DANNY Lennon was honest enough to admit it. By the second half of this match, Celtic were so in control that, while they will have had one eye on Tuesday night’s Champions League match in Barcelona, they could easily have had both peepers firmly focused on the Catalan city.
SCORERS: Hooper (14), Ambrose (17), Wanyama (31, 37), Watt (85)
BOOKINGS: Mair, McAusland, Wanyama
They were formidable and totally dominated proceedings. The tactic was simple. With just a short interval between this game and their second European group match, Celtic were intent on wasting very little time in wrapping up the points. They managed it with ease, bolstered their win tally and their confidence levels and, just as importantly, left themselves with plenty in reserve ahead of what will be an altogether different experience in the Nou Camp.
With Kris Commons troubled by a hamstring niggle he was omitted from the squad along with fellow Scotland internationals Scott Brown and James Forrest, while Georgios Samaras was rested as a precaution, but these kinds of omissions do not unduly stress Celtic boss Neil Lennon, not when he has such strength in depth in his squad.
Minus the challenge of Rangers, and with a strong desire for European success, the Parkhead manager would be forgiven for installing the continent’s premier club competition as the priority. At least for now and especially when they seem to have found their domestic footing and have proved they can win matches as comfortably as this one without what could be considered their first-choice line-up.
Looking stronger and more dangerous with every game, Celtic steamrollered their hosts.
It was all but over within the first 20 minutes, Celtic already two up by then. The victory was absolutely nailed on by the 38th minute, after Victor Wanyama added a double. It wasn’t just the scoreline, it was the respective performances. While Celtic looked totally assured, pinging passes about as they worked their way forward at the kind of tempo their opponents could not live with, St Mirren were poor. Slow to close down in the midfield, they were shaky defensively, while the less said about Craig Samson’s contribution in the home goal, the more charitable it would be.
In fact by the time the second half arrived Lennon’s biggest concern will have been getting his key performers through the remainder of the match unscathed.
The defending SPL champions leave for Spain tomorrow and will do so buoyed by this display. But, in terms of a warm-up for Tuesday, it’s unclear how much purpose this game will serve. Celtic are unlikely to get the space or enjoy the kind of possession they thrived on at St Mirren Park when they line up against the Catalan giants. With the threat coming from so many areas of the Celtic team, St Mirren looked frazzled. They had started with optimism but despite a third-minute cross into Paul Dummett at the back post and then another deep cross from wide on the right in the 13th minute, this time picking out Lewis Guy, neither player could find a finish capable of bettering Fraser Forster.
Both efforts represented an opportunity for the Paisley side to have a say in proceedings but within a couple of minutes they had been silenced by a team in determined and fluid form. The Celtic opener came in the 15th minute, Beram Kayal sliding a clever wee pass in for Lassad out right and the forward flashed in a ball for the inrushing Gary Hooper. Playing in a slightly deeper role, no one could tether him as he darted to meet the ball and grab his tenth goal of the campaign. If the defence had been remiss in following Tony Watt to the front post and leaving Hooper with space for that goal, those failings paled in comparison to Samson’s calamity for the second goal.
It came from a Charlie Mulgrew free kick. His cross was whipped in and while the keeper appeared to have gathered comfortably, he somehow then virtually chucked it towards Efe Ambrose, who thanked him by finding the net and then embarking on the kind of celebration full of flips and tumbles which could have placed him in contention for a gymnastic medal at London 2012.
St Mirren might have got a goal back in the 24th minute through Kenny McLean but the midfielder was foiled by Forster and with two goals in six minutes Victor Wanyama snuffed out any residual resistance.
His first came in the 32nd minute when Adam Matthews’ corner was flicked on by Steven Thompson, deflected back off Dummett’s chest and the Kenyan slotted it away. Six minutes later, Watt and Mulrgrew combined to pick Wanyama out and he curled a lovely strike beyond Samson.
The second half was always going to be difficult, with Kelvin Wilson, Matthews and Lassad all coming off with niggles and strains. But Nail Lennon demanded that Celtic went back out and won the final 45 minutes. They obliged, wrapping up their afternoon’s efforts with a Watt headed goal four minutes from the end.
St Mirren: Samson, van Zanten, Dummett, Mair, McAusland, Barron, Goodwin, Carey, Mclean, Thompson, Guy.
Celtic: Forster, Matthews, Ambrose, Wilson, Mulgrew, Ledley, Kayal, Wanyama, Nouioui, Watt, Hooper.