Not even a boot to Joe Hart’s face – a clash which reduced St Mirren to ten men following the dismissal of Toyosi Olusanaya on the cusp of half-time – could deviate from the hospitable reception Celtic enjoyed in Paisley as their first-foot visit to Paisley brought forth the gift of three points.
It ensures that Celtic go into the winter break having recovered the poise that had been rocked in December following defeats to Kilmarnock and Hearts. This was a performance of energy and verve as Celtic rounded off the hectic run of festive fixtures with their tails up following goals from Daizen Maeda, Matt O’Riley and Greg Taylor.
O’Riley’s goal was his tenth of the Premiership season and a goal that makes him Celtic’s top goalscorer so far this term. Interest in the midfielder has not been slow and it remains to be seen if the club’s resolve is tested across the coming month with any overtures for the 23-year-old who has been pivotal to Celtic’s midfield across recent campaigns.
Brendan Rodgers’ side hit the ground running in this one with the impetus gained from the win over Rangers was evident about Celtic’s opening play.
There were just 55 seconds on the clock when Maeda opened the scoring after O’Riley had slipped the ball into his path. The midfielder turned goalscorer himself just five minutes later when he collected from Paulo Bernardo before spearing a low ball past the exposed Zach Hemming.
Maeda’s pace was a constant headache for St Mirren full-back Scott Tanner shown a clean pair of heels by the Japanese forward. On one occasion he sent a low, menacing cross that Hemming did well to cut out as Kyogo Furuhashi looked to get on the end of it.
Olusanya tried to drag St Mirren back into it with Maik Nawrocki halting one forward incursion as he slid in to dispossess him.
There could and should have been a Celtic third just before the half hour mark. A Palma free-kick was flicked on by Kyogo and fell to Nawrocki at the back post but his header was wide of the target.
The opening period ended in controversy when Olusanya was dismissed after VAR intervened to upgrade his yellow card for a foul on Joe Hart to a red. With the goalkeeper at a stretch, Olusanyi’s extended leg was high as it caught for the former England internationalist flush in the face. Urged to go to the monitor, referee David Munro decided it was serious foul play and dismissed the forward who appeared devastated as he left the pitch.
Celtic looked to turn the screw at the start of the second period with Greg Taylor inexplicably cutting the ball back across the six-yard box when it looked far simpler to take a shot himself while, just prior to that, Liam Scales had sent an effort wide of the target from the edge of the box.
Palma let fly with a wild effort that sailed well beyond Hemming’s goal before Yang was introduced to take over from the winger.
O’Riley looked to have got the third goal that Celtic craved when he spun in the box before unleashing an effort with Hemming tipping it over. From the resultant corner, though, Celtic added what had become an increasingly inevitable third.
Bernardo’s quality ball over the top of was met by Taylor who thundered a volley past Hemming.
Celtic could afford then to ring the changes with Reo Hatate generating the biggest roar from the visiting support as he made his first appearance since October.