Apr 13 2012 by Lizzie Smith, Kilmarnock Standard
Clydesdale Bank premier league
AVENGING a League Cup final defeat and clinching the SPL title in one fell swoop was too good an opportunity for Celtic to pass up.
So it was no surprise that they came to Ayrshire all fired up, and in a packed and noisy Rugby Park, they did a proper demolition job on poor old Killie.
There was an amazing atmosphere inside the ground well before kick-off, with all but the Frank Beattie stand given over to visiting fans. They knew that a draw would be good enough to earn them their first SPL title in four years, but the Celtic players were well up for this one, and Killie just couldn’t cope with the green machine.
While the home side were far from their best, it would have taken a massive performance from any team to stop the Celtic steamroller on the day. Neil Lennon’s side had pace, power and penetration that Kilmarnock just couldn’t cope with.
The signs were ominous from very early on when Charlie Mulgrew headed them into the lead on seven minutes, beating a static home defence to divert a Sung Yeung Ki corner into the net. Four minutes later the Killie defence was posted missing again when Gary Hooper ran clear, but on this occasion a linesman’s flag brought play to a halt. No such luck on 16 minutes when defender Glen Loovens joined his attack to head a second Celtic goal, with Mulgrew the provider.
Killie just couldn’t get hold of the ball, and when they did, all too often they conceded possession far too easily.
It was 32 minutes before the Ayrshire side created their first opportunity in their opponents box. Gary Harkins picked out Dean Shiels with a delightful pass, but the Irishman was unfortunate to see his on-target shot blocked and cleared.
Two minutes later Celtic moved three goals ahead and again Mulgrew was the hatchet man. He turned inside James Fowler and picked his spot in the corner of the net with Cammy Bell valiantly trying to keep the ball out with a dive to his left.
By this stage the Killie defence was in a right old tangle, and Georgios Samaras wasted a goal scoring opportunity when he blasted the ball over the crossbar from 10 yards. Two minutes from the break Harkins dinked the ball into the box for Dieter van Tornhout, but on this occasion the Belgian striker couldn’t divert his header on target as he’d done at Hampden a few weeks earlier.
On 44 minutes Shiels lost possession in the Celtic half and another swift break upfield saw the visitors net their fourth, Mulgrew again the provider, his ball to the back post converted by Hooper.
Killie had James Dayton and youngster Ross Barbour, making his debut, on for Garry Hay and Lee Johnston, on the restart, with Fowler moving into midfield.
And the home side certainly made more of a match of it in the second half, although you could argue that Celtic might have eased up a bit, having put the game well out of the Rugby Park side’s reach.
Shiels had a shot blocked on 53 minutes, and Liam Kelly couldn’t find enough accuracy to trouble Fraser Forster after latching on to the rebound.
Paul Heffernan replaced van Tornhout just after the hour mark, and within a minute of his appearance it looked as if Killie might be reduced to 10 men when Bell and Loovens clashed as they went for the ball.
The Killie keeper bravely stayed on despite taking a nasty bang on his knee, but was obviously impaired with the injury.
On 70 minutes Harkins smashed a shot into the side netting, and Fowler passed up a decent shooting opportunity when he blazed the ball over the crossbar from a central shooting position.
Then, just when it looked as if Killie could see out the game without conceding again, the champions struck with two late goals in the last couple of minutes.
Joe Ledley chipped the ball over Bell for the fifth, and then Hooper ended the rout by scoring his second and his side’s sixth.
It was a sore one to take for the Killie fans, but if Celtic left with the points and the SPL title, Kilmarnock can take some consolation from the fact that they benefited to the tune of several hundred thousand pounds.
And it’s not been a bad season, considering that Kenny Shiels’ side has lifted one of the three domestic honours available to Scottish clubs.
Kilmarnock: Bell, Fowler, Sissoko, Nelson, Gordon, Johnston (Dayton), Kelly, Hay (Barbour), Shiels, Harkins, van Tornhout (Heffernan). Subs (not used): Letheren, Racchi, Pursehouse, Kennedy.
Celtic: Forster, Matthews, Wilson, Brown (Twardzik), Samaras (Stokes), Commons, Ledley, Ki, Mulgrew (Blackman), Loovens, Hooper. Subs (not used): Zalluska, Du-Ri, Ibrahim, Brozek.