KILMARNOCK 1 CELTIC 3
CELTIC, with skipper Scott Brown in imperious form, had to dig deep for the three points against a battling Killie side at Rugby Park this evening as they resumed the Premiership with a crucial and valuable victory.
The win keeps the Parched men two points ahead at the top of the league while Steven Gerrard’s side beat St Mirren 1-0 at Ibrox.
The Hoops dominated for lengthy spells, but after Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths had put them two goals ahead by the 51st minute, some sloppy defending allowed the home side back into the contest when the champions should have been out of sight.
NUMBER ONE…Odsonne Edouard slides the ball past the hallenge of Alex Bruce and keeper Jan Koprivec for the opener.
HEAVENS ABOVE…Odsonne Edouard looks skyward as he celebrates hs goal with his team-mates.
They weren’t helped by the the shooting of Oliver Ntcham whose finishing was particualrly awful as he missed the target with three successive attempts in the space of 15 second-half minutes.
Christopher Jullien then rose superbly to a left-wing corner-kick to bury a header high into the net in the 73rd minute to ease the pressure.
The game ended on a sad note as Jeremie Frimpong, impressive as ever, had to be stretchered off in obvious discomfort after a thumping tackle from Alan Power that got the ball and the man at the same time.
Neil Lennon looked concerned as the teenager was wheeled towards the dressing room and it must be hoped it is not as serious as first anticipated.
The contest, though, had started as planned by the eight-in-a-row champions who were determined there would be no slip-ups on the home side’s decidely dodgy surface.
NUMBER TWO…Leigh Griffiths drills the ball beyond the challenging Alex Bruce as he doubles Celtic’s advantage.
JOY BHOYS…Johnny Hayes celebrates with marksman Leigh Griffiths.
In the fourth minute, a Kristoffer Ajer header forward took a nick on its way to the lively Griffiths who latched onto the ball and zoomed into the box at pace. However, as he dragged the ball to his favoured left foot, his right gave way on the notorious plastic surface and he was sent spinning. The chance was lost and Killie breathed a sigh of relief.
Three minutes later, Jozo Simunovic, starting a game for the first time since August, came so close to giving the visitors the advantage.
Griffiths flighted over an inviting left-wing corner-kick and the Croatian central defender rose superbly to snap a header towards the top right-hand corner of the net, but keeper Jan Koprivec somersaulted spectacularly across his goal to claw the ball to safety.
There was a cry for a penalty-kick when Griffiths was knocked to the ground as the Killie No.1 hesitated in coming for a bouncing ball. The rebound fell to Edouard who rolled a glorious chance wide of the post. Referee Don Robertson wasn’t interested in awarding a spot-kick and, in truth, it was a half-hearted appeal.
The Hoops continued to roll forward and Griffiths tried his luck with a 25-yard free-kick, but Koprivec was quick to get down to his left to hold the sizzling attempt.
In the 20th minute, Callum McGregor should have claimed the opener after working a neat passage of play with Edouard and was left with just the goalie to beat after he had tip-toed through a back-tracking defence.
NUMBER THREE…Christopher Jullien is the head Bhoy as he thumps in the decisive goal.
FRENCH FANCY…Jullien yells in joy as his header hits the net.
Just when it looked as though he couldn’t miss from 10 yards, the skilful midfielder did exactly that as he tugged his effort yards wide of the upright.
Celtic persevered, however, and the breakthrough came in the 25th minute after some wonderful individual play from Frimpong and then some mesmerising penalty-box skills from Edouard.
Ntcham released the ever-willing Dutch teen on the right and he simply took off as he left a defender in his slipstream. He knocked over a cross that took a touch off an opponent before it fell to the feet of Edouard.
The Frenchman took control, turned almost in a full circle, bamboozled Power and then slid the ball wide of the exposed keeper for a superb piece of trickery with a killer touch.
In the 51st minute, Griffiths finished off a splendid Frimpong – McGregor move by stroking in an angled left-foot effort that took a glance off Alex Bruce on its way past the keeper low to his right.
There was a fright for the visitors in the 66th minute when some slack defending, particularly from Simunovic, allowed Nicke Kabamaba the opportunity to divert a volley from Power past the helpless Fraser Forster.
Thankfully, Jullien put a better complexion on the scoreline when he bulleted in a header from a neat delivery from Griffiths on the left.
With 10 minutes remaining, Mikey Johnson came on for the tiring Griffiths who had been in a superb shift.
STRETCHERED OFF…Jeremie Frimpong is removed from the pitch after Alan Power’s crunching challenge.
There were worrying scenes near the end when Frimpong was wiped out by Power is a ferocious sliding challenge that didn’t warrant a second look from the referee. The fans’ favourite was on the ground for over six minutes receiving treatment as his left thigh was heavily bandaged.
He was then stretchered off with Moritz Bauer coming on in his place deep in stoppage-time.
Vakoun Issouf Bayo then came on for a cameo role as he replaced Edouard with the points already heading for the east end of Glasgow.
TEAM: Forster; Simunovic, Jullien, Ajer; Frimpong (sub: Bauer 92), Hayes, Brown, Ntcham, McGregor; Griffiths (sub: Johnston 80), Edouard (sub: Bayo 96).