Blonde Cafu seals all three points for Celtic
Friday 18th November 2016
Brendan Rodgers hailed Stuart Armstrong as the 'Blonde Cafu' after his man of the match performance at right back against Inverness but it was from the middle of the park where he did the damage on Friday night at Rugby Park. With a number of Celtic’s squad away on International duty over the course of the previous week, a few of the regulars were given a well needed rest in order to remain fresh for the meeting with Barcelona next Wednesday night, in a game that Celtic will need to win in order to keep their European dreams alive. Kilmarnock have proven to be a relatively difficult side to beat at Rugby Park this season under manager Lee Clark, and it was apparent in the way that they prohibited Celtic from being at their fluent best, although aided by the artificial surface which the Celtic players seemed to find difficult to adjust to.
Celtic were forced to make changes to their back four, with Boyata coming into the heart of the defence for the first time since April and Callum McGregor covering at left back for Emilio Izaguirre who had only returned from International duty the day before. Understandably, there was an element of sloppiness added to Celtic’s game as a result. Despite this, they were the more dominant team in the opening exchanges, and came close to breaking the deadlock on 13 minutes when Erik Sviatchenko lost Killie defender Scott Boyd and connected with a Sinclair corner, however was unable to steer his header on target. Ten minutes later, they came close again. Roberts found Forrest who had made a run into the penalty area, before reverting on to his left foot and unleashing a curled effort with his left foot that forced a strong save from the Killie goalkeeper Jamie MacDonald. On 27 minutes Kilmarnock were almost gifted a great opportunity to take the lead when Boyata misplaced a pass to Scott Brown, inviting Kilmarnock to rob possession. Greg Taylor eventually found Florent Bojaj with a well-executed cross, however the Albanian couldn’t find the accuracy required with his header.
Celtic had the ball in the net on 37 minutes through Moussa Dembélé. Mikael Lustig sent an inviting cross into the penalty area which was met by Armstrong and eventually found the feet of the in-form Frenchman, who expertly shifted the ball on to his left foot before drilling the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the net. Green and white celebrations were cut short however as Scott Brown was deemed to have been just offside in the build up to the goal, leaving it still poised at 0-0. Seven minutes later, Celtic had the ball in the net again and this time there was no questioning the legitimacy of the finish. After a little bit of good fortune on the edge of the Killie penalty area, James Forrest was able to find Moussa Dembélé, who held the ball well and poked the ball through to Stuart Armstrong who had made an exquisitely timed delayed run into the box. The nature of the run and the pass meant that Armstrong only needed to take one touch to settle himself, before coolly placing the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the Kilmarnock goal. The goal was coming and Celtic were deserved leaders.
Celtic started the second half in a similar vein to how they finished the first, and really should have doubled their lead. After some bright interplay between Scott Sinclair and Dembélé, Callum McGregor found himself racing towards the goal with no Killie defenders to block his path. Roberts and Forrest were both left in acres of space in the box, however the Scotsman elected to go for goal himself, his effort well blocked by the feet of MacDonald, while Sinclair’s follow up effort failed to hit the target. It was a let off for Kilmarnock, as if McGregor had found one of the eagerly awaiting Celtic attackers bearing down on goal, then it surely would have been 0-2 and game over. On 52 minutes the Hoops came close again, when some slack Killie play gave Roberts an opportunity from about 30 yards out with the Kilmarnock goalkeeper scrambling to get back on his line. The Englishman’s effort forced an awkward save from McDonald but lacked the required power to find the back of the net.
The Kilmarnock players made life difficult for Celtic throughout, and for the last quarter of the game edged possession of the ball. They were unable to create any clear-cut chances however and it was their own indecisiveness that almost allowed James Forrest to put the game to bed with fifteen minutes remaining. The ball ended up at the winger’s feet just inside the six-yard box, but his left footed attempt was cleared off the line by Scott Boyd. Five minutes later it was the woodwork to the rescue for Kilmarnock, this time the effort coming from Swedish full back Mikael Lustig after James Forrest had initially done well to spot his run. While Lee Clark will be content with his sides performance, he will be disappointed at the fact that they were never able to really hurt Celtic, particularly with what was a relatively makeshift back four on the pitch for the Glasgow side. The result will only add to the growing confidence of Brendan Rodgers’ men, who have now gone seven consecutive domestic games without conceding a goal, winning each of those games as a result. Celtic will be hoping they can carry their recent defensive form into their Champions League encounter with Barcelona on Wednesday, where the Hoops will realistically need a win to keep their hopes of European football after Christmas alive. But in the mean time, the Hoops are sitting pretty on top of the SPFL table and can also look forward to a Scottish League Cup Final showdown with Aberdeen next weekend.