• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

No suspense or worry for champions in match for the anoraks

THERE is a temptation of late to sub-contract all Celtic domestic match reports to the National Office for Statistics.

Joe Ledley, who has still not committed his future to Celtic, celebrates scoring his side's opening goal. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Joe Ledley, who has still not committed his future to Celtic, celebrates scoring his side's opening goal. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

The overwhelming superiority of the champions provides a script that Alfred Hitchcock would struggle to make exciting. Domestically, only Morton have upset Celtic this season and that was back in September in the League Cup. The rest of the season in the league and Scottish Cup has been marked by victories achieved with ease.

This has left many observers peering at figures rather than spheres. Last night produced four goals for the champions, three points, took them 18 points clear in the league, extended a clean sheet run to 11 domestic games, equalled Celtic's league record of clean sheets, and ensured that Neil Lennon's side extends its unbeaten campaign in the SPFL Premiership to 23 matches. One feels that this paragraph is the equivalent of football bingo, meriting a shout of 'house!' at its conclusion.

The intrigue for the spectator for whom facts and fixtures are a necessary adjunct to the beautiful game rather than its most attractive feature was limited but still gently compelling.

First, Mr Hitchcock could have constructed a scene-setter over the Missing Man, namely Kris Boyd who was relegated to the bench, presumably in deference to a policy of containment formulated by Allan Johnston, the Kilmarnock manager.

The starring roles, therefore, fell to those in green and white shirts and Celtic were commendably aggressive and vibrant in stretching both their lead at the top of the league and their legs in harrying a beleaguered Kilmarnock to win 4-0.

The moments of unease for the champions were limited. There was a shout from the hosts for a penalty with the score at 0-0 when William Gros went down in a collision with Virgil van Dijk but Brian Colvin, the match referee, ruled no foul and there was a suspicion the incident was outside the box.

He had earlier declined to award a penalty to Celtic when Kris Commons' shirt was pulled by Manuel Pascali but these two incidents were to signify the end of any grip Kilmarnock had on the game, though Pascali did force the save of the match from Fraser Forster in the second half when the Englishman blocked the Italian's side-footed shot from close in.

The blunt truth, though, is that within 21 minutes the match was over except for those compiling statistics of varying degrees of interest. The catalyst for victory was of Ayrshire provenance, coming in the shape of Prestwick lad James Forrest.

The Scotland internationalist has had an inconsistent season on the field and a troubling one off it. He has undoubtedly, too, been restricted by injury, notably to his back. However, he is capable of the spectacular, offering Celtic pace and the sort of cutting edge that wounds defences, invariably fatally in Scotland.

He threatened Kilmarnock early in combination with Darnell Fisher, his enterprising full-back, but it was when he drifted inside that he stuck the dagger into the heart of the hosts. A quick dart and a sudden stop in the 11th minute was followed by a turn that petrified the Kilmarnock defence. A slick through ball was then played to Joe Ledley who slid the ball neatly across Craig Samson and into the net.

Ten minutes later Forrest disdained the need of a team-mate in the scoring of the second. He turned Jeroen Tesselaar so often that the full-back was disoriented rather than just dismissed. The winger's sharp cross was subsequently turned into the net by Lee Ashcroft. Charlie Mulgrew's goal in the 67th minute was an almost unnecessary punishment as he poked home Ledley's clipped pass deep in the area. Amido Balde's late fourth was certainly painful for Samson who allowed the shot to slip through his hands.

These counters were surrounded by a sea of Celtic possession and opportunity. Scott Brown had a powerful shot saved, Emilio Izaguirre's relentless running down the left produced a series of crosses that slipped across goal and Commons was regularly dangerous, particularly when he picked his way through the Kilmarnock defence but could not contrive a shot of any undeniable power.

Johnston brought on Barry Nicholson for the promising but slight Greg Kiltie, and Mark O'Hara for Sean Clohessy, but - apart from that Pascali moment - the momentum continued to swing inexorably towards Samson, though Celtic could not expect to be urgent given the relative ease afforded by the scoreline.

The script played out with the usual main players supplying their cameos. A clever Commons cross was headed over by Teemu Pukki, offering a motif for the respective seasons for both players. Forrest, the leading man, had a patch that was boldly purple, crossing for Commons to volley into the ground but not the net and cutting back for Mulgrew to hit the post, though the midfielder was soon consoled by his goal.

All Kilmarnock could summon in reply was another cry for a penalty when Izaguirre casually played in Rory McKenzie and the visiting player went down to the indifference the referee but to the annoyance of Johnston who was subsequently rebuked by the match official.

Pukki, who again could not score despite several chances and eager running, was replaced by Balde, who scored and was booked for his celebration, and then Forrest was substituted with the introduction of Derk Boerritger.

In truth, Bo Diddley could have come on and it would have made no difference to the outcome, though it may have confused the statisticians.

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

209277