A first half strike from Stuart Armstrong was enough to secure a seventh straight league victory for Celtic in a hard fought encounter at Rugby Park and see the Champions open up a 13 point lead at the top of the table with just a third of the season gone.
At the end of a first half in which Celtic dominated but failed to create many clear cut chances Armstrong was quickest to latch onto a through ball from Moussa Dembele and slot a well placed finish past Jamie MacDonald in the Killie goal. It was a rare moment of composure in the final third up to that point from the Hoops whose intricate passing play had often broken down around the Kilmarnock penalty area with a number of final passes not quite making the mark.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first with Celtic enjoying the lion’s share of possession for the most part, however, increasingly as the game progressed Kilmarnock grew as an attacking force and looked to capitalise on some sloppy Celtic defending as the Hoops repeatedly try to overplay their way out of defence.
The introduction of Tyson and Coulibaly in the second half gave the hosts a greater threat going forward than the ineffectual Bojaj, however, in truth it was Celtic who came closest to doubling their lead with Lustig, Roberts and Forrest all coming close.
THE BOYATA EXPERIMENT
Possibly even more of a shock to the system than seeing Celtic run out in a pink strip was the sight of forgotten man Dedryck Boyata in the heart of the Celtic defence; a sight not seen since the days of Ronny Deila and one that many Celtic fans hoped they’d never see again.
In the absence of Jozo Simunovic and with Kolo Toure presumably being wrapped in cotton wool with Barcelona in mind, the Belgian was given a rare run out alongside Eric Sviatchenko but did little to convince his doubters of his abilities. The usual flaws in Boyata’s game were once again highlighted as he was often caught out of position, looked off the pace, and was sloppy with his distribution. Fortunately for Celtic, Sviatchenko was on top form once again and guided his centre half partner through the game and to Celtic’s sixth consecutive clean sheet in the league.
TIKI-TAKA CELTIC STYLE
Under Ronny Deila Celtic were often labelled as predictable and laborious on the ball, not so under Brendan Rodgers. This season has seen Celtic take on a high pressing game complimented by a desire to control possession and recycle the ball quickly, often using short sharp passing in triangles; not too dissimilar to the style made famous by Wednesday nights opponents, although admittedly not quite at the same level.
Celtic once again looked to impose their style on tonight’s match and looked very comfortable on the ball, especially in the middle third of the park with Brown, Armstrong and the attacking trio behind Dembele inter changing quick passes and controlling the game. However, for once Celtic’s ruthless edge deserted them tonight with a lack of penetrating passes piercing the well organised Killie defence.
Defensively Celtic also looked to over play it at times when an old fashioned clearance up the park would have sufficed with Kilmarnock almost profiting on more than one occasion; against better opposition Celtic might not be so lucky.
GOAL SHY KILLIE HARD TO CRACK
After suffering a 6-1 mauling by Celtic last time out, it was little surprise to see Lee Clark send his team with a more defensive and pragmatic approach. Kilmarnock gave up possession to Celtic and were well drilled defensively, not allowing Celtic any time to pick holes through their defensive ranks before looking to counter.
The decision however to leave top scorer Souleymane Coulibaly – the last man to score a domestic against Celtic – out of the team in favour of the Albanian Flo Bajaj left many scratching their heads. Kilmarnock have struggled in front of goal this season with only bottom club Ross County scoring fewer goals and therefore going into a game against the league leaders without the clubs main goal threat was a strange decision. Bajaj tried hard but ultimately offered nothing and it wasn’t until the second half arrivals of Nathan Tyson and Coulibaly that Killie posed the Celtic defence real problems.
As the game came to a close Celtic had reasserted their authority and deservedly held on for another win on their seemingly relentless charge to the title.
Oh yeah, that PINK top, I’m quite sure about that.