Celtic 3-1 Kilmarnock: Top billing for Neil Lennon's champions as they surge 12 points clear

On the weekend when scenes for the latest Batman remake were being shot in Glasgow, a familiar script unfolded at Celtic Park.

Leigh Griffiths makes it 3-1 for Celtic. Picture: SNS
Leigh Griffiths makes it 3-1 for Celtic. Picture: SNS

It had briefly looked as if an unexpected plot twist might emerge in the Premiership title race when, with Rangers leading against St Johnstone in Perth, Eamonn Brophy’s early penalty gave Kilmarnock a surprising early lead against the Scottish champions.

But those Celtic supporters who had been inconvenienced by the road closures around the ground, as the east end of Glasgow became Gotham City for a few hours, soon saw any fears of a slip-up on the march to nine-in-a-row disappear.

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As their Old Firm rivals surrendered another two points in Perth, Neil Lennon’s side stormed back to maintain their relentless domestic form as goals from Kristoffer Ajer, Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths stretched their lead at the top of the table to 12 points.

With just 10 games of the league campaign to go, Celtic remain firmly in the leading role they have performed with such authority in Scottish football for so long.

Their recovery and ultimate dominance of this contest came after they were uncharacteristically slow out of the blocks.

It was Kilmarnock who were on the front foot first of all and they came close to making the breakthrough even before Brophy’s emphatically converted spot-kick.

With barely 60 seconds on the clock, Stuart Findlay saw his header from Stephen O’Donnell’s corner blocked, the ball breaking to Nicke Kabamba whose shot was deflected just wide off Callum McGregor, Celtic’s captain for the day in place of Scott Brown.

Perhaps the absence of their normal leader, so much of a driving force in their relentless gathering of silverware in recent years, was a factor in Celtic’s sluggish start as they fell behind in the sixth minute. Jozo Simunovic found himself on the wrong side of Brophy as the Kilmarnock striker bustled his way into the area, going down under a clumsy challenge from the big defender.

Referee Kevin Clancy had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and even penalty specialist Fraser Forster was powerless to keep out Brophy’s thunderous strike.

Celtic were jolted into a more accustomed style of play as they upped the tempo and set about camping themselves inside the Kilmarnock half.

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Griffiths dragged a shot well wide after good build up work from Edouard and Tom Rogic, then as the pressure intensified Kilmarnock goalkeeper Laurentiu Branescu got down to his left to hold a 20 yard effort from Rogic.

As the visitors struggled to get out of their own defensive third, Branescu preserved their lead with a smart save from Griffiths, although it was a premium chance the Celtic striker would have expected to finish off.

Simunovic then almost spectacularly atoned for his part in Kilmarnock’s goal when he joined the attack and unleashed a wickedly dipping shot from around 30 yards which Branescu did well to touch over.

It seemed inevitable that Celtic’s incessant pressure would pay off and so it proved as they turned the match around with two goals in the space of four minutes. The 29th minute equaliser came when Kilmarnock were unable to clear a corner from the left, the ball knocked back across the six yard box by Christopher Jullien for Ajer to force home a shot with the aid of a deflection off Niko Hamalainen.

Celtic’s second goal was similar in its build-up and execution. This time, Greg Taylor’s cross from the left was headed back into the six yard box by Simunovic, presenting Edouard with a chance which he bundled in with the ball ricocheting off Kirk Broadfoot on its way into the net.

There was never any likelihood of Celtic relinquishing the control they had now taken on proceedings and any prospect of Kilmarnock finding a response effectively evaporated when Power was dismissed 12 minutes into the second half.

The combative midfielder had already been booked in first half stoppage time for a foul on Ryan Christie and referee Clancy deemed his challenge on Jeremie Frimpong, who was injured in a clash with the Irish midfielder last month, as worthy of a second yellow card.

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Mercifully for Kilmarnock, they were spared from being on the end of what could easily have been a rout as Celtic were wasteful in front of goal. They had to settle for adding just one more to their tally, Griffiths tapping in from close range after Edouard and Christie had combined superbly on the left to carve open the overstretched Killie defence.

The afternoon ended with brothers on rival teams as Ally Taylor, younger sibling of Celtic full-back Greg, made his debut for a Killie side whose hopes of a top six finish may be slipping away.