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SCARE THEN FLAIR, NOW CELTIC ONLY 180 MINUTES FROM TREBLE GLORY

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CELTIC 4 ST MIRREN 1

TWO goals inside a minute turned this Scottish Cup-tie on its head as Celtic had to fight all the way to overcome a stubborn St Mirren side at Parkhead.

The Paisley outfit, rock bottom of the Championship, shocked the Hoops by still leading by a 14th-minute effort by the time the interval arrived.

Brendan Rodgers, however, introduced Patrick Roberts for the ineffective Gary Mackay-Steven for the start of the second-half and the on-loan Manchester City winger added some zip and threat to the champions.

It was a sombre Celtic team in the first-half after an immaculately-observed minute’s silence for Lisbon Lion Tommy Gemmell before the start. Well done to the St Mirren fans for showing their respect for a legend of the game.

The Saints were well-drilled and were aided by some wayward passing from Celtic players who, as you might have expected, had the bulk of the possession.

Dedryck Boyata was on the ball more than any other player on the pitch, but, alas, although he is neat and tidy, he is no Franz Beckenbauer when it comes to the laserbeam pass through the heart of a rearguard.

Too many things were breaking down at Mackay-Steven and it was no surprise he was kept in the dressing room at the interval.

It was just one of those days for the tricky winger and his team-mate Stuart Armstrong was afflicted with a bad touch, too, and he made way for the introduction of new Bhoy Eboue Kouassi 13 minutes from time.

Boss Rodgers also threw on Leigh Griffiths for Nir Bitton, who had just been booked, in the 54th minute as Celtic chased a goal to keep the domestic clean sweep on course.

The Saints goal was a shocker and caught out the Hoops back lot as they fell asleep at a free-kick.

Steve Mallan knocked the ball down the line to Cammy Smith while the defence expected a routine ball into the mix.

The Paisley player, with the freedom of Parkhead and no sign of Mackay-Steven who should have been tracking him, flighted an inviting ball into the box.

John Sutton climbed above Erik Sviatchenko to nod the ball across goal and Harry Davis, played just onside by Boyata, materialised at the back post to rattle the ball into the unprotected net.

Celtic huffed and puffed to get back on levels terms, but, credit to Jack Ross’ team, they were well organised and were content to pack their penalty area to protect keeper Billy O’Brien.

However, things changed dramatically after the break and Roberts was the driving force in the turnaround in fortunes.

Saints defender Stelio Demetriou was booked for a crude challenge of Griffiths on the right touchline in the 58th minute and the resultant proved costly for the Paisley men.

Roberts placed it perfectly into the danger zone and Mikael Lustig rose to flick the ball in at the helpless keeper’s right-hand side.

Fifty-eight seconds later, Scott Sinclair, who had been subdued in the opening half like most of his colleagues, scored a trademark curling effort that left O’Brien rooted to the spot.

Lustig and Griffiths were involved before the ball arrived at the flamboyant English attacker and he cut inside before sending an unstoppable shot high into the top left-hand corner.

In the 68th minute, Sinclair had a major say in the third goal as he picked up the ball deep in his own half and went on a surge towards the retreating back line of Saints.

He played a superb one-two with Roberts before sending over a cross to the back post where Moussa Dembele obliged by firing home for his 32nd goal of an incredible campaign.

It was all over in the 78th minute when Griffiths did what he does best – put the ball in the opposition’s net.

Roberts picked him out with a clever pass inside and the striker let the ball run across his body before lashing a left-foot drive low into the keeper’s left-hand corner from outside the box.

Boyata had a header ruled out for an infringement on Davis at a Griffiths left-wing corner-kick and last season’s 40-goal man was a couple of yards offside when he turned in a Roberts rebound off the post.

Realistically, Celtic are now five games from only their fourth clean sweep in their history.

Who’s going to stop them?

TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Brown, Bitton (sub: Griffiths 54); Mackay-Steven (sub: Roberts 46), Armstrong (sub: Kouassi 77), Sinclair; Dembele.  

 
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