Kilmarnock 1-3 Celtic

A double from striker Georgios Samaras helped Celtic to a comfortable win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park and took them back in to second place behind rivals Rangers in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.

It was a remarkable afternoon in Ayrshire which witnessed three penalties – one missed – and a sending off.

Hoops midfielder Shaun Maloney curled home the opener in 25 minutes after missing the target with a penalty after he had been tripped inside the box by Killie defender Garry Hay.

Samaras scored a wonderful solo goal 10 minutes after the break and an 80th minute penalty before Killie midfielder Mehdi Taouil scored a consolation from the spot after Celtic defender Gary Caldwell was sent off for handling a Simon Ford header on the line.

The champions moved back to within three points of their Ibrox rivals who had beaten Motherwell earlier in the day and on this form, they are far from ready to give up their crown.

Before kick-off some Celtic held banners aloft comparing the Rugby Park ticket prices unfavourably with games in other leagues in Europe which probably explained, in part, the poorer than normal travelling support.

There was certainly nothing continental about the opening exchanges, the football being typical SPL fare of brawn and belligerence with Spanish midfielder Marc Crosas trying to introduce some culture to proceedings.

But in the 10th minute it was his midfield team mate Scott Brown who had the first effort for the Parkhead side when he hooked a volley over Alan Combe's crossbar from 14 yards out, followed soon after by Crosas whose effort from distance was even further off target.

The champions looked more threatening and in the 19th minute Hay clumsily tripped Maloney inside the box to concede a penalty.

In the absence of dropped Barry Robson, the former Aston Villa striker opted to take the kick himself but blasted wide of the target.

It was the second penalty the champions had missed in two games, Robson having his spot-kick saved against Aalborg in their Champions League clash at Parkhead in midweek.

However, in the 25th minute Maloney made up for his mistake when he put the visitors ahead with a fine goal which owed everything to technique.

Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink battled with a ruck of Killie defenders at the edge of the box and, when the ball broke to Maloney, he curled it first time past the helpless Combe and in to the top corner.

The champions were in total control of a chaotic match as Killie manager Jim Jefferies replaced Gavin Skelton with Conor Sammon on the half-hour mark but still the Ayrshire side could find little joy.

Five minutes from the interval Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura's first-time pass from inside his own half sent striker Samaras clear down the right. As Killie looked for the offside flag, the Greece international raced in to the box and slid his low drive past Combe but also past the far post.

Parkhead keeper Artur Boruc made a point-blank save from David Fernandez almost on the half-time whistle but Celtic survived the resultant corner.

The match resumed at break-neck pace after the interval, Kilmarnock channelling their attacks through the rugged Sammon but still the visitors remained firm.

Celtic appeared more potent and in the 50th minute Combe pulled off a great point-blank save from the head of Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink after Maloney had floated in a tantalising cross from the left, Killie defender Simon Ford completing the clearance by knocking the bouncing ball away from the line.

But in the 55th minute the Parkhead men doubled their lead with a fine solo goal from Samaras.

The former Manchester City took a Crosas pass and drove down the right flank leaving Kilmarnock centre-back Frazer Wright trailing in his wake before cutting in to the box and drilling the ball past Combe.

Moments later, as Killie went for broke, midfielder Danny Invincibile tested Boruc with a shot from the edge of the box, the Poland international clutching the ball to his chest.

Aiden McGeady replaced Maloney on the hour mark but moments later Samaras beat Combe with a curled shot only to see it deflect off the far post and away to safety.

In the 81st minute Celtic were awarded their second penalty when Killie midfielder Craig Bryson pulled back Nakamura inside the box, Samaras scoring with the penalty but only after Combe had got a hand to his shot.

With five minutes to go Caldwell handled the ball on the line to prevent a Ford header going in and the Celtic defender was sent off before Taouil scored from the resultant spot-kick.

However, there was no danger of a comeback from the home side as Celtic saw the remaining few minutes out.