John Hartson was so upset at being marginalised by injury last season, that he could not bring himself to be at Rugby Park when Celtic clinched the Scottish Premier League title. Yesterday, he had a box seat.
The robust Welshman wiped out the frustration as he struck twice, bookends to Alan Thompson's own double, to score his first goals in eight months. It was a harsh result for Kilmarnock, who had put so much into a remarkable first half and led twice but were undone by David Lilley being dismissed just before the interval.
The hosts' fluent football was eye-catching and Celtic were given an early warning of its potency after just seven minutes when Kris Boyd gathered a sublime lob over the defence from Gary McDonald and held off Joos Valgaeren before thrashing a shot that the goalkeeper, David Marshall, beat out with his legs.
Six minutes later, Kilmarnock's adventure brought a tangible reward. It took Marshall's agility to prevent tiny Stephen Murray from burying Ryan Dodds' cross, touching the header over the bar, but from Gary Locke's corner, McDonald eluded his marker to glance the ball into the roof of the net.
However, Rugby Park's joy evaporated within 55 seconds as Celtic restored parity. Valgaeren threaded a long ball into the run of John Hartson, who controlled it deftly and stabbed a right-foot shot past the keeper, Alan Combe, and via the post for the equaliser.
Not long after, Hartson failed to convert an easier chance, courtesy of Jackie McNamara's cut-back. The price for such profligacy was underlined when Gary Wales restored Kilmarnock's lead.
Yet again, Celtic were exposed in defence as Boyd muscled out Stanislav Varga and fed Dodds, whose driven cross was parried out by Marshall, only for Wales - one of Kilmarnock's summer signings - to pounce on the rebound and drill in a volley from 14 yards.
Kilmarnock went for the jugular after that. Celtic struggled to contain Murray's movement, but the champions summoned up another equaliser to alter the course of the contest.
Aidan McGeady's fancy footwork picked out Chris Sutton. He dropped off the front line and clipped a fine pass into the run of Thompson, who had run into the space behind his colleague. Thompson executed a fine first touch to control the ball on the run and then take it wide of Combe before lashing it into the net.
Six minutes later, Celtic forged ahead as Lilley paid a high price for his folly, as he handled the ball on the edge of the box from Hartson's flick-on to deny Sutton a clear scoring opportunity. Lilley was shown a red card and then Thompson compounded the pain by bending a low left-foot free-kick around the wall and past the bemused Combe.
Not surprisingly, the second half was tame as the searing heat drained the players. However, Hartson stretched Celtic's lead 20 minutes from the end as he rose to meet Thompson' free-kick and bulleted a header past Combe.Reuse content