Nakamura rescues lacklustre Celtic

St Mirren 0 Celtic 1

St Mirren 0 Celtic 1

A dramatic late winner by Celtic substitute Shunsuke Nakamura gave the visitors all three points in today's SPL clash with St Mirren at Love Street.

Hoops keeper Artur Boruc had made two fine saves, from David van Zanten's volley and Billy Mehmet's drive, to keep the home side at bay and the game seemed to be heading for a draw.

But with four minutes remaining, Nakamura, on for Barry Robson just after the hour mark, curled home a free-kick from 25 yards to claim all three points.

St Mirren were incensed by a foul being given against Mason on Nakamura which allowed the Japanese midfielder to show his set-piece expertise.

Although they fought for an equaliser, it was beyond them.

Andreas Hinkel and Scott Brown were both back in the Celtic side after missing the Champions League defeat to Barcelona in midweek.

Hinkel was cup-tied and Brown was suspended, but the German replaced Paul Caddis, who dropped out of the squad altogether, while Brown came in for Paul Hartley who started on the bench.

Striker Georgios Samaras made his first start in place of the injured Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, and Massimo Donati replaced Shunsuke Nakamura.

St Mirren manager Gus MacPherson made two changes to the side that lost 4-0 to Falkirk last week as Marc Corcoran and Stephen McGinn dropped to the bench, replaced by Mason and Will Haining.

Celtic had won 5-1 on their last trip to Love Street but the Paisley side earned a draw at Parkhead before Christmas, and again they caused the Glasgow giants problems, even though the visitors bossed things early on.

Celtic won two corners within the first minute which appeared to set the tone.

Aiden McGeady's run and cross from the left ended with Barry Robson sending in a header with St Mirren goalkeeper Mark Howard saved, albeit with a degree of comfort.

However, driven shots from Buddies defender John Potter and midfielder Andy Dorman, both of which went wide of the target, hinted at some Love Street resistance.

The home side kept to their game-plan and as Celtic tried and failed to make any inroads towards Howard, a sense of confidence increased through St Mirren although Hoops goalkeeper Artur Boruc was still mostly a spectator.

In the 29th minute, Donati had to react quickly to take the ball away from the toes of Craig Dargo as the Buddies threatened for the first time.

In the 35th minute, McGeady came close when he forced a save from Howard down at his right-hand post.

At the other end however, St Mirren had the best chance of the half after Lee Naylor lost out to Dargo on the right.

The former Inverness and Kilmarnock striker crossed for David Van Zanten, whose close-range drive was brilliantly stopped by Boruc.

Robson's shot from the edge of the area in the 50th minute, which was deflected on its way through to Howard, preceded the substitution of Hoops skipper Stephen McManus, who was replaced by Darren O'Dea.

In the 54th minute, as the game came slowly to the boil, the frustrated McGeady was booked for dissent after another challenge on him went unpunished.

The game swung to and fro and on the hour mark, and Boruc was again called into action when Dargo laid the ball back to Billy Mehmet 16 yards from goal.

The St Mirren striker kept his shot low and on target but Boruc stuck his foot out to propel the ball away to safety.

In the 63rd minute Robson was replaced by Nakamura as manager Gordon Strachan tried to gee his side up.

Scott McDonald and Naylor had efforts which failed to threaten Howard and when Dargo was replaced by Stewart Kean with 10 minutes remaining, a large part of the Buddies' threat was removed.

In the 85th minute Chris Killen, on for Samaras, headed a Lee Naylor cross wide of the target to the groans of the Hoops fans behind the goal.

A minute later they were celebrating, however.

Mason was penalised for a soft-looking challenge on Nakamura, and the midfielder produced his speciality, curling a left-footed free-kick from 25 yards past the helpless Howard and into the bottom right corner.

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