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  • Clinical Armstrong sends Celtic 13 points clear

    Clinical Armstrong sends Celtic 13 points clear

    By: Martin Dalziel on 18 Nov, 2016 21:35

  • SPFL Premiership
    Rugby Park, Kilmarnock
    Friday November 18, 2016

    (Armstrong 44)


    A SOLITARY but clinical first-half strike from Stuart Armstrong propelled Celtic 13 points clear at the top of the SPFL Premiership as the Hoops overcame Kilmarnock 1-0 at Rugby Park.

    On a freezing cold night in Ayrshire it was the midfielder’s well-placed effort on the stroke of half-time that warmed the hearts of the travelling support and sent the Bhoys back up the M77 with another three points and their seventh consecutive clean sheet in Scotland.

    The Bhoys were powerful in attack in the opening 45 minutes and water tight at the back in the second, ensuring their unbeaten domestic record remains intact with their ninth win on the bounce.

    With half his squad having travelled to all ends of the globe in the recent international break, Brendan Rodgers decided to opt for freshness for his side’s trip to Rugby Park, utilising only four of his stars who had represented their respective countries in the past 10 days.

    The Scotland trio of Craig Gordon, Scott Brown and James Forrest all started alongside Moussa Dembele, while there was also a space for Dedryck Boyata, who made his first start since the Scottish Cup quarter-final in April as the champions donned their new pink away strip for the first time this season, warming up a cold night in Ayrshire.

    The Belgian slotted into defence alongside Mikael Lustig, Erik Sviatchenko and stand-in left-back Callum McGregor but the focus was largely at the other end as the Hoops bossed the opening stages.

    Sviatchenko flashed a header just over the bar from the first corner of the game before Forrest forced Jamie MacDonald to save at full stretch as the winger took aim with his left from the edge of the box. Just as the Hoops were pressing for the opener, however, Killie almost took the lead against the run of play when striker Flo Bojaj met Greg Taylor’s near-post cross but he couldn’t direct his glanced header on target.

    Celtic’s pressure looked to have finally paid off shortly before half-time when Dembele blasted a close-range shot into the net after a knock down from Scott Brown but the Hoops skipper was flagged offside.

    The home side’s resistance was finally undone, however, when the break of the ball fell kindly for James Forrest 20 yards out. The winger picked out Dembele on the edge of the box and he threaded a neat pass into the path of Armstrong, who placed a sweet shot past Macdonald to give the Bhoys the lead at the interval.

    That scoreline could have ;been doubled just seconds after the restart when McGregor burst down the left channel and into the box but his shot was saved and Sinclair sliced the rebound over.

    A determined Celtic then brought out the best in MacDonald again when he doubled over backwards to palm away Patrick Roberts’ curling shot after having raced to the edge of his area to gather a pass that was cleared by the Killie defence.

    The scare sparked the home team into life as they pushed the Hoops back down the flanks, focusing on McGregor on Celtic’s left and making room to cross on a number of occasions. The fresh legs and more physical presence of substitute Nathan Tyson also added weight to Killie’s attack but the Bhoys soon followed suit, switching Patrick Roberts with Tom Rogic.

    Lee Clark’s team remained largely in the ascendancy as the game entered the final 20 minutes but for all their attacking intent there was little in the way of an end product, owed largely to Celtic’s defensive tenacity and organisation.

    The introduction of Souleymane Coulibaly with just over 10 minutes left further indicated the home team’s desire to claim something from match but the forward, the last Kilmarnock player to score against Celtic, could do little to stop his team falling to their third defeat in a row at the hands of the Bhoys as the champions saw out the final minutes to hold on to their 1-0 lead and go a further three points clear at the top of the table.

    And although not the scoreline may not have as emphatic as Brendan Rodgers may have wanted, the result maintained the Hoops’ winning momentum as they now focus on the visit of Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League.

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Sviatchenko, McGregor; Armstrong, Brown; Forrest (Bitton 85); Roberts (Rogic 66), Sinclair; Dembele

    Not used: De Vries, Izaguirre, Gamboa, Toure, Christie

    KILMARNOCK (4-2-3-1) MacDonald; Hendrie, Boyle, Boyd, Taylor; Dicker (McFadzean 89), Smith; Frizzell, McKenzie, Jones (Coulibaly 78); Bojaj (Tyson 58)

    Not used: Mackay, Smith, Adams, Wilson

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