Celtic 1 St Mirren 1
Substitute Derek Riordan snatched a late leveller for Celtic to prevent the Scottish champions slumping to a shock defeat against strugglers St Mirren in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.
Stephen McGinn had stunned the majority of the Parkhead crowd when he opened the scoring for the Paisley club after the home side had dominated most of the game.
But Gus Macpherson’s men were denied the win when Riordan – tipped for a January exit – came off the bench to rescue a point for Celtic.
Poor weather and the lure of Christmas shopping meant more empty seats than usual at Parkhead but there was plenty of incentive for both teams on the park.
The postponement of Sunday’s match between Rangers and Gretna meant a win would allow Celtic to increase their lead at the summit of the SPL to four points, while victory for Saints would mean a 12-point cushion over bottom side Gretna.
Celtic manager Gordon Strachan made two changes from their Champions League clash with AC Milan for the visit of Saints.
A minor knee operation means goalkeeper Artur Boruc will be out of action for several weeks paving the way for Mark Brown to take over between the sticks for only the fifth time this season.
Also drafted into the starting line-up was Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink in place of Massimo Donati, who dropped out of the 18-man squad.
Not surprisingly, Buddies boss Macpherson made four changes following last week’s 5-1 thrashing at the hands of fellow strugglers Falkirk.
Out went John Potter, Chris Birchall, Garry Brady and Stewart Kean; in came Alan Reid, Mark Corcoran, McGinn and Ian Maxwell, with Maxwell making his first appearance of the season following a long-term knee injury.
Celtic dominated the possession early on and had the chance to put St Mirren under pressure when they were handed a free-kick 35-yards out in the first minute.
Paul Hartley stepped up for the set-piece and hooked the ball over the Saints wall but his tame effort was comfortably held by goalkeeper Chris Smith.
Gary Caldwell then delivered a teasing cross to the back post, with both Scott McDonald and Vennegoor of Hesselink loitering in the goalmouth, but Smith did well to pluck the ball from the air before either could connect.
Saints had a decent chance at the other end when Corcoran tried his luck with a powerful long-ranger which cannoned off the body of Scott Brown.
But Celtic continued to press for the opener and a long, low shot from Jiri Jarosik was tipped just wide of the post by Smith. The goalkeeper was then called into action again to block a header from the same player at the resulting corner.
A clumsy attempt at clearing Darren O’Dea’s ball into the box by Franco Miranda caused panic in the Saints defence before Aiden McGeady came close with a right-footed drive which dipped just over the crossbar.
McGeady then curled a free-kick into the side netting after being body-checked by Miranda a yard outside the box as St Mirren held on for level terms at the break.
Celtic cranked up the pressure in the second half and Jarosik struck the woodwork with a header after throwing himself in front of a Hartley free-kick.
David Van Zanten was then in the right place at the right time to block a goalbound header from Vennegoor of Hesselink.
Celtic made their first change of the day with 56 minutes gone and Jarosik was the player sacrificed to allow the introduction of Evander Sno.
St Mirren then made an audacious bid for a penalty when Corcoran went to ground but referee Charlie Richmond was unimpressed by the claims for a spot-kick.
With 20 minutes to go O’Dea was swapped for Riordan and he almost had an immediate impact on the game with a well-struck volley which was deflected just over the crossbar.
Instead, it was St Mirren who took the lead with 73 minutes gone. A Billy Mehmet shot was parried by Brown into the path of McGinn and he gratefully lashed home from just inside the box to hand the visitors a shock advantage.
Celtic surged forward in numbers and only a superb save from Smith, tipping just over at full stretch, prevented McGeady from restoring parity.
That honour went to Riordan instead, who latched onto an excellent ball from Sno and bulleted home with just six minutes remaining to salvage a point for the Scottish champions.