Celtic 2 St Mirren 0: McManus heads Celtic restoration

St Mirren find the going is tough at the top
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The Independent Football

Neil Lennon took a back seat for the day but his captain's armband inspired Stephen McManus to restore some natural order to the Scottish Premier League. The young Celtic defender's thumping first-half header was the platform for the victory that soothed the pain of last week's defeat by Hearts. St Mirren arrived at Parkhead in first place but were put in their place when Stilian Petrov added a fine second goal.

Lennon, who had gifted Hearts their late winner at Tynecastle, was not punished but merely nursing a hamstring, despite radio reports that he had stormed out of the ground.

Celtic's need to recover their momentum was evident in the fierce early pressure they inflicted upon their newly promoted opponents, who were grateful to the post for coming to their rescue after 11 minutes when Aiden McGeady's venomous shot was denied. Then a slick Celtic passing move opened up the visitors with McGeady supplying Maciej Zurawski but St Mirren's goalkeeper, Chris Smith, was alert to the Pole's attempt to clip his finish over him.

St Mirren's defensive organisation was admirable but the only time they ventured out of their half was when Craig Molloy wasted a chance in the 23rd minute by firing his shot too high after Simon Lappin's fine cross.

The cost of that profligacy was underlined five minutes later when McManus celebrated his new status by putting Celtic ahead. Ross Wallace's persistence won a corner that Shunsuke Nakamura delivered perfectly for the towering McManus to attack and steer in a header from 12 yards. Zurawski might have doubled that lead soon after but the vigilant Smith beat away the striker's shot with his legs.

St Mirren possessed the oldest outfield player in the SPL as Andy Millen embraced the top flight again at the age of 41 - a decade after last appearing there with Hibernian - and the lean defender did not look out of place as he organised the resistance.

Indeed, St Mirren enjoyed a significant amount of influence at the other end of the pitch in the second half and Kirk Broadfoot came close just before the hour when he headed Lappin's free-kick wide. However, Celtic's nerves were soothed when Petrov provided a comfort zone with a second goal in the 65th minute. McGeady, yet again, was central to everything creative, with a dancing run past three tackles before sliding the ball into Petrov's path for the Bulgarian to thrash in an angled right-foot finish.

Lappin was denied a reward for his fine play when the underside of the crossbar kept out his dipping free-kick with Artur Boruc stopping John Sutton's follow-up.