CELTIC pounded Kilmarnock in a high-tempo performance at Rugby Park to move within a point of Aberdeen at the top of the league.
Yet it was two unlikely goalscorers who helped Ronny Deila’s side get back to winning ways after dropping five points in their last two games to Dundee United and Ross County.
Emilio Izaguirre netted only his third goal in his four years at Parkhead to give the Hoops the interval advantage.
And it was struggling Stefan Scepovic who helped to wrap up the points with only his second league strike of the season.
Ironically, the Serb’s only other effort came against the same opponents in a 2-0 win earlier in the campaign.
The other marksman that day, John Guidetti, didn’t start the game after going five matches without a goal.
However, the Swede came on for Scepovic late in the Rugby Park encounter.
Remarkably, the Hoops could have been three goals ahead inside the first 25 minutes.
Kris Commons was out of luck with two thunderous shots off the crossbar while referee Kevin Clancy failed to detect a handball from Mark Connolly as the comeback Celt thumped in an angled drive. TV pictures appeared to show it was a penalty-kick as the Killie defender threw himself at the ball, but the match oficial didn’t agree with the protesting Commons.
In fact, Commons might have had a first-half hat-trick but for a dreadful miss when it looked as though he must hit the net. The first effort to strike the woodwork came in the 16th minute when Commons exploded a wicked left foot drive from 25 yards hight past the static Craig Samson. However, the home keeper was rescued when the ball battered against the frame of the goal and rebounded to safety.
Nine minutes later, it was the same tale of woe for the Celt. Commons worked a neat one-two with Liam Henderson to lash another unstoppable effort against the bar.
In between, Commons managed to get himself booked for a challenge on Jamie Hamill. He might have felt it wasn’t going to be his night. He had been clearly fouled three times beforehand and on each occasion the Killie culprit escaped.
And Commons missed a fabulous opportunity when he blazed wildly over from 12 yards when a goal looked a certainty.
Just before the half-hour mark, Craig Gordon pulled off an excellent diving save after Josh McGinnis got his head to an Alexi Eremnko free-kick.
Frustratingly, it took until nine minutes from half-time for Celtic’s undoubted superiority to be rewarded.
Gordon got the ball rolling with an accurate kick down the left to Izaguirre.
The Honduran played a quick one-two with Stefan Johansen and flashed a left-foot drive high past the helpless Samson from eight yards.
Izaguirre took the goal with all the aplomb of a penalty-box predator.
The facts tell a different story, though. His first effort came against St Johnstone in his first season and he doubled that in the League
Cup victory over Partick Thistle this term. The left-back is on a roll! Izaguirre wasn’t smiling a minute before the turnaround, though, when he was yellow-carded after a tussle with Killie winger Rory McKenzie.
In the 54th minute, Commons picked out the unmarked Henderson on the left of the penalty box. The youngster unselfishly flashed the ball across goal and it was just missed by the lunging Scepovic from just about under the crossbar.
Four minutes later Commons was denied again by a marvellous save from Samson.
Adam Matthews, who played more like a right-winger than a rightback, touched a neat pass inside and last season’s Player of the Year swivelled on the edge of the penalty area to zoom a ferocious effort goalwards. The Killie keeper matched it with a flying save to his right to beat the ball to safety.
Gordon equalled that feat by producing something smilar to push away a shot from Robbie Muirhead after a rare moment of slackness from Scott Brown.
In the 71st minute, Celtic took a giant stride towards a welldeserved triumph.
A shot from Commons – who else? – was deflected past the post for a right-wing corner-kick. Johansen, who had an excellent evening in Ayrshire, slung over an accurate cross to the back post and Efe Ambrose nodded the ball back to Scepovic and from about two yards he turned the ball past the frantic Samson.
Callum McGregor, on as a sub for Henderson, knew how Commons felt when he fired in a late shot that took a nick off a defender before striking the right hand post and flying for a corner.
Celtic now become the Sunshine Bhoys and head out tomorrow morning for a winter break in Gran Canaria.
Skipper Brown has promised his team-mates will come back with their batteries recharged.
Let’s hope the midfield dynamo is as good as his word, but this was a performance most fans would normally associate with the team.
TEAM: Gordon; Matthews (sub: Fischer 74), Ambrose, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton, Henderson (sub: McGregor 85); Johansen, Commons; Scepovic (sub: Guidetti 81).