Boss Brendan Rodgers excused Scott Brown’s red card at Kilmarnock which came after the Celtic skipper’s deflected 90th-minute strike gave his side a 1-0 win to see them move eight points clear at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership.
Steve Clarke’s men gave as good they got until defender Kirk Broadfoot was sent off for a high challenge on Brown in the 75th minute.
But – with the game heading for a goalless draw – the Parkhead midfielder latched on to a Dedryck Boyata knock down and his shot came off Killie debutant substitute Alex Bruce and into the net to secure eight-successive domestic wins since the start of 2019.
Brown, already booked by referee Bobby Madden for a foul on Greg Taylor, raced behind the goal to take the acclaim of the ecstatic travelling fans, some of whom invaded the pitch, and was handed a second yellow card.
However, Rodgers said: “There is no blame. I can’t blame him. He had good control. He had a challenge early on that he was booked for, but I thought he was excellent.
“It’s very hard for Scott or any other player, especially when you score late on.
“We don’t get so many late goals now – we normally have a comfort in the game – but to get a winner like that, so late, you want to go with your team-mates to your supporters so to then get sent-off for it is always harsh.
“But it was a great leap by Dedryck. You watch it again he heads it back down and then Browny finishes it with a slight deflection. But I think if it doesn’t deflect it’s a penalty.
“I thought we thoroughly deserved it.”
On the chaos brought about by Celtic fans out of the stands and on the pitch, the Northern Irishman said: “Initially, obviously whenever we score you’re celebrating with the bench and stuff and when I looked around there was a bit of a melee going on.
“Supporters had come on to the pitch, which we don’t want to see.
“I understand the emotion of it all. But I didn’t see so much of it, I had to reorganise very quickly because we were down to 10 men.”
A disappointed Clarke claimed his side were hard done by with the late defeat.
He said: “I thought we played well, certainly didn’t deserve the cruel break at the end.
“Obviously when you go down to 10 men it’s more difficult. But even at 10 men, I couldn’t see Celtic scoring.
“It took a big deflection off Alex to get the goal. Like I said, we didn’t deserve that. The shot from Brown was going over the bar.
“We reached the standards we keep asking and talking about so (I’m) sad about the result but not about the performance. The performance was really good.”
Clarke, who knew nothing of suggestions that substitute Kris Boyd had been struck by a coin as he warmed up, believes the scenes of jubilation among the Hoops fans was testament to his side’s progress in recent years.
The former West Brom boss said: “I think you are always concerned when fans come on the pitch like that.
“The celebrations were probably a little bit over the top, it is a big compliment to Kilmarnock, that Celtic come here and celebrate a victory like that.
“So we will take it as a backhanded compliment.”
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