Samaras brace boosts Bhoys
Greek ace strikes twice at Rugby Park
Last Updated: 21/09/08 6:37pm
Samaras: Decisive double
Celtic kept up the early season pressure on Old Firm rivals Rangers with a 3-1 victory at Kilmarnock.
Shaun Maloney provided the reigning SPL champions with a first-half lead before Georgios Samaras struck twice after the break.
Kilmarnock, who announced manager Jim Jefferies had agreed a contract extension before kick-off, replied through Mehdi Taouil's late penalty after Gary Caldwell was dismissed for deliberate handball.
Scott Brown had the first effort for the Parkhead side when he hooked a volley over Alan Combe's crossbar from 14 yards out, followed soon after by Marc Crosas whose effort from distance was even further off target.
The champions looked more threatening and in the 19th minute Garry Hay clumsily tripped Maloney inside the box to concede a penalty.
In the absence of dropped Barry Robson, the former Aston Villa striker opted to take the kick himself but blasted wide of the target.
It was the second penalty the champions had missed in two games, Robson having his spot-kick saved against Aalborg in their UEFA Champions League clash at Parkhead in midweek.
However, in the 25th minute Maloney made up for his mistake when he put the visitors ahead with a fine goal which owed everything to technique.
Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink battled with a ruck of Killie defenders at the edge of the box and, when the ball broke to Maloney, he curled it first time past the helpless Combe and in to the top corner.
Five minutes from the interval Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura's first-time pass from inside his own half sent striker Samaras clear down the right. As Killie looked for the offside flag, the Greece international raced in to the box and slid his low drive past Combe but also past the far post.
Parkhead keeper Artur Boruc made a point-blank save from David Fernandez almost on the half-time whistle but Celtic survived the resultant corner.
The match resumed at break-neck pace after the interval, Kilmarnock channelling their attacks through the rugged Conor Sammon but still the visitors remained firm.
Celtic appeared more potent and in the 50th minute Combe pulled off a great point-blank save from the head of Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink after Maloney had floated in a tantalising cross from the left, Killie defender Simon Ford completing the clearance by knocking the bouncing ball away from the line.
But in the 55th minute the Parkhead men doubled their lead with a fine solo goal from Samaras.
The former Manchester City striker took a Crosas pass and drove down the right flank leaving Kilmarnock centre-back Frazer Wright trailing in his wake before cutting in to the box and drilling the ball past Combe.
Moments later, as Killie went for broke, midfielder Danny Invincibile tested Boruc with a shot from the edge of the box, the Poland international clutching the ball to his chest.
Aiden McGeady replaced Maloney on the hour mark but moments later Samaras beat Combe with a curled shot only to see it deflect off the far post and away to safety.
In the 81st minute Celtic were awarded their second spot-kick when Killie midfielder Craig Bryson pulled back Nakamura inside the box, Samaras scoring with the penalty but only after Combe had got a hand to his shot.
With five minutes to go Caldwell handled the ball on the line to prevent a Ford header going in and the Celtic defender was sent off before Taouil scored from the resultant spot-kick.
However, there was no danger of a comeback from the home side as Celtic saw the remaining few minutes out.