Kilmarnock 2 Celtic 0
IT'S that time of the year for dressing up, and pretending to be someone else. In Celtic's case, it's wearing the disguise of champions, but for Kilmarnock the clothes of the country bumpkin are equally inadequate.
Bobby Williamson plays the role of the provincial really well. Rarely does the Rugby Park manager get caught up in the hype, and even after this pulsating victory, he remained deadpan despite the fact that those wonderful goals from Mark Roberts and Ally Mitchell had everyone else's blood coursing faster.
It's a subtle form of psychology, probably for the sake of Williamson's players, but Kilmarnock's cover has been well and truly blown. They, rather than Celtic, look the side most likely to stay with Rangers in the title race.
Kilmarnock have beaten Celtic before, with considerable regularity. But this time, the prize was greater. When two challengers meet, the losers always suffer greater damage to morale.
This morning, Celtic have to look to the widening gap, as they trail Rangers by seven; for Kilmarnock, the difference with the other half of the Old Firm is a solitary point.
Just to add to Celtic's problems, Stephane Mahe was sent off in the 89th minute after picking up his second caution in a game strewn with eight bookings, one of which was Paul Lambert whose disciplinary points total means that he will miss the match with Rangers this month.
Guisin' they call it in Glasgow, but Harald Brattbakk is probably being called far more hurtful things right now. The Norwegian is masquerading as a striker: maybe he always has been, but there is no doubt that his profligacy has worn down Celtic supporters.
They have probably never howled more than they did in the 63rd minute, the pivotal moment of this game. Celtic, chasing an equaliser after Roberts had put Kilmarnock ahead eight minutes earlier, had a golden chance for Brattbakk to mock his doubters and kill suspicions about his ability. As he and Henrik Larsson ran through on Gordon Marshall's goal, with only Ray Montgomerie there to protect his goal, the odds looked stacked in Brattbakk's favour. But the nervous player neither shot nor set up his Scandinavian colleague. He delegated responsibility for finishing to Larsson, but couldn't give a proper pass.
Celtic were duly punished. Two minutes later, Mitchell showed Brattbakk how it was done, and killed Josef Venglos's side with deadly efficiency.
The reality was that Celtic did not deserve a point. Kilmarnock were hungrier, and fought with a determination that their opponents lacked.
In Ian Durrant, they had a man of consummate craft, who increasingly looks capable of influencing this season's events. Durrant seems to reserve his best form for Celtic, as his display at Parkhead in September was only marginally behind this one.
The midfielder should have seen his side two goals in front after just eight minutes in what was a frenetic, enjoyable opening spell. Gary Holt carved out an opening in the fifth minute with a reverse pass into the path of Jerome Vareille. The French striker controlled the ball on his chest, but under pressure from defenders, he shot just wide.
Then Durrant fed a wonderful ball to Martin Baker, but the full-back elected to shoot instead of delivering the cutback that the former Rangers' player was screaming for, and his raking shot across the face of the goal missed the target by inches.
Craig Burley and Simon Donnelly tested Marshall with shots before Burley had to limp off in the 22nd minute, plagued by a muscle pull.
By now the contest had revealed the other side of such a high-octane pace, one which was truly nasty. Tom Boyd, who had earlier taken an elbow in the face from Roberts, became the first yellow card after meting out a crunching piece of retaliation. Lambert and Vareille quickly followed, as did Mahood, Mahe, Durrant, and McNamara in the second half.
Kilmarnock deservedly broke the deadlock in the 55th minute with a wonderful goal which was carved out by Durrant, who supplied Mitchell with the ideal ball for the winger to whip in a cross. Possibly Jonathan Gould should have gone for it, but Roberts did not hesitate and he got between two defenders to glance a header into the far corner of the net.
Then, after that incredible Brattbakk cameo, Ally Mitchell finished the game off. Durrant was again involved, flighting in a free-kick which Celtic did not defend properly. Holt collected the loose ball, and laid it back into the path of Mitchell, whose low, left-foot shot screamed into the net from 18 yards.
Williamson summed up simply: "The players worked hard for each other, and we deserved to win. There is now competition for places here."
Kilmarnock: Marshall, Montgomerie, McGowne, Holt, Durrant (McCutcheon 84), Mitchell, Mahood, Vareille (Wright 75), Baker, Hamilton, Roberts.
Subs Not Used: Innes, Burke, Strain.
Goals: Roberts 55, Mitchell 70.
Celtic: Gould, Boyd , Mahe, McNamara, Larsson, Burley (O'Donnell 22), Brattbakk (Burchill 72), Donnelly, Lambert, McKinlay, Riseth.
Subs Not Used: Jackson, Hannah, McCondichie.
Bookings: Durrant, Mahood, Roberts, Vareille (Kilmarnock) Boyd, Mahe, Lambert (Celtic)
Sent Off: Mahe (89)
Ref: J Rowbotham (Kirkcaldy).
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