Matchzone: Celtic (H)
Kilmarnock stormed into the quarter-finals of the Viaplay League Cup following a heroic team performance, which overcame defending champions Celtic at The BBSP Stadium, Rugby Park on Sunday, 20th August.
Derek McInnes named an unchanged starting XI for the third consecutive match, securing back-to-back wins against Glasgow sides in the space of just 15 days.
Killie were relentless from the very first whistle, sparking an electric opening five minutes on the pitch and in the stands. The initial action took place largely inside the Celtic half, with Corrie Ndaba going inches from making early dominance count after flicking Danny Armstrong’s corner just over the crossbar.
It didn’t take long for the visitors to show their own threat, going close through Kyogo who poked narrowly wide after sliding into the six-yard box to meet a driven cross. Will Dennis’ first save of the game followed a couple of minutes later as he calmly collected a snapshot pinged towards the middle of his goal. At the Chadwick Stand end, Danny Armstrong forced the first save from Joe Hart after bursting forward and driving a strike into the keeper’s midriff from just outside the box.
Half-chances were all that would fall around both boxes in the opening 25 minutes. Marley Watkins’ half-volley across goal was gathered by Joe Hart, before Will Dennis held Kyogo’s looping attempt at the opposite end.
Preserving his third clean sheet in as many games, Will Dennis made his most impressive save of the afternoon five minutes before the break, denying Kyogo from an angle after a quick Celtic counter-attack. Killie’s clearest sight of goal came on the stroke of half-time when Corrie Ndaba again caused havoc in the box, glancing narrowly wide after a cross was thrown into the mixer.
Derek McInnes led his boisterous team into a confident changing room at the interval, but it was the visitors who were quickest out of the traps in the second half. Lewis Mayo showed great composure to sweep away danger when a ball was thrown across the six-yard box five minutes after the restart.
A sign of things to come, Kyle Magennis came close to breaking the deadlock in front of a lively Moffat Stand support; rifling a shot towards goal and forcing the former England No.1 to tip the ball around his near post.
The breakthrough would be made by the Rugby Park side with an hour on the clock, in a move that was started and finished by the impressive Marley Watkins. Killie’s frontman surged down the left wing, before feeding Armstrong whose pinpoint cross was diverted back over the face of goal and slotted home by the Welsh attacker (1-0).
Celtic pressed forward in search of an equaliser in the 10 minutes that followed, but Killie were resolute at the back. Blue and white shirts swarmed advances into the final third, protecting Will Dennis’ goal at all costs.
The hosts far from shut up shop: Matty Kennedy’s ball into the box flashed across goal before bending around the post. The fresh legs of captain Kyle Vassell added a new spear to the attack, replacing goalscorer Marley Watkins who departed to a well-earned standing ovation.
The experience of Rory McKenzie and Liam Donnelly was called upon for the final 10 minutes inside the fortress of Rugby Park, with three home stands rising in unison to show appreciation for a defiant performance which continued until the 97th minute.
A nervy finish included a slight delay in play for a VAR check on a potential Celtic penalty, before Alan Muir’s whistle signaled an eruption in East Ayrshire. 90 minutes away from a return to Hampden Park, victory earned Kilmarnock a home tie against Heart of Midlothian in the quarter-finals of the competition.
Result: Kilmarnock 1-0 Celtic
Kilmarnock lineup: Dennis, Ndaba, Mayo, Deas, Lyons, Kennedy, Armstrong (McKenzie 80), Watson, Magennis (Donnelly 80), Findlay, Watkins (Vassell 74)
Celtic lineup: Hart, Ralston, Nawrocki, Lagerbielke, Taylor, Riley (Haksabanovic 75), McGregor, Holm (Turnbull 64), Abada (Yangat 65), Kyogo, Maeda
You can listen to the manager’s post-match interview – HERE.
Check out the best shots of the day, courtesy of club photographers Ross MacKenzie and Jeff Holmes.