Celtic restore eight-point lead with win at St Mirren

Daizen Maeda scored after just 54 seconds
Celtic scored twice in the opening six minutes on the way to beating St Mirren and maintaining their eight-point lead at the summit of the Scottish Premiership.

Daizen Maeda scored his side’s first goal of the year for the third successive January when he dashed away from Scott Tanser to fire beyond Zach Hemming after just 54 seconds.

After neatly setting up the first, Matt O’Riley smartly tucked away the second. His wonderful first touch created the angle for Hemming to be nutmegged to round off a magnificent move.

The half could not have started any worse for Stephen Robinson’s side and it ended in similar disappointment as Toyosi Olusanya was shown a red card after a VAR review after his boot caught Joe Hart’s face.

That decision made a tough test even tougher for the Paisley side and Greg Taylor’s second-half thunderous volley inflicted further misery.

Following Rangers’ early win against Kilmarnock, Celtic reclaimed their advantage, albeit having played two games more, while St Mirren remain in fifth, two points behind Derek McInnes’ side.

Backing up Saturday’s derby day victory was imperative for the league leaders, but against a St Mirren side who took an early lead the last time the sides met at Celtic Park, there were no guarantees the three points would come easy.

However, a speedy start settled any nerves among the away support. The quickest goal of the season for the champions was scored by Maeda, but it was all about the perfectly-weighted pass from O’Riley, making his 100th Celtic appearance.

The Denmark international had Paulo Bernardo to thank for the milestone being marked by a goal. The crafty Portuguese midfielder turned tremendously and teed up his team-mate in a classy move.

St Mirren failed to threaten, but pre-match Robinson had highlighted Olusanya’s pace as an asset in a game where opportunities would be few and far between.

On the rare occasion the ball made its way to Celtic goalmouth, the striker mistimed his attempt and instead caught Hart in the face. His initial yellow card was upgraded after David Munro was asked to take another look at the incident.

With a player advantage, Celtic’s speed and tempo was even more pronounced. Bernardo again provided a sensational assist, this time a dinked effort into the path for the left-back to slam home.

This came just minutes after the Portuguese had his own top-corner bound effort well saved by Hemming.

If it wasn’t for the St Mirren goalkeeper, the scoreline could have been much heavier. Substitutes Oh Hyeon-gyu, Yang Hyun-jun and Liel Abada were all denied, while Kyogo also headed wide when a goal appeared likely.

Player of the match – Paulo Bernardo (Celtic)

A toss-up between Bernardo and O’Riley, but the Portuguese just edges it due to his quality assists. Quite the way to back up his derby-day heroics.

Celtic ruthlessly respond in comfortable and commanding win – analysis

What a difference a week can make.

Last Tuesday, Celtic swept aside Dundee in a “much more like it” showing after a profligate performance against Livingston and the back-to-back defeats by Kilmarnock and Hearts.

That was followed up by a statement win against their fiercest rivals at the weekend and rounded off by this comfortable victory.

With 24 shots – 11 of which were on target – Celtic were back to their free-flowing best. The shackles were off.

With 103 final third entries and 53 touches in the opposition box, the confidence that had perhaps appeared dented of late was back. It could have been so much more if it were not for Hemming.

O’Riley and Callum McGregor have been shining lights throughout but the emergence of Bernardo as an impressive cog in midfield will bring satisfaction to Rodgers.

For St Mirren, it’s one to shove to the back of the mind as quickly as Maeda opened the scoring in Paisley.

There were mismatches all over the park long before it was a 10-man task. Overrun in midfield, bamboozled out wide and front men starved of service. A tough pill to swallow after an uplifting win at Pittodrie.

What they said

St Mirren manager Stephen Robinson: “I haven’t seen [the red card] back, but that wasn’t the reason why we lost the game so it’s irrelevant.

“We started the game really poorly against a very good Celtic side, which you can’t do. The red card compounds the pain we’re suffering. It was a long afternoon.”

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers: “We made a really good start, this can be a really tricky place to come and play, but we started on the front foot, playing forward and scored two goals in the opening 10 minutes.

“I’m really pleased, the sending off meant it was more difficult for them but we managed that side of it in the second half much better than we did at the weekend.”

What’s next?

Both sides are in Scottish Cup action after the winter break. St Mirren host Queen of the South on 20 January (15:00 GMT) while Celtic welcome Buckie Thistle the next day (16:00)

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