A DELIGHTED Steve Clarke praised Kilmarnock matchwinner Stuart Findlay for playing through the pain barrier in the 2-1 victory over Celtic yesterday.
The centre-half, who used to be on the Parkhead club’s books, missed training throughout the week as he attempted to overcome a knee problem.
However, he declared himself fit and ready to go against Brendan Rodgers’ champions at Rugby Park – and headed in the points-clincher with almost the last touch of the ball in stoppage-time.
Clarke, who has now beaten the Hoops twice and drawn with them twice in his four games against the Irishman, said: “I was pleased for Stuart. He didn’t train all week, but he put his body on the line.
“He was struggling at half-time, but those are some of the rewards the footballing gods give you.
“He didn’t train, got another bang in the opening 45 minutes. However, we have got good character in the squad.
“It’s about hard work and good players. We think we’ve got a decent squad here. We think we’ve improved a bit.
“Being critical on myself, I’m maybe missing one central defender, but two deals fell through on the last day of the window
“We have a decent squad. They listen to the advice we give them and they try to put it into practise. Sometimes you get your rewards.”
The Killie boss added: “We’d have been happy with a point, but we’ve left some points behind in other games and feel we should be higher, so that tells us where our ambition is.
KILLIE JOY…Stuart Findlay celebrates his winner over Celtic. Pic: Geo.
“We were competitive. I was a little bit disappointed to be down at half-time because I didn’t think we deserved to be after we started really well.
“We had decent control. Two mistakes on ball into box cost us, but we reacted well.
“We spoke at half-time about believing. We’ve shown we can compete with the big teams. Second-half we competed well and deserved to get back in.
“You’ve got to respond. It’s never easy chasing a game against a team like Celtic because of counter-attacks, but we handled that well.
“At 1-1, I thought that was the least we’d get and I couldn’t see them opening us up.”
Jamie MacDonald, who made one decent save from a Dedryck Boyata header, had no chance when Leigh Griffiths headed the visitors into a half-time lead.
However, Chris Burke hit the equaliser after the hour mark with a low shot that bounced in front of Craig Gordon before enterting the net via his right-hand post.
Three minutes into added-on time, Findlay rose to Burke’s right-wing corner-kick to nod the ball behind the motionless Hoops keeper for the winner.