St Mirren 1 - 2 Celtic: First-half double keeps Celtic five points clear

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There was a fits and starts element to Celtic as they prevailed over St Mirren in Paisley.

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Callum McGregor celebrates opening the scoring for Celtic. Picture: SNS

Callum McGregor celebrates opening the scoring for Celtic. Picture: SNS

Yet in Odsonne Edouard, the Scottish champions also had the necessary finesse and the startling. Traits that made certain of an 11th straight league win that sets them up for Sunday’s derby hosting of title rivals Rangers. And qualities that will be to the fore then that they sorely missed in the 59 minutes they played without their half-fit talisman as they scraped through against Steven Gerrard’s men in the Betfred Cup final three weeks ago.

The French striker doesn’t need goals to galvanise Neil Lennon’s men. The 21-year-old is so complete as a frontline focal point, his very presence is an assurance of promptings and purpose that draws decisive net-bulging moments from others. Yesterday, this was was demonstrated in his laying the groundwork for the first-half strikes from Callum McGregor and James Forrest. His contributions were deascribed as “sublime” by his manager, who delighted the player’s “vision” and “deceptively quck feet”.

Establishing a two-goal lead in little more than half an hour, the visitors could not add to their advantage despite a host of chances - Vaclav Hlacky thwarting several openings, before a wrong offside call denied Edouard himself - and had hairy moments before Cammy MacPherson netted with a 25-yard free-kick that deflected off the Celtic wall to wrong-foot Fraser Forster.

There was little concern in the Premiership leaders’ camp over their raggedly end, Christopher Jullien loose to allow Jon Obika to fashion an opening he should have converted before a wild swipe produced the set-piece that an industrious St Mirren made count. Too late, though, to avoid a first defeat in four outings.

And the quiet confidence from Celtic over their prospects for establishing an eight-point league lead over Rangers when their adversaries travel to Glasgow’s east end patently revolves around having a fully-fit Edouard again for such a confrontation.

It was certainly the way that McGregor was willing to read the situation. The midfielder netted for the first time in two months after the striker had driven through the home backline before the ball sat up for him. Assisted by Paul McGinn and the St Mirren keeper seeming to hesitate in dealing with it, the Scotland international had an effort off the upright that he tucked away on the rebound.

A 22nd minute lead was doubled 10 minutes later with Edouard the supremer architect. The ball played out to him on the left by Forrest, he sashayed into his opponents’ half before his timing and weight of pass was immaculate to allow the Celtic winger to round Hlacky witth delicate balance before firing the ball high into the net.

“He’s an incredible player and the forefront of our attack,” McGregor enthused of Edouard. “He’s such a platform for the team, he can hold things in, link up. He’s a big scorer for us so to have him fit and starting will be a boost.

“We try to join in, he links the play and played a great pass for Jamesy {Forrest] with great awareness. He’s much more than a scorer – he’s creative, can hold the ball, come short. He’s terrific.”

Not least on major occasions, as his record of five goals in 13 appearances against Rangers illustrates. “He’s shown that in Europe, these games and cup finals. He’s always been the go-to man. We are just desperate to keep him fit.”

Yet, McGregor was dismissive of the notion that Celtic will be desperate to produce a better display in Sunday’s derby than they could conjure up in clinging to their remarkable trophy-winning sequence by their fingertips at Hampden earlier this month.

“To win cup finals you can win them well, can dig in and win them. It showed another side to our squad,” he said. “To go ten trophies in a row is incredible. We haven’t played well in other games before. I’d much prefer to have won it than have played well. So mentally it was a good boost.

“I don’t think there’s extra pressure. Both teams are under pressure to win, that comes with the derbies. We just need to try to make sure we’ve won it.”