CAMERON CARTER-VICKERS and Callum McGregor were the unlikely double-act to fire Celtic to a much-needed victory against stubborn St Mirren at Parkhead this evening.

Ange Postecoglou’s men were finding it difficult to convert their possession into goals, but it was the on-loan centre-back who got the barrier-breaking strike 10 minutes after the interval.

And skipper McGregor made certain when he capped a fine individual performance with the second nine minutes to go.

Celtic had to work hard for the points against a well-drilled side who were quite content to put the accent heavily on subduing their opponents. However, after a tense evening in the east end of Glasgow, the Hoops remain three points clear following their nearest challengers’ 1-0 win over St Johnstone in Perth.

In the eighth minute, the Saints goal had an amazing escape when Charles Dunne took a swipe at a clever Filipe Jota left-wing cross and diverted the ball high over his stranded keeper Jak Alnwick. As the home fans held their breath, the wayward clearance clattered off the crossbar and bounced away for a corner-kick.

NUMBER ONE…Cameron Carter-Vickers rams in an unstoppable volley to open the scoring.

Reo Hatate showed some flashing skills on the left before picking out Daizen Maeda at the near post, but the striker sent his angled header well wide of the target from six yards.

In the 18th minute, Jota zipped over an inviting low cross from the left, but Maeda completely missed the ball from eight yards and it ran to Liel Abada who thumped in a snap shot which was pushed away by Alnwick.

Moments later, Joe Hart had to look alert as he grabbed a right-wing cross with Curtis Main threatening.

Next up was Josip Juranovic as he raced onto a low ball from Greg Taylor to thunder in a vicious first-time right-foot drive from the edge of the box, but the effort whizzed just over the bar.

The half-hour arrived with Celtic toiling for the breakthrough goal, despite controlling a fair chunk of the play.

It was all very congested in a packed Paisley penalty box and once again Dunne contrived to turn a cross towards his own goal when he made contact with a Juranovic cross, but on this occasion the keeper was right in line to grasp the deflection.

It was all beginning to get a bit anxious and there were loud groans when Hatate blasted a 20-yard attempt well off target.

CHEERS…Cameron Carter-Vickers races away in delight as Josip Juranovic acknowledges the strike.

O’Riley then sent in a free-kick from the right touchline, Carter-Vickers missed it at the near post and Maeda made a connection, but his attempt didn’t worry Alnwick.

In the 43rd minute, Jota did well to win possession from Richard Tait before dragging the ball to his right foot before firing a shot at goal. The keeper sprawled to his left to push the ball to safety.

Dunne was booked just on the interval for a blatant push on Abada’s face. It would be fair to say the opening half was not an enjoyable one for the Saints defender.

Half-time arrived and the scoreline was still blank with the Hoops clocking up three hours and 45 minutes without a goal after a 2-0 loss in Norway last week and the 0-0 draw against Hibs at Easter Road on Sunday.

McGregor was next into Euan Anderson’s book after he brought down Jordan Jones in frustration after the Hoops skipper had lost possession while in a good position.

In the 55th minute, Scott Tanser was booked after a scything tackle that brought Abada crashing to the ground on the right. It turned out to be a costly foul from the Paisley left-back as Celtic capitalised on the free-kick.

Jota and O’Riley schemed before the Portuguese ace sent the set-play into the mix. Carl Starfelt created confusion and the ball dropped for his central defensive partner to lash first time with his left foot from eight yards high past the static Alnwick.

Parkhead erupted in a mixture of delight and relief and the joyous supporters were almost cheering a second strike only two minutes later when Maeda walloped an acrobatic effort at goal after a neat pass from McGregor. Unfortunately, the ball flew straight at a grateful Alnwick who grabbed the attempt.

HOOP HOOP HOORAY…Cameron Carter-Vickers whoops with joy after his breakthrough goal.

Postecoglou decided to make three changes in the 64th minute when Tom Rogic, Nir Bitton and James Forrest were sent on for O’Riley, Hatate and Abada.

As expected, Bitton took the anchorman role to free McGregor into a more forward role.

In the 78th minute, a lovely sweeping move down the right saw Starfelt, Rogic and Forrest all combining to send Juranovic racing clear. The Croatian international right-back took a rush of blood to his head and his finishing effort was neither a shot nor a cross and the visitors escaped as his attempt flew off target.

With nine minutes to go, McGregor drilled in a second goal after Juranovic got his angles right on this occasion.

The defender’s ball over from the right dropped into the danger zone and Jota rose to flick on a header. It broke to the Hoops captain and he took measured steps as he raced onto the inviting opportunity before sizzling a low drive away from Alnwick at the keeper’s left.

THREE CHEERS…Callum McGregor is flanked by James Forrest and Daizen Maeda after the second – and clinching – strike.

Teen ace Karamoko Dembele, so unlucky with injuries, made his first appearance of the season in the 84th minute as he took over from Jota.

Inside a minute, Dembele was ludicrously booked by the match official after an obvious dive from Alex Grieve as he cut across the face of the young Celt.

With time ticking down, McGregor was given a standing ovation as he was taken off to be replaced by Yosuke Ideguchi.

Once the dust had settled on the east end of Glasgow, the Hoops had won again and are still three points ahead at the Premiership pinnacle with nine league games to go.

The countdown continues at Livingston on Sunday.

TEAM: Hart; Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor; O’Riley (sub: Rogic 64), McGregor (sub: Ideguchi 87), Hatate (sub: Bitton 64); Abada (sub: Forrest 64), Maeda, Jota (sub: Dembele 84).


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