CELTIC 3 KILMARNOCK 1
IT took a sensational Killie equaliser to spark Celtic into converting their superiority into goals at sunny Parkhead this afternoon.
Brendan Rodgers’ men totally dominated the Ayrshire outfit, but were only leading by a Stuart Armstrong strike when they were rocked by a leveller.
The Rugby Park side, under the cosh for over an hour, sneaked up the park and, almost unbelievably, stuck the ball behind Craig Gordon.
In the 66th minute, Conor Sammon raced clear on the left and attempted to play the ball inside. The ball took a deflection, but it went straight to Jordan Jones.
He smacked in a shot and there was another deflection as his effort found the net. The silence was deafening.
It was the wake-up call the Hoops needed and they netted two quickfire goals through Scott Sinclair and James Forrest to make certain there were no more slip-ups.
Moussa Dembele started on the bench, but he came on in the 72nd minute and his presence certainly made a difference.
Celtic were camped in their opponents’ half in the opening 45 minutes and the most remarkable thing was the scoreline showed them just one goal ahead.
And the man who got the vital opening goal was the so-consistent Armstrong who fashioned the opportunity out of nothing in the 22nd minute.
The new Scotland international picked up a pass from Dedryck Boyata and took everyone by surprise – including Killie keeper Freddie Woodman – with a swift right-foot drive from outside the box.
The ball thumped into the net for Armstrong’s 14th of a memorable campaign.
But it was a mystery that it actually took the six-in-a-row champions so long to break the stalemate.
It was one-way traffic straight from the kick-off and Celtic could have been two ahead inside the first 15 minutes.
A good, darting run from Forrest on the right opened the way for a pass inside to Sinclair, but last week’s three-goal hero tugged his finishing effort just wide.
Moments later, Callum McGregor blasted in a strong drive which was expertly touched over the bar by Woodman.
However, the young Englishman, on loan from Manchester City, had no answer to Armstrong’s whiplash drive from 22 yards that finally unlocked the stubborn Rugby Park rearguard.
Kieran Tierney came close to a rare goal in the 37th minute, but his left-foot angled effort whipped wide of the far post.
In quick succession, Armstrong had a shot blocked, Forrest sent a wayward attempt wide and then Armstrong was robbed in the act of shooting by an excellent last-ditch tackle from Scott Boyd.
The second-half showed no change in the pattern as the champions bore down on Woodman, but their finishing was just a little off.
Paddy Roberts squandered an opportunity when he took an extra touch and was caught in possession while he then set up Sinclair who headed just wide at the far post.
Another goal just had to come – and it did, but no-one saw it coming in the Celtic net, that’s for sure.
However, Jones’ in-off effort spurred the home side to life and they were back in front only five minutes later.
Armstrong floated a long free-kick to the back post where Boyata nodded it down into the mix. Roberts touched it onto Sinclair and he rifled his 23rd goal of the campaign beyond Woodman.
Dembele and Tom Rogic then came on from McGregor and Roberts and it was inevitable they they would get a third in the 76th minute.
The French Under-21 ace, making his first appearance in three games, hit a shot on goal that took a deflection and looped up over the grasping fingers of the keeper.
The ball thumped off the face of the bar and Forrest darted in to knock the ball over the line.
Dembele, in fact, should have netted his 33rd goal of the season in the fading moments, but he missed the target with a close-range header.
So, another three points and the Hoops remain invincible.
But it might be a good idea if they claim a couple of goals while they are in complete control of a game.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Simunovic, Boyata, Tierney; Brown, Armstrong (sub: Kouassi 84); Forrest, McGregor (sub: Rogic 72), Sinclair; Roberts (sub: Dembele 72).