Alamy Stock Photo Celtic’s Rocco Vata in action during the cinch Premiership match .
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17-year-old Irish youngster features as Celtic close in on title
Rocco Vata came off the bench in the 68th minute for the visitors.

Updated at 14.51

CELTIC SCORED four goals and missed a penalty inside the first 27 minutes as they moved another step closer to the cinch Premiership title with a 4-1 victory over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, while Irish underage international Rocco Vata came off the bench in the 68th minute.

Goals from Kyogo Furuhashi and Daizen Maeda and Matt O’Riley’s double ensured Celtic need only seven points from their last six matches to retain their crown.

17-year-old Vata, who was born in Glasgow but has represented Ireland at U15, U17, U18 and U19 level, made his third league appearance of the season for Celtic, having earned his debut back in December against Hibernian.

The midfielder is widely seen as one of Celtic’s most promising players, and has in the past been linked with a host of top European clubs, including Juventus, Roma and Manchester City. 

Relegation-threatened Kilmarnock can take encouragement from their performance after boss Derek McInnes made a double change in the 31st minute, with Liam Donnelly’s goal proving a consolation.

Cameron Carter-Vickers and Jota were absent for Celtic, who brought in Yuki Kobayashi, Tomoki Iwata and Sead Haksabanovic. Kilmarnock also made three changes as fit-again Kyle Vassell returned along with Ash Taylor and Fraser Murray.

Murray was making his first league start for five months and might have another lengthy wait after an afternoon to forget.

He gifted Celtic a seventh-minute opener with a backpass that was intercepted by Furuhashi. Joe Wright got back but could only delay the Japan striker, who checked back and drilled into the far corner.

Celtic were two ahead five minutes later following a lengthy spell of possession. Alistair Johnston got ahead of Murray on the right flank and crossed for Maeda to head home at the far post.

Killie were in disarray. Wright’s mistake offered O’Riley a chance but the defender recovered to block, only for the midfielder to net moments later in the 18th minute. The former MK Dons player was found by a pinpoint pass from Greg Taylor before taking a touch and swiftly dispatching the ball into the corner of the net.

Furuhashi missed a great chance to net his 30th goal of the season when he hit the post from the spot after Christian Doidge had caught Taylor with a clumsy challenge.

Taylor cleared Danny Armstrong’s header off the line before another mistake from Murray led to the fourth goal. The former Hibernian player’s backward clearance ultimately ended up with O’Riley, who shot into the top corner.

Wide player Murray was taken off in a double substitution that was all about damage limitation. Striker Doidge also made way as Dublin-born midfield enforcer Alan Power and defender Jeriel Dorsett came on.

The change stemmed the tide of chances although Sam Walker stopped a Furuhashi effort following some slack passing from the hosts. Seconds later the Celtic centre-forward was winning a challenge on opposite number Vassell on the edge of his own box.

Killie pulled a goal back in the final minute of the half following a rare mistake from Callum McGregor. Donnelly dispossessed the Celtic captain inside the box and finally netted after goalkeeper Joe Hart had saved from him and Armstrong.

Oh Hyeon-gyu was given 45 minutes to impress watching South Korea manager Jurgen Klinsmann as he replaced Furuhashi. The striker just missed O’Riley’s cross as he slid in and later fired just wide at the near post after a cross from Vata, who had come on midway through the half with Aaron Mooy and David Turnbull.

Killie were showing some fight though and Hart pulled off a great save from Luke Chambers’ close-range header.

Carl Starfelt missed Celtic’s best second-half chance when he sent a free header over from six yards and Iwata came close from 25 yards.

Celtic handed a late debut to 18-year-old Ben Summers before Vassell came close twice for the hosts.

Additional reporting by Paul Fennessy

Press Association
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