CELTIC were as relentless as the rain in Paisley as they swept St Mirren aside in ruthless fashion to restore their eight-point advantage at the Premiership pinnacle before the winter break.

It was breathtaking stuff from non-stop Hoops as they came out the traps at a ferocious pace in a determined mood to get the job done as swiftly as possible.

First-footers are normally welcomed at this time of year, but the champions were hardly afforded a round of applause when they raced into a 2-0 lead inside six minutes.

LIGHTNING STRIKES…Daizen Maeda prepares to fire Celtic into the lead in 54 seconds against St Mirren.

Daizen Maeda claimed Celtic’s first goal of 2024 in exactly 54 SECONDS as the Saints were swept away by the lightning-swift visitors.

Coincidentally, the pacy Japanese international also netted the club’s first goal of 2023 when he opened the scoring in the 2-2 draw at Ibrox exactly a year ago. Amazingly, he got the first of 2022 when he struck on his debut in the 2-0 victory over Hibs on January 17.

The hosts were still reeling when Matt O’Riley, with his tenth goal of a prolific campaign, struck with a quickfire second.

And making life even more difficult for the Saints, they had striker Toyosi Olusanya red-carded just before the interval for a studs-up challenge on Joe Hart as they clashed going for a left-wing cross.

Greg Taylor wrapped up an impressive victory with the third goal on the hour mark.

GREEN FOR GO…Daizen Maeda celebrates his quickfire strike with Paulo Bernardo, Luis Palma and Kyogo Furuhashi.

Brendan Rodgers couldn’t have hoped for a better start with his side thundering into the lead inside a minute with skipper supreme Callum McGregor picking out O’Riley who knocked a pass into space for Maeda coming in from the right.

He left Scott Tanser in his slipstream before tucking a neat left-foot effort wide of the advancing Zach Hemming.

And the keeper was retrieving the ball from the back of his net shortly afterwards following a sweet move that was built on the left with Liam Scales slipping a pass wide to Taylor.

The full-back touched a pass inside to on-fire Paulo Bernardo as he moved menacingly into enemy territory before releasing O’Riley to take a touch before whipping a low drive wide of the stranded netminder.

Celtic dominated proceedings and Kyogo was out of luck with a flashing header from a Luis Palma left-wing free-kick that zipped just inches wide of the far post with the Saints No.1 again helpless.

BY THE RIGHT…Matt O’Riley slides in No.2 with a neat close-range finish.

The first-half ended in explosive fashion when Olusanya was banished after he went in hard for a cross. Referee David Munro booked the frontman before being advised by VAR to review the incident.

Inevitably, the match official returned to the field, scrapped the yellow card and brandished a red. It looked harsh, to be fair. The Saints forward’s studs were showing as Hart threw himself bravely at the ball, but it looked like a legitimate attempt to reach the cross.

It was a procession after the interval and it was quite amazing the visitors only had one more goal to add to the scoreline.

The strike arrived on the hour mark from the unlikely source of left-back Taylor as he made a first-class job of first-timing a left-foot drive wide of Hemming after a delightful lob forward from Bernardo.

The Portuguese playmaker had just been denied by a superb save from Hemming with the keeper managing to turn away a clever effort that looked destined for his top right-hand corner of the net.

LET US SLAY…Matt O’Riley celebrates his goal in unusual fashion.

Scales was out of luck with a flashing header from an O’Riley right-wing corner-kick and Kyogo had an astonishing miss from six yards when he sent a header sailing wide of target after being picked out by s mart cross from Taylor.

Liel Abada was introduced as a substitute in the 63rd minute for Maeda and the returning Israeli international was foiled twice by Hemming from marking the occasion with a goal.

The overworked netminder also saved from Oh Hyeon-gyu, who had replaced Kyogo in the 71st minute, and Yang Hyun-jun, who had come on in the 55th minute for Palma who was way off the pace with his passing and crossing.

THREE CHEERS…Greg Taylor thumps in No.3 as Saints defenders look on helplessly.

There was also a special cheer for Reo Hatate as he made an appearance in the 71st minute as he took over from Bernardo who had played well yet again.

Gustaf Lagerbielke also got a chance to get some game time when he came on just after the hour mark for Maik Nawrocki who had looked solid in his first start since August.

Celtic can now go into the three-week break to take a breather, regroup and prepare to go again.

It’s a case of so far, so good.

TEAM: Hart; A Johnston, Nawrocki (sub: Lagerbielke 63), Scales, Taylor; Bernardo (sub: Hatate 71), McGregor, O’Riley; Maeda (sub: Abada 63), Kyogo (sub: Oh 71), Palma (sub: Yang 55).

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