KILMARNOCK 0 CELTIC 2
BRENDAN RODGERS celebrated his 51st successive game without defeat against a Scottish club with the Parkhead men’s workmanlike success over Killie at Rugby Park this afternoon.
It was far removed from a classic performance from the six-in-a-row champions, but his much-changed line-up got the job done with goals from James Forrest and Callum McGregor.
Rodgers brought in the likes of Anthony Ralston, Calvin Miller, Kundai Benyu and Kristoffer Ajer for much-needed first team action and the Norwegian skyscraper centre-half was the pick of the bunch.
Nir Bitton, who came on as a 70th minute substitute for Benyu, ended the game hirpling after sustaining an injury which is bound to concern the Hoops gaffer with the Champions League play-off second leg against Astana due on Tuesday.
The Irishman is already without Dedryck Boyata and Erik Sviatchenko in central defence, so the last thing he needs is the Israeli international joining them on the sidelines.
However, Ajer’s crisp and composed performance offered him reassurance he could play alongside Jozo Simunovic, missing on this occasion, as the Celts defend a five-goal advantage in Kazakhstan.
The treble winners dominated play from first to last, but Killie keeper Jamie MacDonald, who conceded five in the League Cup earlier at Parkhead this month, was rarely called into action.
Leigh Griffiths injected pace and penetration through the middle when he replaced Forrest with 20 minutes to go.
However, it was the winger who gave the visitors the half-time lead with a neat strike five minutes from the break.
And the man who set it up was Tom Rogic, who was virtually unplayable for most of this encounter.
The Aussie was brushing aside challenges from opponents with ease and he did so again when he picked up a pass from Scott Brown.
He breezed past a tackle, drove wide on the left and then sent a crisp, cute cutback into the tracks of the unmarked Forrest.
The makeshift attack leader didn’t hesitate as he struck a first-time right-foot shot wide of the helpless MacDonald.
And that’s the way it remained until two minutes from the end, despite the Hoops’ overwhelming possession against a team that defended in depth.
McGregor started the move with a ball inside from the right to Rogic. Once again, the Wizard of Oz meandered past a Killie challenge, waited until the precise moment before releasing a pass and then slid the ball through to McGregor who had continued his run.
The midfielder, who had a relatively quiet afternoon, maintained his composure as MacDonald sprinted from his line before stroking the ball to the keeper’s left.
It wasn’t the most enthralling encounter the Celtic support will witness from their favourites in this campaign, but if encouragement is required they only have to look back to last season at the same ground.
A solitary goal from Stuart Armstrong was the only difference between the sides, so they have actually improved upon that.
Now all eyes are on Astana on Tuesday and the belief Celtic will be in the Champions League group stage draw on Thursday.
It’s inconceivable they won’t be on the receiving end of a Â£30million bonus for the second successive season.
Here we go again!
TEAM: Gordon; Ralston, Ajer, Tierney (sub: Bitton 70), Miller; Brown, Armstrong; McGregor, Rogic, Benyu (sub: Lustig 75); Forrest (sub: Griffiths 70).
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— Paul John Dykes (@PaulDykes) August 19, 2017