Brave Buddies go down fighting
ST MIRREN 0
TWO second-half strikes sank St Mirren on Saturday despite an impressive showing against league-leaders Celtic.
Conditions at St Mirren Park were far from ideal, with howling winds and torrential rain battering the Buddies at times as they hosted a team who have now won 12 league games in a row.
But it had all looked so promising for the Saints after they started the first half in great shape, with Hoops defender Thomas Rogne ending up in referee Crawford Allan’s book for a foul on tricky midfielder Graham Carey
Both sides had their fair share of the ball in the opening minutes, but the first great opportunity fell to St Mirren defender Marc McAusland whose low, rifled shot from a Carey corner was saved by the legs of Celtic keeper Fraser Forster.
Celtic replied in kind when a header forward from Georgios Samaras in the Saints’ half unleashed strike partner Gary Hooper.
His stinging volley from 35 yards out forced a remarkable save from Buddies goalie Craig Samson, resulting in a corner.
A minute later, stand-in skipper Steven Thompson almost headed into his own net, but fortunately his teammates were on hand to clear the danger.
However, St Mirren continued to hassle the Glasgow giants, with Thompson linking up well with former Celt Paul McGowan – who had something to prove – and new signing Dougie Imrie.
In a defensive midfield role, David Barron also impressed. A superbly executed pass found Imrie – fantastic on his Saints debut – who whipped in a cross from the right-side corner of the penalty area. Thompson’s header was stopped only by yet another fine save from Forster.
The Paisley club were brimming with confidence and showed no trepidation against a Celtic side currently on their best run of results in years. Imrie harried the defence, while McGowan found pass after pass.
However, Celtic were still dangerous on the counter, with James Forrest on the left flank causing problems for Saints right-back David van Zanten. Their attacking full-back Cha Du-Ri was also a threat, whipping in crosses and linking well with captain Scott Brown and lurking striker Hooper.
Later a Forrest cross over on the right, near to the corner flag, looked as if it would land sweetly for Hooper before the ball clipped the top of the crossbar. Inexplicably, a corner was awarded.
Carey helped his side again near the close of a half in which St Mirren had all the best chances and looked the more threatening team.
Once again Barron played the ball through to Imrie on the right of the area, who curled in a cross for Thompson.
However, after it was headed clear by Rogne, the ball fell neatly for Carey on the left of the box. His fizzing shot went just wide of the far post.
And St Mirren were not diminished after the half-time break either. Another Imrie shot – teed up by McGowan – was saved by the outstanding Forster.
Minutes later, a mis-hit strike from distance by van Zanten was almost prodded in from eight yards by McGowan, only for a great reaction save from Forster again to deny him. The forward looked as if he couldn’t believe it wasn’t in the net.
It’s possible that this frustration took its toll on the 24-year-old shortly afterwards. His foul on Samaras during a counterattack earned him a yellow card. It was one of the only bad points of McGowan’s game. Minutes later, he played a fine through-ball to his right for Imrie, whose strike demanded another parry from Forster.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon, clearly irked by Saints’ strong display, tried to freshen up his striking options, bringing on Kris Commons and Anthony Stokes for Samaras and the abysmal Ki Sung-Yueng.
The Hoops also had a penalty shout denied in the second half. Away fans howled when the ball appeared to come off McAusland’s hand. However, ref Crawford Allan dismissed the claim.
But Celtic finally opened the scoring after the 70-minute mark. James Forrest made a surging run on the right wing.
A clumsy tackle from Tesselaar resulted in a free kick in a dangerous position on the right side of the box.
Commons’ initial was cleared. However, Brown flicked neatly back to Forrest again, who struck a low half volley from 20 yards, which found its way into the bottom right corner.
Ten minutes later, St Mirren almost levelled when a corner found defender Lee Mair at the far post.
His header from six yards or so was saved by Forster, to the agony of Saints fans.
By the time the cold, driving rain was back on, it was already over for the Buddies. On 88 minutes, a corner from Kris Commons was played straight to feet of Scott Brown 20 yards out. His beautiful curling shot found its way into the top left-hand corner and the damage was done.