Samaras stars as Celtic close in

PA Sport
Georgios Samaras (right)

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Georgios Samaras (right)

A Georgios Samaras double earned Celtic a 2-1 victory over Kilmarnock and took the Hoops to within a point of Clydesdale Bank Premier League leaders Rangers ahead of Wednesday night's Old Firm game at Parkhead.

The Greece striker headed the home side into the lead in first-half added time and scored his second with a fine drive seven minutes after the break to make it eight SPL wins in a row for Neil Lennon's men.

Killie substitute Danny Racchi fired in a consolation goal with three minutes remaining but with Rangers losing at St Mirren, the Hoops now have a chance to go top of the table going into 2012.

Celtic had to do some defending in the early stages although in the ninth minute Hoops midfielder James Forrest sent a speculative 30-yard drive just past Cameron Bell's left-hand post. Moments later, in an impressive Killie move, Paul Heffernan set up Dean Shiels and the Irishman's low drive from 16 yards sped past the Celtic post.

The Parkhead men had a great chance in the 14th minute when Forrest's low drive was spilled by Bell but Gary Hooper chipped the rebound over the bar, before Shiels had another effort saved by Fraser Forster at the other end.

Shiels ended another Rugby Park threat by blasting a shot over the bar from the edge of the box, more evidence that the Ayrshire men had not travelled with a point in mind - but all Kilmarnock's good work was undone as the game entered first half added time.

Celtic's tireless right-back Cha Du-Ri raced to the byline and managed to send in a looping cross which was headed past Bell by Samaras who had the cheers of the relieved home fans still ringing in his ears as he ran up the tunnel at the break.

There was a claim for a Killie penalty three minutes into the second-half when Forrest blocked Danny Buijs's attempted cross but referee George Salmond kept his hands at his side.

Much of the Celtic fans' attention, though, was on the game at St Mirren and there was a huge cheer when news of the Buddies' victory over Rangers was confirmed. The home side took inspiration from the shock result and in the 52nd minute Samaras took a Hooper pass and swerved his way into the box before slamming a low drive past Bell.

Killie netted a late reply when Racchi, on for Shiels, rifled in a shot from 25 yards which beat Forster to make it a nervy ending, with Victor Wanyama blocking a goal-bound shot by Gary Harkins moments later, with Forster out of his goal.

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