Celtic 4-0 St Mirren: Oli Burke at the double as Hoops ease past Buddies

There wasn’t just an ease to Celtic’s victory on Wednesday night, but a straightforward aspect as to the implications of it.

Oli Burke celebrates scoring the opener with Kristoffer Ajer. Picture: SNS Group

The one-sided success, underpinned by a double from Oliver Burke, allowed Brendan Rodgers men to appear once more solid in their status at the top of the Premiership table, courtesy of Rangers’ loss at Kilmarnock.

A turnaround that means they are now three points ahead of Steven Gerrard’s side, with Kilmarnock becoming their closest challengers. Both rivals have crucially played a game more.

Celtic: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

Celtic: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

There had been much talk of vulnerability in the camp of the eight-in-a-row chasing Parkhead side following the derby loss at Ibrox in their last league game. But that failed to recognise the start to 2019 that lay ahead for both Glasgow clubs. Last night was the first of five home games in a span of six in the league that had the potential to cement Celtic’s position.

Rodgers’ side have now won all 11 of their domestic games in their own backyard, conceding only four goals in the process. Their latest such success was preceded by an admission from Brendan Rodgers in a radio interview that the club were indeed pursuing a deal from Slovakian winger Maryan Shved. Yet another winger, might be the reaction of a Celtic support angst-ridden about the seeming inability to recruit a right-back.

It turned out that three of the wingers - of a total of six - already on the books of the Scottish champions had a stirring early impact that ensured a breeze in baltic conditions, with early goals from Burke - played through the middle - and Sinclair, while James Forrest made much of the early running.

It was no great surprise that St Mirren proved a sacrificial dish for the home side to feast upon. The Paisley club have had meagre servings of highlights in their six months under Orian Kearney, even if these have proved sufficient to see them leave Dundee below them at the foot of the table. Even if they pull of a notable act of escapology at the weekend in recovering from a two-goal deficit with 10-men against Alloa Athletic in the Scottish Cup, the fact they had lost 12 of their previous 16 games always suggested that they would straight-jacketed by Rodgers side last night.

The problem was that they helped tie themselves in knots. In the 11th minute, Burke was given the freedom of the six-yard box to launch himself at a free-kick delivered from deep on the right by Ryan Christie. His headed contact was neither that clean nor powerful. Equally, it was close enough to Vaclav Hladky for the keeper to pat at it. Unfortunately for the Czech, he merely pushed it over his goalline.

For Burke, there was a palpable sense of relief as he celebrated wildly. Only the second senior goal in almost 18 months for the on-loan West Bromwich Albion attacker, his move north this month to get his career back on track has proved a cry for help answered by Rodgers courtesy of the forward being handed back-to-back starts. Subsequent to his goal, he looked a player renewed, a brilliant take and turn shortly afterwards setting up Callum McGregor for a glaring opening he squandered with an effort slashed wildly over.

St Mirren’s night had by then gone from bad to worse in rapid order; first with the enforced withdrawal on a stretcher of midfielder Lee Hodson, and then with the concession of a penalty a minute later. The 17th minute award proved an easy decision for referee Euan Anderson to make with Stephen McGinn haplessly whipping the feet from the jinking Sinclair.

There was no hesitation in the Englishman stepping up to take it - as he said there wouldn’t been in the aftermath of his missing a second spot-kick in the space of five weeks that helped deprive him a hat-trick in the 3-0 Scottish Cup win over Airdrieonians. A staggered run-up allowed him to take aim and plon the ball high into the corner to ensure there would be no hat-trick of the unwanted variety.

Celtic were thereafter rampant; St Mirren ragged. The Paisley side’s defending threatened to prove as porous as a colander as the home side pored forward.

It was a minor miracle that the scoreline remained 2-0 at the break but that was always going to be a temporary state of affairs. It took Celtic nine minutes to extended their lead and this time a certain sympathy had to be extended to keeper Hladky over his being beaten. For he pulled off an excellent double save, thwarting Forrest before somehow palming away McGregor’s quick-fire attempt only for Burke to drill in the loose ball.

The base of the post then saved the visitors, with Timothy Weah - Burke’s replacement just after the hour - smacking a first-time effort against it shortly after his arrival to a rapturous welcome. However, the on-loan Paris-Saint Germain forward wasn’t to be denied a second goal in two games, though. And played in by an exquisite through ball from fellow teenage substitute Ewan Henderson, the US international guided a delicate first-time effort in at the near post. By then, the Celtic support were in full joyous mode as news filtered through about events at Rugby Park while things went from bad to worse for the Buddies, who now anchor the Premiership after Dundee’s win at Tynecastle.

Celtic: Bain; Lustig, Ajer, Benkovic, Izaguirre; Brown; Forrest, McGregor, Christie (Henderson 71), Sinclair; Burke (Weah 64). Subs not used: Gordon, Simunovic, Bitton, Hayes, Johnston.

St Mirren: Hladky; P McGinn, Baird, Popescu; Hodson (Kellerman 16 (McAllister 72)); Tansey, Lyons, S McGinn, Flynn; Cooke (Jackson 59). Subs not used: Holmes, Ferdinand.