Kilmarnock win over Motherwell sets up Celtic title chance at Rangers

And so we have the scenario that Scotland's football authorities go to such epic lengths to avoid. Was anything else ever really likely?

Motherwell's failure to claim a victory at Kilmarnock means a Celtic win in Sunday's Old Firm match will confirm their status as champions.

Kilmarnock's supporters will object to a fully deserved victory for their makeshift side, at the end of a testing week, being spoken about only in the context of what it means for Celtic and Rangers. Nonetheless, the temperature of a Glasgow derby which was already high in intensity has suddenly increased tenfold.

Motherwell's achievements this season in challenging for second place – even taking Rangers' points deduction into account – are worthy of serious recognition. Yet in the second half here they were ruthlessly swatted aside by Kenny Shiels' men.

Paul Heffernan, a forward who has proved quite a find for Kilmarnock, scored the brace which will only intensify glances towards Ibrox on Sunday lunchtime. Heffernan will not feature on a Christmas card list from Strathclyde police or the Scottish Premier League's top brass.

The match programme rightly reflected on "A day of triumph and of tragedy" for Kilmarnock at Hampden Park. Six days earlier, the historic claiming of the League Cup by the Ayrshire side for the first time in their 143 years as a professional club was overshadowed by a horrific turn of events.

Liam Kelly, the Kilmarnock midfielder, looked on as his father collapsed in Hampden's main stand because of a heart attack. Jack Kelly died in a Glasgow hospital hours later.

Kilmarnock's players wore T-shirts during their warm-up in support of their team-mate. A minute's silence, unsurprisingly, was impeccably observed before kick-off. There is little dubiety over who Kilmarnock will dedicate this victory to.

Earlier, Kilmarnock's injured captain Manuel Pascali was acclaimed as he paraded the League Cup on Rugby Park. Impressively, applause also emanated from virtually the entire Motherwell support. That admirable spirit was maintained as Motherwell's players applauded their hosts on to the field.

The teams also combined to serve up a mundane first half. Motherwell's winger Chris Humphrey offered intent without carrying it through, while Kilmarnock watched their best chance, afforded to Heffernan, slip narrowly wide just moments before the interval.

The second period proved infinitely better. Heffernan atoned for his earlier wastefulness by sending Kilmarnock in front, Darren Randolph having saved the striker's initial shot. Gary Harkins should have doubled that lead, but watched a low effort saved by the routinely impressive Randolph.

The goalkeeper could only shake his head as Motherwell's defence handed Kilmarnock the perfect opportunity to score a second, which Heffernan duly took advantage of.

A defensive mix-up allowed James Fowler to rob the Motherwell centre-back Shaun Hutchinson of the ball. Fowler played in Garry Hay, whose cross was clearly blocked by the hands of Tom Hateley. Heffernan scored from the penalty spot, thereby causing as many ripples just up the road in Glasgow as was the case in Kilmarnock. Motherwell's response was aggressive but, in attacking terms, utterly punchless.

Shiels withdrew Heffernan, who has been struggling with a groin injury, and introduced Chris Johnston for his first-team debut. The teenager was denied Kilmarnock's third; by then, Motherwell's race was run.

Kilmarnock's followers remained in situ after the full-time whistle as the playing staff reappeared to do a lap of honour with their well-earned silverware. Another could now be formally claimed in Govan; something which, even for only passive observers of Scottish football, promises to trigger quite a scene.

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