Kilmarnock 1-3 Celtic: Christopher Jullien ends hosts' fightback as Hoops stay top
Match report as Celtic maintain their two-point cushion over Rangers at the top of the Scottish Premiership
Last Updated: 23/01/20 8:07am
Celtic returned to winning ways in the Scottish Premiership to preserve their two-point lead over Rangers courtesy of a 3-1 victory over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
Neil Lennon's side were forced to spend this season's winter break reflecting on the disappointment of losing the Old Firm derby, but they were rarely in any danger of slipping to successive league defeats.
Odsonne Edouard sent Celtic on their way with his 18th goal of the season (25) before Leigh Griffiths doubled the visitors' lead six minutes after the restart.
Nicke Kabamba reduced the deficit with an instinctive finish on his league debut for the hosts (66), but Christopher Jullien's firm header soon restored Celtic's two-goal cushion (73).
The result means Kilmarnock have lost six consecutive Scottish Premiership games and remain in seventh place while Celtic stay top, with Rangers - who have a game in hand over their Glasgow rivals - beating St Mirren 1-0 also on Wednesday.
Kilmarnock: Koprivec (6), O'Donnell (6), Bruce (6), Findlay (6), Hamalainen (6), Power (6), Dicker (5), El Makrini (5), Bunn (6), Burke (6), Kabamba (7).
Subs: Del Fabro (n/a), Kiltie (n/a), Brophy (6).
Celtic: Forster (6), Simunovic (7), Jullien (7), Ajer (7), Frimpong (7), Brown (7), Ntcham (7), McGregor (6), Hayes (6), Griffiths (8), Edouard (8).
Subs: Bauer (n/a), Johnston (6), Bayo (n/a).
Man of the match: Leigh Griffiths.
How Celtic responded like champions
Kilmarnock entered the game buoyed by a 6-0 Scottish Cup win over Queen's Park but they failed to register a shot on target during the opening 45 minutes.
Celtic had not lost in the league after going in front since September 2018 - a run of 39 wins in 40 games - when they were defeated 2-1 by Kilmarnock, but there was no danger of there being a repeat.
It was 12 months ago at Rugby Park where Rangers' Scottish Premiership title tilt unravelled with a 2-1 defeat, but with this year's battle looking set to go down to the wire, Neil Lennon knew there was no margin for error.
His side put on a very professional first-half display, and had already threatened through a Jozo Simunovic header when Edouard missed a glorious chance to break the deadlock.
It was a searching ball from Simunovic that Kilmarnock goalkeeper Jan Koprivec misjudged allowing Griffiths to set up his strike partner, but the Frenchman could only stroke his shot wide.
Harry Bunn and Nicke Kabamba were both handed their league debuts for Kilmarnock while Jan Koprivec retained his place in goal.
Celtic made three changes to the side that beat Partick 2-1 in the Scottish Cup at the weekend. Jozo Simunovic, Kristoffer Ajer and Jonny Hayes replaced Nir Bitton, Greg Taylor and Tomas Rogic.
But Celtic duly took the lead after 25 minutes when Jeremie Frimpong skipped away from Niko Hamalainen to cross for Edouard to masterfully evade Alan Power and stroke his shot underneath Koprivec.
Kilmarnock knew they now faced an uphill task having failed to win any game this season having conceded the first goal, and the closest they came to levelling came when Hamalainen's low cross just evaded Mohamed El Makrini at the near post.
The home side had shown their opponents too much respect during the opening period, but they began the second half brightly as Kabamba played a one-two with Power on the edge of the box before seeing his shot deflect just wide off Simunovic.
But that in turn served as the warning sign Celtic needed as moments later, Griffiths doubled their lead with his 17th strike against Kilmarnock, the most goals he has scored against a single opponent.
Frimpong was once more involved as he slipped the ball inside for Callum McGregor, and once Griffiths had been released on the left, his shot deflected off Alex Bruce beyond Koprivec at his near post.
There was a brief scare for Celtic as Kabamba made it two goals in as many games following his transfer from Hartlepool as the 26-year-old directed Power's miscued shot from Eamonn Brophy's cross beyond Fraser Forster from close range.
But those hopes of an unlikely point were ended when Jullien rose to meet Griffiths' pinpoint corner and head home his fifth goal of the season.
Substitute Mikey Johnston came close to extending Celtic's advantage when his direct run resulted in him shooting a yard wide of the post, but there was concern for Lennon in the closing stages as the impressive Frimpong felt the full force of a robust challenge from Power, forcing him off on a stretcher.
What the managers said
Kilmarnock boss Alex Dyer: "I thought our side played well. There were a few mistakes from our point of view but we tried our best and worked hard. We gave 100 per cent but they've got quality all over the pitch and can punish you.
"We gave ourselves a little bit of hope making it 2-1 but it was a great header from Jullien. He must've jumped eight foot! You can't stop that!"
Celtic boss Neil Lennon: "I'm ecstatic, I thought it was a great performance. We scored some great goals and created some good chances on a difficult pitch against difficult opposition. I thought the attitude of the team was spot on and we thoroughly deserved the win.
Man of the match: Leigh Griffiths
Griffiths continued his fine recent run of form as he made it two goals in as many games at Rugby Park. The 29-year-old forward completed a fine individual display by setting up Jullien for his clinching header.
Lennon added: "The link-up play and understanding between Leigh and Odsonne was outstanding. They've got goals in them, and Griffiths is looking fitter and stronger. Edouard is a special player."
'No real hassles for Celtic'
Analysis from Sky Sports' Charlie Nicholas
"They were smooth tonight and weren't really forced until it went to 2-1. I thought Edouard was excellent and his link-up play with Griffiths in the second half was nice.
"I don't like this surface and the big worry for Celtic is another injury as Frimpong went off injured. I don't like this artificial surface, it should go, and shouldn't be in the top level of our country. No real hassles for Celtic."
Kilmarnock travel to face St Johnstone in the Scottish Premiership on Saturday; kick-off 3pm. Meanwhile, Celtic host Ross County at the same time.