It was more than just a dramatic victory that Kilmarnock claimed over Celtic in the closing seconds yesterday, courtesy of Stuart Findlay’s glancing header from a corner.
The climax offered up irrefutable evidence of the dramatic collapse being witnessed in the standards hitherto taken for granted from a Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic side.
The Scottish champions aren’t merely a pale imitation of the team that swept all before them on the home front these past two seasons. They aren’t even living up to good, bad and indifferent Celtic iterations of the past 20 years in harvesting only ten points from their first six games. Not since Josef Venglos’ side took only nine points from the same number of matches in 1998-99 have Celtic
proved so fallible in the opening
stages of a league campaign.
Their vanquishing at Rugby Park leaves them with only one win in
seven games on the road. Celtic’s aura of invincibility built up across two years under Rodgers is being rubbled. Opponents don’t just think they have a chance of shooting down the champions... they are shooting them down.
There is a lack of invention and ingenuity within Celtic’s forward areas that means they simply cannot put teams away. Rodgers attempted to address that by changing the whole front-end of the team from the one that squeezed out a win over Rosenborg on Thursday night. They never looked like doing that even after Leigh Griffiths, against the run of play, put them one-up following a tousy opening half hour.
As Rodgers said afterwards, the encounter was “scrappy”. Neither side made many inroads into the other’s penalty area. But Steve
Clarke’s team, as they now
consistently do against Rodgers’ men, proved more at one with scrapping it out in fashioning the coup de grace.
Clarke considered the football gods were with his club over the fact that Chris Burke was rejected when screaming at team-mates to come to him so that he could play the corner short and run down the clock. And that those gods were with them, too, in the fact that Findlay was there to glance Burke’s swung-in corner beyond Craig Gordon when he was playing in pain from a knock that ought to have forced him off.
Ryan Christie, one of six Celtic changes from Thursday evening that included on-loan Leicester City defender Filip Benkovic being lost in the warm-up, bemoaned the fact that Celtic contrived to lose a game in which the opposition had so few shots on target.
Yet, that was true of the visitors also. Celtic’s goal was not the result of a deep-lying Kilmarnock being carved open but of their two centre-backs committing calamities. A
Kieran Tierney ball in from the left saw first Kirk Broadfoot have a swipe that led to the ball bouncing at the feet of Greg Taylor. His clearance was then sliced to knock the ball on to junction between bar and upright, with the rebound leading to a
scramble in which Griffiths nicked in ahead of Scott Sinclair to head in from close range.
There was more needle than would be witnessed at a sewing bee across the afternoon in which Youssouf Mulumbu had an eventful return to the club he graced on loan last season. He ended up being the subject of the home supporters’ rage after a series of ill-tempered tussles with Aaron Tshibola that led to both men being booked by referee Craig Thomson on the hour as he struggled to retain control.
Celtic appeared to have a grip of proceedings during this period but it laid bare their shortcomings that it was during this spell Kilmarnock found their way back into the contest. One of the many middle-of-the-park melees wherein ball and bodies bounced around resulted in Alan Power emerging in possession and feeding the ball to Burke. A full 25 yards from goal in the right channel, the winger surprised all including Gordon by lashing a low effort in at the Celtic keeper’s right-hand post.
The title holders’ response was as tame as has been their displays across a Premiership season in which they have only found the net six times in as many games. A burst through the middle from Christie forced Jamie MacDonald to save smartly down to his right but Kilmarnock never thereafter appeared unduly troubled by Celtic’s pedestrian probings.
The tables are firmly being turned on the Scottish champions and the fact they suffered that rarity of losing to a last-gasp goal is just one more example of the mounting issues for Rodgers.
That Clarke was able to do a number on him again will matter less to the former West Bromwich Albion manager than the fact that the victory allowed his team to move above Celtic on goal difference. Kilmarnock won’t exactly be dusting down the bunting over that, mind you, when the two clubs sit mid-table. A status firmly in keeping with the previously inconceivable buffettings befalling Rodgers’ side.