ST MIRREN 2 CELTIC 0
CELTIC didn’t look like Celtic in their grey shirts in Paisley this afternoon.
Unfortunately, they didn’t play like Celtic, either.
The Hoops’ record of 38 league matches without defeat – ironically the last time they lost was to Livingston exactly a year ago tomorrow – was surrendered in the maze of mistakes against a Saints team who weren’t too fussy about how they went about their business.
They clattered, shoved, snarled and challenged for everything and got the bounce when it was required. They also proved quite adept at wasting time with one of their players taking THIRTY- FOUR seconds at a corner-kick. Remarkably, the match officals added on only four minutes at the end of the regulation 90.
ALARM BELLS…Mark O’Hara, with Aaron Mooy too late to intervene, leaps at the back post to meet a right-wing cross. Joe Hart watches on his goal-line.
NETBOUND…Joe Hart attempts to block Mark O’Hara’s header.
HELPLESS…Joe Hart can’t keep out the close-range effort with Anthony Ralston and Aaron Mooy watching.
The champions unforgiveably allowed themselves to be bullied at the back by journeyman centre-forward Curtis Main who terrorised Stephen Welsh and Moritz Jenz.
It was just a pity that Cameron Carter-Vickers wasn’t even on the bench with manager Ange Postecoglou deciding to give his rock-sold centre-back a day off. He may well have curbed the enthusiasm of an opponent who rampaged around from the first whistle.
At the other end, Trevor Carson was rarely called into action against a Parkhead side that just could not provide a spark of imagination all day.
Not one single Celtic player would get passmarks on this performance. They were THAT bad.
This was a ghost squad who just couldn’t raise the tempo and paid for it in the end.
Celtic are still at the Premiership pinnacle, but, in the most unexpected circumstances, they have seen their points lead cut to two.
The Hoops’ lack of awareness was emphasised in the 43rd minute when the Paisley side took the lead.
PAISLEY HORROR SHOW…Ange Postecoglou appears transfixed on the touchline.
Jenz was weak with a headed clearance and Daizen Maeda, who had been disappointing right from the start, failed to cut out a crossfeld pass that was fed out to Ryan Strain on the right. Greg Taylor backed off as his opponent sized up the situation and fired over a ball to the far post.
Anthony Ralston was otherwise occupied as he allowed the cross to go over his head and Mark O’Hara, with Aaron Mooy failing to match his run, leapt high to thump a header past the exposed Joe Hart.
The champions had fumbled their way through a miserable first-half without getting a solitary shot on target to concern Carson.
Celtic were as pale as their anonymous grey top and failed to get into any sort of rhythm as passes went astray – short, long or badly timed.
David Turnbull sent a header soaring over the bar and Mooy zipped one into the crowd from 20 yards, but this was a team failing to ignite.
The crisp passing, inventive game was missing and the home side, to be fair, were up for a challenge against a team who went into this encounter after netting 25 goals in their previous six league outings.
MOMENT OF MENACE…Trevor Carson is asked to come into action as he dives to save at the feet of substitute Giorgos Giakoumakis.
But there was a massive misfire in the opening 45 minutes with boss Postecoglou looking somewhat concerned on the touchline.
And little wonder. Too many of his big players were missing in action and Kyogo Furuhashi was providing little threat through the middle although it must be said he was starved of service from a midfield operating at half-pace.
Liel Abada worked hard, but little was coming off for the Israeli who could have done with a helping hand from the reluctant Ralston.
No-one was surprised when Postecoglou sent on Reo Hatate and Filipe Jota to take the places of Mooy and Maeda at the start of the second-half.
But before they got a time to settle in, the visitors were two goals down and once again it was a mess defensively as they couldn’t cope with a long throw-in from Declan Gallagher.
After a misguided clearance by McGregor, it was Main who nodded the ball across for Jonah Ayunga to knock an effort wide of Hart from close range, but it was clear the Saints striker had pushed Stephen Welsh before he got the final touch.
The two-handed shove in the back gave the frontman time and space to capitalise. Neither referee Don Robertson, who had a clear view of the incident, nor his assistant saw anything untoward and the goal stood.
TV pictures later proved conclusively the Paisley player was offside.
It was turning out to be one of those days.
SHOVE OFF…Stephen Welsh is sent flying after a push in the back by Jonah Ayunga.
HEADS IN WIN…the St Mirren striker nods the ball past a stranded Joe Hart as Stephen Welsh hits the ground.
IT’S A GOAL…Joe Hart protests, but well-positioned referee Don Robertson hasn’t seen the blatant push and the Saints celebrate for a second time.
In the 57th minute, Giorgos Giakoumakis and Sead Haksabanovic replaced Turnbull and Abada, but it was difficult to shake this team from the lethargy that had settled upon them from the early moments.
In the 68th minute, Haksabanovic delivered one of the rare quality balls into the box, but Giakoumakis headed straight into the arms of the grateful Carson from six yards.
With 16 minutes to go, Postecoglou changed the formation with three at the back as Taylor came off to be replaced by Matt O’Riley.
However, the encounter limped to a frustrating conclusion without any telling contribution from the often inspirational midfielder.
This was an afternoon to forget for a team that lost its way at the 39th Premiership hurdle.
We acknowledge all good things must come to an end, but for the wonderful sequence to end with such a whimper goes beyond disappointing.
TEAM: Hart; Ralston, Welsh, Jenz, Taylor (sub: O’Riley 74); Turnbull (sub: Giakoumakis 57), McGregor, Mooy (sub: Hatate 46); Abada (sub: Haksabanovic 57), Kyogo, Maeda (sub: Jota 46).