CELTIC 2 ST MIRREN 0
NEIL LENNON’S men had to work hard to break down some stubborn resistance from a sturdy Saints rearguard before they could breathe a sigh of relief and claim three more points in their quest for nine in a row.
Mohamed Elyounoussi and James Forrest were the marksmen shortly after the interval who eased the tension at Parkhead this evening.
As anticipated, it was virtually all one-way traffic right from the off as the visitors rode their luck to get to the interval with their goal intact.
Celtic rolled forward in numbers, had most of the possession and a variety of efforts at goal, but keeper Vaclav Hladky had not been required to retrieve the ball from the back of his net in the first-half.
Callum McGregor had a shot saved, another blocked and a third that flew off target – all inside the first six minutes!
It was a show of intent from the champions after scoring 10 goals in their previous two Premiership outings against Ross County in Glasgow and Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
BREAKTHROUGH MAN…Mohamed Elyounoussi claimed the opener against St Mirren.
However, the Hoops found it difficult to unlock the resolute Saints’ back-line in the opening 45 minutes.
To be fair, manager Jim Goodwin had set up his team to attempt to play football out of defence and not rely on the hoof down the field that would inevitably see the ball returning moments later. Striker Jonathon Obika tried to make a nuisance of himself through the middle and Christopher Jullien and defensive sidekick Kristoffer Ajer had to keep an eye on the Paisley menace.
Neil Lennon’s men settled into the game as they probed for openings against a team that was prepared to work, tackle and cover.
In the 19th minute, Jullien, up the field for a deadball, was given the opportunity to have a pop at goal, but his right-foot effort flew off target.
Three minutes later, Ryan Christie, returning after his two-game suspension, surged through, but his 20-yard effort zipped over the crossbar.
There was a moment for Fraser Forster to show he was on his toes when Obika got a clear sight of goal to flash in a low drive, but the towering keeper got down well to save.
On the half-hour mark Elyounoussi tried his luck from the edge of the box and Hladky held on well.
Two minutes later, Jullien powered in a header from a corner-kick which was cleared as it looked netbound.
New Bhoy Greg Taylor, making his debut after his £2.25million arrival from Kilmarnock in September, joined the attack, but his left-foot effort sailed wide.
In quick succession, Scott Brown had a shot blocked while Christie and Forrest tried their luck. Woodwork also denied the Hoops as they stormed forward looking forward in the search for the breakthrough goal.
HOOP HOOP HOORAY… James Forrest celebrated his new contract with the second goal.
Saints had been on the receiving end for most of the first-half, but, amazingly, went in at half-time with the game goalless.
Thankfully, things were about to change rather quickly only nine minutes into the second period when the title kings claimed two quickfire goals from Elyounoussi and Forrest, celebrating his new four-year deal which was signed earlier in the day.
Four minutes after the turnaround, Scott Brown showed some urgency as he pushed a pass to Odsonne Edouard who tried a right-foot shot. The ball struck the right-hand post and Christie managed to square the rebound for Elyounoussi who at last broke the resitance of the Paisley men by firing the ball home.
In the 54th minute, Forrest doubled the advantage after Elyounoussi and Christie had combined to set up the opportnity and the winger cut inside onto his left foot and left the keeper helpless with a rasping shot for his 10th goal of the campaign.
Suddenly, the complexion of the game changed as Lennon’s side continued to dominate and create chances.
In the 69th minute, Brown, who had suffered a knock, was replaced by Olivier Ntcham and eight minutes from the end Edouard went off for a well-deserved rest as Lewis Morgan was given a rare appearance in the top side.
Celtic had to be content with only two goals on the night, but the three points were the main objective and they were safely deposited, despite some heroic defending from the Saints.
TEAM: Forster; Bauer, Jullien, Ajer, Taylor; Brown (sub: Ntcham 69), McGregor; Forrest, Christie, Elyounoussi; Edouard (sub: Morgan 82).