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  • Griffiths the hat-trick hero as Celts surge eights points clear

    Griffiths the hat-trick hero as Celts surge eights points clear

    By: Mark Henderson on 15 Apr, 2015 21:48

  • Scottish Premiership
    Celtic Park, Glasgow
    Wednesday, April 15, 2015

    CELTIC...4
    (Commons 58, Griffiths 65,80, 85)

    KILMARNOCK...1
    (Westlake 50)

    SUPER-SUB Leigh Griffiths hammered in a stunning 20-minute hat-trick as Celtic came from behind to crush Kilmarnock 4-1 in Paradise and move eight points clear in the title race.

    After the Hoops had dominated matters without reward, the visitors stunned Paradise by breaking the deadlock with their first effort on goal five minutes into the second half as Darryl Westlake’s shot from distance deflected into the net.

    However, the champions rallied, with Kris Commons swiftly restoring parity with a sublime volley, before Griffiths headed then in front five minutes after entering the fray from the bench.

    The hit-man lashed in unstoppable shot via the post from 20 yards to ease any nerves among the home support.

    But Griffiths wasn’t finished yet, showing his lethal finishing prowess by slotting home his third goal with five minutes remaining on the clock to increase the gap between the Bhoys and second-placed Aberdeen to eight points.

    Birthday Bhoy John Guidetti was restored to the Celtic starting XI as Ronny Deila made four changes from the team that drew 1-1 against Inverness Caley Thistle at the weekend.

    Adam Matthews, Commons and James Forrest also came back into the side, with Griffiths, Efe Ambrose, Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven the players to drop out.

    The Hoops bossed possession from the start, with the Rugby Park side setting their stall out to frustrate the hosts by deploying as many men behind the ball as possible.

    A quick exchange of passes between Guidetti and Stefan Johansen almost gave the Swede a sight of goal in the fifth minute, but with the central route to goal congested, the home side increasingly looked to the flanks for a way through.

    Showing his customary enterprise from left-back, Emilio Izaguirre collected a raking pass on the touchline before picking out Forrest in the box. Despite a heavy-first touch, the winger got a shot away from an acute angle, but Craig Samson was able to divert it behind at the expense of a corner.

    Forrest almost turned provider in the next menacing attack, racing to the byline, but his final cutback for Johansen was just behind the Norwegian.

    A foul on Guidetti by Mark O’Hara gave the striker the chance to demonstrate his dead-ball dexterity but the wall did its job, blocking his thumping drive.

    On the half-hour mark, Izaguirre again proved a willing outlet, doing brilliantly to dig out a cross from the byline. It was met by Scott Brown in the middle but he couldn’t get his final shot under control.

    Johansen’s hanging free-kick was then won by Nir Bitton at the far post. He knocked the ball back into the mix but Denayer couldn’t steer his header on target.

    And it was from a set-piece that Celtic came closest to opening the scoring as Virgil van Dijk rose highest from Commons’ corner to glance a header inches wide of the post.

    With half-time approaching, a precise pass from Commons did manage to momentarily cut a path through the packed penalty area, but Guidetti was swiftly crowded out before he could pull the trigger as the Hoops’ frustrations grew.

    A familiar pattern emerged after the interval as Celtic probed for openings and Gary Locke’s side attempted to keep them at bay.

    Within two minutes of the restart, Guidetti controlled Forrest’s cross and teed-up Brown, whose low shot was gathered by Samson, before a rampaging run from Bitton provided further roars of encouragement from the Hoops faithful.

    But, incredibly, it was Kilmarnock who took the lead from their first effort on goal as Darryl Westlake’s shot deflected beyond a helpless Craig Gordon.

    The pressure was now on Ronny Deila’s men but they provided a quick response. Moments after Guidetti has a shot saved by Samson, Commons pounced to level the match.  

    The Ayrshire outfit could only partially clear a cross into the mix and when the ball looped in the air near the edge of the box, the 31-year-old expertly hooked a volley into the top corner.

    Buoyed by their equaliser, it only took Celtic seven minutes to complete the turnaround. Commons lofted in a cross from the byline and Griffiths was on hand to guide a header home at the far post.

    Sensing a chance to kill off the contest, the hosts were throwing everything at the visitors, with Commons and Griffiths trying their luck, before Johansen spurned a golden chance at the far post after Samson had pushed a shot from Griffiths into his path.

    However, with 10 minutes remaining, Griffiths ensured the points would be staying in Paradise. Brown rolled the ball into his path 20 yards from goal and his ferocious shot left Samson statuesque as it cannoned in off the post.

    Gordon made a stunning stop from Nathan Eccleston but the last word went to Griffiths, who steadied himself and steered a shot into the corner to complete his treble and move Celtic closer to a fourth successive championship.

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Matthews, Denayer, van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton; Commons (Armstrong 81), Johansen (Mackay-Steven 81) Forrest (Griffiths 61); Guidetti
    Not Used: Zaluska, Ambrose, Stokes, McGregor

    KILMARNOCK (4-5-1) Samson; O’Hara, Ashcroft, Syme, Westlake; Magennis (McKenzie 74) Slater, Clingan, Cairney (Eccleston 81); Obadeyi; Miller
    Not Used: Brennan, Barbour, McKenzie, Johnston,

    Website Man of the Match: Leigh Griffiths

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