Put Christopher Jullien against a physical centre forward on an artificial pitch and Celtic have a problem. Throw in the fact three out of 12 Premiership opponents play their football on a plastic surface and the odds on ten-in-a-row suddenly start to lengthen.
Celtic’s problems on these pitches can be over-played. Yet even after Ryan Christie’s fizzing 30 yard free-kick gave them the lead in Ayrshire you could see the warning signs. This looked and felt like those laboured afternoons at Rugby Park under Brendan Rodgers; days when Celtic couldn’t win here for love or money. While Kilmarnock looked perfectly at home, the visitors looked as green as their fetching new away kit.
Put Jullien against a technical opponent in the Europa League and he looks a player. Stick him up against a Lyndon Dykes or Killie’s Nicke Kabamba and he has all the poise and self assurance of Bambi on stilts. Against Hamilton last weekend Jullien and partner Kris Ajer gave an alarming number of chances away. Here, once again, the need for defensive reinforcements looked glaring.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon looked a frustrated figure on the touchline at Rugby Park
Kilmarnock's Chris Burke equalised from the penalty spot which earned his side a draw
KILMARNOCK (4-2-3-1): Rogers 5 ; Millen 7, Broadfoot 7, Findlay 7, Waters 7 ; Power 6, Dicker 6 ; Tshibola 6, McKenzie 3 (Haunstrup 45 5), Burke 6 (Kiltie 87 1 ) ; Kabamba 8.
Subs: Lyle, McGowan, Dikamona, Brophy, Whitehall, El Makrini, Pinnock
Booked: Dicker, Power
CELTIC (4-2-3-1): Barkas 6 ; Frimpong 5 (Elhamed 66 3 ), Taylor 5 (Bolingoli 87 1) , Jullien 3, Ajer 5; Brown 5, McGregor 5; Elyounoussi 4 (Klimala 66 3), Christie 6, Forrest 5; Edouard 5.
Subs: Bain, Bitton, Klimala, Soro, Ntcham, Bolingoli, Robertson, Elhamed, Dembele.
Referee: Alan Muir
Star Man: Nicke Kabamba (Kilmarnock)
The warning signs were there from the start. When Celtic won 3-1 here in January the rain tipped down from a leaden sky. On a sweltering day Kilmarnock reduced the size of the pitch and left it bone dry to slow the ball down and prevent the visitors fizzing it round. People can talk about wage bills and transfer fees till the cows come home. Nothing levels a game against Scotland’s champions more than a playing field better suited to lawn bowls.
There were just six minutes on the clock when Kabamba – a scorer in that 3-1 defeat – won his first header from a Ross Millen cross. After that he proceeded to bully and terrorise a six foot five defender.
When Celtic claimed the lead in the tenth minute the game looked likely to follow a similar pattern to last weekend’s 5-1 home win over Hamilton.
For Killie the goal was a tale of mixed fortunes. Gary Dicker was lucky to escape a straight red card when a late cynical tackle from behind endangered Odsonne Edouard.
The home team’s luck ran out when Ryan Christie smashed the set-piece into the net from fully 30 yards. While it bounced up new Killie keeper Danny Rogers will feel he shouldn’t have lost one from that distance. For Christie it was a first goal of the new season. For Celtic it was a false dawn.
The lead lasted just 13 minutes, the Kilmarnock penalty which levelled things a