Celtic 2 St Mirren 0
Stilian Petrov showed he was still committed to the Celtic cause by helping them put their title defence back on track with a victory over SPL new boys St Mirren at Parkhead today.
Despite manager Gordon Strachan’s insistence that the midfielder is staying put, speculation refuses to go away about his future.
Aston Villa manager Martin O’Neill is expected to make a move for his former star this week but while Petrov’s heart is set on the Premiership, he is refusing to let the talk affect his game.
Petrov was his side’s most advanced man late on to pick up man-of-the-match Aiden McGeady’s pass to power an all-important second goal following Stephen McManus’ first-half header.
McGeady looked lively early on and he almost carved out a chance for Maciej Zurawski after just five minutes.
The youngster tricked and burst past David van Zanten to fire across the goal from the byline but Chris Smith was off his line quick enough to cut out the ball with the Pole lurking in the centre.
The St Mirren goalkeeper did not look convincing though four minutes later, from Shunsuke Nakamura’s corner, but got away with it. Smith got a fist to the Japanese star’s cross and took it off the head of McManus to concede nothing worse than a corner.
The visitors, who started the day on top of the SPL, though had the post to thank for keeping Celtic out in the 12th minute.
Zurawski and Wallace combined to tee up McGeady and the winger’s powerful right-foot effort came back off the upright.
The Polish frontman was then denied the opener in the 18th minute from Smith’s superb one-handed save.
Petrov flicked him through on goal but the keeper rushed off his line to thrust up his hand to palm Zurawski’s chip away.
The team from just down the M8 in Paisley sensed their first win at Parkhead since 1990 and Celtic looked nervous in defence.
Wallace’s clearance fell straight to Craig Molloy in the 24th minute but the St Mirren man screwed his 22-yard shot wide of the mark.
But the unpredictability of Buddies goalkeeper Smith cost his side dear in the 28th minute when his error gifted Celtic the lead.
He was caught in no man’s land as McManus headed Nakamura’s corner straight down the centre of goal – where the St Mirren number one should have been – from just eight yards out.
Smith though was at his best, five minutes later, to block Zurawski’s low drive with his knees.
McGeady turned Molloy inside out after five minutes of the restart before the ball broke to Nakamura, just inside the area, but the midfielder’s goalbound strike was blocked by 41-year-old Millen.
Strachan made a change in the 56th minute when he brought on Stephen Pearson, who he insisted yesterday was staying at Celtic following an impressive display against Chelsea in midweek, for Wallace.
His first contribution was almost costly for his team-mates after conceding a free-kick with a clumsy foul on Van Zanten.
Simon Lappin curled in a dangerous cross which came to a surprised Kirk Broadfoot, but he headed wide from seven yards out.
St Mirren’s rally was almost snuffed out as Nakamura’s left peg curled a 22-yard free-kick inches wide.
But the home side continued to live dangerously with defender Gary Caldwell looking shaky.
Want-away midfielder Petrov, though, settled the nerves by blasting Celtic’s second of the afternoon in the 65th minute.
McGeady again came to life in the St Mirren half and placed the ball perfectly into the path of the Bulgarian, who gave Smith no chance by powering the ball low past him from 12 yards out.
But St Mirren’s refusal to accept defeat almost paid off in the 71st minute when Lappin curled a superb free-kick over Artur Boruc and off the crossbar and John Sutton headed straight at the keeper.
Moments later McGeady almost claimed the goal his energetic performance deserved but Smith pushed his long-range drive away.
Craig Beattie, on for Zurawski for his first game of the season, presented Kenny Miller with the perfect chance to score his first competitive goal for his new club, with 10 minutes remaining.
The youngster picked out his Scotland team-mate unmarked at the back post but he somehow put his effort wide from close in.