On what may prove to have been a season-defining afternoon for Ronny Deila and Celtic, the manic celebrations which greeted Tom Rogic’s goal-of-the-season contender in the 90th minute of a previously underwhelming display by the Scottish champions were understandable.
This was a result which felt hugely significant in their pursuit of the 2016 crown, even before Aberdeen made Deila’s day even more complete by slipping up at Motherwell a few hours later.
The relief and joy experienced by the Norwegian coach burst out with the re-emergence of his “Ronny Roar” post-match celebration which has been dormant for several months.
It may have been out of keeping with the general poverty of Celtic’s performance against a Kilmarnock side desperately unfortunate not to claim a priceless point, but it spoke volumes about how critical this victory might be for Deila and his players, whose wild revelry following Rogic’s strike earned Erik Sviatchenko a gashed right eye as he caught the flailing elbow of a team-mate during the mayhem.
For the Danish central defender, it was a blow worth taking. “It is a good memory for me,” he said. “It just happened when everyone was jumping and shouting while celebrating the goal. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. It was unbelievable. I said when I came here that I wanted to hear the song Just Can’t Get Enough and the fans did it today.
“The goal was unbelievable. I was right behind Tom and saw him turn onto his left foot and hit it. I just thought ‘Yes, it’s going in’. It was such a good strike. “It was the first time I have seen the manager’s celebration after a game and it’s perfect. It would be nice to see more of it. It gives you goosebumps.”
Celtic lacked tempo and fluency as an attacking force, Sviatchenko missing their best chance of a turgid first half when he sent a free header wide. Kilmarnock, energetic and tactically diligent throughout, even appeared capable of snatching victory during an increasingly tense second period.
But they were undone by substitute Rogic’s eighth goal of the season, the Australian turning away from Julien Faubert and crashing an unsaveable left-foot shot beyond Jamie MacDonald from 30 yards.
It leaves Celtic four points clear of Aberdeen with a game in hand as the title race goes into the final stretch.
“I know it is a really, really important three points,” added Sviatchenko. “At this stage, with not so many games left in the season, every game really counts. To score a late winner like this can be really, really important. It is always important to win and if we want to be champions, we have to cope with that pressure all the time.
“Of course we have to play better than this. But on less good days, a good team still has to get three points. I’d rather do that than play wonderful football and not get three points.”
Kilmarnock’s relegation fight remains a daunting one, having taken just one point from Lee Clark’s first five games in charge. But Faubert, who experienced relegation battles with Bordeaux and West Ham United, believes he can help the club avoid the drop.
“I can’t believe this team is where it is in the league,” said the 32-year-old who joined Kilmarnock last month on a deal until the end of the season.
“We need to believe more in our capacity and technique and we need to have more of a killer touch in and around the box.”