MATT O’RILEY didn’t bother searching for excuses after Celtic’s lamentable second-half performance at Rugby Park.
The stylish midfielder shot the champions into the lead with his ninth strike of the season, but an alarmingly feeble display saw them outfought by Kilmarnock as they surrendered two goals and also their unbeaten Premiership record.
The Hoops got lost in a maze of mistakes as they saw their lead at the top cut to five points over their nearest challengers from Ibrox who have a game in hand.
The visitors dominated the opening 45 minutes and were denied on severeal occasions by keeper Will Dennis who kept the score down to one.
PICK IT OUT…Matt O’Riley races away in triumph after leaving grounded keeper Will Dennis helpless as he puts Celtic ahead at Rugby Park.
After the turnaround, the on-loan Bournemouth netminder was rarely called into action such was the bewildering contrast as the contest see-sawed in favour of Derek McInnes’ side who snapped and snarled all the way to an upset victory over opponents they also dismissed from the League Cup at the same venue in August.
No-nonsense O’Riley said: “I had a chance which I should score in the second-half and, at that point, you can kill the game off.
“But, irrespective of that, second-half, I think we kind of got bullied a bit just in terms of most duels they were winning. At the same time, I thought we were very sloppy on the ball and probably weren’t showing enough – what’s the word? – courage just to want the ball, get on the ball and take responsibility.”
Asked if he was surprised the league leaders had been swamped by Killie in the second period, O’Riley, speaking to the Daily Record, answered: “Not if we play football that suits them. We went long a lot and they have big players who are good in the air.
“They like to fight for second balls, third balls and we played into their hands in the second-half. I think, because of that, I’m not surprised the game went like it did.
AIR WE GO…Matt O’Riley celebrates with Mikey Johnston about to join in.
“They just came out more aggressively and we weren’t as prepared as we should have been for that sort of pressure. That’s what I noticed on the pitch as the only difference. I don’t think it was a lack of mentality, well it was at times with the duels and stuff.
“But, overall, I think it was more of a calmness and composure kind of thing where, if we do that, we would be fine.”
The Danish international playmaker continued: “I’m not worried about us responding. We WILL respond.
“I just think there were times we could have showed for the ball a bit more, been a bit calmer. Not necessarily courage in that sense, just calmer on the ball.
“Don’t always play the occasion and the crowd sometimes, slow it down and relax. But I’m not worried going forward because, if teams press us, it should be a good thing as it means you have more space in behind to hurt them.
“We are used to playing against low blocks which we find challenging, as well, so we can’t really make excuses.”
SO CLOSE…Matt O’Riley whips a low shot past Will Dennis that just misses the target by inches.
Looking at Celtic’s control in the first-half, O’Riley added: “It’s comfortable, but we are only 1-0 up and when you are only 1-0 up, they are always in the game.
“We’ve just got to kill the game. Two or three good chances first-half, so we could be two or three up. Then second-half, I should probably score.
“We had one other moment second-half, but other than that, we didn’t create that much. When you are on top, especially early in games, it is important to capitalise on that.
”It’s a game we should be winning, in my opinion.
“Fair play to them, they were very good in the second-half, but if we play the football we can play, it shouldn’t be a problem.
“So, that’s something we need to address in terms of that consistency side of things and I think we need to get back to that real ruthlessness where we put teams to bed early if we have the chances.”