Substitute Kris Commons scored a late winner as Celtic moved five points clear of Rangers at the top of the Scottish Premier League with a narrow 1-0 win over St Mirren at Parkhead.
Celtic made a number of changes from their comfortable midweek win over Hibernian which seemed to disrupt their flow. And it was the Buddies who had the best of a poor first-half as the Hoops lacked ideas to get round a well-organised St Mirren defence.
However, with the game heading towards a goalless draw it was Scotland international Commons who came to the rescue as his 79th minute goal extended Celtic's lead over their Old Firm rivals Rangers, who are away at Hamilton tomorrow.
Assistant manager Johan Mjallby said Celtic had made hard work of their win. "It was a grind. We started the game sloppy and we didn't pass the ball quick enough," said Mjallby. "I think we picked up a bit in the second-half and started to create a few chances. We know we weren't at our best today and it was hard but it was nice to see the winning goal go in."
Danny Lennon was disappointed not to pick up a point from the game. "We knew it was going to be a difficult place to come and you are always going to give up a lot of possession," the St Mirren manager said. "But I thought the efforts and the commitment and the belief and mentality of my players merited something from the game. I thought they were absolutely fantastic."
At Celtic Park Freddie Ljungberg made his first league start for the club while South Korean internationals Ki Sung-Yeung and Cha Du-Ri came in for captain Scott Brown and Mark Wilson, who are both one booking away from a suspension.
St Mirren had the best of the early chances as Michael Higdon fired a free-kick he had won on the edge of the box into the wall and Kenny McLean smacked the rebound over. St Mirren created another chance when Higdon got on the end of Hugh Murray's cross from the right, but the Englishman's header flashed across goal and wide.
Steven Thomson missed a good opportunity in the 26th minute when a low cross from the right reached him 14 yards out, but he missed his shot after taking a fresh air swing at the ball. Celtic were showing none of the energy and urgency that saw them run into a 3-0 half-time lead against Hibernian, but Anthony Stokes wasn't far away with a header after connecting with Cha's cross.
James Forrest then danced around several St Mirren defenders before firing wide and Charlie Mulgrew headed over from Ki's free-kick as the Hoops failed to find a way past a stubborn defence before the break. Paul Gallacher was forced to beat away a shot from Stokes before Shaun Maloney, who replaced Gary Hooper at half-time, sent a weak shot low past the post.
The frustrations of the home fans began to grow as they watched a long-range effort from Cha sail harmlessly over the bar. Joe Ledley came on for Ki while Commons replaced the ineffectual Ljungberg as Celtic tried to inject some urgency into the proceedings, the move paying dividends.
Eight minutes after coming on the ball broke to him just inside the box after Maloney's effort was blocked and the Scottish international cracked a low first time shot past the outstretched arm of Gallacher.
St Mirren, who had barely crossed the half-way line in the second period, threw men forward looking for an equaliser and came close when John Potter's volley flew just over Fraser Forster's bar. Potter blew a golden chance in stoppage time when, after being given time and space in Celtic's box, he hooked his shot wide.
Elsewhere, Aberdeen lost 1-0 to Hibernian, Dundee United defeated St Johnstone 2-0 Hearts and Motherwell ended goalless and Kilmarnock versus Inverness finished 1-1.