINGSTON – 7: Taylor looked closer to his best against Livi as he provided lots of energy and running down the left flank. He picked up lots of good spaces in the opposition box and was unfortunate not to have an assist as Daizen Maeda spurned an opportunity he created.
DUNDEE – 6: He was a solid and dependable option down the left flank, linking up well with Luis Palma and even seeing a few shots on goal that couldn’t find the net. He hasn’t been anywhere near his best this season and, despite the threat he posed against Dundee, he needs to be getting more involved in games.
LIVINGSTON – 6: The Dane wasn’t at his brilliant best in the 2-0 victory, with his key moment in the game being the glaring miss that should have had Celtic ahead in the first-half.
DUNDEE – 6: O’Riley should have had an assist on the day but Kyogo Furuhashi passed up the massive opportunity created. He was solid enough but didn’t have his usual positive impact on proceedings.
LIVINGSTON – 7: As he so often does, the captain stepped up when things began to look nervy in the second-half. He dictated the tempo and controlled the play and was the real driving force behind Celtic’s win.
DUNDEE – 7: McGregor was key again against Dundee as he constantly drove Celtic forward with some incisive passing and positive running. He is hitting his stride again this season at just the right time with the derby looming this weekend.
LIVINGSTON – 6: The Portuguese midfielder got away with what looked like a handball right on the stroke of half-time. He turned in a decent performance against Livi but didn’t do anything spectacular.
DUNDEE – 7: The Benfica loanee showed some good all-round ability on the day where he grabbed his first Celtic goal early in the second-half, arriving at the front post to put Celtic ahead.
LIVINGSTON – 6: Maeda’s first start after recovering from his recent injury was one where he wasn’t at his best, but that is natural given the layoff. The expectancy would be for him to regain match sharpness in time for the Rangers game.
DUNDEE – 5: The Japanese winger is still getting up to speed but he once again failed to have a real impact on the game. His performance level was similar against Livingston, and he must up his game ahead of this weekend.
LIVINGSTON – 7: The Japanese forward finally got back in amongst the goals, something that will be not only a massive weight off of his own shoulders but a huge relief for Brendan Rodgers as well.
DUNDEE – 5: Despite his goal against Livingston, Kyogo still looked to be lacking that confidence in front of goal as he passed up a massive goalscoring opportunity in the first-half. He was replaced by Oh Hyeon-gyu on the hour mark and needs to find his spark once again for the game against Rangers.
LIVINGSTON – 7: The Honduran was a chance-creating machine in the first-half but the numerous opportunities he created from the left flank were spurned. He persevered and was rewarded with two assists in the second-half, which capped off a decent performance for Palma as he prepares for what will be his first outing against Rangers.
DUNDEE – 8: The winger continued his decent form, as he played a starring role once again for Celtic. He grabbed another assist for Bernardo’s opener and really should have scored a goal of his own. He was replaced by Mikey Johnston with 10 minutes to play.
From the back-ups, Stephen Welsh will be on red alert should Cameron Carter-Vickers not make the cut for this weekend’s derby. He didn’t put a foot wrong when he replaced Carter-Vickers against Dundee, and showed against Feyenoord that he is able to confidently partner Liam Scales.
Oh Hyeon-gyu has been a bit-part player for most of this season, despite Kyogo’s poor form. He will be an able replacement for the final 30 minutes against Rangers if Rodgers is looking to change the attacking dynamic.
Yang Hyun-jun has brought a lot of energy and drive to the team but hasn’t found that on a consistent basis. If Rodgers is looking to freshen up the wide areas, he is more likely to opt for the experience of James Forrest.
Mikey Johnston grabbed a brace in his brief cameo against Dundee to end his four-year goal drought. It was a brilliant fleeting appearance, but Mikey hasn’t made this type of impact often enough to be rewarded with a starting jersey. The momentum and confidence his goals will give him, however, should make him a viable back-up option in the final third phase of the game on Saturday.
JAMES MCKENZIE // Follow James HERE