Brendan Rodgers claimed Celtic were “near on perfect” in leapfrogging opponents Kilmarnock to the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership with a stunning 5-1 victory at Parkhead.
Steve Clarke’s side travelled to Parkhead with a one-point advantage over the Hoops but goals from winger James Forrest, striker Odsonne Edouard, captain Mikael Lustig and midfielder Ryan Christie had the home side in a commanding interval lead.
Half-time substitute Eamonn Brophy reduced the deficit with a penalty soon after the break but Forrest grabbed his second as the Hoops moved two points clear of Killie – although Rangers have the chance to go top with a high-scoring win at Dundee on Sunday.
“It was a brilliant team performance, ” said Rodgers, who is confident that left-back Kieran Tierney, who missed the game with a groin issue, will be fit for the crunch Europa League group game with Salzburg on Thursday night where the Hoops’ future in the competition will be decided.
“Like everyone said going into the game, Kilmarnock have been outstanding in the work Steve (Clarke) has done with them, especially in terms of how compact they are.
“How we played against that was near on perfect in terms of our positioning in between their lines and when we got on the other side the quality to cross it and finish was exceptional.
“I’m so happy with the performance.”
Rodgers then insisted there is no room for sentimentality after veteran skipper Scott Brown was dropped to the bench after starting against Motherwell in midweek.
Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie have become regulars in the midfield in recent weeks and Brown has lost his automatic place after recently returning from injury.
The Northern Irishman was offering his 33-year-old midfielder, who took over from Christie on 77 minutes, little succour ahead of the visit of Salzburg.
He said: “I have compassion for players, especially for ones who have done amazingly for me, but what I don’t have is sentimentality.
“We don’t rely on 11 players, we need more than that.
“It is clear for everyone, the level and fluency of the team and how they are playing.
“I have that compassion for guys that have done well for me but my job is to pick a team to win games and win titles and those two (Christie and McGregor) along with Tom Rogic have been exceptional.
“I know what Scott Brown can do and what Olivier Ntcham can do so we will pick a team to play well and hopefully get a result.”
Killie boss Clarke noted the differences in resources between the two clubs.
He said: “Celtic were quicker than us, they looked a little bit more alert right from the off, probably something to do with the fact that they had seven fresh players and we are going to the well with the same players.
“It was difficult for my back four today. My two full-backs (Stephen O’Donnell and Greg Taylor) looked a little bit jaded, both played into the middle of June with Scotland teams.
“Stuart Findlay dragged himself off the treatment table with no training just to help the team – so thanks to Stuart for that – and I asked Scott Boyd when was the last time he played three times in a week and he couldn’t tell me. That’s how long ago it was.
“That made it difficult for us but these games, Rangers away, Celtic away, don’t define our season. That is against teams of similar stature as Kilmarnock.”