Liam Kelly and Kilmarnock are finally able to celebrate beating Celtic

THOSE of us who chuntered on about none of Celtic’s league games this season really mattering, and there were plenty, failed to grasp fully the extent to which any individual encounter could manufacture the momentous.

THOSE of us who chuntered on about none of Celtic’s league games this season really mattering, and there were plenty, failed to grasp fully the extent to which any individual encounter could manufacture the momentous.

Celtic 0 - 2 Kilmarnock

Scorers: Kilmarnock - Sheridan(43), Kelly (62 pen)

Referee: C Allan

Attendance: 47,971

We do now. Even if the result, just like any other in the championship by Neil Lennon’s men, won’t be relevant when it comes to their retention of the title, Saturday’s 2-0 victory for Kilmarnock in the east end of Glasgow was one for the ages.

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Great care requires to be taken not to become mawkish about the Rugby Park club’s first win in 69 attempts and 57 years at Celtic Park being sealed by a penalty from Liam Kelly, only seven months after his dad Jack died at Hampden just as his son was preparing to savour a success over Celtic that claimed the club a first-ever League Cup. Yet, equally, anyone would require to be terribly hard-hearted not to be moved by the thought that the weekend win could offer Kelly and Kilmarnock some sort of footballing closure on that day. As was suggested by Kenny Shiels, whose own capacity for moments to resonate through the years for the Rugby Park faithful is proving extraordinary. He described the weekend victory as the chance, denied them in the cup final in March, to celebrate beating the best team in Scotland “without feeling guilty about it”.

To his great credit, Kelly spoke to press after an occasion when scoring from the spot had led him to slide to his knees and point to the heavens. It is entirely understand that the midfielder says the grief of losing his father while he was watching him play for Kilmarnock frames his thoughts on the field. “That’s always in my mind every time I play football and it was just a great relief [to convert the penalty]. It was nice to score that goal, a nice memory,” he said.

“I don’t want to go into too much detail about it but obviously it was nice to get this result today. Last time round we obviously couldn’t celebrate as much as we’d have liked and I think it makes up for it a little bit. It was a great day for the boys and I thought they performed excellently on the pitch. I just thought it was meant to be, because of the way we played.”

Kelly thought a penalty conversion for him was meant to be as soon as Crawford Allan blew for a lazy challenge from behind by Emilio Izaguirre on Rory McKenzie. “I think I just ran over and grabbed the ball, and no-one was taking it off me! But I wanted to take the penalty as soon as we won it. It was the first thing on my mind. I’m glad I took it and that I managed to score the goal. I just tried to shut everything out and concentrate on the penalty. I tried not to let any outside influence affect me: the fans, the keeper, the players. I knew what I wanted to do and just concentrated on the penalty, so when the time came to take it I just executed it.”

The weekend win, Kelly believes, “made up a bit” for the fact that emotionally, the club and support were left horribly conflicted by what happened to his father as silverware was landed for the first time in 15 years. “The players were fantastic really, the way they conducted themselves,” Kelly said of the cup final aftermath. “They were brilliant. They had a right to go and celebrate their victory – of course they did because it was a massive win for them, and I didn’t want to take anything away from them. All the players, the team, the manager and the staff have been fantastic and I couldn’t thank them more.”

Many would argue that Kilmarnock’s latest lancing of Celtic – which Neil Lennon said was owed to the worst performance of his tenure, and which Kris Commons said found a team with five changes from that which performed so courageously in Barcelona going to the other “extreme” and “playing like strangers; looking like lost boys” – cannot be separated from the twin inhibitors of a Champions League week and there being no Rangers to offer a threat to their title status. We might have more of an indication as to where Celtic’s heads are at domestically when they play St Johnstone tomorrow night at home in the Scottish Communities League Cup quarter-final, a game they cannot lose without the complexion of their season being materially altered.

Yet, with their mix of proving commendable in continental competition while capable of the odd calamity within their own set-up, Celtic are doing Scottish football favours on two fronts. Kilmarnock only had to be compact and competent to punish their opponents. For their 42nd minute opener, former Celtic player Cillian Sheridan capitalised on a poor pass by Adam Matthews to Efe Ambrose, a poor attempt by the defender to clip the ball past the Irishman and then poor decision-making by Fraser Forster to half come and half not come to meet the ball which Ambrose had deflected off Sheridan.

The fact Celtic are open to such vulnerability has meant, far from the embarrassment the SPL table was supposed to look by now, it resembles a credible league with the gap between the first and fourth team smaller in Scotland than it is currently in England, Spain, Germany and Italy. That won’t last, but the fact a Celtic record held from 1955 didn’t make it through the weekend means our top flight is still capable of surprising and enthralling.