Kilmarnock 1 Celtic 2
Celtic clinched the Bank of Scotland Premier League title in the most dramatic of fashions with a late win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
In an enthralling 90 minutes, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink headed the Hoops into a first-half lead from a Shunsuke Nakamura corner.
However, five minutes after the interval Colin Nish equalised when he slid home a Gary Wales cut-back from 10 yards out.
A pulsating second half ensued but it looked like the title race would go another week.
However, in the first minute of added on time, Nakamura flashed in a trademark free-kick from 25 yards for Celtic to retain their crown.
It was perhaps fitting that Nakamura, who has provided most of the high points for Celtic fans this season, was the man who came up with the goods when it mattered.
After taking such a commanding lead early in the season, the Parkhead side stumbled over the line with manager Gordon Strachan coming in for some hefty recent criticism, much of it from his own fans.
However, in the final analysis, the former Coventry and Southampton boss can look at two titles in two seasons with the forthcoming Tennent’s Scottish Cup final giving him the chance to make his trophy haul four out of six.
And whatever misgivings the Celtic support have about Strachan were put to the side as they celebrated with their fans after the final whistle.
And no one at Rugby Park could have complained about this match.
Celtic’s travelling support of nearly 9,000 easily outnumbered the hosts with both stands behind the goals full of expectant fans with even a corner of the Main Stand set aside for the green and white overflow.
And the fact that Killie had not beaten Celtic in their last eight meetings at Rugby Park pointed to a Parkhead coronation at the end of the 90 minutes.
In a compelling opening to the match both sides pushed for the opener with little thought to defence.
However, in the 23rd minute, it was the visitors who took the lead through Vennegoor of Hesselink.
Nakamura floated the ball in to a crowded six-yard box where the Dutchman rose among a throng of bodies to head powerfully past Alan Combe.
Both ends of Rugby Park erupted but seconds later, as the Celtic fans continued their celebrations, Peter Leven missed a glorious chance to equalise when he headed a James Fowler cross over the bar from close range.
On the half-hour mark, as play flowed from end to end in a state of high tension, Celtic skipper Neil Lennon stung Combe’s fingers with a tremendous drive from 30 yards.
Five minutes before the interval Steven Pressley got on the end of another pinpoint Nakamura corner but this time Combe was handily placed to block.
With seconds remaining Killie striker Steven Naismith failed to capitalise when Grant Murray’s header put him through against Artur Boruc but it was another warning for the Glasgow giants.
Celtic began the second half strongly with Thomas Gravesen’s powerfully-struck drive, which hit Momo Sylla before spinning over the bar, eliciting claims for a penalty which were ignored by referee Craig Thomson.
And there was more misery for the visitors in the 50th minute when Killie drew level through Nish.
Wales got past Darren O’Dea on the right-hand side, cut along the by-line and picked out the tall striker, who coolly side-footed in from 10 yards with Boruc out of position.
And with that strike, a pulsating match increased another notch in excitement. Moments later, Naismith collected a long Murray pass down the right and shot straight at Boruc from a tight angle.
Wales’ curling effort on the hour mark, which went inches wide of the far post, induced a heart-stopping moment in the stands, as did Nakamura’s left-footed drive from distance which Combe did well to hold.
After a temporary drop in pace, the match built up to an exciting finale.
Aiden McGeady replaced Gravesen as Celtic looked for the spark which would ensure their 41st title but it was Derek Riordan who went close when his left-footed shot from 12 yards trundled past Combe’s right-hand post.
The tension was almost unbearable in the dying seconds and in the last minute Riordan blazed over the bar from just 10 yards to the frustration of the Hoops support.
But the drama was not finished. In the first minute of added-on time, after Nakamura was fouled by Wales 25 yards out, the Japan international drove home the most thrilling of winners.