KILMARNOCK 1 CELTIC 0
CELTIC walked into a nightmare at Rugby Park this afternoon when Brendan Rodgers lost only his second game to Scottish opposition.
The fates scowled savagely on the champions with the Hoops forced to replace two central defenders inside the first 35 minutes.
Rodgers had seen his side start well on the monstrosity Killie call a playing surface.
Charly Musonda made his first starting appearance as Odsonne Edouard, perhaps surprisingly, was left on the subs’ bench.
Jack Hendry, the club’s late transfer deadline day signing from Dundee, came in for his first appearance for the team.
Remarkably, the 22-year-old highly-rated stopper had two changes of defensive partners with Dedryck Boyata and Kristoffer Ajer failing to last the first-half.
In the 10th minute, Boyata went into an innoccuous challenge in his own penalty area and stayed down with what was later diagnosed as a groin strain.
Rodgers has no alternative to put on Nir Bitton in his place, but things got even worse when he lost another centre-half in Ajer who had been performing very well.
He landed awkwardly after a mid-air challenge and looked to have damaged his right heel.
The Norwegian battled on bravely for eight minutes before being forced off in the 35th minute with Scott Sinclair coming on and Kieran Tierney moving further back.
Undoubtedly, the injuries unsettled Celtic and knocked them out of their rhythm and halted their momentum.
Killie saw their opportunity, rolled up their sleeves and put in a tigerish, aggressive display.
Goodness only knows what Craig Levein would make of Congolese international midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu who charged around all day like a man possessed.
Kevin Clancy turned a blind eye to a few things that should have been punished and, ironically, the only time Mulumbu went into the book was for taking off his shirt during his goal celebrations.
The only strike that mattered arrived in the 70th minute as the patched-up Parkhead rearguard were left totally exposed.
Mulumbu started the move with a clever crossfield pass to the rampant Jordan Jones who stormed up and down the left wing with great effect.
Jones was allowed far too much time to wander in from the left with Eboue Kouassi backing off.
The winger spotted Mulumbu unmarked at the far post as Bitton and Kieran Tierney alarmingly switched off.
The ball was flicked into the rugged midfielder’s path and he stroked a right-foot shot from close range across Dorus De Vries and in at the post.
Incredibly, Celtic had not tested Jamie MacDonald at all throughout the first-half and Moussa Dembele was attracting some heavy treatment from Gordon Greer and Kirk Broadfoot.
The Hoops vainly tried to battle back into the contest, but this was a performance to forget. Too many times they picked the wrong option and far too many passes went astray.
Killie got in about it and they unsettled the visitors, especially on a playing surface where Lionel Messi would struggle to run with the ball.
No excuses, though. As the game opened up near the end, Killie had three more chances to inflict even worse punishment.
Jones blasted wildly over the bar when it looked he could kill the game, Mulumbu had a shot diverted by De Vries’ outstretched leg and Jones had a shot parried by the sprawling keeper.
It took until the 89th minute for MacDonald to make a save when he dived to his right to push away a raging free-kick from Olivier Ntcham.
The Frenchman had come close, too, in the first-half with a deadball effort that was about two feet off target.
As the game ticked down, Edouard, on as a sub for Kouassi, Tierney and Sinclair had opportunities on the left wing, but their final passes were all blocked when they should have done better with their accuracy.
To emphasise this was not Celtic’s day, they won their first corner-kick in the 87th minute.
Sinclair took the left-wing award and slung it over everyone and out of play on the opposite wing.
That just about summed up a frustrating, forgettable day for Rodgers and his players in Ayrshire.
CQN Man of the Match James Forrest
TEAM: De Vries; Hendry, Boyata (sub: Bitton 10), Ajer (sub: Sinclair 35); Brown, Kouassi (sub: Edouard 71), Tierney; Forrest, Musonda, Ntcham; Dembele.
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