Simunovic 'proud' to honour McNeill with Celtic winner

Celtic's Jozo Simunovic said he was "very proud" to score the only goal in a 1-0 win over Kilmarnock wearing the number five shirt made famous by Billy McNeill that put the Scottish champions within sight of a successful title defence.

Saturday's match at home to Killie was Celtic's first since club great McNeill died aged 79 on Monday.

McNeill was the captain of the 'Lisbon Lions' side that in 1967 made Glasgow giants Celtic become the first British club to win the European Cup.

His family were present as Lennon and captain Scott Brown laid a wreath by the statue of McNeill lifting the European Cup outside Parkhead before kick-off.

There was then more than the scheduled minute's applause for McNeill, who also had two spells as Celtic manager.

There was a further poignant moment when Simunovic, who before this match had promised McNeill would receive an "amazing goodbye", headed in a 68th-minute goal that proved enough to see off a stubborn Kilmarnock.

"It was very special, very emotional," 24-year-old Croatia defender Simunovic told Sky Sports. "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."

Meanwhile a delighted Lennon 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 (McNeill) might have been looking down on us when we needed a goal."

He added: "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."

Second-placed Rangers must now beat Aberdeen at Ibrox on Sunday to delay their arch rivals' eighth successive title.

Celtic are unbeaten in 15 Premiership matches but they struggled in a lacklustre first half against a Kilmarnock side missing three first-choice defenders through suspension.

The Hoops might even have been behind at half-time but for several saves by goalkeeper Scott Bain, who denied Chris Burke in a one-on-one situation as well as Liam Millar and Conor McAleny.

Celtic eventually started to threaten early in the second half, with Odsonne Edouard curling a shot narrowly wide of Daniel Bachmann's goal.

Moments later, Bachmann then blocked well from Callum McGregor and French striker Edouard before Kilamarnock's defence eventually cracked when Simunovic rose above Aaron Tshibola to head in at the back post.

That lone goal eventually proved enough to score all three points.

This victory will also have strengthened interim manager Lennon's hopes of taking full-time charge of Celtic for the second time after the former Hibernian boss returned to Parkhead following Brendan Rodgers' shock mid-season resignation to join English Premier League Leicester.

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