CELTIC will head to Turkey today for their warm weather mid-season break already basking in the glow of an ultimately irresistible display in Paisley which brought them a ninth successive league victory.
SCORERS: Charlie Mulgrew 53′, Anthony Stokes 58′, Kris Commons 70′, 72′
All the goals came in the second half for Neil Lennon’s men as they rediscovered their most potent form following a run of three consecutive 1-0 wins over the festive period. Kris Commons was St Mirren’s chief tormentor, his superb overall contribution sealed by his 50th and 51st goals for Celtic.
His double came after Charlie Mulgrew and Anthony Stokes, the latter with his 100th career goal, had finally broken Saints’ stubborn resistance.
Perhaps energised by their manager’s pre-match demand for a livelier performance than the stodginess which characterised their New Year’s Day win against Partick Thistle, Celtic were brighter and more purposeful throughout as they remained unbeaten in the Scottish Premiership this season.
Commons, as is so often the case, was the most creative presence in the champions’ line-up. His intelligent movement and precise footwork in a floating role behind central striker Stokes ensured the Saints back four were constantly on alert. Nonetheless, Celtic found clear-cut opportunities hard to come by, despite dominating possession from the opening stages.
In the 14th minute, Commons worked some room for Mulgrew on the left and his dipping cross-cum-shot saw Marian Kello called into action for the first time, the Slovakian ‘keeper reacting well to touch the ball over.
St Mirren produced some neat football of their own whenever they did secure any sustained possession. John McGinn was an eye-catching presence in their midfield and at the hub of most of their threatening counter-attacking moves.
Saints found space down the left in the 19th minute when full-back Sean Kelly burst forward and his menacing cross, intended for Steven Thompson, was cleared by the alert Virgil van Dijk.
But the home side were fortunate to avoid falling behind six minutes later. Celtic captain Scott Brown’s pass picked out a clever run from Commons, who fed the ball to Mulgrew on the left side of the penalty area. The midfielder’s firm low shot beat Kello, only for the ball to rebound off the ‘keeper’s left-hand post and straight back into his arms.
Adam Campell, the on-loan Newcastle United youngster, was making his home debut for Saints and showed some astute touches in his role just off veteran front man Steven Thompson. But Campbell could consider himself lucky to escape a booking for a blatant shirt pull on van Dijk right under the nose of referee John Beaton.
From the resulting free-kick, Darren McGregor made an excellent saving challenge to prevent Mulgrew converting James Forrest’s low cross from the right.
Celtic maintained that momentum and struck the frame of the goal again in the 31st minute. Mulgrew teed up Commons on this occasion, his curling shot striking the inside of Kello’s left hand post and rebounding to safety.
Brown picked up the first caution of the afternoon for a cynical tug on Marc McAusland, prompting an incensed touchline reaction from Celtic boss Lennon, who demanded to know why Campbell had not received the same sanction for his offence a few minutes earlier. Lennon’s frustration with the referee intensified just before the
interval when van Dijk was penalised for a challenge on Thompson on the edge of the penalty area, but Danny Grainger was unable to test Fraser
Forster with the free-kick.
The breakthrough was engineered by Adam Matthews, the Welsh international showing strength and poise with a run into the Saints penalty area. As the home defence tried to crowd him out, Matthews back-heeled the ball into the path of Mulgrew who steered a low shot beyond Kello’s right hand into the corner of the net.
Five minutes later, Celtic tightened their grip as they doubled the lead. Emilio Izaguirre won possession just inside his own half and found Joe Ledley, who quickly swept the ball forward to Anthony Stokes.
The Irish striker, on the left of the Saints penalty-area, drilled a precise left-foot shot across Kello from around 14 yards to claim only his second goal in his last 16 appearances.
The heads of the home players could almost be seen to drop collectively at that point and it became little more than a question of how many more Celtic could add as they eagerly continued to power forward.
Kello made outstanding saves to keep out stinging long-range efforts from Brown and Stokes but Celtic would not be denied further gloss to their winning margin. They made it 3-0 in the 69th minute, Commons finally getting the goal his contribution merited when he stooped to head home an Izaguirre cross from close range.
Commons’ 16th goal of a fine season was quickly followed by his 17th just two minutes later. With Saints’ defending increasingly ragged, Forrest raced clear on the left and his low cutback was smashed into the roof of the net from around 14 yards by the left boot of
Referee Beaton’s erratic display continued into stoppage time, Efe Ambrose escaping with only a booking for a foul on Anton Brady as the Saints substitute raced clear on goal. But there is nothing inconsistent about Celtic’s current domestic form as they romp towards a third successive title win with plenty to spare.