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Ryan Christie warns Celtic against complacency

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Now Killie are the real deal: Ryan Christie warns Celtic against complacency as Steve Clarke's surprise leaders come callingCeltic's Ryan Christie has given table-topping Kilmarnock his utmost respectSteve Clarke's side travel to Celtic Park on Saturday afternoon in PremiershipChristie insisted the Ayrshiremen are entirely deserving of their lofty position

Ryan Christie has given table-topping Kilmarnock his utmost respect ahead of Saturday's clash at Celtic Park by insisting the Ayrshiremen are entirely deserving of their lofty position.

A 2-0 victory for Steve Clarke's side against Livingston on Wednesday - allied with a defeat for Rangers against Aberdeen and a draw for Celtic at Motherwell - saw them move to the top of the Premiership.

Celtic have yet to beat Killie since Clarke took charge but could replace them at the summit with victory this weekend.

Ryan Christie has given table-topping Kilmarnock his utmost respect ahead of Saturday's clash

However, given Kilmarnock's remarkable consistency in the 15 months since the ex-Chelsea assistant agreed to take the post, Christie is adamant that everyone in the Celtic dressing room views them as a viable threat to their ambitions of winning an eighth successive title.

'We'll treat Kilmarnock with respect because they are where they are on merit - this isn't a fluke,' said Christie, named Ladbrokes player of the month for November on Thursday.

'They've played some good football and they're always such a hard team to come up against.

'They've done really well. Their manager has done a brilliant job, although I think you saw glimpses of that last season.

'The boys in the dressing room have been saying the whole league is now more competitive; there are no easy games, home or away. You have to be on top of your game to do well against anyone.'

Although Aberdeen and Hearts have led the Premiership table at different stages over the past few seasons, the fact that Clarke's side have moved into first place in December is distinct.

Celtic's Christie was named Ladbrokes player of the month for November on Thursday

Champions for the only time in 1965, there is a growing sense the class of 2018 can at least stay in the running.

'Out of all the teams at the top of the league, they're the team with the least pressure on them because - with all due respect - they're not expected to be there,' said Christie.

'It's probably a nicer feeling to be coming in without that pressure, but we're used to the pressure at Celtic and of wanting to be at the top and win every game.

'That's why it hurts so much when we don't win, like the other night at Motherwell. We'll be ready to deal with that pressure on Saturday and hopefully we'll pick up the win.'

Christie accepts one of the biggest threats to that happening, however, is the scintillating form of his ex-Aberdeen team-mate Greg Stewart.

Christie insisted Steve Clarke's Kilmarnock are entirely deserving of their lofty position

The striker's two goals against Livingston this week brought his season's tally to seven. But the dedication with which Stewart is leading the line for Clarke hasn't always been apparent in the career of a man who took a circuitous route into full-time football.

A part-timer with Cowdenbeath until signing for Dundee at 24, his subsequent move to Birmingham City was deserving of all the praise that came his way.

This time last year, though, it became apparent he may have somewhat over-indulged in the self congratulations. Asked why he'd struggled to cut the mustard during a loan spell at Pittodrie, he candidly admitted it may have been because he'd taken not one but three summer holidays - and thoroughly enjoyed every last minute of them.

Stewart didn't need anyone to tell him the folly of his ways. It can be readily assumed he hasn't continued to show such wilful disregard for the demands of the modern-day game.

For Christie, the fervent hope is that the 28-year-old will soon be digging out his passport again.

Christie accepts one of the biggest threats is ex-Aberdeen team-mate Greg Stewart

Not for recreational purposes. More for affirmation that his talent can yet force him into Alex McLeish's squad when the Euro 2020 qualifiers begin next year.

'It didn't really work out for him at Aberdeen but you could see how good he was in training,' said Christie. 'I'm not surprised he's doing so well. He's got one of the best left-foot chops I've ever seen - you can see it coming but you can't do anything about it.

'He did have good snippets but he didn't seem to get a run in the team there.

'If players like him are on form there's no reason why he shouldn't be called up for the Scotland squad.

'When he went down south from Dundee a few years ago, everyone was aware how good he was. Maybe that's been forgotten a little bit. He's definitely shown what he's all about at Kilmarnock.'

Brendan Rodgers' side drew 1-1 with Motherwell in the league on Wednesday evening

While it would take a brave man to bet on Killie remaining top of the table over the course of 38 games, Celtic can ill-afford to give them any further encouragement on Saturday.

'Fair play to them,' added Christie. 'They've been brilliant since the start of the season as we found out in the first fixture against them.

'It's a huge game because a win lifts us back on top and would also put us in good stead for the remaining games this month.

'They're very tactically switched on and I'm sure it'll be the same on Saturday.

'They'll come to Celtic Park looking to frustrate us. But we're used to that. A lot of the league plays like that against us and we're hoping to overcome that.'

Christie scored in the 13th minute of the match but Danny Johnson equalised late on

Such was the frustration Brendan Rodgers felt at dropping two points late on at Motherwell he might struggle to field a side on account of the number of injuries sustained by players kicking themselves.

A Christie goal to the good, Leigh Griffiths' penalty miss was the catalyst for a sloppy second half-display punished by Danny Johnson's late leveller.

'We weren't really playing out as well as we normally do or having as many attacks,' said Christie. 'The manager addressed it at half-time. We probably got a wee bit better but obviously we were very frustrated to lose the late equaliser. But that's what happens when you don't kill teams off.'

Johnson's goal abruptly consigned the Betfred Cup final victory over Aberdeen to history. However, for the scorer of the only goal at Hampden, a week which ended with him being crowned Ladbrokes Premiership player of the month for November has been momentous.

'Sunday was nice,' smiled Christie. 'I got plenty of messages from everyone - John Hughes, my old manager. It's nice to see that people who helped to get you where you are still have that proud feeling when they watch you.'

 

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