Tuesday 20 August 2019

Celtic close in on another title with win at St Mirren while Defoe on target for Rangers

St Mirren 0 Celtic 2

Celtics Ryan Christie (17) celebrates with Celtics Oliver Burke, Callum McGregor and James Forrest after scoring the second goal
Celtics Ryan Christie (17) celebrates with Celtics Oliver Burke, Callum McGregor and James Forrest after scoring the second goal

Celtic took another step closer to the Ladbrokes Premiership title but they made hard work of overcoming St Mirren 2-0 at the Simple Digital Arena.

Striker Timothy Weah headed in the opener after 14 minutes before Buddies keeper Vaclav Hladky saved an Olivier Ntcham penalty.

The visitors had been wasteful and also allowed a much-changed side a few chances to draw level but substitute Ryan Christie sealed the win with a deflected shot with five minutes remaining to keep the Hoops 13 points clear of Rangers with just six fixtures remaining.

Neil Lennon's side host Livingston on Saturday in the last match before the split and it is surely now a matter of when, not if, the league is won.

Oran Kearney's St Mirren's side remain two points ahead of bottom side Dundee.

The visitors went into the game on the back of a morale-boosting 2-1 win over Old Firm rivals Rangers at Parkhead on Sunday and with the benefit of a healthy lead, Lennon made changes with Jozo Simunovic, Emilio Izaguirre, Oliver Burke and Weah back in the side.

St Mirren were similarly buoyed, having leapfrogged Dundee at the bottom of the table with a 2-1 home win over the Taysiders on Saturday.

Kearney, perhaps with a view to Hamilton on Saturday, changed more than half his side with Anton Ferdinand, Laurentiu Corbu, Cameron MacPherson, Jim Kellerman, Stephen McGinn and Cody Cooke returning.

In the 10th minute of a scrappy opening, Parkhead defender Kristoffer Ajer blasted over the bar from 12 yards after being set up by Callum McGregor.

It was not the first chance of the game, however, as moments earlier Buddies striker Duckens Nazon took a fresh air swipe at the ball just eight yards out.

But Celtic were soon ahead. A slick move involving McGregor, Mikael Lustig and James Forrest ended with the Sweden international drawing a save from Hladky with a drive.

When his second attempt spun into the air Weah, on loan from PSG, headed in off the crossbar and the ball sneaked just over the line.

Burke slashed a shot wide of the target and then, just before the half-hour mark, Buddies midfielder Kellerman inexplicably handled from Izaguirre's deflected cross.

However, Hladky parried Ntcham's unconvincing spot-kick with the French midfielder lofting the rebound over via the top of the bar.

Burke fired against Hladky from 12 yards early in the second half but Saints then twice came close.

In the 52nd minute Hoops keeper Scott Bain did well to tip Cooke's curling shot past the post after a mix-up in the Celtic defence with Haiti international Nazon missing a header at the back post from the subsequent corner.

Then, a quickly-taken free-kick from St Mirren defender Mihai Popescu in the middle of the park caught Celtic napping and found Nazon but when confronted by Bain he tried to turn on to his right foot, was smothered, and the chance was lost.

Christie, on for Ntcham after 64 minutes, looked lively as he rallied his team-mates and his goal eased the nerves albeit keeper Hladky was unsettled after a firecracker of some sort appeared to go off beside him.

 

Rangers 3 Hearts 0

Jermain Defoe was on target as Rangers bounced back from their late defeat by Celtic with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Hearts.

Defoe and Connor Goldson put Rangers two ahead inside 21 minutes as they dominated the early stages, and Scott Arfield finished off the contest two minutes after the break.

It was a first win since February for Rangers but it saw them strengthen their grip on second place in the Ladbrokes Premiership and reduce the chances of Celtic clinching the title before the split.

Rangers started with Ryan Kent after challenging the winger's two-match ban for striking Scott Brown during Sunday's defeat at Parkhead, with his hearing taking place on Thursday.

Jon Flanagan and Defoe replaced Andy Halliday and Alfredo Morelos following their derby red cards while Glen Kamara and Steven Davis came into the midfield as Ross McCrorie and Daniel Candeias dropped to the bench.

Steven Gerrard's side came out in determined fashion and Defoe had the ball in the net inside 90 seconds but was just offside as Ryan Jack stabbed the ball through as Christophe Berra got caught in possession.

The hosts kept up the pressure and James Tavernier had a strike beaten away before making a key contribution to the 16th-minute opener. The right-back saw his effort saved by Zdenek Zlamal after Scott Arfield found his run and Defoe was on hand to volley the rebound in off the bar.

Tavernier set up the second as his free-kick found Goldson in space to head home from eight yards.

Hearts were being overrun and lacked the outlet of target man Uche Ikpeazu because of a head injury. But they rallied around the half-hour mark and won a series of set-pieces from which Christophe Berra twice forced saves, the second an impressive diving stop from Allan McGregor.

Any hopes of a comeback were extinguished immediately after the restart. Again Tavernier was involved as he raced down the flank and delivered a cross which Defoe diverted towards goal. Zlamal produced a brilliant save but Arfield was on hand to convert the rebound.

Rangers went on to canter to victory. Kent, sub McCrorie and Defoe were off target from half-chances and another substitute, Eros Grezda, headed against the post from close range after the ball flashed into his direction following a set-piece.

Hearts threatened a late consolation but Olly Lee failed to find fellow substitute Aidan Keena with the goal gaping and the latter came close with a long-range chip. Jamie Brandon produced their best piece of play in stoppage-time but hit the outside of the post from 25 yards after a positive run.

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