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  • Celts kick off 2015 with dominant win

    Celts kick off 2015 with dominant win

    By: Mark Henderson on 05 Jan, 2015 22:04

  • Scottish Premiership
    Rugby Park, Kilmarnock
    Monday, January 5, 2015


    (Izaguirre 36, Scepovic 72)

    CELTIC made an impressive start to 2015 as they brushed aside Kilmarnock 2-0 in a one-sided contest at Rugby Park to move within a point of current pacesetters Aberdeen, having played one game fewer.   

    The Hoops dominated from the first whistle to the last in Ayrshire, playing some sparkling football and they should have enjoyed a more emphatic margin of victory as they carved open the home side on numerous occasions, hitting the woodwork three times.  

    As it was, they had to be satisfied with goals in either half from Emilio Izaguirre and Stefan Scepovic, sealing a return to winning ways, having dropped points in their previous two fixtures.

    And Ronny Deila will now head for the winter break in Gran Canaria tomorrow (Tuesday) morning with plenty of positives to ponder after a polished performance and several excellent individual displays.  

    Teenager Liam Henderson made his second start of the season, and the inclusion of the young midfielder was one of three changes made by the manager from the goal-less draw against Ross County.

    Kris Commons and Scepovic were also restored to the side, while Leigh Griffiths, John Guidetti and the injured Anthony Stokes dropped out.

    The torrential weather ahead of kick-off had made the artificial surface at Rugby Park fast and slick, conditions which seemed to suit Celtic and their quick passing style as they made a purposeful start to proceedings.

    Dominating possession and forcing a succession of corners, they were soon applying heavy pressure on the home side. It took until the ninth minute for the first effort on goal, though, as the lively Stefan Johansen saw a shot deflected wide.

    Henderson, who had made his first start for the club at this ground last year, looked determined to impress. Strong play from the 18-year-old on the edge of the box saw him hold off the attentions of two defenders, before his low shot was blocked by Ross Barbour.   

    The hosts looked content to soak up the pressure and hit on the break through the craft and vision of talisman Alexei Eremenko.

    A slip by Efe Ambrose did allow Josh Magennis a sight of goal from distance but the striker dragged his attempt wide.

    Commons had looked menacing, cutting in from the right on to his favoured left-foot, and his rasping drive from 20 yards was within inches of breaking the deadlock, crashing off the bar as Craig Samson stood rooted to the spot.    

    The next opportunity fell to the same player. Johansen made progress down the left and picked out Scepovic in the middle. He teed-up Commons, whose shot ricocheted wide.

    Celtic were getting joy down both flanks and a slick move down the right midway through the half  saw Johansen find Commons lurking in the box. A deft first touch took him away from his marker but he couldn’t deliver the fatal blow as he blasted over.

    Commons’ frustrations continued as he linked up brilliantly with Henderson before lashing another unstoppable shot off the bar.

    Kilmarnock somehow survived the onslaught and they could have grabbed an undeserved lead when Magennis rose highest to meet Eremenko’s free-kick. However, Craig Gordon was equal to his downward header.

    Eventually, the visitors’ supremacy was rewarded with the opening goal, though it would come from the most unlikely source.

    Johansen again found space in the final third and his lofted pass into the box was met by Izaguirre, who controlled the ball before expertly smashing it into the corner for only his third-ever Celtic counter.

    There was still time for the Hoops to test Samson before the break as Commons raced on to Henderson’s back-heel and forced the keeper into a smart save.

    Celtic were determined to maintain their momentum after the interval, highlighted when a quickly-taken free-kick sent Scepovic clear in the box but his cutback failed to find a team-mate.

    Alan Johnston’s side were offering more enterprise in the second half, however, and when a corner was only partially cleared, Jamie Hamill’s first-time effort through a ruck of players whizzed inches wide, a reminder of the slenderness of Celtic’s lead.

    But the Scottish champions always looked capable of cutting Kilmarnock open as they moved the ball around the pitch at pace. Another sublime pass from Commons found Henderson in the box and his cross was within of inches of Scepovic’s despairing dive.

    Commons was then denied by a piece of heroic defending by Mark Connolly, the stopper throwing himself in the way of the attacker’s venomous strike and thwarting a certain goal.

    An opportunist effort from substitute Robbie Muirhead did force Gordon into an acrobatic stop – but the Hoops finally made their dominance count, doubling with their advantage with 18 minutes remaining.

    Johansen’s corner was headed back into the mix by Ambrose and Scepovic was on hand to bundle it home.

    With the points now secured, Celtic could have added to their tally, with substitute Callum McGregor coming closest when his curling shot struck the post.

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Matthews (Fisher 74) Ambrose, van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton; Henderson (McGregor 85), Johansen, Commons; Scepovic (Guidetti 81)

    Not Used: Zaluska, Griffiths, O’Connell, Thomson

    KILMARNOCK (4-4-1-1) Samson; Barbour, Connolly, Ashcroft, Chantler; McKenzie, O’Hara, Hamill (Pascali 79), Johnston (Muirhead 35); Eremenko, Magennis

    Not Used: Brennan, Cairney, Syme, Splaine, Hawkshaw

    Website Man of the Match: Liam Henderson 

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