Celtic 4 Kilmarnock 1: Zurawski sets standard at the double

Under-fire Celtic open defence of their title with confidence-boosting victory
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The Independent Football

Crisis? What crisis? Celtic offered a stylish response yesterday to the obituary writers who had buried them before a ball was kicked, by opening the defence of their Scottish Premier League title with an emphatic success at Parkhead.

Gordon Strachan has been so wounded by the bad reviews of his team's pre-season - and criticism of commercially inspired jaunts to America and Japan - that he made his own mark after a double from Maciej Zurawski, and goals from Shunsuke Nakamura and Jiri Jarosik, polished off Kilmarnock.

"We must be the only club in the history of football to win the title by 20 points, lift two trophies and then start the season under pressure," declared the Celtic manager. "We just laughed that off. It comes with the territory if you play for Celtic."

The handsome scoreline vindicated Strachan, who has not only had to read virtually everyone tipping his new rival, Paul Le Guen, to steer Rangers to the title but also that he had blundered in selling John Hartson, who scored 110 times in his five years at Parkhead.

Kilmarnock, of course, were proof that a team could sell its top scorer yet survive. They flourished after Rangers lured Kris Boyd - who became the SPL's top marksman with 37 goals - and finished in a creditable fifth place last term.

Jim Jefferies' side played well here for the opening 25 minutes, their crisp passing a joy to watch, but when Steven Naismith and Paul Di Giacomo narrowly missed chances, Celtic struck.

Kenny Miller chased a lost cause to hound David Lilley into an error and then slid a pass towards Zurawski, whose run across the angle of the box created the space to measure a right-foot finish past the goalkeeper, Graeme Smith.

Naismith then squandered a chance to equalise before Jarosik doubled the lead in the 38th minute. Again Miller's movement unhinged Kilmarnock before he unselfishly set up Zurawski who floated a perfect cross for Jarosik to plant a header past Smith for his first goal since his £2million summer move from Chelsea.

Miller would also have found the net but for a great block by Frazer Wright but if the Scotland striker has yet to break his duck since moving from Wolves, his energy and work-rate won over any doubters who held a grudge from Miller's days across the city at Rangers.

Indeed, Miller ought to have been given two chances to score early in the second half, but Zurawski and Stilian Petrov, who had both done the spadework to open up Kilmarnock, selfishly dragged their efforts wide to the frustration of the unmarked Miller.

However, Nakamura is unerring when he is given a sight of goal, and Japan's World Cup icon chose the right time, ahead of a midweek trip to Tokyo for a friendly, to display his trademark ruthlessness from free-kicks. James Fowler's trip on Jarosik allowed Nakamura to curl a sublime 25-yard effort beyond Smith.

Kilmarnock, though, refused to retire meekly. Naismith earned his reward by rifling a volley past Artur Boruc with three minutes left but Celtic were not finished yet and put the seal on a fine performance as Zurawski hooked in his second in the final minute when he met Derek Riordan's low cross after Aiden McGeady had swiped and missed.

The day had begun with the Celtic captain, Neil Lennon, and chairman, Brian Quinn, unfurling the championship flag for 2005-06 and ended with a Pole raising the standard.