McGeady's dead-ball skills bring weary Celtic to life

Celtic 2 - Kilmarnock 1
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The Independent Football

Celtic's potency from set-pieces was underlined for the second time in four days at Parkhead as Kilmarnock succumbed to the deadly left boot of Alan Thompson, just as Shakhtar Donetsk had done. The midfielder decided this taut contest with a 64th- minute penalty, leaving the free-kicks this time to the equally precise Aiden Mc-Geady, whose Beckhamesque finish delivered the teenager's second goal in two Scottish Premier League games.

The champions remain in control at the top of the table, yet this was far from a procession as Kilmarnock tried to copy Aberdeen's example in winning in the east end of Glasgow, in the last home game, and Colin Nish's late goal induced belated panic for the Celtic fans.

Though Martin O'Neill spoke in midweek of a tiring schedule of four games in 10 days taking its toll during the Champions' League victory against Shakhtar Donetsk, the Celtic manager chose to use the same players who began that game. There was certainly a lack of crispness to Celtic's play in the opening 20 minutes as Kilmarnock put them under intense pressure. David Marshall was required to make a fine save to deny Colin Nish after just nine minutes, and the Celtic goalkeeper got down superbly to palm away Peter Leven's menacing cross.

Had Danny Invincible not been betrayed by his control when Allan Johnston's diagonal pass put him clear, then Kilmarnock might have had something tangible to protect. However, gradually Celtic wrested control .

Graeme Smith, Kilmar-nock's teenage goalkeeper, produced two fine saves in quick succession to deny John Hartson's shot on the spin and Thompson's fierce drive. Then Thompson's precise corner to the back post was met by Stanislav Varga only for the defender's header to thump against the bar, before Smith repelled another long-range Thompson effort.

However, two minutes before half-time Celtic made the breakthrough. Their pressure had forced David Lilley to concede a foul just outside the box, using his elbow to knock the ball out of Jackie McNamara's path. That allowed McGeady to curl a deft free-kick over the wall and beyond past Smith's dive.

Though Henri Camara's skill carved out a great chance early in the second half, the pattern of the first period ensued, with Kilmarnock's industry ensuring the champions had few scoring oppor-tunities. The threat of an equaliser was in the air when Celtic doubled their lead in the 64th minute.

A fine lay-off by Hartson allowed Camara to surge into the box past Lilley, who brought the striker down, though contact was minimal. That allowed Thompson to step up and steer his penalty into the roof of the net.

Didier Agatheconjured up a great slide-tackle to deny Gary McDonald but the frustration was too much for Jim Jefferies, who, wrongly, believed his player had been fouled; the Kilmarnock manager was locked in a furious row with the fourth official for considerable time.

Celtic brought on Craig Beattie, but it was a Kilmar-nock substitute who made a more telling contribution. Steven Naismith showed great skill to control the ball with his chest and thread a pass into the run of Nish, who showed commendable composure to steer in a right-foot finish.