Celtic transformed from Ferrari to jalopy in latest misfire
Of course, caveats must be applied over the sluggishness and weariness they displayed against a thoroughly impressive St Mirren brimming with brio. A contrast that resulted in the champions requiring an 81th minute equaliser from Callum McGregor to snatch a 2-2 draw, and so prevent the first back-to-back league defeats by any Celtic side in 10 years. With the title bagged a fortinght ago, Ange Postecoglou’s men are essentially marking time until the Scottish Cup final in a fortnight. Their last game of any real significance in what has been an exhilarating campaign because their treble prospects resting on them overcoming Inverness Caledonian Thistle at Hampden. Nothing before that matters, ultimately. Not what befell them with their 3-0 derby loss at Ibrox to Rangers last week, against the Paisley side, or indeed in the encounters away to Hibs in midweek or at home to Aberdeen next weekend with which they will complete their cinch Premiership commitments. And boy is it showing that all roads, and all within their psychological mindset - however unwittingly - are pointing towards the national stadium on June 3.
The Celtic manager may have made plain post-match that he had no real interest in this out to explain away how unrecognisable his team have become in their past two outings from the one capable of running over the top of domestic opponents with a verve and vivaciousness for nine months of this season. The Ferrari has been transformed into a jalopy, judging by their spluttering and misfiring against Robinson’s men. On the back of similar in Govan. The Paisley side having also been responsible for their only serious breakdown when the championship was live, no less - courtesy of the 2-0 defeat in their own environs last September.
Some of the same elements were at play as in that afternoon as St Mirren, with a real rambunctiousness, again set about Celtic. Opponents who, on both occasions, notable were without backline lynchpin Cameron Carter-Vickers through injury. Across an excruciating first half performance, that resulted in their hosts almost appearing whimpering as physical diminishment seemed evident. In this respect, experimenting with Tomoki Iwata as a centre-back, following Yuki Kobayashi’s struggles at Ibrox, seemed high risk with battering ram Curtis Main his direct opponent. Especialy when Robinson had the courage to play with a twin strikeforce as Greg Kiltie ably abetted the Englishman in setting about the home defence with no quarter given.
The absence of conviction from Celtic, as Main possessed that in spades, had an instant impact. Only four minutes were on the clock when a long ball from Trevor Carson led to Iwata and Anthony Ralston getting themselves into a serious frankly. That resulted in the Japanese performer - surprising dropped deep from his orthodox midfield role - flicking into the path of the St Mirren striker. He then skipped forward and, despite hardly producing a blunderbuss shot on goal, sent in an effort that Joe Hart, low to react, allowed to squirm under him.
If there was one element of Celtic that remained in keeping with the season as it has unfolded, it was Kyogo Furuhashi’s finishing prowess. Demonstrated when he was slipped in down the right channel by Reo Hatate on the quarter hour mark before he set himself and ripped an unstoppable shot high into the net. Yet,even the PFA Scotland player of the year’s 31st goal of a stonking campaign did not get his team going. And, as Postecoglou lamented in his instant assessment, all that followed was his players struggling to produce the oomph that has been their hallmark. Though not in quite those words.
“St Mirren worked hard and did what they had to do,” he said. “We didn’t really control the game as well as we usually do. Mainly because we didn’t work as hard on the defensive side. It is fair to say in the last couple of weeks we’ve gone off that a bit. That doesn’t allow us to be relentless in the way we play. And gives the opportunity for the opposition to get up the park, and gives them a chance to recover. When we are right on it, we keep the opposition under pressure.”
The opposite was true with Curtis restoring the visitors’ one-goal advantage thanks to a 39th minute goal that summed up Celtic’s insipidness and St Mirren’s intent. A long throw-in from Joe Shaughnessy was headed clear by Greg Taylor. Only as far as the defender who strained to return it into the area. Another aimless defensive clearance allowed Mark O’Hara to nodded the ball back into the danger zone, from where Main dinked it in.
Celtic exhibited more drive in the second period, but St Mirren largely kept up their end. And with Ryan Strain beedling down the right like a man possessed, the Australian fashioned two cross that Main should have buried to become the first opposition player to net a hat-trick at Celtic Park since Eric Black did so for Aberdeen 40 years ago. The Englishman will be having nightmares over how he splayed a header wide from a mere five yards only three minutes after the restart. Before, after forcing an error from Iwata, he cracked the bar with an attempt in the 79th minute. On that moment, the encounter seemed to turn. Substitute Oh Hyeon-gyu seconds later did the same at the other end but Celtic were not to be denied. Or rather, McGregor was not to be. Exhibiting a clear head and adroitness so little witnessed from his team-mates across the contest, he glided inside from the right and, 20 yards from goal, sweetly curled a low effort in at the far post. Robinson considered this Celtic salvage job to be ill-deserved. It probably wasn’t on the overall balance of play. But, as he acknowledged, it said everything about his players’ endeavours that they could even contemplate feeling hard done by as a consequence of falling short of a second victory over the champions this season.
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