Celtic 4 Kilmarnock 2: Keane papers over defensive cracks

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The Independent Online

Apart from losing possession to allow Kilmarnock to level at 2-2 and have a sniff of getting a result, Roy Keane had a good home debut and first SPL match. The 34-year-old was assured in central defence, proactive on the ball and dictatorial off it.

He led the line, far upfield at times. He broke up play to start counter-attacks. He was the reliable conduit for team-mates who, when stymied on the break, used him as a means to start a move again. He told his goalkeeper, Artur Boruc, where to throw the ball. He pointed.

He organised. He was the de facto captain. Neil Lennon may have worn the armband, and the midfield birth, but Keane was the one calling the shots.

He fitted, in that position. His inclusion made Celtic a better side than they would have been without him. This was not necessarily the case in the Scottish Cup embarrassment at Clyde last week, when he played alongside Lennon.

But this leaves two problems for Gordon Strachan, Celtic's manager. Strachan's defence is still the weak link in a side who should otherwise be confident of winning the title again. Saturday's win kept them seven points of clear of Hearts, who thumped Dunfermline 4-1 away.

And Keane, who on this evidence is a better defender than any other Celtic player, would not opt to play there every week. This will be an ongoing dilemma if Strachan wants to field Keane, Lennon and the often outstanding Stilian Petrov in the same midfield.

Petrov was below his peak but won the free-kick that Shunsuke Nakamura netted with a 25-yard, left-foot curler for the opener, and then a penalty, converted by Shaun Maloney, shortly afterwards. Nakamura was outstanding, blending simple but effective passing and movement with an increasing repertoire of feints, drag-backs and ball-winning tackles.

Keane and his central defensive partner, Stephen McManus, then allowed Kilmarnock two goals. McManus brought down Colin Nish and Steven Naismith scored from the spot. Naismith then dispossessed Keane and crossed for Danny Invincible to level.

"In defence we were like my art at school," Strachan said. "Going backward and not very good. We look like we need three goals to win a game of football.

"Some units of the defending were good but there were some individual errors and at the moment everything is getting punished."

Fortunately for him, Celtic did score again, McManus stabbing in a rebound after a Keane shot, and then Maciej Zurawski scoring from close range from Ross Wallace's pass.

"People were looking to see if we could react to the Clyde result," Strachan said. "We did."

Goals: Nakamura (3) 1-0; Maloney (16, pen) 2-0; Naismith (24, pen) 2-1; Invincibile (51) 2-2; McManus (53) 3-2; Zurawski (67) 4-2.

Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Telfer, Keane, McManus, Wallace; Nakamura, Lennon, Petrov, Maloney; Zurawski (McGeady, 80), Hartson. Substitutes not used: Marshall (gk), Virgo, Lawson, Thompson, Pearson, Camara.

Kilmarnock (3-5-2): Combe; Lilley (Invincible, 38), Ford, Wright; McDonald, Johnston, Naismith, Fowler, Hay; Nish (Di Giacomo, 72), Wales (Murray, 72). Substitutes not used: Bell (gk), Dodds, Campbell, Jamie Adams.

Referee: C Murray (Scotland).

Booked: Celtic McManus.

Man of the match: Nakamura.

Attendance: 59,995.

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