ST MIRREN 1 CELTIC 2
SHANE DUFFY and James Forrest were the head Bhoys as Celtic toiled their way to three points in Paisley this evening.
The Republic of Ireland centre-back claimed his second goal in two games for his boyhood idols while the Scotland international winger also got on the scoresheet.
Ryan Christie provided both searching crosses for Duffy and Forrest to power headers home to bring relief – as well as a much-needed victory – for the Parkhead men.
It was a performance that was neither inspiring nor enterprising from the champions, a display that also included a missed penalty-kick by an off-form Odsonne Edouard.
There was a shocker of a start for the visitors when the Saints took the lead in the third minute. Joe Shaughnessy flicked on a header at the near post from a dangerous right-wing corner-kick and Lee Erwin wasn’t picked up as he knocked the ball into the net from close range with Vasilis Barkas scrambling across his line.
THE EQUALISER…Shane Duffy was on target again for the Hoops.
It was shambolic defending by Celtic and the perfect start for the Paisley outfit who filtered into defence and were now content to try to hit on the break.
The Hoops had plenty of time to construct a fightback, but, alarmingly, their play for the next 15 minutes was sloppy and lacked invention and penetration.
There was a moment of anxiety when Hatem Abd Elhamed passed the ball inside and the mishit was seized upon by a Saints attacker, but he was crowded out. The last thing Celtic needed at that stage was to gift the Paisley side a second goal.
On-loan keeper Bobby Zlamal, who looked a nervous wreck in Hibs’ 3-0 win over Jim Goodwin’s side on Saturday, had not been brought into action in the opening 20 minutes.
However, a minute later, he was fishing the ball out of the back of his net and once again it was Duffy who was the scorer for the second successive game after his debut goal against Ross County in Dingwall.
NUMBER ONE…Shane Duffy (centre) leaves Bobby Zamal helpless with a powerful header.
Callum McGregor was bowled over on the right wing for a free-kick which was taken expertly by Christie. The international playmaker swung an inviting cross deep into the danger zone and the on-loan Brighton central defender launched himself at the cross to direct a header wide of Zlamal.
The keeper was in action again a few moments later when he got down swiftly to his left to hold a 25-yard drive from McGregor as it whistled across the turf.
Goalscorer Erwin got away with a cynical challenge on Kristoffer Ajer as he clipped the Norwegian’s ankles while he surged forward into attack. Referee John Beaton was content with a word of warning.
Marcus Fraser wasn’t so lucky when he received a yellow card for a foul on Scott Brown shortly afterwards.
Edouard, who had been flitting around on the edges of the action, was given the opportunity to get on the scoresheet when Christie sent him clear, but he was thwarted by the keeper when it looked as though he must score.
NUMBER TWO…James Forrest thumps in the winner.
In the 36th minute, Forrest netted with a rare flying header from another exquisite cross from Christie, this time from the left, and his effort was rattling off the back of the net before Zlamal could even think about moving.
It was just what the Hoops required after so much possession against a team that was set up to absorb the pressure and pick up the scraps.
Five minutes from the interval, Elhamed put his team-mates under pressure again when he gifted the Saints a free-kick wide on the left with an unnecessary foul. Thankfully, the set-play was cleared.
Patryk Klimala tried hard to get involved, but his timing going forward wasn’t quite in sync with his colleagues as was highlighted when he made a hash of a good left-wing cross from Greg Taylor.
Match official Beaton baffled friend and foe alike when he flashed a yellow card at Brown following what looked like an accidental clash with Junior Morias just before the interval.
A minute after the break, McGregor came so close to a third goal after some fast, slick play involving Edouard, Forrest and Taylor with the left-back firing over a crisp low ball that was struck first-time just past the left-hand post by the midfielder.
A couple of minutes later, Edouard was floored 20 yards out and he took the resultant free-kick that brought a good sprawling save from Zlamal at his right-hand upright.
GUNSLINGERS…Odsonne Edouard and Bobby Zamal square up at the penalty-kick.
QUICK ON THE DRAW…the Saints keeper gets down to push away the Frenchman’s effort.
The Hoops had restarted with a vim and vigour that was largely missing from the opening 45 minutes.
However, the Saints showed the game was not finished when Erwin chopped inside Brown and swung in a dangerous effort from 25 yards that curled over the crossbar with Barkas rooted.
In the 64th minute, there was the expected change when the struggling Klimala came off with Albian Ajeti taking his place up front.
There was a neat interchange between Edouard and McGregor as the visitors chased a third goal, but the move came to an abrupt halt when Zamal raced from the line to snatch the ball.
In the 75th minute, Edouard squandered the opportunity to get the elusive third when he missed a penalty-kick after Christie had been flattened by Jamie McGrath.
The Frenchman took the same run-up as he did at the weekend against Ross County and he hit the award to the exact same spot, Zlamal read his intentions and dived to his right to push the ball away. The shot was far too close to the netminder and drew the anticipated save.
Jeremie Frimpong and Olivier Ntcham came on for Forrest and Edouard 10 minutes from the end as Neil Lennon tried to freshen up his side for the closing stages.
As the game headed towards a conclusion, Ethan Erhahon and Richard Tait were booked as the Saints fought all the way to make life difficult for the visitors.
TEAM: Barkas; Elhamed, Duffy, Ajer, Taylor; Forrest (sub: Frimpong 80), Brown, McGregor, Christie; Klimala (sub: Ajeti 64), Edouard (sub: Ntcham 80).