It would be wrong to say Liel Abada is unsung at Celtic Park, but when the hymns of praise start up it’s normally his attacking mates Kyogo Furuhashi and Jota who get serenaded.
Abada is 21 years old and how his team needed his input on Wednesday against Livingston. A night which looked like a cakewalk in the making became a bit of a struggle, a game which saw Celtic accelerate into a 2-0 lead with the promise of more turned into a frustrating affair.
Celtic rarely looked in danger of dropping any points but, equally, they never got anywhere close to their best level.
Credit Livingston for that. Their organisation, their commitment, their belief kept them in the hunt. They just refused to be swatted. David Martindale is a sharp cookie. His teams don’t tend to swoon in bigger stadiums and against more glamorous opponents.
This wasn’t a repeat of Aberdeen on Saturday. Livingston had way more about them as a team. They scored, asked a few questions, denied Celtic a comfort in their play. It was all pretty fractious, a little ugly.
The creative force behind both of Celtic’s goals was Abada, one cross being turned into his own net by Ayo Obileye and another being swept in by Kyogo. Those were the decisive moments. That’s five assists this season along with seven goals in the league, this on top of 15 goals and 11 assists last season.
It’s quite a haul for a young player at a demanding club in an unfamiliar country.
He had a goal ruled out by VAR, which was just and unjust at the same time. He was offside but his contribution deserved a goal. Later on, he had a shot across the face of the Livingston net. He was Celtic’s most important player on the night their nine-point lead at the top was restored.
On a number of occasions this season and last it has been Abada who has unlocked doors for Celtic, scoring a 90th-minute goal against Dundee United that made it 3-2 which quickly became 4-2, scoring the first two in a win over Motherwell, scoring the deadlock-breaker in the 4-0 win over Rangers.
This is the strength of Ange Postecoglou’s team. There’s nearly always somebody there to get the job done on difficult days.
At 2-0, this didn’t give the appearance of one of those sticky matches, but it was. Celtic, of course, had masses of possession and mountains of attempts on goal.
They also had a doughty opponent that grew in confidence. We think of Celtic as a smooth-running side but, really, they dig out more wins through character than they obliterate opponents through quality.
You wonder what Postecoglou makes of all of this. Most weeks his team is asked to break down cautious teams. It comes with the territory of having most of the best players in the country and vast wealth in comparison to nearly all others. But he must feel sometimes like he’s living a Groundhog Day existence.
At the weekend they had 33 shots on Aberdeen’s goal and 81% possession. They won it late in the day. In their previous game they had 22 shots on Ross County’s goal and 75% and again won by a single goal. Again last night they enjoyed huge numbers in possession and shots and there was only one in it at the end.
The winter months can have a grinding feel to them. Never mind the class, just count the points. Celtic are on a long winning run and they look like a team that’s almost forgotten how to lose league games.
Only St Mirren have managed to crack the code, with 20% and four shots to Celtic’s 19. That had a freakish nature to it.
Things like that don’t happen very often. Celtic, even playing beneath themselves, get the job done. Rangers continue to pray for signs of weakness and dropped points, but there’s no sign.
This wasn’t pretty and the memory of it will have failed by the time anybody got to the car park, but none of that matters.
Three points, three points, three points. That’s the happy rhythm of Postecoglou’s team as they go for two-in-a-row.