By Ben McNicol
The last week has been nothing short of disastrous for Jim Goodwin’s St Mirren side and it got slightly tougher as they fell to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Celtic.
It was far from comfortable start to finish for the nine-in-a-row champions, who were made to work for all three points at St Mirren Park. Lee Erwin gave the Saints an early lead on his first start for the Buddies, but ultimately the Hoops just had to little too much in hand and goals from Shane Duffy and James Forrest got a below-par Celtic over the line.
The COVID-hit Buddies were beaten by an impressive Hibs side on Saturday, while five-star Celtic ran riot in Dingwall.
Zdenek Zlamal retained his starting place despite the return of 21-year-old keeper Peter Urminsky while Joe Shaughnessy, Dylan Connolly, Lee Erwin and Junior Morias came in for Sam Foley, Ilkay Durmus, Kristian Dennis and Jon Obika.
Celtic made four changes from that decisive win in the Highlands as Jeremie Frimpong, Christopher Jullien, Oliver Ntcham and Albian Ajeti dropped out and they were replaced by Greg Taylor, Hatem Elhamed, Ryan Christie and Patryk Klimala.
It was Saints who dominated the early exchanges and they broke the deadlock in the third minute. A corner from the right was flicked on at the front-post by Shaughnessy and Erwin was on hand to scramble the ball over the line from point-blank range.
It was a sluggish start by the visitors and Neil Lennon was cutting a frustrated figure on the sideline. It wasn’t until the 18th minute that they created their first real opening, Forrest doing well to beat his man down the right and his cross was headed just wide by Odsonne Edouard.
That chance seemed to spark some life into the away side and they pulled themselves level at the midway point in the first half when Ryan Christie’s pinpoint free kick was met by Duffy. The big Irishman’s header flew past a helpless Zlamal.
That was the lift Celtic needed and they created a whole array of chances in a five-minute spell and it looked only a matter of time until they took the lead. And they done exactly that on the 36th minute when another excellent delivery from Christie found arguably the smallest man on the park in Forrest, but his header boasted a combination of precision and power, giving Celtic the lead.
Celtic certainly didn’t start the second half anything like the first and came close not once but twice to adding to their lead. Callum McGregor dragged Greg Taylor’s cut-back just wide before Edouard’s curling free-kick was well saved by Zlamal in the Saints goal.
Celtic continued to maintain their second-half dominance but Saints so nearly profited with a goal on the counter-attack as Erwin cut inside from the right and curled his effort just over the crossbar.
The visitors were awarded a penalty with a quarter of an hour remaining and when Edouard stepped up, you would have thought the normally clinical Frenchman would have slotted it away like always. But on this occasion, he was denied by a fine save by Zlamal, summing up what was an unusual off-night for the in-demand striker.
Saints pushed for an equaliser and had a claim for a spot-kick turned away by referee John Beaton while Christie nearly put the game to bed up the other end, but Zlamal was equal to his long-ranged effort. Whilst a shift was certainly put in, it wasn’t enough for Goodwin’s men to claim points. Here are three things we learned.
After a debut in the midst of chaos, Zlamal was able to get the chance to know his teammates at St Mirren before this match.
It would appear to have made a difference, denying Edouard on multiple occasions before saving a penalty from the Frenchman. In what was likely his last Paisley appearance, Zlamal did himself no harm.
Erwin to solve the striking headache for Goodwin?
Jim Goodwin spoke openly during the summer transfer window about reinforcing his frontline during the summer, securing Lee Erwin on a two-year deal from Ross County last week.
He has adapted to well to life in Paisley and scored on his first full start for the Buddies and was unlucky not to add another.
Time to move on
It’s not been an easy seven days for St Mirren. Their positive COVID-19 tests followed by a 3-0 defeat to Hibs at home after the wipeout of their goalkeeper department had Goodwin holding his head in his hands.
Playing Celtic after this ordeal was not the perfect scenario. But after a decent shift, St Mirren will hope to draw a line under a tough seven days.