Top of the table Kilmarnock, after being compared to Leicester City’s fairytale Premier League triumph of 2015-16, faced the 7 in-a-row champions Celtic in Glasgow to try and prove to the nation that they’re there to stay. No tougher test in place for Killie.
Brendan Rodgers rang the changes for Celtic, six in total after they were held by Motherwell in Lanarkshire. Mikael Lustig, Emilio Izaguirre, James Forrest, Tom Rogic, Scott Sinclair and Odsonne Edouard all replaced Christian Gamboa, Kieran Tierney, Johnny Hayes, Scott Brown, Olivier Ntcham and Leigh Griffiths respectively.
Steve Clarke’s Killie were without the injured Kirk Broadfoot, replaced by Stuart Findlay. Eamonn Brophy was left on the bench along with Chris Burke as Aaron Tshibola and Rory McKenzie started in place of those two as Killie went 4-5-1 to try and flood the midfield.
Fast from Forrest
It would take all of just five minutes for the champions to go ahead courtesy of James Forrest. Filip Benkovic clipped forward to Izaguirre down the left, who crossed for Forrest who escaped Greg Taylor’s attention and coolly volleyed with his left foot, off the right wing, past Daniel Bachmann to give Celtic an early lead.
The earliest league goal the Hoops have scored all season, the winger is now up to double figures. James Forrest razor sharp as ever, superb technique to volley home. Great work to escape Taylor at the back post. Still with lots to do, he made it 1-0 Celtic.
All the pressure came down the Celtic left hand side early on. Ryan Christie’s cross wasn’t dealt with appropriately by Scott Boyd. A poor clearance fell to Tom Rogic on the edge of the area, he stung the palms of Bachmann again. Thankfully for Killie, it was straight at the Austrian.
Bachmann would deny Rogic for a second time, this time from a tighter angle. Craig Gordon would also keep it at 1-0 thanks to a routine stop following Jordan Jones cutting in off the left flank and looking to test the goalkeeper.
Edou-ard to better that
But the home side would go two to the good on 25 minutes. A lovely attacking sequence would see Christie play inside to Rogic who would set Odsonne Edouard through with a first time pass. The young Frenchman took one touch to control before opening up his body and unleashing a postage stamp finish to grab his first goal in six games.
Emilio Izaguirre flashed across goal but Greg Taylor did well to turn it behind as opposed to into his own net. Odsonne Edouard would also have an effort blocked as Celtic were turning on the style, passing from Lustig, Christie and a one-two between Forrest and McGregor before Celtic’s record signing was denied.
Edouard then looked to turn provider, clipping into the box from the resulting corner only for Jozo Simunovic to head straight at Bachmann. He did well to hold onto the ball with Scott Sinclair lurking to turn home any potential rebound.
Free kicks coming to the fore
However, it appeared to be game over before half time as Mikael Lustig stabbed home from a Callum McGregor free kick. The Swede’s 20th goal in 316 appearances in the green and white of Celtic since signing from Rosenborg in January 2012.
The last action of the first half was another Celtic free kick and coincidentally, another Celtic goal courtesy of the Premiership Player of the Month for November – Ryan Christie. Bending, dipping, it beat Bachmann for the young Scot to grab his fourth goal in his last five games.
In the second half, it wasn’t to be long before Killie grabbed a consolation goal. Filip Benkovic was adjudged to have fouled Rory McKenzie in the box after the winger went on a storming run, Nick Walsh pointing to the spot.
Substitute Eamonn Brophy would take it and despite Craig Gordon getting a hand to it, the striker grabbed his eighth goal in 16 appearances for Kilmarnock this season. A great return so far for the 22 year old.
Five star Forrest (and Celtic)
James Forrest hit the post as Celtic hit Killie on the counter but would later grab Celtic’s fifth. Olivier Ntcham, after coming on, laid off to Ryan Christie who looked to exchange a one-two with James Forrest. After nutmegging Stuart Findlay, he tried to slip past Bachmann.
The keeper could well have fouled him but Forrest pounced to finish high into the net as Celtic made it five with over 20 minutes still to play. Top of the table Killie being truly torn apart thanks to a brace from the winger. Scott Sinclair would hit the crossbar as they looked for a sixth but it wasn’t to come.
A remarkable performance from Celtic who conclude their Europa League group with the visit of Salzburg before travelling to the capital on Sunday to take on Hibernian at Easter Road.
The second time Killie have conceded five under Steve Clarke’s stewardship, they’ll look to pick themselves up when they welcome Dundee to Rugby Park.