How Celtic should tackle St Mirren; Hibernian help show the way

By Euan Davidson

February 9, 2021

Celtic v St Mirren would hardly have got pulses racing around Parkhead before this season.

The Bhoys’ history against the Buddies is exemplary. In fact, the other week was Celtic’s first home defeat against St Mirren since 1990 [Herald]. In that game, Celtic were frustrated by Jim Goodwin’s side’s solid defending, while allowing two soft goals. It was awful.

A lot of blame fell on Shane Duffy’s shoulders, but he wasn’t alone. You’ll have noticed the intensity of Celtic’s press against Motherwell at the weekend, and it’s clear that Lennon has emphasised this as a response to the Buddies defeat. Too often, a Celtic side reluctant to pressure out of possession were threatened by St Mirren.

It’s not as if this Celtic squad have suddenly become untalented, while Jim Goodwin leads a team of world-beaters. Football is actually much simpler than that. It’s about making correct decisions, knowing your opposition and reacting correctly.

Celtic did none of the above in their last encounter with the Paisley side. Yes, we’re all for Lennon wanting to impose our style on the opposition, rather than the other way round, but football isn’t always like that. Even the best sides in world football have had to adjust to threats brought by opposing teams.

“But Euan, you don’t know anything”, you could argue, and you’d be quite correct. I am bamboozled by the simplest tasks. However, there are things about our opposition that anyone can spot. Here are the couple of areas where Celtic can beat St Mirren tomorrow night.

“Just wantae aim it at someone’s heid?” / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

St Mirren v Celtic: set pieces are key

We’ve spoken before, you and I, about Celtic’s deficiencies defending set-pieces. So, I won’t risk boring you to death about it once more. No, instead, we’ll discuss where Celtic can cause St Mirren bother.

In Goodwin’s most recent defeat as Saints boss [BBC], Hibs took advantage of the Buddies from a corner and a penalty. The corner was particularly interesting, as Ryan Porteous was left unmarked to bullet in a header from six yards out.

As set-piece goals go, Hibs’ first is an incredibly satisfying goal to watch [SPFL/YouTube]. That ball stays headed. Porteous could launch his bonce through a brick wall, and the wall would have to come off injured. Strictly speaking though, it’s a pretty straight-forward cross into the box, and Goodwin’s side just don’t react.

Interestingly, 25% of St Mirren’s conceded goals have come from dead-ball situations [WhoScored?]. As Meatloaf sang, “1 out of 4 is good odds, from Celtic’s perspective”. Or words to that effect, anyway.

Good managers learn from that, so perhaps Goodwin will have worked on this in training. However, bear in mind Celtic’s first goal against Motherwell at the weekend. Almost a carbon copy. Go on, have a watch. You’ll feel better.

With the height in Celtic’s team, and David Turnbull’s sumptuous delivery, the Bhoys need to get at St Mirren on the bylines and force opportunities from dead-ball situations. Greg Taylor and Jonjoe Kenny will primarily be tasked with doing this, with Ismaila Soro (who should be playing) and McGregor deputising deeper and allowing the full-backs to explore wide spaces.

Yes, it’s a pretty straight-forward tactic, but the classics never go out of style. Hibs helped show just how vulnerable Saints are to the set-piece – it’s time for us to utilise that better.

Jonjoe Kenny’s pace will be key / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Utilising pace to force mistakes

When Edouard scored against the Buddies during the most recent meeting between the sides, it was about pace and movement [SPFL/YouTube]. McGregor takes the ball just outside the box and drives at Cameron McPherson, hardly a slouch himself.

From there, he moves wider, slotting a through ball between two St Mirren defenders, and moves it on to Eddy. The Frenchman still has plenty to do, but he beats his man and finishes tidily.

Against Hibs, it was pace that undid Goodwin’s side also. Although Hibs won an arguably soft penalty, the St Mirren defence isn’t particularly well-equipped dealing with one-on-ones against quick attackers. If both Hibs and Celtic themselves know this, then it’s worth trying again.

Instead of a million passes around the 18-yard-box, Edouard and co should be taking on their marker, dropping the shoulder and turning on the pace. The Bhoys have far, far better players from an athletic and technical stand-point. Callum McGregor isn’t Diego Maradona, but his movement on the ball provided problems for the St Mirren defence.

It probably goes without saying, but Celtic should not fear this St Mirren side, as impressive as they’ve been. Staying aggressive, forcing opportunities and asking questions of a defence that’s slow on the turn should be the name of the game for Neil Lennon.

ELSEWHERE: Celtic fans have spent another morning being brilliant on the internet.