St Mirren 0 Celtic 2
A wonderful solo goal by Paddy McCourt and a late strike by Shaun Maloney gave Celtic a routine victory over St Mirren in their Clydesdale Bank Premier League encounter at St Mirren Park.
A dull match only came to life in the 27th minute when the former Derry City player picked up the ball in midfield and skipped past a variety of challenges before driving past Paul Gallacher.
The SPL leaders were rarely troubled and 12 minutes from the end Maloney curled the ball past Gallacher via what appeared to be a deflection, to seal the win and give Celtic a five-point lead at the top of the table.
But the day belonged to McCourt, who had retained his place following his impressive display and goal against Falkirk in the Co-operative Insurance Cup.
He brought a dull game to life in the 27th minute with a fine solo goal, better than the one he had scored in midweek.
Questions over his fitness, which have dogged him since his arrival at the club last summer, remain but there is no doubt he offers the Hoops something different.
The visitors’ task was simple enough, victory would ensure their position at the top of the table regardless of how second-placed Rangers fared against Aberdeen at Ibrox later in the day.
Before kick-off there was a minute’s applause for former Scottish Football Association president and FIFA vice-president David Will who died this week, aged 72.
When proceedings began, the Parkhead side took a measure of control, with striker Chris Killen and McCourt firing high over from distance in the opening 13 minutes.
The game, however, was drifting along somewhat aimlessly until McCourt struck.
The Northern Ireland international, who had shown glimpses of his skill beforehand, picked the ball up after Hoops midfielder Scott Brown had robbed Stephen McGinn in the middle of the park.
McCourt, slalomed his way past five St Mirren challenges on his way into the box before rifling an unstoppable angled-shot past Paul Gallacher from 18 yards.
Celtic looked likely to add to their lead and in the 35th minute Gallacher had to make a decent save down at his left-hand post from Andreas Hinkel’s left-footed drive from distance.
Billy Mehmet’s shot from the edge of the box six minutes later, as Saints tried to up the tempo, took a deflection before shooting past but the Paisley side failed again to make Celtic goalkeeper Artur Boruc work from the corner.
St Mirren started the second half in a more positive mode but still Boruc remained a spectator and the game soon returned to the tedium which pockmarked most of the first half.
In the 54th minute Georgios Samaras replaced Killen, seconds earlier booked along with Saints skipper John Potter after a touchline spat, and Andy Dorman came on for Garry Brady as both managers tried to fire up their respective sides.
Just before the hour Celtic midfielder Landry N’Guemo had a casual effort from 30 yards saved easily by Gallacher, moments before Saints gambled further when replacing midfielder Hugh Murray with former Rangers striker Tom Brighton.
In the 66th minute Boruc had to react quickly for almost the first time in the game, clutching safely as Mehmet’s cross-cum-shot came in through a ruck of players.
Niall McGinn replaced the fatigued McCourt but in the 75th minute St Mirren breached the Celtic defence for the first time when Mehmet played in Dorman at the edge of the box.
The Buddies’ substitute hit the byline before cutting the ball back to Craig Dargo, whose goalbound shot from 10 yards was blocked by Loovens with the Parkhead men scurrying to clear their lines.
But in the 78th minute the visitors clinched the three points through Maloney, who seconds earlier had an angled-shot saved by Gallacher.
As Celtic kept up the pressure, Brown’s looping cross from the right found its way to the back post, and Maloney delightfully curled his shot back across goal and past Gallacher with what looked like the aid of a deflection off Scott McDonald.
The Australia international missed a late sitter to make it 3-0 and McGinn went close but by then the game was over.