TOWARDS the end, the public address announcer delivered the considered verdict of the Kilmarnock jury in the business of the man of the match.
Kilmarnock 1 - 3 Celtic
Scorers: Kilmarnock - Sheridan (90); Celtic - Brown (27), Ledley (65), Samaras (74)
These awards always go the way of a home player and so it proved again, the admirable Liam Kelly getting it for grafting away from first minute to last. This was a day, though, when normal practice should have been chucked out of the window, for the game’s outstanding player was obvious. In scoring one, making a second and playing a part in the third, Scott Brown was clearly the most influential man on the park, his only competition in that regard coming from his own players, the excellent Adam Matthews in particular.
Brown has a dodgy hip, not that you would have noticed when looking at his performance and not that he was in the mood to talk about it afterwards either. “Injury talk does my tits in, man,” he said, exiting his press conference in something of an abrupt fashion. According to Neil Lennon, Brown has avoided surgery because he is getting by with the help of the odd cortisone injection, the last of them being two and a half weeks ago, something that Brown himself seemed to deny yesterday.
“I’ve not had an injection in a long time,” he said. “I think we have had enough talk about this surgery, it is boring me now so I think we’ll get on to other things.” Which, of course, he didn’t, because he exited straight away. Bizarre, but no matter.
“He’s quality, quality player,” said his manager. “I’m more than satisfied with the team. I thought they were brilliant. Their attitude, the quality of their passing was excellent. It looked like they were really enjoying themselves. Brown, Matthews and Joe Ledley were fantastic but I could go through the whole list. The third goal (after an extended passing sequence) epitomised the team. Every outfield player touched the ball before the ball hit the net.”
Just before the half hour, Celtic took a hold of the game when Gary Hooper sent Matthews away up the right, the full-back’s cross being met by Brown whose shot found the net despite Cammy Bell’s best efforts. It was the first of the season for the Celtic captain, the first since he scored a penalty against Rangers, a game that took place back in March but actually feels like it happened about two years ago given all that has happened since then.
So that was Celtic on their way. Lennon’s call for an end to the calamitous domestic form in the days directly after Champions League glory had been heeded at the umpteenth time of asking. A one-goal lead is a precarious thing, of course. Especially against a team with a recent track record of beating their visitors in the same place where Barcelona and Benfica faltered. Not just there, of course. At Hampden, too. Killie were well beaten in the end here, but they were dogged and made Celtic work for it, made them produce some lovely stuff to put up the score they did, Brown driving them forward aided by Ledley with Matthews scurrying up and down his side of the pitch like a dervish. Lennon said later that this was Matthews’ best game for Celtic.
Before Celtic pulled away, Killie might even have drawn level, but here again we saw a side of Celtic that we haven’t always seen in games following their Champions League exploits. In this instance we saw determination from Charlie Mulgrew to get his body in the way of a close-range Paul Heffernan shot that might well have found the net had Mulgrew not been so alert. That was inside of a minute at the start of the second half and it seemed to serve as a wake-up call for Celtic, a reminder that a subconscious easing of the pressure they were applying on Killie might have dire consequences – more dropped points and a volley from their manager that they could have done without.
So they kicked on. All of the serious intent that was in the game now was coming from the visitors; from Brown, from Matthews, from others in fits and starts. The second goal produced another fine moment from Brown who, having taken a pass from Victor Wanyama, then squared to Ledley in the six-yard box, the Welshman tapping home once the hard work of getting in ahead of Ryan O’Leary had been done
There was a third – and it was a picture. Celtic strung so many passes together that Killie had lost their bearings by the time Brown got on the ball, flipped it up and over the head of his nearest challenger, and sent it on to Matthews who swept a cross to the back post where Georgios Samaras nutted in. The goal was a delight and, even when Cillian Sheridan volleyed a consolation past Fraser Forster in the last seconds, it hardly raised a ripple of applause.
It certainly didn’t bother Lennon much. Not a lot does in these heady days.
Kilmarnock: Bell, Fowler, O’Leary, Nelson, Tesselaar, Racchi (56), Kelly, Perez (68), Harkins (68), Heffernan, Sheridan, Subs used, Sissoko (56), McKenzie (68), O’Hara (68). Celtic: Forster, Matthews, Wilson, Ambrose, Izaguirre (76), Brown, Ledley, Wanyama, Mulgrew, Hooper (82), Lassad (66), Subs used, Samaras (66), Kayal (76), Miku (82)
Referee: C Thomson. Attendance: 6,501