Never mind the players who started for Celtic and Rangers on Saturday – as the Parkhead club stretched its lead to four points – it was one of those days when there were persuasive clues to be had at the side of the pitch.
No wonder confidence is swelling around Celtic. When Neil Lennon looked at his dug-out in Paisley he saw five internationalists, including Scotland's reigning player-of-the year. He had Emilio Izaguirre, Anthony Stokes, Kris Commons, Adam Matthews, Lukasz Zaluska, plus Kelvin Wilson and young Dylan McGeouch, who had scored a wonderful goal when Celtic last faced St Mirren.
Those substitutes weren't just strong in theory: Celtic emerged from this laboured and difficult performance in foul weather to claim another valuable victory thanks to the contribution of Stokes and Commons. Yes, Commons' involvement in the creation of both late goals was fairly humdrum – a cross into the box for the first, a short corner for the second – but in general both he and Stokes brought energy and menace which had been less apparent in the men they replaced, Georgios Samaras and Ki Sung-Yueng.
Rangers' bench against Aberdeen, on the other hand, consisted of Lee McCulloch, Juan Ortiz, Alejandro Bedoya, Gregg Wylde, Salim Kerkar, Neil Alexander and Rhys McCabe. There isn't a real game-changer or match-winner among them. It is also relevant that since this transfer window opened Celtic have added Mikael Lustig and Rabiu Ibrahim to their squad while, so far, Rangers are actually one player down, having brought in Mervan Celik but lost Davie Weir and John Fleck. Nikica Jelavic doesn't look like he's got long left, either.
"One of our strengths is that we have such a big squad, which means we can rotate," said Lennon's Norwegian centre-half, Thomas Rogne. "We know that if things aren't quite working for us then we have people on the bench who can come on and change things." That's not an opinion any Rangers man is entitled to hold these days.
At 1.45pm on Saturday Celtic were still being held and there was the prospect of them drawing and Rangers beating Aberdeen in the later kick-off, enabling the champions to take over again at the top. By 4.45pm, all change. Celtic's 12th consecutive league win and Rangers' draw meant Lennon was sitting on a four-point advantage, the largest he's had this season.
With 19 minutes left to play Commons crossed, Craig Samson punched the delivery away to the feet of Scott Brown and he deftly teed-up James Forrest. The connection wasn't sweet yet Forrest's shot had the power and accuracy to rifle into the net. St Mirren were slow to close the Celtic men down and the same happened when Commons' short corner found Brown with two minutes left. Brown curled a shot high into the far corner.
They should have had a third when Rogne's late header was wrongly disallowed for offside, yet Celtic's performance was patchy and unremarkable. Their passing was often poor. St Mirren took the game to them. Fraser Forster planted himself in front of any shot at him, denying lively debutant Dougie Imrie and, most impressively, Paul McGowan when the playmaker diverted a David van Zanten cross towards the net. "Fraser has been amazing," said Rogne. "We need a goalkeeper like that because we like to control games and sometimes that allows our opponents to break. We do give teams chances but Fraser has been brilliant for us."
Forster is on loan but discussions are ongoing about making his move from Newcastle United a permanent one. Forster has not always been a convincing Celtic goalkeeper but gradually he has become more impressive, confident and consistent. "Everyone wants to keep Fraser at Parkhead but that's up to him," Rogne went on. "Of course we all want him to sign and if he does then that will be great. When he's confident it gives us confidence as well. It's important for any team to have a goalkeeper who makes big saves and he does."
The conditions were awful, a vicious wind, biting cold and frequent rain. "It seems that every time we're out at St Mirren Park the weather is lousy," said home striker Steven Thompson. Credit to Danny Lennon's team for trying to play football. Defeat dropped them to ninth and they have not won in the league since beating Rangers on Christmas Eve, but they are nine clear of Dunfermline Athletic and clearly a better side.
"Midway through the second half I didn't see us losing the game," added Thompson. "That's the closest we've come to getting a result against Celtic. We deserved to get something. Maybe not a win, but we didn't deserve to lose. Our level of performance has been quite high and we now go into a run of games [against Inverness, Motherwell and Dundee United] we are capable of winning."
Celtic's next two matches are against Falkirk and Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the two cups, meaning they will be top of the table until almost the middle of February, at the very least.