Joy and tears as Celtic claim Scottish title

Kilmarnock 0 Celtic 6

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The Independent Football

With one fist raised, and his other hand clasped to his heart, Neil Lennon stood and took his moment of acclaim. His team had swept Kilmarnock aside, delivering not only the Scottish Premier League title but also justification of the Celtic board's faith in Lennon, of his faith in his players and, most crucially, of his faith in himself. Lennon shed tears when the final whistle blew, and the occasion was briefly overwhelmed by sentiment.

It was, though, an endless celebration. During the course of the match, between the joy that greeted each of the goals, the vast away support sang for each of their heroes, but it always came back to Lennon.

"I feel vindicated," the manager said. "I felt I was on probation, walking behind Gordon Strachan, Martin O'Neill, Wim Jansen, Billy McNeill, Davie Hay and Mr Stein, but now I'm walking alongside them."

This little piece of Ayrshire belonged to Celtic, at least for the duration of a game that wasn't so much about gaining the solitary point that was needed to clinch the SPL title as delivering the culmination of two years of Lennon's management. The occasion centred around the Celtic manager, from the moment he emerged from the tunnel to face a barrage of press photographers and offered a solitary wave to someone in the main stand.

There have been moments of alarm and peril, notably when Lennon's presence as Celtic manager became the focus for a dark hostility. He encountered self-doubt, too, not least when his side were 3-0 down at this ground last October and he allowed his own thoughts to wonder about his job security. Yet with three-quarters of Rugby Park filled with Celtic supporters, this was a hailing of the manager and his achievement.

So there was a symbolism to Lennon's triumph here, a reward for the stoicism he has displayed, but also the sheer bloody-minded desire to lead this team to glory.

He persevered with individuals, and the response has been the much improved displays of players such as Fraser Forster, Charlie Mulgrew, Scott Brown, Joe Ledley and Georgios Samaras. Fittingly, all but the goalkeeper Forster were heavily involved in this emphatic victory.

It was Mulgrew who scored the equalising goal here last October, in a 3-3 draw, and he was central again, scoring twice and setting up two more in the first half. Glenn Loovens and Gary Hooper finished two of his crosses, with Hooper and Ledley scoring in the second half. The goals seemed secondary, though, to relishing the championship victory, Celtic's first in three years.

"I'm delighted for the supporters," Lennon said. "They brought the thunder back, and that means more to me than anything."

Kilmarnock (4-3-1-2): Bell; Fowler, Nelson, Sissoko, Gordon; Johnson (Barbour, 46), Kelly, Hay (Dayton, 46); Shiels; Harkins, Van Turhout.

Celtic (4-3-1-2): Forster; Matthews, Loovens, Wilson, Mulgrew (Blackman, 77); Ki, Brown (Twardzik, 47), Ledley; Commons; Hooper, Samaras.

Referee Alan Muir.

Man of the match Mulgrew (Celtic).

Match rating 6/10.