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.