Pre-Match with A Celtic State of Mind – Victory against the Buddies for Sweet 16

ALAN MORRISON:

Celtic return to the Park for only the 4th league game of 2020 on the back of dropping the first league points of the new year. Despite another tortuous experience in Livingston, the champions extended their league lead further over the Gerrard Allstars. Meanwhile, opponents St Mirren are now in a 4-way relegation standoff despite only 2 defeats in 8.

The Saints’ form is not bad. Defeats recently have come at The Rangers and against the awkward squad of Livingston. A win at Motherwell was particularly noteworthy.

Their issues remain scoring. Despite 15 shots against 10-man St Johnstone, only 4 were on target and another 0-0 resulted. They lead the league with 5 scoreless matches. A slight warning however is that 5 goals have come in their last 3 away league games – easily their best run of the season – they’d only scored 6 in the previous 11 away.

Not surprisingly, their 23 goals are the league’s worst. 298 shots are, incredibly, higher than 8 other sides! 32% shot accuracy and 8% shot conversion are both the league’s worst. Poor shot selection may be an issue. Obika with 7 goals and 2 assists seems their only reliable goal threat.

Defensively they are not too bad – 36 against is only bettered by 3 teams. Hladky is a good ‘keeper and matches Forster for 30% on target shot conversion against. And there is resilience. Whilst Celtic have not dropped a single point from a winning position (they were ultimately behind against Livingston), St Mirren have only drawn one game when leading, and lost none.

This will be Celtic’s last match on the back of another mid-weeker for a while. Some players look tired but don’t expect mass changes. Celtic have managed towsy 2-0 and 2-1 wins against the Paisley side this season and all the evidence and context points to another hard fought but narrow win for the Hoops.

I’m going for another 2-0 this time with Forrest back on the goal trail.

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DECLAN MCCONVILLE:

After a tough evening in West Lothian on Wednesday, Celtic will look to get back to winning ways against St Mirren on Saturday.

Neil Lennon’s side’s domestic form since returning after the winter break has been phenomenal, with the team playing 12 games, having only drawn one and winning 11, as well as reaching yet another Scottish Cup semi-final.

Livingston are always a tough opponent for Celtic and, once again, Lyndon Dykes caused Christopher Jullien major problems with his strong physical approach play. In the end, a draw was a fair result with the Scottish champions never really looking like they would win the game even with their sustained pressure after the break. Good resilience was shown to get the late equaliser and in the grand scheme of things could be a massive point towards the title.

The story so far this season against the Buddies has been maximum points in two tricky games. Jim Goodwin’s side are very well structured and hard to break down with the two results this season being 2-0 and 2-1 to Celtic.

James Forrest has been a crucial player in both the games against the Paisley side this season having scored in both, so I would fancy him to have some impact on the game and add to his 16 goals and 21 assists for the season so far.

KEVIN GRAHAM:

Even if we had lost the game on Wednesday night, I still would have been pleased with the effort and that no-one hid. There were no surprises in what we faced. The myth of Livingston was alive. Playing a myth isn’t the same as playing the game in front of you. Managing situations as they arise. Dealing with them without emotion and only talent. Instead you play your fears. It’s like going into a ghost train expecting real ghosts and not just some folk in masks and hairy rubber hands. The two goals we lost against Livingston were due to playing a myth. That was disappointing.

Otherwise we dominated the game for long spells. Played with our heads and kept on going when it would have been easier to just sack it off. Livingston hadn’t played a game for ten days and were dead on their feet in the last half hour. They were impressive in mind, and effort deserves the same amount of credit that we do for not accepting defeat. They had won seven games in a row at home. Outside Celtic and Rangers, that is a most impressive record.

St Mirren haven’t quite got that aura about them. They haven’t got a myth or a great tale to tell. But, like against Livingston, we will need to be looking for that bit of magic, that opening, and we need to work to deserve that. St Mirren are now looking over their shoulder at rivals who have had two great results this week. Their one win in five is looking as poor as it is and they face Hearts on Wednesday night. Will their focus be on that or will they take heart from Hamilton’s efforts and believe anything can happen?

For us, we don’t have a midweek game to focus on and that still hurts. We have returned to domestic duty with a cup win and a deserved draw, at least. A defeat on Wednesday would have been a harsh blemish on our record. Our focus will be on three points and ramping up the pressure even more on our rivals who are now fighting on two fronts, or three if you count the doubts in their own minds.

We don’t write our opponents’ tactics and team-talks we just take care of business; our own business, and let the rest worry about themselves. The finishing line is in sight but still a long way from view. Still, shirts to get full of sweat and boots to get dirty and decisions to be made regarding selections and formations.

Our manager will maybe be looking at left-back and striker changes from Wednesday night. His sports science team might indicate some players may need a rest and some need game time that could spring a surprise. We could also see a formation change from a three to a four. It’s a good decision to have. Easier decisions to make than looking in the mud for answers. A sell-out will roar on the Bhoys no matter who plays.

Sweet 16 awaits for 24 hours at least if we do our job well.

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