KILMARNOCK 2 CELTIC 1
CARELESS Celtic collapsed to a shocker of a defeat after an alarming and absymal second-half performance against fired-up Kilmarnock at Rugby Park this afternoon.
The champions got lost in a blunderland as they threw away a first-half advantage to present the points to the Ayrshire club after they failed to match the aggression of their rivals in an error-strewn second period.
The Hoops’ lead at the Premiership pinnacle has now been cut to five points and they only have themselves to blame following their second loss at the same venue on the plastic pitch this season after their Viaplay League Cup exit in August.
The Parkhead men showed a lack of fight, spirit and vigour against workmanlike opponents who simply refused to allow them any space after Celtic had dominated for lengthy spells in the opening 45 minutes.
HEAD DOWN…Brendan Rodgers troops off the Rugby Park pitch with skipper Callum McGregor and his beaten players.
Leading from Matt O’Riley’s 33rd-minute strike, the Hoops were overwhelmed by a rejuvenated Killie after the break.
They made a horrenndous catalogue of errors as they practically gift-wrapped the points to their in-your-face opponents.
Brendan Rodgers has much thinking to do in the fall-out of this result and the manner in which it was allowed to come about. He may also have pertinent questions to answer about some of his own decision-making.
BLUNDER No.1 came in the 75th minute when Greg Taylor was posted missing for the umpteenth time in this encounter and Brad Lyons was given time and space to fire over a low cross from the right.
Nat Phillips threw himself at the cross and looked on in horror as his touch sent the ball spiralling past Joe Hart for the equaliser.
BLUNDER No.2 arrived in the 87th minute and once again the Celts contributed massively to their downfall. Alistair Johnston lost possession at the other end when he passed the ball tamely into the Killie box with his team-mates screaming for a thoughtful pass.
It was worked forward by Daniel Armstrong, who had terrorised a toiling Taylor all day, and the Killie forward knocked a pass in front of Matty Kennedy who was unmarked as he raced onto the ball and drove the winner away from the exposed Hart.
It’s back to the drawing board for the manager with far too many players not standing up to be counted on this miserable occasion.
HOOPS OOPS No.1…Joe Hart is left helpless as Nat Phillips (on ground) diverts in the equaliser.
HOOPS OOPS No.2…it’s misery again for the Celtic keeper as Matty Kennedy nets the winner.
Earlier in a rainswept confrontation, the Hoops had claimed the breakthrough goal after an amazing quickfire incident just after the half-hour mark.
Armstrong shook the frame of Hart’s goal with a scorching half-volley in the 32nd minute.
Fifty-nine seconds later, O’Riley pounced the give the visitors the lead they thoroughly deserved after laying siege to Will Dennis’ goal right from the kick-off.
The on-loan Bournemouth keeper had a series of superb saves to foil the Hoops – plus there was a bewildering miss from Oh Hyeon-gyu smack in front of goal – before Killie came close to taking the lead with their first attack of the day.
Armstrong was left all alone at the back post when a left-wing cross from Matty Kennedy cleared the Celtic defenders. Taylor had been sucked into the middle and the home side’s wily winger had the freedom of the city as he launched a first-time drive at goal.
Hart had no chance as the effort zipped over his head and clattered against the face of the crossbar.
The champions took full advantage when Mikey Johnston set up Callum McGregor on the edge of the penalty area.
The captain shaped to hit a drive with left and sent three defenders the wrong way before he dragged the ball to his right to wallop in an effort which was hurtling in at Dennis’ left-hand post until the netminder got down once again to push the effort away.
That was all O’Riley needed as he sprinted forward to rattle a first-time shot high past the stranded keeper.
MOMENT OF JOY…Matt O’Riley races away after putting Celtic ahead with Killie keeper Will Dennis grounded. Mikey Johnston is about to join in the celebrations while Liam Donnelly vainly appeals for offside.
There was relief mixed with joy as the ball thumped against the rigging with Rodgers’ men beginning to wonder if it was going to be one of those frustrating afternoons where nothing would fall for them.
Just three minutes before O’Riley’s ninth strike of the campaign, Oh had an astonishing miss from four yards after Mikey Johnston had carved open the opportunity with a whipped ball in from the right.
It looked an absolute certainty for the South Korean, but he missed completely and the pass ran to to the far post where Luis Palma followed up to crash an angled drive off the keeper’s right-hand upright.
Before that, Dennis had made excellent stops to defy O’Riley twice and McGregor before the barrier-breaking strike in the 33rd minute.
There was another escape for the Hoops in the 37th minute when Armstrong skipped past Taylor far too easily to zip in a low drive.
Hart dived full-length to push the ball away and Corrie Ndaba followed up to crash the rebound goalward. Somehow Alistair Johnston diverted the ball away from goal.
Then came the mesmerising second-half nosedive from Celtic that invited Killie back into the game.
CRUNCH…Callum McGregor is on the receiving end of a full-blooded challenge from Liam Donnelly.
There was one moment of hope when O’Riley had a half-chance to make it 2-0 when he was sent clear by Oh in the 69th minute, but his low angled drive swept just inches wide of the far post – and Celtic’s chances of three points went with it.
A minute later, Rodgers sent on Yang Hyun-jun for the tiring Mikey Johnston. Kyogo Furuhashi entered proceedings a minute after Killie’s leveller as he took over from Tomoki Iwata and James Forrest was also introduced in the 84th minute when he replaced Palma who disappeared after some close attention from Lewis Mayo.
So, there is a lot for Rodgers to think about as he attempts to steady the ship, but one thing is certain – this second-half display is unacceptable.
TEAM: Hart; A Johnston, Phillips, Scales, Taylor; Iwata (sub: Kyogo 76), McGregor, O’Riley; M Johnston (sub: Yang 70), Oh, Palma (sub: Forrest 84).