Imperious to inept - how with shock win St Mirren exposed soft Celtic underbelly as monarchy protest also surprised

Humblings of the magnitude Celtic were handed by St Mirren simply do not come along too often these days in the Scottish game.

St Mirren's Mark O'Hara  powers in the opener as Celtic defence left all at sea for one of several occasions in a famous 2-0 triumph for the Paisley club.  (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
St Mirren's Mark O'Hara powers in the opener as Celtic defence left all at sea for one of several occasions in a famous 2-0 triumph for the Paisley club. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

The 2-0 home victory for the Paisley club - earned with a display not just teeming with tenacity but also tactical astuteness - truly brought the Scottish champions to heel. For the 364 days they had not lost a cinch Premiership encounter, Ange Postecoglou’s men had seemed imperious. However, as the sequence was brought to a crashing halt, they were left to look utterly inept.

No wonder the home crowd larged it as they sang themselves silly over a ginormous shock. As was right and proper for a first home win over Celtic since a 4-0 thumping in March 2010 that ended Tony Mowbray’s ill-starred eight month tenure. It wasn’t enough for them simply to tease their visitors by giving laldy to choruses of ‘so f’in easy’. More gleeful mischief came with their adopting of the Beautiful Sunday song that has become synonymous with a Celtic support in full voice. Not a peep was heard from this travelling band across the closing stages of a dreadful 90 minutes from their team. In contrast to them beforehand acting out the banner they held up that read “if you hate the royal family, clap your hands” during the minute’s applause in memory of the Queen. In truth, this entire episode wasn’t as ghastly as had been predicted. Indeed, there was a certain smart twist to the nature of this anti-monarchy protest. Even if such a challenging rejection of the institution in the day before the funeral of a sovereign would be offensive to the great many, a pluralist society is defined by the expression afforded dissenting voices.

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As Celtic swept all before them in the cinch Premiership for the past 12 months - and ran up goalfests in this season’s top flight campaign - it had started to appear as no league opponents could offer dissent to their footballing hegemony, Ahead of a spectacular blow-out for Postecoglou’s men in Paisley as the Australian began with a starting line-up that featured six changes from the XI that drew against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Wednesday, not once across this 38-game run league - 32 of these victories - had they been in serious danger of defeat. Yet, from the moment that Mark O’Hara was dropped by Mooy and powered in a header at the back post two minute from the break, Celtic never had it in them to find a way back into an encounter in which they were entirely lifeless.

Robinson’s snarling strategy worked an absolute treat. As Postecglou acknowledged, St Mirren didn’t just work their socks off as they prevented Celtic finding any slither of rhythm, they committed to a gameplan over which their opponents had no answer. As the Scottish champions have been gushed over these past two months, one aspect forever alighted on has been their apparent strength in depth. Yet, when Postecoglou required players to step up who have found starts limited this season, they were found wanting. Weakness when defending high balls into the box proved Celtic’s Achilles heel, both goals constructed in such fashion. With last season’s commanding centre-back pairing of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt sidelined by injury, and right-back Josip Juranovic not in the Celtic squad, the visitors’ back four sported an unusual look. Stephen Welsh partnered Moritz Jenz as Anthony Ralston was installed on the right. All three had afternoons to forget. Mind you, that could be said about all those in Celtic colours - which fittingly were the club’s muted grey third strip, worn for the first time. Even when Postecoglou turned to his cavalry as Reo Hatate, Jota, Giorgos Giakoumakis and Matt O’Riley no bugle sounded. With these mainstays, Postecoglou’s men were only slightly less discordant than when the ineffectual Daizen Maeda, Liel Abada and Mooy were being weighed down by their team’s toils.

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The Celtic centre-backs were softened up and roughed up by St Mirren’s physical strike pairing of Jonah Ayunga and Curtis Main that were frontline wrecking balls. The duo did some number on the opposing backline. And their endeavours prevented a desperately mundane opening period meandering its way to a conclusion when referee Don Robertson played advantage amid claims for Maeda handball. That allowed the buzzing Ryan Strain down the right to hang up a cross at the back post. O’Hara bounded in to meet it through sprinting away from Mooy and though Joe Hart made contact, his soft contact failed to stop the header crossing the line.

St Mirren sensed something special could be in the offing and it was secured when a long throw-in eight minutes into the second period prompted head tennis that concluded with Ayunga nodding in. Hart complained furiously over a perceived infringement but the keeper’s protests smacked of exasperation. The goals, incredibly, proved the home team’s only efforts on targets on an afternoon where they seemed more in control than that statistic might suggest. Certainly, they were successful enough in keeping Celtic at bay for their keeper Trevor Carson not be required to pull off any notable blocks. Jota and Giakoumakis did have sightings of goal late on. But like everything else about the Scottish champions, these were devoid of real conviction.

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As a result, the clash marked only the third in the league this calendar year in which Celtic have failed to find the target. Postecoglou bemoaned the lack of tempo, creativity and belief from his players. In short, he bemoaned that they were lacking in every facet. The international break supplies Celtic two weeks to stew over a desperate defeat absolutely no-one saw coming. And it can be guaranteed that Motherwell, in Glasgow’s east end on October 1 and a Leipzig that will host in the Champions League four days’ later, will also be mulling over the events in Paisley. And what brought them about.

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