THE referee emerged as the central figure on an afternoon when he over-shadowed even the sight of a cup being paraded around St Mirren Park, after what was a poor day for the officials.
Scorers: St Mirren - McGowan (81 pen); Celtic - Commons (6)
Madden had to take most of the heat, and he was accused of trying to even things up with his award of a penalty to Danny Lennon’s side with ten minutes remaining, having missed a Georgios Samaras handball in the first-half. He also controversially ruled-out a goal for St Mirren after goalkeeper Fraser Forster was judged to have been impeded by Paul Dummett.
Madden was not prejudiced against only one Lennon, it seemed. Neil, too, felt he had something to complain about. The Celtic manager was aghast when Wanyama was sent-off after 55 minutes for what was interpreted by Madden as a dangerous tackle on McGowan, while the penalty from which St Mirren drew level was also contentious. Emilio Izaguirre’s challenge on Ismael Goncalves looked to have occurred outside the box, while it was questionable whether there was even contact made.
Paul McGowan was not deflected from his purpose by the surrounding furore, and rifled the penalty into the net to cancel out Kris Commons’ headed opener.
St Mirren were urged by their manager to begin where they had left off in their last game, which only happened to be an historic cup-winning expedition to Hampden. The same set of players who started that showpiece occasion against Hearts were handed the shirts again, in the hope, perhaps, that sufficient time had now elapsed to let the alcohol seep from their bodies after a fortnight of epic celebrations in Paisley.
Celtic saluted this victory in sporting fashion, handing St Mirren a guard of honour as they emerged from the tunnel. It was particularly admirable given that they had been defeated by St Mirren in the semi-final, and must have been consumed by thoughts of what might have been. They had already gained some measure of revenge with a win here in the Scottish Cup last month, and the visitors began brightly again yesterday.
St Mirren had not been able to settle as Celtic homed in on Craig Samson’s goal. They made the breakthrough after just six minutes following a Charlie Mulgrew free kick that had been deflected wide for a corner. St Mirren failed to clear both this and Beram Kayal’s subsequent cross. It meant Efe Ambrose then had the opportunity to lift a gentle lob back into the box that was met by Commons, who netted with a rare headed goal. Could the slow start from the hosts be attributed to a post cup final hangover? Possibly. Certainly, St Mirren had looked sluggish, although they set about rectifying matters almost immediately.
Dummett had an opportunity to equalise after being put though by John McGinn, but his effort, from a tight angle, was deflected past the post for a corner.
Commons could and should have made it 2-0 for Celtic, when presented with another header after a Joe Ledley cross. However, his diving effort went wide. St Mirren, though, had by now found their groove. Celtic had Kayal to thank for remaining a goal in front after he cleared Marc McAusland’s header from the line, following a corner from Gary Teale. The veteran winger was again in eye-catching form and on one occasion nut-megged both Samaras and Izaguirre, much to the delight of the home fans.
Shortly afterwards he thought he had pulled St Mirren level, not that it had been his intention to score. Having aimed to direct a cross to the far post, Teale watched as Forster struggled to retrieve the ball under the close attention of Dummett. The ball hit the post and then went in, though Teale’s delight turned to frustration as the referee awarded a foul against Forster. Television pictures later showed that while Dummett had indeed bumped into the ‘keeper, the St Mirren player himself had been given a push in the back by Izaguirre, in what could well have been interpreted as a penalty.
The home side had even more cause for complaint on the stroke of half-time as they continued to push for the equaliser their first-half efforts merited. A corner from Teale looked set to be cleared by either Ambrose or Samaras, but the players got in each other’s way. The former misjudged the flight and his team-mate sought to deal with the situation by flicking the ball away with his upper arm.
Yelps could be heard from the St Mirren players as they appealed for a penalty and they were still arguing with the referee and near-side linesman as the half-time whistle blew. Indeed, Andrew McMillan, the assistant referee in question, had been the best-placed person in the stadium to see the offence, but chose to ignore it.
The home fans were at least cheered by the sight of the League Cup at half-time. The trophy was carried around the pitch by players Darren McGregor and Thomas Reilly, while Paisley Panda, the club mascot, monitored the operation. Celtic had to make a half-time alteration, bringing on Anthony Stokes for Commons, who twisted his ankle when Kayal, his own team-mate, landed on him at the end of the first-half.
St Mirren were very much still in the game and their chances of taking something from the afternoon were improved when Celtic were reduced to ten men, just ten minutes into the second-half. It was, though, a harsh decision to penalise Wanyama with a straight red card after a challenge on McGowan in the middle of the park, although he did clatter his opponent’s shin-guard.
The change in circumstances appeared to affect St Mirren more than it did Celtic, who brought on Dylan McGeouch for Hooper. But a poor afternoon for the referee was compounded when he pointed to the spot after Goncalves appeared to trip over Izaguirre’s trailing leg on the edge of the box. There looked to be minimal contact.
Nevertheless, McGowan oozed confidence as he tucked the penalty away, driving the ball into the middle of Forster’s goal. On the basis of their first-half display especially, it earned a deserved point for the cup winners, though it might have been more had Teale’s vicious shot not been rifled just over the bar, after a fine ball into space from McGowan.
St Mirren: Samson, Van Zanten, McAusland, Goodwin, Dummett, Teale, McGowan, Newton, McGinn (Carey 66), Thompson, Goncalves (Puri 88). Subs not used: Adam, Mair, McLean, Parkin, Guy.
Celtic: Forster, Ambrose, Wanyama, Wilson, Izaguirre, Kayal, Ledley, Commons (Stokes 46), Mulgrew, Hooper (McGeouch 72), Samaras (Watt 90). Subs not used: Zaluska, Gershon, Rogic, McCourt.