Sutton finds remedy for Livingston's stubborn resistance

Celtic 2 - Livingston 1
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The Independent Football

Chris Sutton climbed out of his sick bed to keep Celtic's title push in good health with the goal at Parkhead yesterday that opened up a three-point gap over Rangers in the Scottish Premier League.

The striker ignored a virus and netted a vital 57th-minute penalty which helped the champions overcome a resilient Livingston side and avoid the fate of their Old Firm rivals, who slipped up at Dundee United on New Year's Day.

"Chris did not want to play last night," said Martin O'Neill, the Celtic manager. "However, I am glad he did because those were very hard-earned points."

Celtic toiled, despite John Hartson giving them the lead after 15 minutes. The Welsh striker rose to meet Alan Thompson's free-kick and to guide a header beyond Livingston's goalkeeper Colin Meldrum for his 18th of the season.

However, Livingston took advantage of the hosts' sloth and equalised in the 39th minute. Burton O'Brien's corner was cleared only as far as Goran Stanic and his raking return into the box was pounced on by Jim Hamilton, who gleefully stabbed in his shot from six yards.

Hamilton's joy would be erased 12 minutes into the second half when he conceded the penalty that Sutton punished. Meldrum had just denied Hartson twice in a matter of minutes with great saves from a header and a volley, but the Celtic siege prompted Hamilton to use his arm when Bobo Baldé's header bounced up at him, allowing Sutton to send Meldrum the wrong way from the spot.

"It's hard enough coming to Celtic - but losing debatable penalties. But I got a few of those myself when I was at Rangers," joked Richard Gough, the Livingston manager.

¿ The Celtic chairman Brian Quinn is confident after the latest round of talks last week that Hartson will agree new terms.Baldé has been offered a new deal to stay at Parkhead.

Goals: Hartson (15) 1-0; Hamilton (39) 1-1; Sutton pen (57) 2-1.

Celtic (4-4-2): Douglas; McNamara, Baldé, Varga, Laursen; Petrov, Lennon, Thompson, McGeady (Juninho, 85); Hartson, Sutton. Substitutes not used: Marshall (gk), Lambert, Maloney, Wallace, McManus.

Livingston (4-4-2): Meldrum; Bahoken, Rubio, Dorado, McNamee; Brittain (Adam, 87), Lovell, O'Brien, Stanic (Dair, 87); Hamilton, Snodgrass (Libbra, 65). Substitutes not used: Fleming (gk), Harding, McPake, Easton, Adam.

Referee: C Thomson.

Booked: Celtic Thompson; Livingston Hamilton, McNamee.

Man of the match: Meldrum.

Attendance: 57,593.