CELTIC 5 KILMARNOCK 0
RUTHLESS Celtic dismantled Killie with a devastating, pulverising 90-minute display that must have alarmed the rest of Scottish football.
The Rugby Park outfit were blown away in the Betfred League Cup confrontation at Parkhead this evening during a rampant, one-sided performance from a team that started with six players aged 20 or under.
It will be a daunting task for any team to stop ‘The Invincibles’ as they switch on the after-burners so early in the campaign.
As expected, Brendan Rodgers made wholesale changes from the team that crushed Hearts at the weekend. Only Craig Gordon, Kieran Tierney and Leigh Griffiths remained in the line-up that started against the Tynecastle outfit.
Tierney was given the honour of captaining the Hoops in the absence of suspended skipper Scott Brown.
The Scotland international partnered Kristoffer Ajar in central defence and the giant Norwegian had a marvellous opportunity to score an early opening goal against the side at which he spent all last season on loan.
The Killie defence were slow to react to a Jonny Hayes corner-kick and the towering centre-back was suddenly presented with a great chance.
However, Ajer’s precision was out and the visitors escaped.
It was an early warning shot from the much-changed Celts that they meant business.
Stuart Armstrong skied one over the bar from outside the box before the breakthrough goal arrived.
In the 13th minute, the holders were awarded a penalty-kick after the darting Hayes had been sent crashing to the turf.
Referee Alan Muir took his time, received advice from his assistant and then pointed to the spot.
Griffiths, two-goal marksman against Hearts, didn’t hesitate as he slammed a left-foot drive low into the corner.
The second goal duly arrived eight minutes later and it was a first for young right-back Anthony Ralston.
Griffiths swung in an inviting corner-kick that saw the Killie defence caught napping.
Ralston roared in unhesitatingly to get his head to the ball and divert it goalwards from close range. Jamie McDonald got a hand to the effort, but couldn’t prevent it from hitting the net.
The keeper had better fortune only two minutes later when he got down to snatch an attempt from Griffiths as Celtic threatened to engulf their opponents.
Despite the eight-man switch in personnel, Rodgers’ side were performing as though they had played together for weeks. The understanding, the movement and the variation led to their total domination of groggy rivals.
The game was over as a contest in the 29th minute when Griffiths claimed the third goal and once again the deadly strike from the eager raider emphasised his lightning-swift reflexes allied with his astute quick-thinking.
He made sure he was onside as Tierney sent the ball through. He spun away from the bewildered defenders, desperately claiming for offside, and was left with only the exposed McDonald to beat.
There was only going to be one outcome and Griffiths slipped in his fourth goal in two games with the ease of an accomplished predator.
And he came so close to a quickfire hat-trick when he seized on an error from experienced defender Gordon Greer, but McDonald defied him on this occasion.
Five minutes from the interval, Eboue Kouassi hirpled off after sustaining an apparently innocuous ankle injury and Rodgers sent on £4.5million man Olivier Ntcham to take his place.
Five minutes after the turnaround, a fabulous full-length save from McDonald denied Armstrong a goal when the midfielder connected with a right-foot shot. It looked a certain goal until the keeper made a heroic plunge to repel the danger.
Calvin Miller was thoroughly enjoying the occasion as he bombed forward down the left at every opportunity while Ralston, on the opposite flank, was equally impressive.
Griffiths left to a standing occasion in the 64th minute with James Forrest coming on to lead the attack. Partick Thistle at Firhill on Friday night will be in his sights.
A minute later, the Hoops support were cheering again after witnessing a ferocious 35-yard drive from Tierney that almost tore a hole in the net.
The stand-in skipper accepted a crossfield pass from Ralston, took a couple of touches and then launched an unstoppable drive that simply exploded high into the top left-hand corner of the net with McDonald clawing thin air.
It might just be a contender for Goal of the Season with nine months still to go!
Kundai Benyu, following another crisp, controlled outing, made way in the 70th minute for Callum McGregor.
Sixty seconds later, McDonald had the thankless task of picking the ball from the back of the rigging for the fifth time.
Tom Rogic slid a neat pass into the tracks of Ralston whose pass across the box was perfection for Armstrong to sidefoot beyond the helpless Ayrshire shotstopper.
Killie had no answer to the awesome control of their opponents, with the Celtic players pinging the ball around with efficiency and elegance.
Rodgers allowed himself a broad smile as he witnessed the masterclass from the touchline – and no-one could begrudge the Irishman his obvious satisfaction.
The draw for the next stage is at Dens Park tomorrow night after the Dundee v Dundee United Cup-tie.
No-one will want to be paired with the holders from the east end of Glasgow.
TEAM: Gordon; Ralston, Ajer, Tierney, Miller; Kouassi (sub: Ntcham 40), Armstrong; Hayes, Rogic, Benyu (sub: McGregor 70); Griffiths (sub: Forrest 64).
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