Neil Lennon’s side were briefly under threat of dropping their first points of the season when Eamonn Brophy put Kilmarnock ahead against the run of play but a double from Odsonne Edouard and another strike from the prolific Ryan Christie ensured they stayed three points clear of Rangers at the top of the table.
Their first match at Celtic Park in four weeks was watched by club saviour and former chief executive Fergus McCann who, during an interval appearance on the pitch, addressed the home fans with a rallying cry for ‘9 more in a row’. The Scottish champions are so far ticking every box in their bid to make it nine successive title wins this season.
Kilmarnock have steadied their own ship after an excruciating start to life under Angelo Alessio, the pain of that Europa League exit against Connah’s Quay Nomads salved somewhat by their recent domestic form.
They arrived in the east end of Glasgow on the back of a four-match unbeaten domestic run and proved both organised and focused enough to initially provide a stern test for Celtic.
Lennon’s men spent most of the afternoon on the front foot but found themselves facing some dogged defending.
James Forrest, starting out on the left, carried the biggest threat from the hosts as he gave his Scotland international team-mate Stephen O’Donnell a torrid examination.
Forrest was unfortunate not to give Celtic the lead in the 16th minute when he cut inside and unleashed a shot which struck Laurentiu Branescu’s right hand post with the ‘keeper beaten.
A mistake from O’Donnell gave Edouard his first clear sight of goal a minute later but he was denied by Branescu’s brave save at his feet.
The Romanian ‘keeper was suddenly a very busy man. He spilled Forrest’s next attempt before his defence scrambled clear, then made a smart stop to his right to keep out yet another shot from the winger.
Celtic had a strong appeal for a penalty rejected by referee Greg Aitken in the 27th minute when Alan Power looked to have blocked Forrest’s latest shot with a hand. Killie were hanging on grimly and had another let-off when Boli Bolingoli screwed a simple chance wildly off target.
To compound Celtic’s sense of frustration, they found themselves trailing six minutes later when Brophy plundered Killie’s unlikely opener. Mohamed El Makrini’s through ball caught the home defence flat-footed and Brophy was able to muscle his way beyond a couple of lacklustre challenges and crash a smart finish high beyond Fraser Forster.
Celtic looked briefly rattled by their unexpected setback but regained their poise and purpose in time to find an equaliser just before half-time.
Forrest surged away from O’Donnell and delivered a perfect cross which Edouard met with a firm downward header from the edge of the six yard box to beat Branescu.
Celtic made a storming start to the second half and were in firm control of the contest before the hour mark. Branescu made an acrobatic save to claw away Olivier Ntcham’s curling shot two minutes after the restart but could not prevent Edouard putting the champions in front six minutes later.
A clever reverse pass from right-back Moritz Bauer, making his first starting appearance for Celtic, found Edouard on the right hand corner of the six yard box and he drove a low shot under Branescu.
If Edouard has been very much Celtic’s leading light in attack this season, he nonetheless remains behind Christie in the scoring charts. The in-form playmaker won’t score many simpler than the 57th minute tap-in which gave him his 10th goal of the season after Branescu had done well to block Forrest’s close range header from a Bolingoli cross.
Celtic looked set for a carefree passage to the final whistle but suffered a blow with the loss of central defender Christopher Jullien to injury, then were left both bemused and enraged by referee Aitken’s 86th minute award of a penalty to Kilmarnock for home skipper Scott Brown’s challenge on substitute Osman Sow.
Brown appeared to have won the ball cleanly and there was a sense of justice being done when Forster dived to his right to save Power’s poorly struck attempt from the spot. Lennon’s exasperated show of dissent at the original decision was still enough to earn him a yellow card from Aitken.
The outstanding Forrest was denied the goal his performance merited when he struck the crossbar with two minutes remaining but he and his team-mates could feel more than content with their afternoon’s work.