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  -   NEWS
Sunday, October 15, 2000
Celtic 2-0 St Mirren: Dancing Didier
By Ian Archer

Celtic - if they will pardon the expression - placed some clear blue water between themselves and the rest of the Scottish Premier League, retaining an unbeaten record in doing so.

Chris Sutton and Henrik Larsson scored for the undisputed leaders of the division to leave St Mirren seeking their first Parkhead win for ten years.

Martin O'Neill's team can now look forward to establishing a real authority over the rest by winning against St Johnstone in Perth on Tuesday.

Not surprisingly, the biggest cheer from a 60,002 crowd came when the news of the only goal at Easter Road was broadcast.

Celtic could take a nine-point lead over their real rivals in the next 48 hours as Rangers, wracked with injuries, face a Champions League tie in midweek.

The game may go down as a watershed but basically not a memorable game. The Paisley club could offer only a modest challenge despite a second-half flurry.

But there was one real plus point for Celtic. Didier Agathe, making his home debut, showed staggering pace and no little skill, an acknowledgement that O'Neill had acted shrewdly by buying him from Hibs, who are now closest challengers.

Saints got into a bit of a 'guddle'. Sergei Baltacha was sitting in the stand ten minutes before kick-off expecting to do nothing more strenuous than buy the half-time drinks. He was called to the substitutes bench and was on the field less than half-an-hour later as manager Tom Hendrie pulled off a none-too-pleased Lee Sharp.

Whatever Hendrie had in mind - and it is a fertile point of his anatomy - it did not work as he rang all his changes to try to confuse Celtic.

The manager is famous, possibly notorious, for the amount of detail he gives in exceedingly lengthy pre-match team talks.

His decision to throw three outright forwards into the match - Mark Yardley, Graham Fenton and Maikel Renfurm - at least showed he had not forgotten a basic point, that the game is about scoring goals.

O'Neill's response was expansive, as well. He just left Johan Mjallby, Tom Boyd and Joos Valgaeren to cope, not feeling any need to pull back a spare man to counter. The managers, in fact, laid out teams prepared to accept risk and entertain at the same time.

Celtic, naturally, made the most of the freedom. Within seconds, Agathe's cross was met from the right by Larsson's head but the Swede had to watch the ball curl over the bar.

When the striker provided an opportunity himself, Lubomir Moravcik's chip was equally close to giving Celtic the lead. These sort of chances cropped up frequently, with Celtic unable to take the lead.

The best of them arrived in the 32nd minute when Agathe's cross, the latest in a long line, was volleyed by Moravcik. With goalkeeper Derek Scrimgour beaten, Barry McLaughlin cleared off the line.

But the incessant barrage was gradually undermining the Saints' defence in general and Scrimgour in particular. He looked increasingly uncertain with high crosses and when Moravcik took a corner on the right, he could only flap at fresh air. Sutton was in the right place to head over the line from four yards.

The relentless assault continued in the second half. Alan Thompson's shot from an Agathe pass went just wide and Scrimgour stuck out a foot to stop a Larsson effort.

Saints rallied briefly, with their best effort coming in the 57th minute when Ricky Gillies fired in a quick volley from an Iain Nicolson cross but Jonathan Gould saved comfortably. O'Neill then took off the enterprising Moravcik to replace him with Vidar Riseth.

The move settled the leaders but the second goal stubbornly refused to come. There were only eight minutes left when Thompson won a free-kick and Larsson, from the edge of the area, swerved the ball round the wall to beat the goalkeeper for both pace and placement and finally settle the issue.

Meanwhile, Celtic are confident that they will sign Dundee goalkeeper Rab Douglas tomorrow.

Manager Martin O'Neill promised that other signings will also take place.

He said: 'I hope to get to see Robert Douglas on Monday. I want to strengthen all parts of the team and that means putting players in possession under pressure.

'Jonathan Gould has had a good season so far and he will play against St Johnstone on Tuesday, whatever happens.'

The manager was ecstatic about Agathe, the striker he signed from Hibs, after yesterday's win.

'He was absolutely brilliant, fantastic even. I did not think he would last more than 60 minutes but he has so much strength and pace.

'He can play anywhere across the front to give us options and I could not praise him too highly.'

 

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