THE Saints go marching on, the Celtic crisis deepens. But before addressing what was another calamitous result for the champions in what can loosely be described as their title defence, due credit has to be paid to Jim Goodwin and his impressive St Mirren side, who came to Celtic Park with a plan and carried it off to perfection to earn their first win here for 31 years.
Somewhat surprisingly, Goodwin opted to shake up his line-up from the emphatic 5-1 triumph at Tannadice on Wednesday, going with a 3-5-1-1 formation that in fairness to him, worked a treat.
An opener from Kristian Dennis was cancelled out by Odsonne Edouard, but the Saints dug in to find an immediate response through Ilkay Durmus to restore their lead at the interval, then dug deep to protect what they had and take a deserved three points back to Paisley.
As for Celtic and Neil Lennon, it has to be wondered just how much longer this shambolic run can be defended or endured. They have won just one of six games in 2021, and have been woeful since mid-October either side of a short purple patch in December.
In what was something of a novelty, Lennon opted to name the same starting XI for the second match in succession, lining up in the same 4-4-2 diamond formation and with the same personnel who had beaten Hamilton in routine fashion in midweek. The problems though remain the same no matter who takes to the field it seems. It almost seems poor sport to criticise Shane Duffy, but the centre-backs contribution to St Mirren’s second had to be seen to be believed, while Celtic currently seem to have three goalkeepers who aren’t quite up to it.
They had started on the front foot, though St Mirren showed one or two signs of promise in attack, getting a couple of sighters away that Bain dealt with easily enough. There was nothing the new Celtic number one could do though as the Saints hit the front 18 minutes in.
It was nice play from the visitors who worked it well from Dylan Connolly wide on the right into Dennis inside the area, with the forward taking an unchallenged touch and lashing it through Bain and into the net for his second goal in as many games.
The Celtic response was limp at first, and in fact, St Mirren carved out another opportunity for Dennis after Jamie McGrath was given time and space again at the edge of the home area, but this time the striker’s shot was fielded by Bain.
Just as frustration looked to be building within the Celtic players, their patience around the St Mirren box was ultimately rewarded just after the half hour. A nice ball from Callum McGregor found Edouard inside the area, the striker’s lovely first touch taking him past Marcus Fraser, and his second with his left foot firing the ball across Jak Alnwick and into the bottom corner of the net.
Any expectation that St Mirren would subsequently roll over and be swept aside was immediately dispelled though as they remarkably hit the front again, and while it was lovely play by Durmus to create and ultimately score his side’s second goal, the Celtic defence again played their part.
Which brings us on to Duffy. The big defender’s positioning was absolutely atrocious as Kyle McAllister floated a ball into the area from the left. Quite what he was thinking as he retreated into the area with his back to the ball only he will be able to tell you, but it was no surprise that he was subsequently flummoxed by Durmus’s first touch, completely losing his bearings to leave the attacker with a free shot on goal. He wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity, and he found a cool finish to stun Celtic once more.
Lennon replaced one of his centre-backs at the break, but it wasn’t the mercy removal of Duffy from the firing line that might have been expected, but Nir Bitton that made way for Stephen Welsh. Tom Rogic also came on for Leigh Griffiths,
It made little difference, with Celtic unable to trouble St Mirren at all, leading Lennon to go for broke with Albian Ajeti and Ryan Christie thrown on in place of Ismaila Soro and Moi Elyounoussi, as the Celtic manager reverted to the formation he had abandoned some 15 minutes earlier.
St Mirren retreated and were camped in their box, but Celtic just couldn’t find a way through. The passing was too slow, the play was all in front of the visitors, and a wild long-range Christie effort was the best the home side could muster. They ended the match with four efforts on target, and Alnwick was able to throw his cap on two of those. Duffy almost earned redemption with the last of those, but the keeper pulled off a fine stop in injury time.
The Celtic post-mortem will of course now rumble for days and hog the headlines, but the credit has to go to Goodwin and his men. His stock with the St Mirren fans will never have been higher, which is in stark contrast to the man in the opposite dugout.