Monday 23 September 2019

'The big man might have been looking down on us' - Tributes to Billy McNeill as Celtic edge towards title

Fans hold up banners in memory of the late Billy McNeill before the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match at Celtic Park, Glasgow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday April 27, 2019. See PA story SOCCER Celtic. Photo credit should read: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Fans hold up banners in memory of the late Billy McNeill before the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match at Celtic Park, Glasgow. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday April 27, 2019. See PA story SOCCER Celtic. Photo credit should read: Ian Rutherford/PA Wire. EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Ronnie Esplin

Neil Lennon felt Jozo Simunovic's header against Kilmarnock was the "perfect way" to win a game as Celtic Park honoured Billy McNeill.

An emotional day, following the death of the man who captained the side that won the European Cup in 1967 and later went on to manage the club, did not quite go to plan for over an hour.

However, Simunovic, wearing the number five so closely associated with McNeill, headed in a Callum McGregor cross for his first goal of the season after 67 minutes to give the hosts a 1-0 Ladbrokes Premiership win and take them to within a point of their eighth successive title.

Interim boss Lennon, who along with skipper Scott Brown had laid a wreath at McNeill's statue outside the stadium before the game, said: "It's amazing when you think about it.

"That was a perfect way to win the game I suppose under the circumstances, with everything that's happened this week and today.

"The big man might have been looking down on us when we needed a goal.

"Jozo has been outstanding for me since I've come in.

"I want my centre-halves to attack the ball more and he's doing that on a regular basis.

"I'm pleased with the win, pleased with the second half and it's a great three points.

"Kilmarnock created opportunities with us being sloppy. We were ill-disciplined defensively, not just the back four, but the midfield as well. We were a little bit loose. We wanted that tidied up in the second half.

"It was lot better and we showed more attacking intent."

Simunovic said he was "very proud" to play his part after he had joined his team mates and McNeill's family at the statue ceremony before the game.

He told Sky Sports: "It was very special, very emotional.

"I couldn't imagine the scenes when we came here before the game, so many people outside, his family as well.

"An amazing feeling, an amazing guy for Celtic. A big, big guy for the club, for the history of Celtic. I'm just proud, very proud."

Killie boss Steve Clarke "definitely" thought his side deserved more from the game and thought the Ayrshire side should have been awarded a penalty early in the game when Celtic midfielder Brown tangled with Stephen O'Donnell inside the box.

Clarke, already up on an Scottish Football Association charge for his criticism of referee Steven McLean following the defeat against Aberdeen last week, said: "It was a terrific effort, good application. We had the best chance of the first half, we had good opportunities, a penalty.

"As he goes to play the ball he gets pushed in the back. Soft but a penalty but there you go.

"I don't think I should speak anything else about referees.

"I am just pointing out the fact that it doesn't matter if it is a soft push or a push, it is a push as he goes to play the ball in the box and normally it is a penalty."

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