KILMARNOCK 2 – 2 CELTIC
CELTIC threw away two points in the most dramatic fashion against a battling Kilmarnock side at Rugby Park.
The Hoops looked to be heading for a ninth vitory in a row over the Ayrshire outfit following a Nir Bitton spcial 10 minutes after the interval that made it 2-1.
However, a lapse in concentration at the back three minutes from time gifted Killie a penalty-kick when referee Craig Allan adjudged that Emilio Izaguirre had brought down Greg Kiltie on the touchline.
It looked clumsy from the Honduran and the match official had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Karl Higginbotham stepped up to take the award and cheekily sent Craig Gordon to his right as he almost nonchalantly lobbed the ball down the middle.
Ronny Deila on the touchline looked shocked And so did his players. And no wonder.
The Hoops had the opportunities to win at least two games, but came up against a keeper in inspired form while not helping their own case with some careless finishing.
Bitton has scored only four goals in his Celtic career, but the Israeli midfielder hits the ones that stick in the memory bank and the one tonight looked like it deserved to be a matchwinner.
His effort just about brought the house down at the same time as the ball just about took the net away. Bitton ambled forward to pick up a square pass from Tom Rogic 10 minutes after the interval about 25 yards out.
He took two touches, sized up the situation and then sent a guided missile of a shot sizzling high into the roof of the net with the heroic Jamie McDonald absolutely helpless.
That looked good enough to make it three wins on the trot in defence of the title, but Celtic were caught out when Killie snatched their spot-kick leveller at the death.
In the opening stages it looked as though Celtic were going to coast to the points when Leigh Griffiths gave them the lead inside two minutes.
Malmo coach Age Hariede, watching closely from the Rugby Park stand, must have been delighted to see some sloppy play from next week’s Champions League rivals.
And, yet, it should have been done and dusted inside the first half-our of a one-way confrontation with a slick Celtic team playing at a high tempo on a sticky plastic surface.
Some marvellous quick-thinking from Kris Commons set up the breakthrough goal in exactly one minute 49 seconds.
The midfielder swept through an instant free-kick from wide on the right with the Killie defence switching off.
Griffiths read the situation perfectly and raced behind the hesitant Mark Connolly, bore down on the exposed McDonald and slipped the ball away with the minimum of fuss.
Five minutes later Rogic smuggled the ball in front of Commons, but his low drive was well held by the keeper who must have realised he was heading for a busy evening.
In the seventh minute, the busy James Forrest, eager to impress, skipped past a couple of tackle to roll the ball in front of Rogic and the Aussie, who scored his first goal for the club at the weekend against Partick Thistle, looked to add to his total. He sent an angled drive whistling towards the net before McDonald frantically beat the ball to safety.
It was total domination from Celtic at this stage as they laid siege on the Killie goal. Griffiths then took aim from 25 yards, but once again McDonald, acrocbatically diving to his right, dealt with the danger.
In 17 minutes, it was Stefan Johansen’s turn to have a go and once again the keeper made a solid save to thwart the hard-working Norwegian.
Commons let the bench know he was struggling and he was taken off in the 29th minute with Gary Mackay-Steven taking over. Commons immediately made for the dug-out to have ice placed on his troublesome left groin.
Celtic got a scare in the 35th minute when a prodded ball forward from Darryl Westlake found Josh Magennis running clear of Virgil van Dijk and Efe Ambrose.
However, the burly frontman lost composure just when it mattered most and skied a wayward attempt high over the crossbar.
Craig Gordon rescued the team minutes later when he booted a Lee Ashcroft header off the line following a right-wing free-kick from Stevie Smith.
And two minutes from time the champions paid a heavy cost for not converting their dominance into goals when Killie levelled.
Westlake again got clear on the right to fire over an inviting cross and Magennis got in before Ambrose to tuck the ball behind Gordon.
But then came Bitton’s marvellous goal in the 55th minute and everything looked on course again.
Charlie Mulgrew had an effort chalked off for offside in the 83rd minute before the bombshell moment five minutes later.
A harsh lesson was learned and a timely reminder, hopefully, before Malmo come to town next week.
TEAM: Gordon; Janko, Ambrose, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Johansen, Bitton (sub: McGregor 85); Commons (sub: Mackay-Steven 29), Rogic, Forrest (sub: Mulgrew 59); Griffiths.