In broad terms Kilmarnock did the same number on Celtic at Parkhead that the cham-pions themselves almost managed against Barcelona in Camp Nou.
Kilmarnock's annual turn-over of £7m is less than one-seventh of Celtic's £52m, and their average home crowds of about 5000 are dwarfed by the 50,000 who show up at Parkhead, yet the familiarity of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League scene means such facts tend not to be highlighted when Celtic (and until this season Rangers) receive a bloody nose. Scottish clubs routinely face much the same disadvantages against Celtic that they themselves faced in Camp Nou, so it is admirable when they overcome them.
If Celtic were justifiably praised for running Barcelona so close last week, Kilmarnock deserve just as much applause for delivering an entirely unexpected result for the supporters who had the guts to follow them to a venue where they have been relentlessly battered.
The result replaced embarrassment with pride because it had been disgraceful that a club with Kilmarnock's history had, until Saturday, failed to record a single win at Parkhead since 1955. They did it this time with a starting team containing three teen-agers, including a cool 16-year-old right-back, Mark O'Hara, whose only previous appearance had been as a substitute against Stenhousemuir.
The victory was especially enjoyable for Liam Kelly, their midfielder. Kilmarnock's Scottish Communities League Cup final defeat of Celtic in March had been entirely over- shadowed by the death of his father, Jack, at the match. His side's heads were messed up: the urge to celebrate conflicting with an equal urge to fall silent, in shock. On Saturday, their pleasure was unbridled.
"I don't want to go into too much detail about it but obviously it was nice to get this result," said Kelly. "Last time we obviously couldn't celebrate as much as we'd have liked. I think it makes up for it a little bit. It was a great day for the boys – I thought they performed excellently. I just thought it was meant to be."
Cillian Sheridan opened the scoring after Celtic's defence – ironically so sound in Barcelona – messed up to let him through in the 44th minute. Then Kelly himself added the second from a penalty after Emilio Izaguirre fouled Rory McKenzie. Kelly pointed his fingers to the heavens during the celebration: the goal was for his father. "That's always in my mind every time I play football and it was just a great relief. It was nice to score that goal, a nice memory."
Kilmarnock had shown their class in the way Kelly's desperate situation was handled: " All the players, the team, the manager and the staff have been fantastic and I couldn't thank them more."
Kilmarnock had worked on the shape and organisation of their side for days before Parkhead, doing double training sessions in order to be fully prepared. O'Hara and Rory McKeown, two teenage full-backs, held their nerve, centre-halves Ryan O'Leary and Michael Nelson were solid and they were expertly protected by a tireless midfield five.
"We were very hard to break down," said Kelly. "Celtic maybe only had two or three shots on target. To come to Parkhead and to see that statistic is pleasing. We shaped up at Parkhead similar to the way they did in Barcelona."
Celtic were poor, unrecognisable from Camp Nou. Efetobore Ambrose, Joe Ledley, Charlie Mulgrew and others gave away the ball, the defending at the opening goal was chronic, they lost too many 50-50 challenges and their attacks lacked imagination or conviction. It will be a concern to manager Neil Lennon that none of his other strikers is putting real pressure on Gary Hooper, on whom the side is reliant. Miku Fedor was given more than 70 minutes but showed little and was no threat. Fans grumbled at him to move more quickly when he was substituted, yet he slowly ambled off while Celtic were chasing the game. He carried on straight up the tunnel looking like a man in a huff. No-one from Celtic was very happy, mind you.
"We were nowhere near top gear and it was just a bad game," said Adam Matthews. "Our passing was very poor, especially in the first half, and the decision-making was poor. We're not using travel or a hard shift in Barcelona as an excuse, definitely not. We should be able to recover from a game on Tuesday for one on Saturday. There was no spark. I don't know why. That's probably the worst I have played for Celtic and hopefully I can get a chance on Tuesday to put it right. I want to do it as quickly as possible."
He should have his chance. Celtic tomorrow night face St Johnstone at Parkhead in a League Cup quarter-final tie. The fixture is significant for Lennon because it is the only domestic competition he has not won as manager.
"Tuesday night is now a big game for us," said Matthews. "We want to show the fans that we are still a top team and we want to win every competition we are in."
The cliche has it that an Old Firm club is only ever three defeats away from a crisis. It would be nothing of the sort if it goes wrong for them tomorrow but losing the chance of a treble, and a possible tie against a vulnerable Rangers, would not go down well.