23-01-2000 Celtic (H) SPL

THERE was no samba beat, with new Brazilian signing Rafael confined to bed with appendicitis, and, indeed, little rhythm of any sort as Celtic fell further behind Rangers at the top of the Premier League last night at Rugby Park. 

It is a tune most have heard before but Celtic, in the new millennium, continue to stumble while Rangers soar. This draw at Kilmarnock should not be sniffed at, but however industrious Bobby Williamson's struggling side proved, the Celtic fans will see this as two points dropped rather than one gained. In his heart of hearts, coach John Barnes will also. 

Last week he was spotted proudly clutching a rather underwhelming Manager of the Month bauble. It was strange to think this distinguished footballer - with championship medals and goals in the Maracana to his name - seemed so tickled by this Christmas crackeresque prize. However, such glee perhaps stemmed from the haranguing he has experienced in the process of building Celtic into his own team. 

But Barnes has been nothing if not brave in the face of such criticism. Last night he made a surprising change to his starting 11, bringing Colin Healy into the fray. The youngster slotted in beside Regi Blinker in the centre of midfield, and with Stilian Petrov also patrolling this area it did seem a rather lightweight boilerhouse. Indeed, the only flames being stoked in the early stages were Kilmarnock's, their players no doubt fired up by the criticism aimed at them after a less than startling season so far. This time last year, Kilmarnock were still in contention for the championship and many were naming them as the antidote to continued Old Firm dominance. The only monopoly they are now in danger of breaking is Aberdeen's franchise on under achievement. 

Still, Kilmarnock sought to spear their opponents straight from kick off, with Andy Smith and Christophe Cocard getting in Celtic's and, it must be said, each other's way. Time and time again Smith would make exasperated "talk" signs with his hands at Cocard, as though he was about to burst into The Birdie Song. Smith received a message rather more clearly than he might have wished when, in the 20th minute, he was booked for diving in the box. Sixty seconds later, Mark Viduka flung himself down in the Kilmarnock penalty area, after a challenge by Ally Mitchell, but the referee was similarly unimpressed, though curiously no card was plucked from his pocket after Viduka's theatrics. 

The Australian striker had already caused a stir, with a header from a Jackie McNamara cross that went inches wide of Colin Meldrum's post, but it was Kilmarnock who had the nearest goal-scoring opportunity, Gary Holt's acrobatic header marvellously saved by Jonathan Gould in the 26th minute. 

Six minutes later the Celtic fans who were celebrating after Viduka found space in the box, and aimed a curious shot at the Kilmarnock goal. It bobbled, and spun, before finally arcing over the already grounded Meldrum and into the net. The shot had struck Jim Lauchlan, thus giving it a confusing trajectory. 

It looked odds on that Kilmarnock would wither, but Williamson's side continued to cause Celtic problems, and while most were musing how they deserved to be level, they duly went and grabbed the equaliser they merited. 

Four minutes before the break, Cocard overran the ball, luckily for the rampant Mark Reilly, whose subsequent shot ricocheted off Vidar Riseth and sped into the corner of Gould's net. The fortune had indeed favoured the brave. 

It was a similar story in the second half, with Kilmarnock pressing remorselessly, as Celtic began to fluster in the knowledge that the three points were beyond them. 

Kilmarnock
Meldrum, MacPherson, Lauchlan, Dindeleux, Baker, Mitchell (Mahood, 85), Durrant, Holt,  (Canero, 89), Reilly, Cocard, Smith (Jeffrey, 85)
Subs not used: Marshall, Hessey
Goals: Reilly (40)
Killie Bookings: Lauchlan, MacPherson, Smith
Sent Off (post game): Lauchlan
Goals: Viduka (31)
Celtic Bookings: Boyd, McNamara, Petrov, Wright
Sent Off (post game): Wright

Referee: Kenny Clark
Attendance: 14,126 


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