Relaxed as you like, Celtic took care of St Mirren as if they weren’t there, scoring twice, which happened to be about a third of the tally they could have had had they been more precise in their finishing.
Scorers: Celtic - Wanyama (15), Hooper (83)
It was two going on four going on six. When even one of St Mirren’s own players, the captain Jim Goodwin, admits that they were “dull and boring” then you get an idea of the kind of day they had.
Statistics time. Be warned, Saints. They’re gruesome. In the 30 months since Danny Lennon became St Mirren manager, the aggregate score between these sides is 22-0, 22 also being the number of years since St Mirren won at Celtic Park – and 22 being the number of lifetimes it’s going to take them to win here again if they keep playing with a stultifying negativity.
The thing that Neil Lennon had been banking on post-Champions League qualification – namely, increased focus on the domestic front – is slowly being realised. They never repeated some of the excellence of Rugby Park last Saturday but they didn’t have to. They could have removed one player from the park every ten minutes and still they’d have won at a canter.
“There was a good attitude,” said Neil Lennon. “A good tempo and aggression about us for the majority of the game. We have a four-point cushion with a game in hand which is decent. We are starting get a bit of daylight which is what we want. We have a lot to look to forward to.”
Celtic peppered St Mirren’s goal as the match wore on, enjoying all the possession and all the territory in the world. They played at their own pace, untroubled by opponents who were content to sit back and hope for some kind of miracle on the break. It was like a forwards versus backs training session.
Even after they had their claims for a penalty waved away when Gary Hooper went down under a challenge from Goodwin, there was a certainty that something was about to happen. Sure enough, it did. At the end of the season it’ll be an interesting exercise to calculate the number of goals Celtic have scored with the help of a Charlie Mulgrew corner. Here was another sweet delivery right on to the head of Victor Wanyama whose first effort, a header from point-black range, was blocked only for his second attempt to be blasted into the St Mirren net. It was Wanyama’s seventh of the season and his third against Danny Lennon’s side following their 5-0 victory back in October. Even at the halfway point of this season, Wanyama is close to double his tally from last season.
Now, Celtic have given up plenty of leads in domestic competition these past few months, but you’d have bet the mortgage on them once Wanyama scored. They had chances to demolish St Mirren – heaps of them – but Craig Samson was outstanding in the visitors’ goal. That, and some iffy refereeing decisions, plus some bad luck, kept the score respectable when it could have been ugly.
Having been denied one penalty, Celtic were then denied another when Beram Kayal tumbled after a brush with Marc McAusland. Later, Neil Lennon spoke of two blatant penalties that were never given.
The pursuit of a second goal continued. Georgios Samaras forced a low save from Samson, the first of many fine moments from the St Mirren goalkeeper.
Without Samson, the visitors would have been routed, no question. Early in the new half he made an intervention that was almost humorous it was so improbable. From a Samaras delivery, after a cushioned Hooper header into Scott Brown and then another header from the Celtic captain that was within spitting distance of the St Mirren goal, Samson hurled himself into the path of Brown’s header and blocked it.
Then a Brown shot was charged down by Paul Dummett. Then it was back to Samson, who denied Wanyama. Then it was neither Dummett nor Samson who got in the way of a second goal but the crossbar, Mikael Lustig’s header from a Mulgrew corner, inevitably, smacking off the woodwork and away to safety.
This was target practice for Celtic. While Celtic had ownership of the ball there wasn’t a damn thing that St Mirren could do about it and always there was a sense that the home side would get the second goal their dominance deserved.
It arrived and, of course, Mulgrew had something to do with it again. Another Mulgrew corner, more confusion in the St Mirren defence and in the uncertainty Hooper hooked in his 13th goal of the season or, to put it another way, his 12th in his last 16 games.
“We’ve got beaten 2-0 and we haven’t really offered anything in the game,” said Goodwin, later. “I know we were dull and boring to watch but other teams have been successful that way playing here.”
The difference is that other teams did it a whole lot better.