No slip-ups for wary Celtic as second half salvo secures the points
Celtic 4 Kilmarnock1:Neil Lennon’s priority this week has been to retain the services of Gary Hooper at Celtic but the claiming of Scottish Premier League points will still be welcome.
The odds remain in favour of Hooper staying at Celtic while the transfer window closes, rather than be coaxed to England. The prolific striker actually returned a frustrating performance here but Celtic found other match winners to see off a Kilmarnock team who played their part in an entertaining contest. Celtic’s SPL lead now sits at 15 points.
The visit of Kilmarnock to Celtic Park represented about as much as a home banker as is possible in football until earlier this season, when the Ayrshire side ended a 57-year wait for a league win here.
Four days earlier
Celtic had cause, then, to be wary of their opponents as well as the events of four days earlier. Lennon was utterly scathing of his players in the aftermath of their weekend League Cup semi-final reverse to St Mirren.
One of the players restored to the Celtic starting lineup, Kris Commons, clipped the crossbar with an early deflected free-kick but the opening to this encounter was tame.
Georgios Samaras was the next to come close for the hosts, but the Greece forward shot into the side-netting. Commons came close again after 26 minutes, with an effort which rattled the frame of the Kilmarnock goal. Lukasz Zaluska, the Celtic goalkeeper, scrambled to hold the ball but Kilmarnock’s players claimed that it had first crossed the line. No such award was given.
Whatever the reality, there was no doubt over Celtic’s opening goal. Joe Ledley, who had appeared just moments earlier as a replacement for the injured Emilio Izaguirre, swerved a 25-yard shot sufficiently to deceive Cammy Bell. Lennon’s men had merited that interval advantage.
There was concern for Celtic seconds before the break as Samaras limped from the field with what appeared to be a hamstring problem. More immediately, Lennon fretted about a smartly-executed Kilmarnock equaliser from Cillian Sheridan. William Gros offered an assist.
The home side’s reply was almost immediate and from an unlikely source. After a half-cleared corner broke into his path, full-back Adam Matthews crashed the ball beyond the diving Bell from 25 yards.
Yet 13 minutes from time Kilmarnock should have secured a second equaliser, Jeroen Tesselaar instead shooting over Zaluska’s crossbar.
It was a warning Celtic heeded. In their next attack Anthony Stokes latched onto Hooper’s pass and eluded Bell before slotting into an empty net. The outstanding Matthews added a fourth, Stokes this time turning provider.