Kilmarnock beat Celtic: How ‘magnificent’ Killie stunned ‘inconsistent’ league leaders10 December 2023
Last updated on .From the section Scottish Premiership
Brendan Rodgers was likely already sick of the sight of Rugby Park. He will be even more so after Kilmarnock inflicted Celtic's first Scottish Premiership defeat since his return as manager.
Four of his 10 domestic losses over two spells in charge have now come there - two this season after August's Viaplay Cup exit.
Last week, the Northern Irishman was one of the managers who joined the growing clamour for artificial surfaces to be phased out in the top flight.
But he was not using playing conditions as an excuse after Kilmarnock came from behind to secure a 2-1 win.
"The pitch was all right for an Astroturf surface - when you get rain, it makes it slick and it was actually good," said Rodgers.
So what went wrong for Celtic - and so right for Kilmarnock?
'Celtic were outplayed'
A week ago, the Celtic manager said he was angrier than he had ever been as a manager when his side trailed St Johnstone at half-time before coming back to win.
Rodgers was more measured this time as he concluded "we're a bit inconsistent at the moment".
He told BBC Scotland: "The first half last week at St Johnstone wasn't good enough, second half we were there, but it was the reverse today."
Some will point to the absence through injury of key centre-half Cameron Carter-Vickers, especially after replacement Nat Phillips' own goal levelled the scores.
Former Celtic goalkeeper Pat Bonner told BBC Sportsound that the on-loan Liverpool centre-back "looked edgy" throughout.
However, Rodgers insisted: "We can't make excuses with injuries. We have good players. We showed in the first half that we can play to a good level. In the second half, we didn't.
"We weren't able to make passes to take us up the pitch and that was the biggest disappointment of the second half. We couldn't sustain any attacking threat in the game.
"When you play Kilmarnock, it's quite a direct game, so you have to be able to win the first, second and third balls. But we didn't do that. We played their game instead of playing our game."
Bonner agreed, saying: "Celtic couldn't get any control in that second half. They were outplayed. It was all about Kilmarnock's aggression. A remarkable level of fitness, they didn't come off it at all."
What does it mean for title race?
Celtic are now only five points ahead of Rangers, who have a game in hand, with the next Old Firm derby looming on 30 December.
Indeed, Rodgers' side have now only won twice in five outings in all competitions.
The Celtic manager said: "There is a long way to go, lots of games to play. We'll pick ourselves up and go again."
However, Bonner believes Sunday's second half "may cause Rodgers a few sleepless hours".
He said: "Celtic looked on edge at times - they couldn't pass through Kilmarnock. The pressure is on now.
"Celtic have been funny this year. They have played really well at times and let themselves down at other points and looked a little bit jaded and lacking creativity to break teams down. "
'We had to be braver'
It was also a tale of two halves for Derek McInnes before the Kilmarnock manager could celebrate a second successive victory at Rugby Park over Celtic.
Killie had gone into the game having secured their first away league win of the season against Aberdeen in midweek, but McInnes said he had to remind his players "the team we needed to be against Celtic" at half-time.
His rallying cry had the desired effect as the hosts tore into the champions from the resumption and got the goals in the final 15 minutes that their dynamic play deserved.
"We had to be braver, we had to take a step forward and I thought Stuart Findlay was immense at the back," said McInnes.
"The players were magnificent in the second half, when it was the total reverse of the first. It was everything I wanted from my team.
"I thought we passed up too many opportunities before we did score and thankfully, when we did get the goal, you could just sniff the victory, you could feel it."
Can Killie challenge for Europe?
Last season was all about consolidation in Kilmarnock's first campaign back in the top flight, but having now beaten both of the Old Firm this season they are up to fifth - only two points behind St Mirren in third.
Former Rugby Park midfielder Stephen McGinn hailed the victory as "one of the best I've seen for Kilmarnock in a long time".
He added: "They've beaten Celtic and Rangers already this season, but they were different types of performances. They were defensively sound. Today felt like the great days of Steve Clarke's reign.
"Killie really got after Celtic. There was only one winner at 1-1. Absolutely deserved.
"If you're a Kilmarnock player looking at that league table, how can you not fancy one of those European spots?"
McGinn described the shift put in by matchwinner Matty Kennedy as "outstanding" and the winger himself added: "We believe we can beat any team."
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