Hoops fight back to earn a draw

The Hoops looked down and out as Killie raced to an astonishing

interval lead through Dean Shiels, Paul Heffernan and James Fowler.

However, the second half, if anything, was even more dramatic.

Celtic striker Anthony Stokes scored twice in three minutes, the

first from a free-kick in the 73rd minute, before stand-in skipper

Charlie Mulgrew headed an equaliser from close range and save the

visitors’ blushes. Manager Neil Lennon would have settled for the

point at half-time when his side were booed off the park but when

the excitement dies down he will realise another two SPL points

were dropped. Killie might have sneaked it at the end but Heffernan

missed the target from just a few yards out, but the home fans were

simply glad they did not go home with nothing from a great

afternoon’s entertainment. Once again Lennon rung the changes,

although one was enforced by the suspension of midfielder Kris

Commons after being sent off in the last outing at Hearts. Badr

El-Kaddouri, Victor Wanyama and Mohamed Bangura all dropped to the

bench, with Cha Du-ri, Joe Ledley, Beram Kayal and Stokes coming

in. Kenny Shiels’ Killie team also showed four changes with injured

keeper Cameron Bell replaced by Anssi Jaakkola and Danny Buijs,

Gary Harkins and Liam Kelly coming in for Zdenek Kroca, Gary Fisher

and James Dayton, who were all among the substitutes. With Stokes

back alongside Gary Hooper in what many feel is the Parkhead side’s

most potent strike force, Celtic fans were confident but they might

have guessed at the horror which was to unfold in the first half

when the Irishman missed a sitter after 12 minutes. Right-back Cha

galloped on to a perfectly-weighted James Forrest pass and cut the

ball across the six-yard box only to see Stokes miss the target

with the goal wide open. But in truth, that incident did not hint

at what was to come. The game was stretched and open but there was

still some surprise when Killie took the lead in the 26th minute

through Shiels with an opener which owed much to route-one

football. Right-back Alex Pursehouse drove a long diagonal pass for

Heffernan to chase into the Celtic box and he turned inside Hoops

defender Daniel Majstorovic to set up the former Hibernian player,

whose first touch gave him the space to drive low past Forster from

12 yards. Celtic looked all over the place for the next few minutes

and Forster had to dive low to his left to smother a Fowler drive

after the visitors had been caught on the break. In the 37th

minute, in yet another Killie break, Forster had to fly high to his

right to tip a long-range drive from Kelly over the bar for a

corner, which came to nothing. Five minutes from the break there

was more drama when Shiels fired in a cross from wide on the left

and Heffernan nipped in behind the static Parkhead defence to guide

the ball past Forster from close range. The Parkhead side were in

disarray and in the final seconds of the half the strong-running

Fowler raced on to a short headed back-pass from Mulgrew to lob the

ball over Forster for number three. It was a stunned Rugby Park who

tried during the interval to digest what they had just witnessed in

the first 45 minutes. Lennon replaced Hooper, who appeared to have

taken a knock, with Bangura while Wanyama came on for the excitable

Kayal, who had picked up a booking and was treading on thin ice.

The home fans, nervous despite such a commanding lead, awaited a

Celtic backlash but while there was a predictable determination

from the visitors they were still leaving gaps at the back. Celtic,

though, kept pushing for the goal which they hoped would spark a

comeback and Jaakkola made a decent save from Cha’s angled drive

before Kaddouri came on for Cha. And in the 73rd minute, after

Killie defender Mo Sissoko was booked for a foul on Forrest 25

yards from goal, Stokes hammered the free-kick high past Jaakkola

to give the Hoops the lifeline they needed. Three minutes later, as

the visitors piled on the pressure, Stokes turned and fired a low

drive from 30 yards past Jaakkola for his second – and there was

more drama soon to follow. In the 79th minute Mulgrew made up for

his first-half error when he headed in the equaliser from a yard

out after Majstorovic had knocked a long free-kick from Ki back

across the goal. The final moments could not have been more tense

and with two minutes remaining Heffernan missed a sitter with his

head after he had been set up by Harkins six yards out, the Killie

striker lifting the ball over the bar.