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Brave Killie Hold The Champs

(Photos from SNS & used with permission)

Kilmarnock 1 Celtic 1
(SPL Match No.20 - Rugby Park, 15th Dec 2002)

Kilmarnock dented Celtic's title aspirations further at Rugby Park as Joos Valgaeren rescued a point for the champions in a 1-1 draw.

The Belgian defender struck in the second half after Andy McLaren's first-half header to reduce the deficit on Scottish Premier League leaders Rangers to four points.

But Martin O'Neill's men had ample opportunities to have taken all the points.

Stilian Petrov signalled their intent with a low right-foot shot from 22 yards after Henrik Larsson had knocked Chris Sutton's ball into his path, but Gordon Marshall made a comfortable save.

But the former Celtic goalkeeper was well beaten two minutes later and needed the post to come to his rescue.

Larsson got on the end of John Hartson's cross and his header was deflected by Greg Shields and went behind off the woodwork.

But Celtic were guilty of squandering a great chance to take the lead in the 10th minute.

Sutton headed the ball into the path of Bobo Balde and his shot from two yards was turned away by a relieved Kilmarnock keeper, although the giant defender should have hit the back of the net.

But Jim Jefferies' side stunned the champions by snatching the breakthrough with their first real chance of the game after 19 minutes.

But Balde fouled Andy McLaren wide on Killie's right and when Shaun Dillon's delivery arrived in the penalty box, McLaren rose before Valgaeren and glanced the ball beyond Rab Douglas.

Andy McLaren talks about his goal Here (Realplayer Needed!)

Celtic seemed to have a good call for a penalty in the 35th minute after Hartson appeared to be pulled back by Innes from Balde's long ball.

But Celtic pushed Sutton further forward in search of an equaliser and it almost paid off in the 52nd minute when he played the ball across the face of goal, but Larsson was unable to get a touch.

Kilmarnock somehow survived after Celtic hit the post twice in a matter of seconds.

Agathe directed Thompson's cross into the path of Larsson and he drilled a powerful right-foot shot against the woodwork and Sutton did the same with the rebound from three yards out.

But it was only a matter of time before Celtic drew level and they did that in the 66th minute. Hartson directed Thompson's cross back into the danger area and Valgaeren headed past Marshall from close range.

In the closing seconds,Hartson was hacked down by James Fowler on the edge of Gordon Marshall's box.

But ref Willie Young didn't even give a free-kick as every Celtic player and fan, not to mention O'Neill, demanded a penalty. In fact, the offence was outside the box but Young didn't even see it as a foul.

Instead he gave Celtic a throw-in and it was hardly surprising really that one or two Parkhead people would want a word at the end.

With 88 minutes gone Peter Canero missed a glorious chance to steal a win for the home side when he fluffed his close range shot after ghosting in at the back post to connect with Steve Fulton's precise cross.

Hartson sent a header sailing over the crossbar as Celtic pumped a series of high balls into the Killie penalty area in a desperate finale.

O'Neill was understandably furious at the final whistle as he attempted to speak with the official - but he should have been venting his anger at his players for missing so many chances.

More of Sandy's Photos HERE

Kilmarnock: Marshall, Fowler, Innes, Shields, Dillon, Canero, Mahood, Fulton, Mitchell, McSwegan, McLaren. Subs: Meldrum, Dargo, Hay, Sanjuan, Boyd.

Attendance: 9,225

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