Celtic's Sunday stroll in Ayrshire: the boa constrictor, Ange conducts fans, why coaches deserve so much praise
But as their manager Ange Postecoglou said at the start of this month, winning with Celtic is not easy. It may look it, but this type of result is the fruits of much labour, session after session on the training ground, honing their high-tempo, ultra aggressive, attacking game. For 27 minutes of this encounter at Rugby Park, Celtic were off-the-charts good, scoring four goals and leaving Kilmarnock out cold on the canvas. Had this been a boxing bout, the referee would have sent everyone home for lunch. To their credit, Killie managed to stop the haemorrhaging and make the rest of the match a slight contest, scoring one themselves. However, the damage had all been done.
Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes felt it was like watching a “car crash” for half-an-hour. Postecoglou saw it differently, saying Celtic played some of their best football of the season. It takes two to tango and as horrendous as Kilmarnock were in that spell, their visitors were scintillating. There is no match for this kind of football in Scotland. Kyogo Furuhashi opened the scoring on seven minutes and 20 minutes later it was 4-0, with Daizen Maeda netting and Matt O’Riley bagging a brace. Furuhashi even hit the post with a penalty in that period. It brought back memories of when Celtic completely filleted Dundee United 9-0 in August.
Kilmarnock are made of sterner stuff than the Tangerines and McInnes deserves credit in making substitutions just after the fourth goal that stiffened his team up. Playing with two forwards in Christian Doidge and Kyle Vassell, the hosts actually started brightly and were keen on taking the game to Celtic. But what McInnes had not banked on was a moment of complete madness from his midfielder Fraser Murray, who had the ball close to Celtic’s corner flag, decided to take possession back towards the half-way line and then play a moronic pass to defender Joe Wright. He weighted it wrong, Furuhashi pounced, drove towards goal, cut back on to his left foot and finished past Sam Walker. Murray’s crestfallen face said it all.
Like a boa constrictor with its prey in its grip, Celtic tightened the squeeze. Kilmarnock were suffocated. Five minutes later, Alistair Johnston stood a cross up to the back post and Maeda headed home. The boos came from the Killie fans. Six minutes later, a precision pass from Greg Taylor found O’Riley in the box and he sent the ball high into the net. 3-0. Then Doidge tripped Taylor in the box on 22 minutes. Penalty, no doubt. Furuhashi sent Walker the wrong way but his effort hit the base of the post. He smiled. He knew it would not be costly. Five minutes later, Murray sclaffed a clearance back into his own box, Killie couldn’t recover and O’Riley netted. 4-0. It was the third time Celtic had scored four in the first half of a match this season and Maeda’s effort was the 100th of the league campaign. A reminder: we are still in April.
All this was done without three regular starters. Given the nature of Kilmarnock’s synthetic pitch, Postecoglou took no chances with defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, midfielder Aaron Mooy and forward Jota. Yuki Kobayashi came in for his third start since joining from Vissel Kobe, while Tomoki Iwata strolled it in midfield and Sead Haksabanovic was a menace on the right flank. The way these players can assimilate seamlessly to the way Celtic play is a testament to the coaching staff and how they prepare this group of players. Kobayashi, up against the physical Vassell, looked completely at ease.
The same cannot be said of Kilmarnock right now. They are in a right dogfight at the bottom, sitting 11th and only a point clear of Ross County at the bottom. McInnes can at least take some solace from his team not doing at Dundee United and completely submitting. The introduction of Alan Power to the midfield after the fourth goal helped and they got a consolation right on half time when Liam Donnelly netted. In the second half, Luke Chambers nearly added another but Joe Hart pulled off an excellent save and they were competitive. Easy to be like that once the damage is done, though. As McInnes said afterwards, games against Celtic won’t decide their fate, but it will be a nervy end to the season for all of a Rugby Park persuasion.
Conversely, no league jitters for Celtic. As written many times before, it is just a question of when they will be crowned champions with a 12-point lead over Rangers with six games to play. Their second-half display was bitty, Furuhashi replaced at the interval by Hyeong-yu Oh, whose South Korea manager Jurgen Klinsmann was in the stand to watch. Oh is far more physical than Furuhashi and had one moment where he came close to scoring. McInnes also claimed he should have been sent off for a high boot on Donnelly. Klinsmann called the 22-year-old “a special talent” and will hope he gets more game-time at Celtic, but with the frighteningly good form Furuhashi is in, that seems unlikely. The Japanese is now on 29 goals for the season.
Postecoglou used the meandering conclusion to this contest to hand a debut to 18-year-old midfielder Ben Summers. It was that kind of afternoon. At full time, he did his usual, saluting the fans for a good two minutes. As he walked off the pitch, the chant of “champions again” rang out from his adoring crowd. Like a conductor, Postecoglou lifted his right hand and kept them singing. He knows it's close now. Champions again. Nobody is stopping this Celtic team.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.