Japanese international Shunsuke Nakamura fired a memorable hat-trick to help Celtic keep the pressure on leaders Rangers with a 7-0 thrashing of ten-man St. Mirren at Parkhead. The Hoops comprehensive victory reduced their rivals lead on goal difference at the top to just four, after a Barry Ferguson strike was enough to give Rangers a 1-0 win away to Hamilton Academical.
A first-half double from Nakamura sent Celtic on their way and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink could even afford to miss a penalty as Buddies defender Jack Ross was ordered off. Celtic made their extra-man advantage count in the second-half with a sensational strike from Marc Crosas, before a Scott Brown double either side of a stunning Nakamura free-kick. An own goal from John Potter sealed the win for the Parkhead side.
"I thought we started the game well and the passing and movement was good," said Celtic manager Gordon Strachan. "When they went down to ten men and the second goal went in, I felt very sorry for St. Mirren as I knew it was going to be a hard day for them."
St. Mirrens manager Gus MacPherson said his players were hurting. "It's never nice when you lose any game, but when you lose so heavily, there's no doubt the pride is dented," he said. "I was standing there with half an hour to go wanting the game to finish."
It was St. Mirren who had the first chance. The Celtic defence backed off Andy Dorman as he ran at them in the 12th minute before unleashing a shot, but Stephen McManus's late lunge managed to deflect it for a corner.
A mistake from Chris Smith in the 16th minute allowed Celtic to take the lead through Nakamura. The keeper got both hands to a speculative 25-yard strike from the Japanese international, but he allowed it to spill over his head and into the net.
St. Mirren were reduced to ten men when the Hoops were awarded a penalty in the 28th minute. Scott McDonald collapsed in the box under a challenge from behind by Ross, who received a straight red. However, Vennegoor of Hesselink's soft spot-kick was too near the keeper and Smith made up for his earlier mistake by getting down low to save before Will Haining cleared the danger.
Japanese star Nakamura got his second after 34 minutes. The midfielder collected a pass from Hinkel just inside the box before sending an angled left-footed drive low into the bottom corner. A magnificently struck Crosas shot made it three in the 51st minute.
A headed clearance landed at his feet and he took a touch before letting fly with an unstoppable strike from 30 yards out which swerved past Smith. A minute later Brown got Celtic's fourth. The Scotland midfielder collected a pass ten yards out and his miss-hit shot managed to squirm under the body of Smith and into the net.
Nakamura completed his hat-trick with a stunning free-kick in the 58th minute as the midfielder's powerful, curling kick from the right beat Smith at his near post. Brown got his second and Celtic's sixth after 67 minutes. The midfielder sprung the St. Mirren offside trap to run on to a Crosas through ball and finish low past Smith who remained rooted to the spot.
A 76th-minute own goal by Potter added to St. Mirren's misery. The defender stooped low to send his attempted headed clearance from a Hinkel cross past his own keeper.
Rangers earn slim victory
At New Douglas Park, Ferguson's first goal of the season sealed a 1-0 win for Rangers over Hamilton. The Gers captain sent a low angled drive from the edge of the box past the outstretched keeper late in the first-half.
Inverness Caledonian Thistle lost for the first time in Terry Butcher's tenure, as Motherwell clinched a 2-1 win. Hearts of Midlothian moved five points clear in third spot with a 1-0 win over Dundee United. Aberdeen and Kilmarnock played out a goalless draw, as did Hibernian and Falkirk.