Celtic prove stone cold killers to deal with their disruptor in chief as hoodoos make way for glory – Keith Jackson

There might have been moments along the way when they looked like the best of a pretty average bunch.

So it was quite fitting then that Celtic should cross the finishing line last night having rediscovered all their old swagger and style at a place where they had stumbled back when they weren’t quite feeling like themselves. They didn’t just wrap up a third successive top-flight title in Kilmarnock – they looked and played like true champions – sweeping their hoodoo team aside and romping to the victory which finally puts this roller coaster of a campaign to bed.

Goals from Adam Idah, Daizen Maeda and James Forrest had Celtic 3-0 up by half time and even though the opener was hotly disputed by the home side, the overall contest was not. No, this was a good old fashioned steam rollering and, if anything, the beating could have been a great deal more savage.

It began with an emotional tribute to Tommy Burns, 16 years to the day of his death, but that was as warm and fuzzy as relations were to get on a night when the Hoops turned in the kind of rampant performance which would have so pleased the great man. They were stone cold killers out there, as they took Kilmarnock apart.

Piece by piece. Goal after goal. None more so than the outstanding Matt O’Riley who provided the fireworks in the second half with two further goals – the first one of which had to be seen in the flesh to understand its full, breathtaking beauty.

And it all crowned a glorious night for boss Brendan Rodgers who was serenaded from the doting fans in the away end as if this relationship had never broken down in the first place. Rodgers, not unexpectedly, took the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it-approach.

He grabbed the teamsheet that he had drawn up against Rangers at the weekend, cut and pasted almost all of it, and sent 10 of the same 11 back out to finish what they had started. The only curve ball was the inclusion of Idah who took over from Kyogo Furuhashi in attack just to add a bit of brawn to the mixture.

Rodgers knew, even with a three-point lead and two games left to play, there would be no margin for error and no punches pulled. Not here. Derek McInnes – the Scottish football’s disruptor in chief in this league campaign – was also holding little or nothing back even though keeper Will Dennis was left on the bench after spending a couple of days in his sick-bed, with Kieran O’Hara taking over in goal.

It would soon become obvious that O’Hara was even less fortunate than the man he replaced, given the mood that Celtic were in as they sought to place him in almost constant harm’s way. O’Hara’s first touch came in five minutes when he was fishing it out the back of his net after Idah had made an early impression. In more way than one.

The big Irishman wind-millled an arm into the nose of Robbie Deas on the half way line as Celtic raced forward on the counter. Deas was left floored and clutching his face as Idah sped off towards Kilmarnock’s box.

And when Matt O’Riley slashed a shot across the face of goal, Idah motored on to the scene to poke it home from close range. That ref Don Robertson had allowed the attack to reach this point, while Deas was still sparked out 60 yards away from the goal he was meant to be defending, caused some considerable Kilmarnock outrage. All of which was perfectly legitimate too given the nature of the injury.

But Robertson wasn’t for budging and nor did VAR ask the official to reconsider. And from that moment on the home side were on to a hiding.

Yes, Liam Donnelly could have had them in front in the opening seconds when he blazed a volley over Joe Hart’s bar and the same player then tried to beat Celtic’s keeper from the halfway line with an impromptu free-kick which sailed high and wide. But they were 2-0 down in 12 minutes when Reo Hatate combined sharply with Alistair Johnston to send the full-back darting to the byline.

Johnston’s low cross was fizzed into the six-yard box and this time it was Maeda who was on hand to crash it into the roof of the net from a yard out. It was already only a matter of how many more Celtic would add.

Idah had a powerful shot well saved by O’Hara and Liam Scales launched one from even further out which the keeper had to smuggle over the bar with the tips of his fingers. But the third goal arrived in 34 minutes when Maeda raced in behind Killie’s defence to cut the ball back for Forrest to get the tap in this time.

It was all just too incisive, too damn quick for the home side to cope with and it would have been four before half time had O’Hara not managed to push another Idah thunderbolt around his left-hand post. McInnes responded at the break with a double change, swapping Kyle Vassell for Liam Polworth and Corrie Ndaba with Joe Wright in a move which was designed with damage limitation in mind.

His side, though, came back out as if they had been scolded during the interval and could have had a penalty when Callum McGregor appeared to get himself in a fankle clearing a corner at the front post while there was slight suspicion that he had used an arm to do so.

But, again, VAR stayed out of it and moments later O’Riley was rasping a simply stunning strike high past O’Hara from 18 yards to add a fourth and another layer of lip smacking quality to this title party.

Less than a minute later, Killie thought they had pulled one back when Danny Armstrong came up with an equally breathtaking effort at the other end only for it to be scrubbed out for offside back in Clydesdale House. Rodgers made some subs of his own when he threw on Luis Palma, Kyogo and Nicolas Kuhn for the excellent front three of Forrest, Idah and Maeda.

And in 70 minutes Kuhn’s cut-back allowed O’Riley to pick his spot from 12 yards, caressing this one low into the bottom right hand corner of O’Hara’s net. There was almost a sixth late on when Wright cannoned one off his own bar while cutting out a cross from Paulo Bernardo, who had himself come on for skipper McGregor. But it mattered little in any case. Celtic are champions. Again.