IT may not be stretching it, by the accepted definition, to call Livingston Celtic’s ‘bogey team’. The Glasgow giants have registered a loss and a draw against David Martindale’s unfancied outfit already this season, and have failed to win on Livi’s plastic patch on their last five visits.
Ange Postecoglou was only in charge of one of those games at the Tony Macaroni Arena, the 1-0 defeat in September that remains Celtic’s last domestic loss, and the goalless draw that was the price of Giorgos Giakoumakis’s injury-time penalty miss at Celtic Park in late October, though.
So, he isn’t about to concede that the Lions hold any sort of Indian sign over the team that he will take on the short trip down the M8 again tomorrow, joking that he won’t be wearing his ‘lucky socks’ in an attempt to break the hoodoo.
Even still, the Celtic fans that go with them to fill 75 percent of the stadium may travel more in trepidation than expectation, given their own bruising experiences at the venue down the years.
This Celtic team won’t only be a different beast to the one that has gone there in previous seasons though, Postecoglou argues, it will be a significantly different proposition to the one that let their frustrations get the better of them as they fell to defeat earlier in the season.
“To be fair, I’ve only had one visit there,” Postecoglou said. “’Bogey’ would be if I go there half a dozen times and don’t win.
“I was disappointed back then because we didn’t play well and deal with the situation.
“It was also our third defeat in the first six league games and you knew we would have to be pretty good after that to make up the ground. Credit to the fellas, they have been.
“In terms of going to Livingston, you can build these things up to be whatever you want them to be. I have never bought into it that much.
“At the start of the season, we couldn’t win a game away from home anywhere, let alone Livingston. That pre-dated me but we overcame that bogey and can play our football home and away.
“I do understand it’s a challenging place to go and they are tough to beat there. To be fair to them, their away form has also been good this season. I think it’s all more indicative of the fact that they are a good side.
“There is no doubt it will be a challenge for us but I don’t go there wearing my lucky socks or anything!
“We will go there and prepare the best way we can for the game.”
No pre-match discussion of a game at the Tony Macaroni would be complete of course without a natter about the pitch, and the advantage that many believe the artificial surface gives Livingston over the teams that go there.
While some managers dismiss the impact of the surface as psychological, Postecoglou feels that it does have a material influence, but it is just another challenge that his players must overcome if they want to maintain their position at the top of the Premiership standings.
With that in mind, he will hold their final pre-match training session on the astroturf at Celtic’s Lennoxtown training ground in order to aid their acclimatisation.
“It is a real thing – the pitch plays differently,” he said. “There is no point trying to ignore it.
“I can tell the players to ignore it and play their normal game, but you do have to adjust.
“It becomes a little bit of a different game on that surface and the players need to be prepared for that. But that doesn’t mean it stops you from being successful.
“You just have to adjust your game and your approach, so that it removes any negative impact the pitch has on our football.
“We will address it. We have an artificial pitch at Lennoxtown and we will train on that on Saturday.
“We will get the players an understanding of it again, but ultimately it’s about the way we approach our football.
“We don’t always do it. It’s more about how I feel. We are Wednesday-Sunday this week, so we have an extra day between games. This just gives the players a little bit more of a feeling for it.
“Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t. It’s not essential but there is no point telling the players to ignore the pitch. It’s going to be there and players need to address that and adjust to it.
“On an artificial pitch there are still fundamental principles of our game that we can do. What we didn’t do at Livingston last time are those things.
“We got bogged down in the disappointment that the game wasn’t going our way, without looking for the solutions.”
Celtic will be boosted for the trip to Livingston by the return of striker Giorgos Giakoumakis after illness, with the striker’s physical presence sure to be a welcome addition to the team for Postecoglou.
“Giorgos is fine,” he said. “He trained on Thursday and Friday.
“He was touch and go for the midweek game but I made the decision to leave him out, as we had Albian (Ajeti) on the bench.
“Giorgos trained on Thursday with the group who didn’t play and then with the full squad on Friday. He will be ready. He has been in good form and he will be important for us on Sunday.
“Giorgos is playing well and it’s been a setback for him to miss the last couple of games, but he can definitely help us.”