OPPORTUNITY knocked for Celtic against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park yesterday.

Their nearest challengers Rangers had been held to a 0-0 draw by St Johnstone at Ibrox on Saturday and they had a chance to extend their lead at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership to eight points and take a significant stride towards an eighth consecutive Scottish title with their eighth straight domestic victory.

They took full advantage. However, Brendan Rodgers’s side left it late. They only sewed up the three points in the final minute of regulation time when Scott Brown’s shot was deflected beyond Daniel Bachmann off the outstretched arm of substitute Alex Bruce.

Brown, who had been booked for a foul on Greg Taylor in the first-half, left the pitch to celebrate with the travelling supporters leaving referee Bobby Madden with no choice but to show the midfielder a second yellow card and then a red.

The home team, as always, performed well without creating a huge amount up front. When Kirk Broadfoot, the Kilmarnock centre half, was ordered off for a rash challenge on Brown it gave the visitors a numerical advantage they capitalised on. But the final outcome was harsh on Steve Clarke’s team.

So what did we learn from the afternoon’s events in Ayrshire?


There are always games during the course of a league campaign that a victorious team looks back on as being pivotal. Should Celtic lift the Premiership come May, and their chances of doing so increased enormously with this result, then they will definitely pinpoint this hard-fought and dramatic victory as being key.

Rodgers was at pains to play down the importance of the triumph afterwards. He pointed out there are 36 points still up for grabs. But it is very hard to see the Parkhead club slipping up now given their run of domestic form. They have won all eight of their fixtures in 2019, scoring 22 goals and conceding none. “It’s another step,” said Rodgers. “There’s 12 games to go. There are still a lot of games, is still a lot to play for.”

Psychologically, this was important for the victors too. They had lost both of their previous matches against Clarke’s side away from home. To achieve their objective after their draining defeat at the hands of Europa League rivals Valencia at Parkhead on Thursday night will boost their confidence immensely.

The fact that Rodgers was able to throw on Oliver Burke, Timothy Weah and Vakoun Bayo, who made his debut, as his side pushed for a winner, showed the strength in depth that he has at his disposal following the January transfer window. With the likes of Olivier Ntcham, Kieran Tierney and Tom Rogic set to come back, they will only get better.


The Celtic captain had gone nearly two years without netting before he hit the target in the William Hill Scottish Cup game against St Johnstone at Parkhead last week. Incredibly, he netted another one yesterday, albeit thanks to a considerable deflection off the arm of Bruce, to clinch a vital victory. “It was a great leap by Dedryck (Boyata),” said Rodgers. “You watch it again he heads it back down and then Browny finishes it with a slight deflection. But I think if it doesn’t deflect it’s a penalty.”


The former Rangers defender cost his side dear when he scythed down Brown in the middle of the park in the second-half. Madden was correct to show the player a straight red. Even Clarke was unwilling to defend the challenge afterwards. “From the side of the pitch, it didn’t look great to be honest,” he said. “I won’t be complaining too much about if there is contact.”


Clarke’s side may have gone five games without winning now, but they can head to Glasgow on Wednesday evening for their William Hill Scottish Cup last 16 replay with Steven Gerrard’s side with confidence high after this fine all-round display.

The Rugby Park men will have Youssouf Mulumbu, who is on loan from Celtic and is unable to play against his parent club, available once again and will fancy their chances of claiming the scalp of their hosts and progressing.

Rangers will certainly need to perform far better in midfield than they did at the weekend to avoid getting knocked out of the competition. Gary Dicker, Alan Power and Chris Burke were all immense for Kilmarnock yesterday.

Asked if Kilmarnock could win in midweek, Clarke said: “Why not? Absolutely. W are in good shape, no worries. It is a setback because we didn’t deserve it, but we are grown-ups and will get on with the next game.”


Smoke cannisters were set off by Celtic supporters in the Chadwick Stand housing and a flare was thrown onto the artificial surface as the game kicked off. Kilmarnock substitute Kris Boyd was struck by a missile as he warmed up in front of the away fans in the Moffat Stand in the first-half. Rugby Park player Stephen O’Donnell, meanwhile, was goaded by a follower of the Glasgow club on the pitch after the Brown goal. Seats in both ends were vandalised. This sort of behaviour is becoming almost commonplace in the top flight. The governing body’s stance on trouble makers is clearly not working and should be changed.