Samaras brace sees off Killie

The Greece striker headed the home side into the lead in first-half

added time and scored his second with a fine drive seven minutes

after the break to make it eight SPL wins in a row for Neil

Lennon’s men. Killie substitute Danny Racchi fired in a consolation

goal with three minutes remaining but with Rangers losing at St

Mirren, the Hoops now have a chance to go top of the table going

into 2012. After being 15 points behind the champions at one stage

– albeit with two games in hand – the ascendancy is with Celtic who

must feel they are coming to form at the right time. While the

result in Paisley was something of a shock, there was little

surprise about the outcome at Celtic Park. Kilmarnock had not won

at Celtic Park in 56 years while the home side, who had Joe Ledley

in for injured Daniel Majstorovic, were looking to continue their

fine domestic form The visitors could have been excused for fearing

the worst but they lined up in a positive shape with Dean Shiels

supporting Paul Heffernan and Gary Harkins. Manager Kenny Shiels

had made three changes with James Fowler, back from suspension,

Mohamadou Sissoko and Danny Buijs coming in for Alex Pursehouse,

Zdenek Kroca and James Dayton and his side impressed in an

entertaining first half. Celtic had to so some defending in the

early stages although in the ninth minute Hoops midfielder James

Forrest sent a speculative 30-yard drive just past Cameron Bell’s

left-hand post. Moments later, in an impressive Killie move,

Heffernan set up Shiels and the Irishman’s low drive from 16 yards

sped past Fraser Forster but also beyond the Celtic keeper’s left

post. The Parkhead men had a great chance in the 14th minute when

Forrest’s low drive was spilled by Bell but Gary Hooper chipped the

rebound over the bar, before Shiels had another effort saved by

Forster at the other end. Shiels ended another Rugby Park threat by

blasting a shot over the bar from the edge of the box, more

evidence that the Ayrshire men had not travelled with a point in

mind. An entertaining game began to heat up. Celtic midfielder

Beram Kayal was booked for tripping Shiels before Killie skipper

Manuel Pascali was yellow-carded for a late challenge on Ledley.

Celtic were making hard work of it. In the 33rd minute skipper

Scott Brown had a left-footed shot easily saved by Bell, one of the

few times the ball got past the resolute Killie defence. However,

all Kilmarnock’s good work was undone as the game entered added

time. Celtic’s tireless right-back Cha Du-ri raced to the byline

and managed to send in a looping cross which was headed past Bell

by Samaras and the Greece international had the cheers of the

relieved home fans still ringing in his ears as he ran up the

tunnel at the break. There was a claim for a Killie penalty three

minutes into the second-half when Forrest blocked Buijs’s attempted

cross but referee George Salmond kept his hands at his side.

Forrest was replaced by Kelvin Wilson moments later and the former

Nottingham Forest defender went to centre-back alongside Victor

Wanyama, with Charlie Mulgrew moving to left-back and Ledley moving

up one. Much of the Celtic fans’ attention, though, was on the game

at St Mirren and there was a huge cheer when news of the Buddies’

victory over Rangers was confirmed. The home side took inspiration

from the shock result and in 52nd minute Samaras took a Hooper pass

and swerved his way into the box before slamming a low drive past

Bell. The big striker looked to have all but sealed the win and he

was given a standing ovation in the 65th minute when he was

replaced by Mo Bangura. Killie were more or less reduced to keeping

Celtic at bay while the home support chanted ‘bring on the

Rangers’. Another good run down the right by Cha in the 72nd minute

ended with the full-back crossing perfectly to Ki Sung-yueng but

his fellow South Korean mis-kicked with his volley from 12 yards

and an increasingly bedraggled looking Killie side escaped

punishment. In the 87th minute Killie substitute Racchi, on for

Shiels, rifled in a shot from 25 yards which beat Forster to make

it a nervy ending with Wanyama blocking a goal-bound shot by

Harkins moments later, with Forster out of his goal. However, there

was to be no undeserved equaliser and the cheers at full-time

indicated that the Celtic supporters rightly fancy their chances

against their city rivals in midweek.