JOZO SIMUNOVIC, Celtic’s No.5, insists it was his destiny to honour club legend Billy McNeill with the winning goal against Kilmarnock yesterday.
The Croatian defender went into the crucial encounter against the Rugby Park outfit without a strike to his name all season.
Simunovic, in fact, had scored only two goals in his four-year Hoops career before fate lent a hand at an emotional Paradise which paid tribute to the club legend who passed away on Monday at the age of 79.
Astonishingly, the centre-half flashed in the winner with a stunning header in the time of 67 minutes and seven seconds, as reported by CQN yesterday, to give the champions a much-required victory and three more points as they zero in on their eighth successive crown.
APPLAUSE…Celtic players line up to honour Billy McNeill before the game.
The matchwinner made the thoughtful gesture of presenting his No.5 jersey to the McNeill family afterwards.
Simunovic, speaking to the Mail on Sunday, said: “It was a special moment, the favourite moment in my Celtic career and one I will remember for the rest of my life.
“I was surprised on the bus before the game when I saw so many fans. I couldn’t have imagined something like that. That gave me an impulse to give even more in this game.
“I believed it would be a special day for me because of the No 5. For everyone, it meant a lot but for me it was special.
“The manager spoke to us about Billy before the game to help inspire us. Everyone knows how big a name he is at this club and the impact he had on Celtic. He was a leader, an amazing guy.
“The manager said a few things about him and that motivated us even more.
“Some people will say that I’m lucky to score with the No 5 on 67 minutes. But I say I’m blessed. I believe in that.”
TRIBUTE…Celtic fans pay their respects.
The 24-year-old former Dinamo Zagreb player, who pointed to the sky in celebration, said: “My biggest support comes above us. I said something and I’m going to keep that to myself, but, it’s just… I’m Christian, that’s how it goes.
“Listen, trophies are special, but, for me, this is something else. I had a chat with Billy’s family afterwards and that has given me more reasons to remember all of this.”
Simunovic also thanked boss Neil Lennon for keeping faith in him while on-loan Leicester City star Filip Benkovic has remained on the substitutes’ bench.
He added: “He put some trust in me. He had a chat with me and we settled some things with what he expected from me.
“So, I’m just following that and, for now, everything is going well. We are still keeping clean sheets and we need to keep going.”
Celtic will celebrate their eighth successive title triumph this afternoon if Steven Gerrard’s Ibrox side fail to overcome Aberdeen in Glasgow.
Anything other than a win will end the race for the championship.