Livingston 1

Scorers: Celtic - Sylla (77), Sutton (85); Livingston - Zarate (52).


Celtic Maloney (Larsson 17), Guppy (Laursen 57), Lambert (Sylla 85) Livingston Wilson (Zarate 62), Amor (Lovell 64), Bingham (Maidana 78)

Subs not used

Celtic Broto, Crainey Livingston McEwan, McMenamin

REFEREE Mike McCurry


Celtic Laursen, Sutton Livingston Lovell, Brinquin, Bahoken

Attendance 57,169



Valgaeren Balde Laursen

Sylla Lennon Petrov McNamara Smith

Sutton Larsson



Maidana Rubio Andrews Brinquin

Lovell Bahoken Quino O'Brien

Dadi Zarate

There was nothing routine about this desperate Celtic victory yesterday, save for a reminder once more for Martin O'Neill that, in Shaun Maloney, he has in his possession a little gem of a footballer. For a more garish reason, though, there is at Parkhead today a terrible sense of trauma.

The loss of Henrik Larsson, who departed after 13 minutes with a double-fracture of the jaw, is surely still too horrible to contemplate for O'Neill. Larsson, who was immediately whisked off to hospital and operated on last night, will be out for as long as two months, landing a savage blow on Celtic's domestic and European ambitions.

If there is a shaft of light at all for Celtic, it surely surrounds little Maloney. Replacing Larsson yesterday, he gradually unravelled a gutsy and skilful Livingston side and, more pertinently, cracked in two sumptuous free-kicks, neither of which Alan Main or his Livingston team-mates were capable of coping with. It was as a direct result of these two devilish Maloney efforts, in the 77th and 84th minutes, that Celtic finally grabbed the points.

At 5ft 5in there is nothing physically intimidating about Maloney, but this wasn't the first time that either O'Neill or the rest of us were presented with his array of talents. Not only is his dead-ball aptitude an appliance of art, but he can run with the ball at pace and spread dizziness among def-enders.

While Larsson's loss is shocking to Celtic, Maloney did nothing but emphasize to O'Neill that there need be no debate about the Swede's replacement to play beside either Chris Sutton or John Hartson.

''I thought Shaun was sensational, utterly magnificent,'' said O'Neill of the striker whom he rushed to warmly embrace at the final whistle. ''Before he inflicted his blows we were beginning to think it might not be our day.'' On an afternoon of various festering issues for O'Neill, he was entitled to a huge sigh of relief.

This outcome, while being critical to the SPL still having a championship race to speak of, still seemed a bit of a brutal injustice to Livingston. The West Lothian side had been tactically excellent under Jim Leishman and Davie Hay, with Francisco Quino and Stuart Lovell, in particular, both regularly grasping the play in midfield. Prior to their opening goal after 53 minutes, indeed, Livingston might well have been ahead, and it was only in the final six minutes that Celtic could feel assured of plucking all three points.

It is hard to know what to make of this Livi team, a colourful brigade of Spaniards and South Americans who seem utterly out of kilter in sleepy West Lothian. Even more remarkable at Parkhead yesterday was the re-appearance of Eugene Dadi, the great non-specialist in the art of scoring goals, whose January of hawking himself around some of the clubs of the Gulf States was so unproductive, and doubtless so goalless, that he has wound up back where he started - with Livingston.

Amid this list of characters and more, a man such as Dominic Keane, the Livi chairman, has been nothing if not creative and original in building his football club. It has, though, had a disorientating effect on those of us who were used to Scotland's smaller clubs being packed with Rabs and Bobs.

Rolando Zarate, though, looked a sterling striker. He had already whacked in a screaming free-kick which Magnus Hedman acrobatically tipped round a post before grabbing Livi their lead after 53 minutes. The goal followed some shambolic Celtic defending, during which the home side twice failed to clear the ball properly, resulting in Joos Valgaeren being horribly short with a pass-back, which allowed Zarate to round Hedman and prod the ball home.

With John Hartson dropped by O'Neill, Celtic could have done without the misfortune of Larsson's loss. The incident was felt all the more by the Celtic manager, given that Larsson and Sutton, restored beside each other in Celtic's attack, had seemed to be enjoying all their old understanding together. The cross from Sutton, indeed, from which Larsson was injured while attempting his header, was the third such manoeuvre concocted between the two in those brief opening minutes.

While Livingston were astute in their play, Celtic, through Maloney in particular, slowly turned the screw. After 77 minutes Sutton was upended, following which Maloney shooed away anyone who showed an interest in the dead-ball before licking a shot which crashed back off Main's right post. The rebound slammed down into the path of the on-rushing Momo Sylla - himself no slouch for Celtic - who bundled the ball home.

Seven minutes later Celtic secured their heart-felt win. This time it was Valgaeren, sprinting forward and rather cleverly inviting a challenge in order to win a free-kick in Maloney's range, who crashed to earth amid a thicket of Livi defenders. Again,

Maloney stood over the ball while Main constructed his wall. Seconds later, another free-kick zipped towards the Livi goalkeeper, who this time slapped it back into the path of Sutton, who shot into the net.

Celtic ended the match by playing for time in the corners, with two substitutes, Paul Lambert and Steve Guppy, using their old pros' cynicism and cunning to make sure the game was killed. It was a mere symptom of how much this was a salvage job for Celtic.