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Celtic 3 St Mirren 0: Title close to cut and dried

THE Champagne remains on ice for another few days at least but a cool finish on a chilly day from a man from the Arctic Circle helped Celtic edge ever closer to their third championship triumph in successive seasons.

Anthony Stokes, scorer of Celtic's third goal, fires in a shot Photograph: Stewart Attwood
Anthony Stokes, scorer of Celtic's third goal, fires in a shot Photograph: Stewart Attwood

Stefan Johansen, from the far north east of Norway, is also pursuing a personal goal of two titles in little more than six months. The midfielder was a key part of the Stromsgodset side that won the Tippeligaen in early November, and the diving header from Leigh Griffiths' cross which opened his Parkhead account towards the end of the first half against St Mirren yesterday showed he is in a hurry to complete a double.

Wins against Partick Thistle on Wednesday and Ross County on Saturday will be sufficient to take Celtic over the line, although the SPFL Premiership crown could be clinched in midweek if Aberdeen drop points against the Highland side on Tuesday.

"It is an important week for us and we have started it well," Johansen said. "It will be two titles in six months for me so it is going to be special. Football is about winning, that is what you learn when you come to Celtic. Winning is in the club's DNA so it is fantastic to be here, and I want to win as many titles as I possibly can. It would be good for the fans [if the title could be won against at Parkhead on Saturday] but I just want to win it as soon as possible really."

Goals are an element which the Norway international wants to bring to his game on a regular basis. Sharing the credit for yesterday's effort alongside Griffiths' cross was a recent haircut which gave Johansen clear sight of his scoring chance.

"I just needed to cut my hair so that I could see the ball," he said.

St Mirren haven't won at Parkhead for 24 years, a record they could really have done with ending yesterday as they endeavour to avoid the ordeal of a relegation play-off. Despite Jim Goodwin being eligible again after suspension, Danny Lennon kept him benched, allowing Rangers target Kenny McLean to continue in a deeper role in midfield which seems to suit him.

Neil Lennon named an unchanged team from the victory at Kilmarnock, which meant a home debut for 17-year-old Liam Henderson in the Celtic midfield where he was flanked by Johansen and chaperoned by Scott Brown. The teenager impressed again and so nearly had his first senior goal to celebrate. With the St Mirren defence unable to tidy up after a Kris Commons chance, it took the despairing efforts of Sean Kelly on the line to deny him.

The match was fully half an hour old by that time after an opening to the match in which Celtic were frequently sloppy in possession but St Mirren were unable to take full advantage. Paul McGowan forced a good, low save from Fraser Forster early on, and Danny Lennon boasted afterwards about their 12 efforts on goal, but Celtic gradually exerted control.

In addition to the three goals they did score - Leigh Griffiths and Anthony Stokes got the others - Commons struck the inside of a post and Virgil van Dijk, Stokes and Griffiths had efforts ruled out for a variety of perceived misdemeanours, and substitute Teemu Pukki spurned two clear chances in the last minute alone. Neil Lennon said: "It could have been anything today but it was another comprehensive win and a clean sheet. We probably don't want the season to end."

A tiring Henderson tested Marian Kello in the St Mirren as the second half began, before Johansen sparked a move which led to Stokes rolling Griffiths in for Celtic's second goal, the former Hibernian man tucking a low right-foot shot underneath the Slovakian. In injury time, his strike partner got the goal his performance deserved when he drove home a low finish after a cutback from substitute Georgios Samaras.

There are bigger battles ahead for St Mirren. Danny Lennon left Celtic Park saying ongoing uncertainty over his own future and rumours of an imminent takeover would not be allowed to detract from his efforts to keep the club in the top flight.

"Someone I know very well [the former Cowdenbeath chairman Jim Methven] has introduced a group to the table," said Lennon. "But I am not party to boardroom talks, that is above my pay level. I am totally focused on making sure this continues to be a Premiership club."

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