ST MIRREN 0 CELTIC 2
RONNY DEILA smiled hugely as he watched Celtic overwhelm struggling St Mirren to move eight points ahead of Aberdeen in the chase for the SPFL championship.
The Hoops manager was satisfied with the win although, to be honest, his team hardly hit the heights against a Paisley outfit who are scrapping for their very survival in the top flight.
But the Norwegian’s joy was unconfined afterwards as he said: “I think there is going to be a lot of fun between now and the end of the season.
“You could see the players were enjoying this game. I love it.
“Yes, it was a difficult game because St Mirren played very hard and very deep. It was a match where we had to be patient and I’m glad to say my players had that ability. We scored the vital opening goal and I think we deserved to win.
“The title is in sight, but we must always look only to the next game and that is next week against Partick Thistle. That is now our focus. But I admit I would be very disappointed if we gave it away after reaching this position.”
Celtic persevered more than pulverised on an evening when the Paisley side were content to shut up shop.
They kicked off with a point and it looked as though they would be happy with that point after 90 minutes of negative football.
Kris Commons and James Forrest had two wonderful opportunities in the first-half to shred their strategy, but, amazingly, both missed from fabulous positions.
Commons was the first to pass up a marvellous chance when he played a one-two with Stuart Armstrong in the 26th minute.
The lively midfielder got round the back of the Saints rearguard and it looked as though he must score, but he lacked composure at the crucial moment and his finishing effort lacked precision. Goalkeeper Mark Ridgers read the situation, anticipated where the shot was going and dived to his right to push the ball to safety.
It should have been a goal. And Commons knew it.
Eight minutes later, Forrest was also wasteful in front of goal when it looked as though he must score. This time Commons was the provider with a neat pass, but the winger tried to be too precise and the keeper pushed away his powder-puff effort.
The tempo of the team wasn’t quite right and Anthony Stokes was posted missing too often in the firing line.
Stokes likes to come short and link up play, but he needs to spin back into the danger zone to add a goal threat and he was failing to contribute on this occasion. It looked only a matter of time before the Republic of Ireland frontman got the hook from Deila, but he managed to last the full 90 minutes with Leigh Griffiths and John Guidetti sitting it out on the bench.
Armstrong was off the pace, too, and that was highlighted with a weak volley in the 50th minute which trundled harmlessly past the post.
With 5,784 fans watching on, it looked only a matter of time before the visitors got the breakthrough goal and it arrived in the 64th minute after an intricate and mesmerising move all over the pitch.
There seemed to be about 16 touches before Scott Brown passed inside to Commons, took the return, picked out the rampaging Adam Matthews on the right who pushed it in front of the unmarked Forrest and this time he couldn’t miss from smack in front of goal. His first-time drive left Ridgers helpless.
Gary Mackay-Steven, who came on for Commons, had the ball in the net two minutes later, but it was ruled out for a marginal offside decision.
There was no doubt in the 74th minute, however, when referee Alan Muir awarded Celtic a penalty-kick after Viktor Genev handled a shot from Forrest.
Stefan Johansen took the responsibility and made no mistake as he thrashed the ball to the keeper’s right as Ridgers took off for his left.
Once the smoke had cleared, Celtic looked in a commanding position to wrap up a fourth successive SPFL title.
And, as manager Ronny Deila said, we could have a lot of fun along the way.
Leigh Griffiths biscuit eating antics was so funny. Wait until Ronny hears about that!
TEAM: Gordon; Matthews (sub: Ambrose 64), Denayer, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Johansen; Forrest, Commons (sub: Mackay-Steven 72), Armstrong (sub: Bitton 64); Stokes.