Celtic 5 St Mirren 1: Vennegoor's treble strikes fear in Saints

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The Independent Football

Poor St Mirren seem to inspire Celtic's big-hitters. The last time they met it was Thomas Gravesen who hit a hat-trick, yesterday it was Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. Gordon Strachan invested £6 million in the Dutchman and the Dane, and the former PSV Eindhoven striker is now in a rich vein of form after a long injury absence. He helped the champions increase their lead at the top of the SPL over Rangers to 20 points.

This scoreline flattered Celtic, and the lack of edge is noticeable around Parkhead just now. "If that's happened, we only have ourselves to blame," said Strachan wryly. "The atmosphere was great when the League was tight, but my boys just keep winning."

Celtic's comeback six days earlier against Hearts at Tynecastle had underlined the spirit of Strachan's side, who have rarely touched the heights over the previous month. The Celtic manager insisted that "no one plays beautiful football at this time of year", but early in the contest with St Mirren they displayed a hunger to steamroll the newly promoted side.

From Shunsuke Nakamura's corner, Gravesen's stunning volley was superbly beaten away by the goalkeeper, Chris Smith. Beattie then hooked another effort wide before Vennegoor of Hesselink punctured the visitors' defence in the 16th minute. Nakamura delivered a perfect out-swinging corner for Vennegoor of Hesselink to head into the roof of the net.

Aiden McGeady then began to influence the encounter. One shot from the teenager flew wide and then he conjured up a right-foot volley that dipped narrowly over the bar. However, a lack of urgency crept into Celtic's play before the interval.

Celtic's slothfulness was punished within two minutes of the restart as Stephen McGinn scored a spectacular equaliser. The teenager, who is the grandson of the former Celtic chairman Jack McGinn, showed composure beyond his years in his first start as he pounced on a slack clearance to thrash the ball into the roof of the net from 20 yards.

Celtic seemed vulnerable, but the turning point came in the 61st minute. Nakamura was on the verge of being substituted when he darted past challenges into the box and was pushed in the back by Simon Lappin. The subsequent penalty was swept in by Vennegoor of Hesselink.

That situation was repeated eight minutes later. McGeady's number was also up, but his last touch before making way was to score Celtic's third. A patient passing move eventually saw Beattie clip the ball to the back of the box for McGeady to meet it with a low, angled finish.

After that, Celtic cut loose. Vennegoor of Hesselink secured his hat-trick in the 75th minute. Another Beattie cut-back, this time from Nakamura's threaded pass, allowed the Dutchman to club a left-footer past Smith. Kenny Miller then came off the bench to seal the rout by seizing on Derek Riordan's shot to divert the ball in from close range.

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