CELTIC 2 KILMARNOCK 0
CHAMPIONS Celtic roared to life after a stuttering start to see off Kilmarnock at Parkhead this afternoon while thundering to a TWELVE-POINT lead at the Premiership pinnacle.
The Hoops made no mistake as they extended their advantage while boosting their superior goal difference to an impressive 22 following an opportunistic strike from Filipe Jota and an own goal from Ash Taylor while under pressure from Kyogo Furuhashi.
NO GOAL…Kyogo Furuhashi turns the ball wide of helpless Killie keeper Sam Walker, but the strike was ruled out for offside.
Goalkeeper Sam Walker had rarely been troubled and it looked as though the encounter would remain goalless as the end of a frustrating opening period loomed.
Killie thought they had escaped in the 40th minute when a typical effort from Kyogo was ruled out for offside.
The lightning-swift Japanese striker pounced smack in front of goal to knock a whipped cross from Jota past the stranded Walker. However, the celebrations were cut short in an instant when the standside assistant flagged for an infringement.
Referee Nick Walsh waited for confirmation from VAR which was duly relayed to inform him the Portuguese winger had strayed into an offside position before whipping over a cross.
On this occasion, it looked as though the technical team had got the decision correct and it was back to the drawing board for the Hoops.
However, as they continue to prove to friend and foe almost on a weekly basis, the home players refuse to lie down when they take one on the chin. They stormed back and five minutes later they managed to unlock a stubborn defence.
Once again, the ball was worked forward on the flank by Alexandro Bernabei with a pass to Daizen Maeda, as ever willing to run into inviting space to stretch the opposing defence.
The pacy raider sent in a low ball and Walker hesitated for a fatal split-second. That was all Jota required to zip in ahead of team-mate Kyogo to make contact and divert a right-foot shot into the inviting net from close range.
The goal was greeted with a mixture of relief and delight from the players and support after the hosts had not sparked in the manner expected of them.
Killie, as anticipated, were satisfied to soak up the pressure and try to hit swiftly on the break. Their main threat came from set plays and giant central defender Taylor had the presence to unsettle the home rearguard.
However, Joe Hart wasn’t exactly overworked as his team-mates made certain the ball remained in the opposition’s half while they again dominated possession.
PICK IT OUT…Filipe Jota turns the opener wide of Sam Walker to put the Hoops on the way to three more points.
Kyogo, denied in the first-half, was not deterred as he tried valiantly to double the Hoops’ advantage six minutes after the turnaround.
Mooy and Reo Hatate combined to carve an opening on the right. The ball was sizzled in at the nesr post and the team’s top scorer looked poised to pounce. It looked as though he had applied the killer touch, but, replays proved, the last contact came off the unsuspecting Taylor on its way past Walker.
The Celt celebrated, but is still looking for his 17th strike of the campaign. Maybe next week against the same opponents at Hampden?
Killie were decimated as Postecoglou’s men launched a blistering counter-attack that saw the two Japanese internationals connecting again with a fine delivery and an equally excellent completion of the move by Kyogo with another left-foot drive from close-in.
Moments later, Cameron Carter-Vickers released Maeda in another quick switch in play, but on this occasion the Celt was off target with his finishing effort.
New Bhoy Alistair Johnston, making his first appearance at Parkhead following his debut at Ibrox on Monday, was settling into the game and was taking the opportunity to surge forward to demonstate his qualities in attack.
The Canada World Cup right-back set up an opportunity for Hatate, but the dynamic midfielder was wayward with his attempt that flew harmlessly high and wide.
Mooy, Jota and Kyogo made way in the 63rd minute as O’Riley, Liel Abada and Giakoumakis made their entrance to the action.
HAPPY DAZE…Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates another Celtic goal.
Hatate looked desperate to get on the scoresheet and was set up by Giakoumakis in the 68th minute, but Walker made a fine diving save to thwart the hard-working middle-of-the-park operator.
In the fading moments, the Hoops hit BOTH posts in a matter of seconds. Forrest walloped a close-range volley against the left-hand upright and then O’Riley saw an effort from eight yards diverted onto the opposite woodwork by a sprawling Walker.
However, no-one was complaining and the team’s nearest challengers now take on Dundee United at Tannadice tomorrow afternoon.
Both Celtic and Killie go back into action at Hampden a week tonight in the Viaplay League Cup semi-final.
Bring it on!
TEAM: Hart; Johnston, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Bernabei; Mooy (sub: O’Riley 63), McGregor, Hatate (sub: Turnbull 83); Jota (sub: Abada 63), Kyogo (sub: Giakoumakis 63), Maeda (sub: Forrest 83).