CURTIS MAIN enjoyed the freedom of Paisley when he terrorised the Celtic defence in St Mirren’s stunning 2-0 triumph over the champions in September.
The former Motherwell and Aberdeen powerhouse and his striking sidekick Jonah Ayunga practically bullied the visitors’ rearguard during the Hoops’ only league defeat so far this season.
Main was allowed to flex his muscles against Stephen Welsh and Moritz Jenz in a performance so reminiscent of a Livingston win by the same margin over Neil Lennon’s side in West Lothian in October 2019.
THE ROCK…Cameron Carter-Vickers is a key man in Celtic’s triumphant march towards more silverware success.
On that occasion, 10-man Celts, with Ryan Christie red-carded in the 25th minute, the bustling Lyndon Dykes, now with Queens Park Rangers, ran amok against Christopher Jullien and Kristoffer Ajer.
The central defence wobbled before collapsing in a tame display of defiance.
Main, though, was never going to enjoy the same success in the next two encounters against the Hoops, with Ange Postecoglou’s men winning 4-0 in the league last month and 5-1 in the Scottish Cup at the weekend.
The reason for that is fairly simple and it comes in the shape of the USA World Cup Finals centre-back Cameron Carter-Vickers.
Ayunga, who scored the Saints’ second goal five months ago following a blatant shove in the back of Welsh, missed the Cup-tie, but Main was clearly up for the task.
He didn’t get a sniff as the dominant Carter-Vickers rarely put a foot wrong. He challenged in the air and on the ground against a robust opponent who had shredded two other Hoops defenders earlier in the season.
IT TAKES TWO…defensive duo Cameron Carter-Vickers and Carl Starfelt celebrate the US international’s winning goal at Ibrox last season.
The exhausted frontman cut a forlorn figure as he trudged off the pitch near the end of the second-half and with the roof about to collapse on his team-mates.
The worth of Carter-Vickers, a £6million bargain buy from Spurs in the summer after his impressive loan season, and his defensive partner Carl Starfelt is not lost on anyone at Parkhead.
The back lot had kept six successive clean sheets until Drey Wright belted one past Joe Hart in the visitors’ 4-1 victory in Perth earlier this month and the experienced keeper had to retrieve the ball from his net again against the Saints following Mark O’Hara’s well-placed penalty-kick.
John Kennedy, a Scotland international centre-back until injury cruelly ended his career at the age of 26, has cast an expert eye on how the defensive jigsaw has come together with left-sided Yuki Kobayashi now added to the squad in the January transfer window.
The Hoops No.2 said: “It’s good to have two strong characters like Cameron and Carl. They have been key to the stability at the back. They’ve played a lot together and you can see the relationship blossoming. It will get even better in time.
HAIL, CARL…Celtic’s Swedish defender Carl Starfelt keeps his eye on the ball at rain-lashed Hampden during the holders’ 2-0 League Cup semi-final win over Kilmarnock last month.
“Alongside that, we have Yuki, who has looked good since he has come in, and Stephen Welsh has also contributed a lot, as well. The squad is in a good place defensively.
“There’s been some rotation and changes at times, but everyone has come in and contributed.
“The manager has instilled in the team the fact it doesn’t matter if you play 10 minutes or 90 minutes, you have to contribute to the team.”
Kennedy, quite rightly, can take pride in the club’s defensive record, but insisted the team’s success is about every individual contributing as a well-drilled unit.
Ange Postecoglou’s right-hand man, speaking to the Daily Record, added: “It’s part of the function of the team. I get much more excited when the play is at the other end and the team is scoring goals.
TEAM BEHIND THE TEAM…Ange Postecoglou, John Kennedy, Gavin Strachan and Harry Kewell celebrate another Celtic success.
“But a large part of how we play is how we defend as a team. We meet teams head on at the top end of the pitch. That has been key to not conceding or giving up many chances. It’s the attitude they show.
“It’s very easy to kind of take it easy at times and think: ‘I’ll not make that run, or press as hard as I have been’. And, before you know it, you are defending your box. The guys have kept the foot down in that respect and maintained the intensity.
“We always start with a real intent to press because it leads to a lot of our attacking success. It’s about the whole team and not just the defenders.
“But, at the same time, the guys at the back have done a terrific job – just as well as the attacking players who score the goals.”