Larsson inflicts maximum pain on Livingston

Celtic 5 Livingston 1
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The Independent Football

The beautiful game was given an airing at Parkhead yesterday but it was a Brazilian who was its victim, rather than the exponent, as Marcio Maximo's first encounter with Celtic became a lesson he will not forget.

Word had probably reached Britain's first Brazilian manager about Henrik Larsson before he arrived at Livingston in July, but Maximo is unlikely to have known too much about the players who complement the prolific striker, but he will now after a polished performance that could have yielded double figures.

Larsson helped himself to a hat-trick, but at times in the second half Celtic were trying to score picture-book goals. Over-embellished perhaps, but the amount of fluent passing in each move more than compensated the 57,165, fans who produced a standing ovation at the end.

Bayern Munich will present a much more formidable obstacle when Celtic go there on Champions' League duty in a few weeks, but the German side will not relish trying to halt a side who scored on every away ground in their run to the Uefa Cup final last season.

Martin O'Neill's team could even afford the luxury of missing a penalty, though Alan Thompson's latest aberration - after David McNamee had pulled down Shaun Maloney in the 13th minute - could well see Larsson restored to that duty. Eleven minutes later, Thompson's left boot was far more accurate as he whipped in a cross from the left wing that picked out Larsson and the Swede planted a header past goalkeeper Alan Main.

Livingston simply could not cope with the wave of attacks. Stilian Petrov contrived to miss horribly from close range before Larsson struck the bar with a dipping free-kick. The visitors were powerless to resist when Liam Miller's dancing run past three tackles five minutes before the interval allowed Larsson to find Thompson, and though his shot was parried by Main, Maloney pounced to head in the loose ball.

Larsson added another header in the 56th minute, meeting a free-kick from Petrov, and then sealed his display with a sublime goal in the 77th minute, thrashing a 25-yard drive past poor Main as substitute John Hartson dragged markers away to create room. Livingston refused to throw in the towel, and Derek Lilley reduced the deficit five minutes from time, gathering a pass from Marvin Andrews and taking the ball wide of Magnus Hedman before squeezing in a shot from an acute angle.

Celtic's pride was hurt. They responded with another goal when Thompson got his reward for an energetic display with a free-kick that clipped the outside of the wall and deceived Main, to bolster his side's bid to win back the Scottish Premier League from Rangers.

Celtic 5
Larsson 25, 56, 77, Maloney 39, Thompson 90

Livingston 1
Lilley 85

Half-time: 2-0 Attendance: 57,165