Celtic’s historic day clouded by unease in draw with Kilmarnock

Leigh Griffiths puts Celtic in front during their draw with Kilmarnock. Picture: SNS.
Leigh Griffiths puts Celtic in front during their draw with Kilmarnock. Picture: SNS.
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When equalling your own 100-year-old unbeaten domestic record, it shouldn’t really matter the manner in which it’s done.

But there were grumbles around Celtic Park on Saturday as the home team threw away their lead and dropped points at home for the third time this season.

Perhaps some of the anguish evident among supporters had more to do with fear of what might unfold in front of them tomorrow, when 
Celtic return to Champions League duty. While Kilmarnock played in red on Saturday, Steve Clarke’s side are no Bayern Munich.

Bayern visit Celtic Park with memories of their dismantling of Celtic 11 days ago still fresh.

Saturday’s draw with Kilmarnock provided little insight into how Celtic might line up against the Germans. On the evidence of the last meeting, however, it might not matter who Brendan Rogers selects – and his options, already curtailed by injury to key defenders, are now further reduced with winger Patrick Roberts ruled out with a hamstring injury. He lasted just half an hour on Saturday.

Bayern warmed up for tomorrow’s return meeting with a 2-0 win over RB Leipzig in Munich. Earlier the same day, Celtic stumbled on their way to equalling their own domestic record for unbeaten games set by Willie Maley’s side between 1915-17.

It is a feat that deserves to ring out through the ages – and will. There was little sense of celebration, however. The stadium announcer did try to valiantly summon up a response. Moments after the final whistle he felt the need to remind those remaining – and many had already drifted off into the evening – to congratulate “Brendan Rodgers and his Invincibles” on “equalling another piece of history”. They received a rather perfunctory reception.

But Rodgers later stressed that his players should feel proud. Whatever they do now in their career, this is something that can’t be taken away from them. The run encompasses the entire length of Rodgers’ spell as manager. Indeed, somewhere in Norway perhaps even Ronny Deila was feeling a degree of satisfaction.

He was, after all, in charge of what stands as the first unbeaten game of the 62 – a 7-0 victory over Motherwell in May 2016.

Leigh Griffiths’ well-taken strike set Celtic on their way just before half-time after getting to the impressive Eboue Kouassi’s long ball just before Kilmarnock goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald. Griffiths’ ninth goal of the season highlighted one of Rodgers’ dilemmas ahead of the Bayern assignment – who to choose to play up front. Moussa Dembele is fit again and might be preferred given his physical attributes.

“It is always nice to reach history like that,” said midfielder Stuart Armstrong, who was sent on shortly after Kilmarnock’s well-worked equaliser from Jordan Jones.

“It is something you can look back on when you are finished and be happy that you were part of it. The occasion itself was a bit disappointing. To get just one point when we were looking for all three.” It’s guaranteed to be less low-key tomorrow. “It is special here at the best of times but Champions League nights it is a different occasion entirely,” said Armstrong. “We had a big game at Pittodrie during the week, a fantastic performance there, and sometimes it is difficult to come off the back of a performance like that but Tuesday is another 
occasion to impress, entertain and hopefully get something out of the game.”

Killie, meanwhile, lapped up the appreciative applause from their own fans after a winning a fifth point in three successive away games in Glasgow. Jones’ goal on the hour was a tribute to his perseverance. After seeing a 20-yard shot bash back off the post he remained composed enough to play a one-two with Rory McKenzie before finishing coolly beyond Craig Gordon.

Defender Stephen O’Donnell insisted Kilmarnock should not be denied credit because Celtic made six changes to their team. “They rested boys during the week as well against Aberdeen and won 3-0, pretty comfortably by all accounts,” he reasoned. “Celtic and Rangers have the squad to have two very good elevens.

“[Tom] Rogic, is he any weaker than Armstrong? It is hardly a weaker team. The back four have rotated all season, so it is probably the strongest team they could have played.”

O’Donnell struggled to put a finger on what exactly Clarke has done to change the side’s fortunes. O’Donnell made the point that they often played well under Lee McCulloch, who was sacked last month, only to be undone by misfortune.

“It’s hard to say,” he said. “Obviously he [Clarke] has been in a couple of weeks and been working on the shape.

“The old manager didn’t do much wrong. We just weren’t winning. We had a lot of close shaves when we could have won games.

“At the end of the day you’re judged on results but the new manager has come in and as it naturally does gives everyone a new a lease of life.”