Celtic 3 Kilmarnock 0
Celtic arrested their poor run of home form as a goal from Republic of Ireland international helped the Hoops to a convincing 3-0 win over Kilmarnock at Parkhead today.
With just two wins in nine before the visit of Killie, Tony Mowbray’s side were under pressure and they duly performed to stay three points ahead of second-placed Hibernian at the top of the table and four ahead of Rangers.
In a one-sided first half, goals from McGeady and Georgios Samaras gave the home side a deserved lead which could have been more convincing save for some slack play from Mowbray’s men in the final third.
Although Killie skipper Kevin Kyle missed three good chances with his head, Hoops substitute Niall McGinn, on for Paddy McCourt in the second half, put a proper perspective on the game when he grabbed the third in 78 minutes.
Even if Rangers do claw three points back at Dundee United tomorrow, Celtic will be in better fettle for Thursday’s Europa League clash with Hamburg in Germany.
Another boost was the second-half return of striker Marc-Antoine Fortune, back for the first time since recovering from a knee injury sustained against Arsenal in the Champions League in August.
The Ayrshire side’s quest for Parkhead success, though, continues.
Kilmarnock had not won in the east end of Glasgow for 55 years and the early moments did little to encourage the small band of visiting fans inside a half-empty Celtic Park.
In a whirlwind start by the home side, stand-in keeper Cameron Bell saved from Hoops’ striker Scott McDonald at his near post, just moments after Killie had survived a penalty scare when the ball appeared to glance off Frazer Wright’s hand.
However, in the 13th minute the Killie defender had less luck when McGeady took him on inside the box, beat him with a trick, then fired his angled shot from 14 yards past Bell and into the net off the far post.
Moments later, Bell was called upon to save down at his right-hand post from Paddy McCourt’s drilled shot, seconds before Samaras failed to find McDonald with his pass across the six-yard box with the Killie defence wide open.
It was one-way traffic and in the 22nd minute McCourt went on one of his trademark runs before driving inches wide of the post from the edge of the box.
McGeady then found no takers when he slid the ball across the six-yard box.
It was almost embarrassingly one-sided.
In the 26th minute McCourt’s raking pass found Samaras racing down the right and when his cross was met by McDonald six yards out only Bell’s reflexes prevented the home side doubling their lead.
The visitors did go two ahead in the 32nd minute following yet another fine move which cut open the Kilmarnock.
McGeady released the unmarked Andreas Hinkel down the right and his cross was bulleted past Bell by the head of Samaras, the Greece international showing the direction which was so badly missing in the Co-operative Insurance Cup defeat by Hearts in midweek.
Two minutes from the break, in their first real foray, Kyle missed a sitter when he headed Gavin Skelton’s cross past the post from five yards.
There looked no way back for Kilmarnock even though manager Jim Jefferies reshuffled his side by replacing Danny Invincibile and Conor Sammon with Garry Hay and former Celt David Fernandez at the interval.
But the visitors showed a willingness at the start of the second half and in the 50th minute Kyle came closer with his header from Craig Bryson’s cross, this time the ball just clearing the bar.
The Killie striker then had to come off for treatment after clashing with Glenn Loovens but returned with a bandage round his head, moments before he headed over again, this time from a Jamie Hamill cross.
Celtic were less dominant than in the first half but still in control.
In the 66th minute McGinn and Fortune came on for McDonald and McCourt while Iain Flannigan replaced Skelton for Killie.
Seconds later McGeady was booked by referee Willie Collum for diving inside the Killie box after a clash with Jamie Fowler.
As Celtic stepped up the pace again, Samaras slid his angled shot from 16 yards past the far post before McGeady drove straight at Bell from the edge of the box.
But in the 78th minute McGinn sealed the points when he ran on to a Hinkel pass and rifled the ball past Bell from 16 yards.
As Kilmarnock wilted, Bell made a fine save from McGeady, who was then replaced by Zheng Zhi.
In an 86th-minute melee inside the Rugby Park box, the China captain had a goalbound shot blocked just seconds after McGinn had an effort saved by Bell, who, despite the result, deserved a medal for his efforts.