• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Celtic 2 St Mirren 0: Chance for champions now to consolidate SPL lead

WAS it possible through the dull haze of a Glasgow winter to see Tony Robinson marshalling his Time Team to find evidence of Celtic's last league triumph on the Parkhead turf?

Victor Wanyama, No.67, is the man of the moment after opening the scoring
Victor Wanyama, No.67, is the man of the moment after opening the scoring

That notion is a piece of whimsy, possibly occasioned by festive overload. The reality is that Saturday's events spoke more to a certain future than to an uncertain past. Celtic's slip-ups in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League stretched back to October 7 when they achieved their last victory in the championship before they overcame a submissive St Mirren at the weekend. Now four points clear in the league with a game in hand, Neil Lennon's side can now contemplate stretching their legs towards the title before a short break and then the knockout stages of the Champions League.

"It is possible we can have a big advantage at the top of the SPL by the time the next Champions League game comes around," said Biram Kayal, who gave strong indications that he is returning to his vibrant best. "It's not easy to play in four competitions. But we have a big squad and we will try to do the maximum in the SPL now, as we know it is important for us if we want to be in the Champions League again next season."

Of his personal rehabilitation, he added: "I'm enjoying every moment now. I feel 100% fit and I'm training well. When you have been injured and you come back, you are hungry to play."

Celtic – stripped of such as Joe Ledley, Kris Commons and James Forrest through injury – have more than adequate resources to cope on the domestic front.

There were fine performances on Saturday, but most of these were almost understated. Efe Ambrose continues to show a level of skill and pace on the ball that suggests he might be an option for central midfield, while Adam Matthews showed flashes of his speed and enterprise as he made the most of the freedom offered by Celtic playing a back three. Victor Wanyama was powerful when exerted, Mikael Lustig continues to impress and Charlie Mulgrew's set-pieces were routinely dangerous.

All this, of course, was more than enough to defeat a St Mirren side who came to defend and did little else. A John McGinn shot, easily fielded by Fraser Forster, was the best of their meagre efforts.

Celtic were limited to two goals because Craig Samson had an excellent match, with his save from a Scott Brown diving header being the best of his considerable contribution. Celtic also had good penalty claims rejected by referee Calum Murray, most notably for challenges on Kayal by Marc McAusland and Jim Goodwin on Gary Hooper. However, Lennon was correct to focus afterwards on his side's reluctance to dismiss opponents by taking a better proportion of chances made. Both goals on Saturday came from corners and there was a lack of certainty about the champions in the final third and in front of goal.

The manager praised Hooper for the sharpness of his strike but the English centre-forward was far from his best and yielded to the temptation to drift far from goal. His ability to link play makes this one of his assets, but there are times when he should just be in the box.

It is on afternoons like these, though, that Lennon must long for the return of Forrest. Almost 70 minutes separated the goals on Saturday and just one devastating burst from Forrest would surely have given Celtic the leeway to relax and even exploit a disappointing St Mirren further.

However, as a spectacular year for Celtic heads for a close, the manager can look to the brightest of futures, even if he does not know at this stage whether professional duties will allow him to attend the Champions League draw.

Domestically, Celtic have already drawn clear in the league, are in the last four of the Scottish Communities League Cup and are in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup. His priority now will be to navigate a way through the transfer window, ensuring he holds on to the best while recruiting a couple of players. Wanyama, Hooper, Forster and Matthews are destined for bigger leagues, almost certainly the premier variety in England.

Lennon, though, will want them to remain to take on the challenge of February and a last-16 tie. He could be successful in this ambition, not least because Celtic are financially stable but huge offers will not be resisted.

The reality for Celtic is that their squad is overwhelmingly powerful on the domestic front and consequently draws interest from managers in other leagues.

This is an organisation that has bucked the "money rules" trend by qualifying for Thursday's draw, but it is only a matter of time before they have to succumb to the bottom line of a major cash offer and a player's desire to operate in a bigger league.

Contextual targeting label: 
Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

131081