YESTERDAY was Groundhog Day in the USA. In the east end of Glasgow, it also saw Celtic and their supporters happily remain in their own recurring time loop, where Fraser Forster keeps a clean sheet in another victory.
This time, it meant a little piece of history for the English international goalkeeper. His 11th consecutive league shut-out saw him break the previous club record, set by legendary Celtic keeper Charlie Shaw in both 1914 and 1922.
Almost as regularly as Forster keeps the opposition out, Kris Commons scores at the other end. His early strike was all it needed for Celtic to secure the win which moves them 21 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership. St Mirren occasionally threatened to put a spoke in the wheel of the Celtic juggernaut but could have no complaints about a defeat which leaves them just two points above the relegation play-off place.
A familiar script began with Commons making the fifth minute breakthrough with his 22nd goal of the season. St Mirren were far too ponderous in defence when Emilio Izaguirre pushed forward from left-back and cut infield to feed Commons.
Displaying the touch and awareness which has been his trademark during a hugely productive personal campaign, Commons quickly manoeuvred himself into a shooting position around 20 yards out. His left foot shot was well struck, although Saints goalkeeper Marian Kello would feel he should have done better than simply help it on its way into the roof of the net after getting both hands to the ball.
Stefan Johansen, making his first starting appearance for Celtic in a left-sided midfield role which is now his to make his own after Joe Ledley’s deadline day transfer to Crystal Palace, earned the approval of the home fans with some composed touches and intelligent movement as the league leaders dominated possession.
Celtic’s control of proceedings also allowed Virgil van Dijk to step out of defence to good effect on several occasions. The big Dutchman showed tremendous power and poise to initiate one attack, almost effortlessly holding off two challenges before setting up Anthony Stokes for a shot which curled just wide of Kello’s right hand post.
Stokes, back in the side after suspension, would be conscious of the need to deliver a positive performance following Leigh Griffiths’ arrival at the club to intensify competition for striking places. With paperwork not completed in time for Griffiths to be involved yesterday, the newcomer looked on from the main stand and saw Stokes come close with a fine turn and shot from just outside the penalty area in the 23rd minute, the ball flying just over.
Scott Brown should have doubled Celtic’s lead eight minutes later, after a slick move down the left had stretched the St Mirren defence, but the captain wastefully scooped a shot wildly off target from 14 yards. The Paisley team offered little in the first half to suggest they were capable of becoming the first to breach Celtic’s defence in 2014. There was a rare moment of anxiety for the home side when Gregg Wylde burst clear of Darnell Fisher down the left, but the former Rangers winger’s angled shot was comfortably held by Forster.
Celtic were quickly back in the ascendancy as they pushed hard for a second goal before half-time. Kello was forced to make a decent save down to his left to keep out a low shot from James Forrest, then Stokes came close once more with a curling right foot effort just wide of the goalkeeper’s left hand post.
Danny Lennon tweaked his formation at the start of the second half, pushing new signing Josh Magennis into a more central attacking position alongside Steven Thompson in an attempt to give his team more scope to threaten Celtic.
Thompson did get his first glimpse of goal in the 55th minute, getting to a loose ball in the penalty area before Forster could collect it, but he was denied a shooting opportunity by a composed and decisive intervention from van Dijk.
But there was at least encouragement for the visitors that they might be able to pose some serious questions of Forster at last. Five minutes later, the big ’keeper had the answer when he made his first significant save of the afternoon, showing great reactions to keep out a close range shot from Magennis who had stolen in behind Efe Ambrose to find the opening.
Celtic introduced Amido Balde to the fray for the closing stages as they looked to bring some fresh zest to a performance which had fallen a little flat. The big Portuguese striker almost made a rapid impact when he showed good footwork before driving a shot just wide of Kello’s right-hand post from around 22 yards.
But the home side had to plot their way through a nervy ending to the match before they could celebrate Forster’s achievement. Ambrose put Celtic in trouble with two minutes remaining when he gave the ball away cheaply, allowing Saints substitutes Kenny McLean and Adam Campbell to work an opening inside the penalty area. Happily for Ambrose, however, he got back to cut out Campbell’s cross.
Stokes should have applied the finishing touch for Celtic a minute later when he raced clear through the middle but instead of touching the ball inside to Derk Boerrigter, who would have had a tap-in to an empty net, the Irishman elected to take the ball around Kello before shooting over from an impossible angle.
It brought howls of derision from the home fans but their mood soon brightened when the final whistle allowed them to acclaim their record-breaking goalkeeper.
Teams, bookings, subs
Celtic: Forster, Fisher, Izaguirre, Johansen, Ambrose, van Dijk, Brown, Milgrew, Stokes, Forrest (Boerrigter, 70), Commons (Balde, 79).
Subs not used: Zaluska, Biton, Samaras, Pukki, O’Connell.
Goals: K Commons 6.
St Mirren: Kello, Naismith, Kelly, Goodwin (Campbell, 83), McAusland, McGregor, Newton, McGinn, Thompson (McLean, 70), Magennis, Wylde.
Subs not used: Dilo, van Zanten, Reilly, Brady, Morgan.
Referee: A Muir