IT TOOK a strike nine minutes from time by Callum McGregor to prevent Ange Postecoglou from sampling domestic defeat at Parkhead for the first time since he took over in June 2021.

The Saints were leading following two gift goals after horrendous defending from the champions who had looked stale and sluggish for most of this encounter.

It looked to be heading for unwanted history for Postecoglou and a second consecutive loss when the captain decided to step up and throw his ailing team a lifeline.

McGregor accepted a pass from substitute Liel Abada and opened space for a shot outside the box with a feint that sent the Paisley defenders off guard momentarily. That was all the onfield leader needed to spy the opening and he delivered an inch-perfect drive low beyond the sprawling Trevor Carson for the saver.

CAPTAIN TO THE RESCUE…Callum McGregor wallops a low drive past Saints keeper Trevor Carson for the second equaliser.

This was not a confrontation that will linger long in the memory bank of any football connoisseur.

The title kings just didn’t spark and there was little doubt they missed Cameron Carter-Vickers in central defence for the second game in a row following the setback at Ibrox a week ago.

Postecoglou went with the defensive pairing of Tomoki Iwata and Carl Starfelt, but it failed to inspire and the Swede, in particular, struggled against Curtis Main who scored two and was unlucky not to get a hat-trick.

An error-strewn performance from the hosts was highlighted in only the fourth minute when the Paisley side were handed the opening goal following some diabolical defending from Anthony Ralston and some equally inept goalkeeping from Joe Hart.

The right-back lazily threw a leg at a clearance from Carson that looked to be under control by Iwata.

Ralston deflected the ball away from the Japanese utility star and Main eagerly seized upon his chance. He caught the ball on the left and turned inside to hit a shot with his right foot.

It wasn’t exactly an effort that threatened to burst the net, but it was enough to roll under the body of the Hoops keeper who was remarkably slow to react. It was a horrible counter to concede.

OOPS…Joe Hart is slow to react to Curtis Main’s low shot for St Mirren’s first goal.

The goal acted as a jolt to the hosts and it was left to Kyogo Furuhashi, with his 51st Hoops strike, to hit the leveller in the 14th minute.

For the first time in the contest, Postecoglou’s players produced some poise, cohesion and thrust as Iwata pushed the ball to Reo Hatate who picked out the prolific hitman on his right.

Kyogo moved in for the kill, sized up the situation and then walloped an unstoppable drive high past the stranded Carson.

The home fans settled back and awaited the onslaught, but it never materialised and it was the home side who had a lucky escape after Hart pushed a half-hit shot from Greg Kiltie into the path of Ryan Strain who whipped the rebound just wide of the post.

HIGH AND MIGHTY…Kyogo Furuhashi thunders a drive past Trevor Carson for Celtic’s first.

Filipe Jota came close to a second for the Hoops with a low shot from a tight angle that clipped up off the post, hit the diving keeper in the face and ricocheted for a corner-kick.

But the visitors were gifted a second goal six minutes from the interval after some more awful defending from Celtic.

A McGregor header was returned to the box by Mark O’Hara and Main brushed Starfelt aside to thump a header past the static Hart. It looked offside and VAR intervened to review the situation. The trailing leg of McGregor played on the striker and the goal stood.

The powerhouse Paisley attack leader was giving Starfelt a hard time and the Hoops star looked far from comfortable.

THE MAIN CHANCE…the St Mirren striker leaves Joe Hart standing as he puts his side ahead for the second time.

Main, in fact, should have scored with a header at the back post, but his effort slipped just wide with Hart again motionless. This was not turning out to be the former England international netminder’s better showings for the team.

In the 79th minute, he was beaten again by Main, but on this occasion he was rescued by the woodwork.

Iwata slipped in attempting to deal with a routine long pass and the Saints marksman latched onto the ball, took a couple of touches and then zipped in a low shot that eluded the flummoxed Hart and hit the base of his opposite post.

Within moments, Oh Hyeon-gyu, who had come on in the 71st minute for Matt O’Riley, staged an action replay when he took a pass from Jota and unexpectedly turned swiftly to blast a 25-yard drive at goal. Carson was helpless as the ball smashed off the woodwork.

Celtic, with Sead Haksabanovic and Abada also on for Daizen Maeda and Hatate, continued to search for the equaliser in a frustrating afternoon for Postecoglou, his players and the Celtic fans.

Thankfully, McGregor had the answer as time was running out.

On this showing, the champions look as though they have lost their edge and it must be hoped it is recovered in time for the midweek trip to Easter Road to face Hibs and Flag Day against Aberdeen a week today.

Then, of course, all eyes will be on the Scottish Cup Final against Inverness Caley Thistle at Hampden the following Saturday.

It would be only fitting that Celtic complete a memorable treble with a sparkling show in the soccer showpiece at the national stadium.

TEAM: Hart; Ralston, Iwata, Starfelt, Taylor; O’Riley (sub: Oh 71), McGregor, Hatate (sub: Haksabanovic 71); Jota, Kyogo, Maeda (sub: Abada 71).

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