- FULL TIME: St Mirren 1 Celtic 2
Celtic fulfilled one of their two games in hand over Rangers with a victory in Paisley that took them to within three points of the Scottish Premiership leaders, but they had to work until the final whistle for their reward against a St Mirren team who took the lead when Lee Erwin scored his first club goal on his first start. Celtic’s response came from Shane Duffy with his second goal in as many appearances since he joined from Brighton last week.
James Forrest netted what proved to be the winner when he applied masterly control of the ball for a placed header nine minutes before the break. That the score remained the same until full time was partly the consequence of the Buddies’ obduracy and an over-casual penalty kick by Odsonne Edouard, who converted from the spot against Ross County on Saturday but paid for a lack of variation when his effort was saved on this occasion.
This game was a Covid-19 survivor in more ways than one, the original fixture having been scheduled for last month but postponed because Celtic’s Boli Bolingoli had failed to admit to an unsanctioned overnight stay in Spain. St Mirren, meanwhile, were afflicted by three positive coronavirus tests from all three goalkeepers and were forced to borrow Zdenek Zlamal from Hearts prior to their 3-0 home defeat by Hibernian.
The Czech had his gloves on again for this visit of the champions but it was his opposite number who had to pick the ball out of the net within three minutes of kick-off when, after an initial period of Celtic pressure, Saints broke upfield to force a corner kick which was nodded on by Joe Shaughnessy for Erwin to poke it across the line despite Vasilis Barkas’ frantic attempt to block.
The goal was a vindication of Jim Goodwin’s decision to put Erwin in for Jon Obika and restore Shaughnessy to his familiar central defensive beat. Dylan Connolly and Junior Morais were also recalled, with Nathan Sheron, Kristian Dennis and Ilkay Durmus making way.
Celtic also made four changes and Patryk Klimala – who scored as a substitute against Ross County in Dingwall at the weekend - got his first start of the season in place of Albian Ajeti and Hatem Elhamed took over from Christopher Jullien at centre-back. Greg Taylor took up station on the left, in support of Ryan Christie, with Jeremie Frimpong and Olivier Ntcham dropping to the bench.
The Hoops swiftly shrugged off whatever negative thoughts they might have entertained after this unexpected start to the proceedings and spent most of the rest of the half in motion towards Zladak, who was relieved to see an unopposed header from Odsonne Edouard slip just beyond his right-hand post. The keeper was not to be spared in Celtic’s next foray, when Duffy connected with a Christie free kick to head home his second goal for the club on his second appearance.
Christie was in the mood to administer punishment and his next contribution was a delectable cross which was accepted by Forrest, whose weighted header swept beyond Zlamal to ensure a half-time lead for Celtic.
Edouard was offered the opportunity to put the matter beyond Saints’ reach in the 73rd minute, when Jamie McGrath took down Christie inside the box. Against Ross County at the weekend, Edouard jogged up, stopped and placed the ball low to Ross Laidlaw’s right. On this occasion he duplicated his approach precisely to make it easy for Zlamal to block and exasperate Neil Lennon, who replaced his careless striker with Olivier Ntcham soon afterwards.