St Mirren 0-0 Celtic: Oran Kearney gets Buddies reign off to decent start

Olivier Ntcham saw red in the first half but St Mirren couldn't make their advantage count. Picture: SNS Group
Olivier Ntcham saw red in the first half but St Mirren couldn't make their advantage count. Picture: SNS Group
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The tannoy blasted out the strains of the Herman’s Hermits favourite with the refrain “something tells me I’m into something good” at the end of the skirmish in Paisley on Friday night.

It provoked a singalong from the St Mirren supporters that told of their endorsement of the sentiment after watching new manager Oran Kearney hold out Celtic for a precious point.

It might be argued this ought to have been the least they settled for in facing up to an out-of-sorts Celtic that played for 53 minutes with 10-men following the loss of Olivier Ntcham for two bookable offences.

However, that would be begrudging to a St Mirren side who were driven and dogged on Kearney’s debut in a way that made them an altogether different beast from what they had developed into during Alan Stubbs’ brief spell.

The international break might have only made for a two-week hiatus from domestic football. For St Mirren, though, this was their season starting all over again.

The first game for new manager Kearney - enticed from Coleraine after losing out to Stubbs during the summer - he made a major call immediately in installing Anton Ferdinand at centre-back only hours after the 33-year-old free agent signed until the end of the season.

Celtic have only ever lost once at St Mirren’s nine-year-old stadium. That defeat, a 4-0 doing in March 2010 not only cost then manager Tony Mowbray his job, it was also the Buddies’ sole league victory over Celtic in 30 attempts.

The hefty odds stacked against Kearney’s side were nowhere in evidence as the encounter unfolded.

brendan Rodgers’ decision to hand a debut to Filip Benkovic - recruited at the end of the window only two months after joining Leicester from Dinamo Zagreb in a £13 million deal - led to him accommodating the central defender in a back three. The team shape that flowed from that base seemed to leave Celtic seriously misshapen.

As a result, St Mirren were able to get in about their opponents without over-committing themselves. In doing so, Rodgers’ side, so dominant in the derby success over Rangers just before the break, initially found themselves dominated.

A real calling card for Kearney because it happens to rarely in the Scottish domestic scene, the lack of rhythm in the Celtic ranks allowed their hyped-up hosts to make serious inroads.

All the notable early chances came the way of the home side. Craig Gordon was forced to beat away a fierce free-kick from Cammy Smith in the opening minutes before Danny Mullen ought to have done better with a header from six yards.

The same player later squandered an opportunity from close range before Smith flashed a drive wide after uncertainty in the Celtic rearguard.

Matters seemed to turn profoundly more problematic seven minutes from half-time when referee Andrew Dallas sent off Olivier Ntcham for a second bookable offence.

The Frenchman’s first red card for the club was silly; the midfielder catching Stephen McGinn late as the defender hooked the ball clear 30 yards inside the St Mirren half.

Ntcham’s reckless indulgence came just 12 minutes after he had earned a first caution.

So insipid had Celtic been across the first period, their man reduction appeared not to hinder them as they stepped up their intent and intensity in the second period.

Their ability to seize control was assisted by Leigh Griffiths’ arrival for Benkovic on the hour, with Celtic switching to a back four.

The play became concentrated in St Mirren’s final third but genuine incisiveness continued to elude Rodgers’ side.

Griffiths did have the ball in the back deep into injury time, but the linesman’s flag for offside signalled the stalemate.

St Mirren: Samson: P McGinn, Baird, Ferdinand (MacPherson 74), Hodson; Flynn, S McGinn; Edwards, Smith (Coulson 78), Magennis; Mullen (Willock 86). Subs not used: Muir, Kirkpatrick, Jones, Erhahon.

Celtic: Gordon; Benkovic (Griffiths 60), Boyata, Ajer; Brown, Ntcham; Forrest, Rogic, McGregor, Tierney; Edouard (Christie 86). Subs not used: Bain, Lustig, Mulumbu, Sinclair, Johnston

Referee: Andrew Dallas