March 21st 1999, SPL, Rugby Park
March 21st 1999, SPL, Rugby Park
CELTIC gained a point but not much kudos after letting slip a glorious chance to turn the title race into a real contest again with a hard-fought draw at Rugby Park.
The point collected does take them within nine points of the leaders Rangers but, after the defeat of the Ibrox side on Saturday, they could have opened the door for themselves to re-enter the contest. It is not over yet, of course, but Celtic know they have tossed away one of the few opportunities they could expect at this late stage of the race.
The Parkhead side never find it easy against Kilmarnock and that was the case again last night. The Ayrshire team were prepared to fight for every ball, every throw-in, every cross, and the result was a game that resembled a cup-tie, a macho match that rarely allowed class a look-in.
Celtic were on top for long spells in the game but the chances created were few against a defence that was immensely committed to its task.
Time and again Jim Lauchlan or Kevin McGowne stepped in at crucial times to thwart the Parkhead attack but it was in midfield, where the likes of Ian Durrant, Gary Holt, and Mark Reilly battled for every second of the contest, that Killie laid the foundation for a point that keeps them well in the hunt for a European place next season.
Like Rangers on Saturday, Celtic were trying for nine wins in a row. Like them, they failed. There's something about that magic 10, is there not?
Mark Viduka has a presence that is not only the consequence of his physique, and he was very quickly seen in the heat of the action, first when he went up for a fine cross by McNamara but was judged to have fouled MacPherson, and then again when his tenacity in the tackle left Kerr needing attention.
There was plenty for the two sets of fans to boo about, with Larsson getting the treatment from the home lot after his clash with MacPherson the last time the two sides met, and McCoist and Durrant inevitably from the away support, being ex-Rangers men.
To be truthful, the crowd were more entertaining than the players for a while, although Celtic did take the initiative from the off. Wright was the first man to be booked after a foul on Burley but the Killie striker might have felt a little aggrieved, as he had been downed a couple of times himself.
Viduka might have caused damage inside the area but for once failed to control the ball and Lauchlan headed safely back to his keeper.
Celtic had a clear chance in 23 minutes when a McNamara chip across the front of goal went to Blinker, who seemed well offside from our eyrie at the back of the stand, but there was no flag and Killie were fortunate that the ball just went a litle too far for him.
There was much ire on the Celtic fans' part when Larsson was fouled by MacPherson, but referee Mike McCurry saw nothing to get over excited about. He did get annoyed with Mjallby afte he dumped Holt but not enough to produce a yellow card.
So far it had been very much a battle in midfield, and elsewhere, without a great deal of excitement at the business ends.
Killie came nearest yet to a goal with a Durrant free kick to Kerr, whose chest-high cross invited a diving header from McCoist, and he obliged but missed the ball by inches.
Larsson sent Blinker into the penalty area with a superb pass but the Dutchman was robbed of the ball in fine style by Holt.
Then McNamara tried a clever shot on the blind side of Marshall but the keeper saw it in plenty of time to grasp it safely.
On one rare penetrating Celtic move, a Viduka pass went into the path of Larsson but a splendid tackle by Lauchlan saved the day for Kilmarnock.
The pace and ferocity of tackling was continued after the interval but MacPherson had one foul too many, this time on McKinlay, and his name was taken. It was too frantic for any lengthy passing movements but mistakes were always possible in such a scenario.
MacPherson might have been a wee bit lucky to escape a second yellow card wih a body check on McKinlay when the referee signalled advantage for a move that came to nothing in the end. There was the odd moment of attack, as when Larsson managed to reach a high ball in the heart of the goalmouth but headed it over.
The best effort came a litle later when a fine ball to Viduka on the left was diverted by the Australian across the edge of the box, where Burley hit a hard shot that Marshall did well to hold.
McGowne had his name taken for a scything tackle on Viduka just before McCoist went off to be replaced by Mark Roberts. Then Burley went close with a header from a lofted ball by McKinlay.
Celtic's pressure by now was almost non-stop but the final pass was not quite good enough and the home defence was admirably firm and relatively collected in the face of the siege.
They were nearly beaten in 82 minutes when Riseth got up to a McKinlay corner and saw his header go narrowly over the bar.
The final minutes were hectic as the Killie crowd demanded the whistle be blown while the Parkhead men surged forward. Two substitutes were thrown in, Burke for Wright and Mahood for Durrant but, in the end, the goals remained intact.
Kilmarnock: Marshall, MacPherson , Kerr, McGowne , Reilly, Holt, Wright (Burke 84), Durrant (Mahood 86), Mitchell,McCoist (Roberts 69), Lauchlan.
Subs Not Used: Hamilton, Strain.
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