IT wasn’t quite a return to the exciting free-flowing football the Celtic fans had become accustomed to under Ange Postecoglou, but it was a return to winning ways for the league leaders against St Mirren. And with nine games to go, and the three-point lead over Rangers maintained, that will more than do them for now.

That’s not to say that Celtic didn’t dominate this game from start to finish against a St Mirren side whose ambitions seemed limited to keeping the score down. The hosts had the vast majority of possession and territory, and Saints carried next to no threat of their own.

But that zip, that magic Celtic have possessed for much of this season has just deserted them of late. The likes of Jota, Liel Abada and Reo Hatate are a little off the boil. Daizen Maeda has yet to really hit his straps. But they did win this game regardless with more than a little to spare.

It was Cameron Carter-Vickers of all people who would volley them into the lead not long after half-time -and from a set-piece no less - while captain Callum McGregor added a second 10 minutes from time to give the scoreline a more accurate reflection of Celtic’s dominance.

If the Celtic board were in eager to hear the feelings of the club’s supporters towards the friendly against Rangers in Australia – which is debatable - they probably don’t need to conduct a straw poll to find out.

A banner of protest before the game mocked Celtic’s assertion that they ‘are not half of anything’ by adding the kicker ‘unless there’s money to be made’. And some rather industrial suggestions thereafter of where they could shove the meeting with Rangers in Sydney would have left them in no doubt that Ange Postecoglou’s enthusiasm for the trip down under wasn’t shared by the rank and file.

On the field, Postecoglou had opted to make just the one change from the side that limped to the goalless draw against Hibernian on Sunday at Easter Road, with Matt O’Riley replacing the rather jaded-looking Tom Rogic. The Australian would make a second-half cameo, and looked much more energetic than he has recently.

Giorgos Giakoumakis wasn’t in the squad as he continued his recovery from illness, meaning Maeda led the line. There was even a sighting of the lesser-spotted Albian Ajeti on the bench.

St Mirren manager Stephen Robinson made three changes to the team that lost 2-0 to Hearts in his first game in charge, with Scott Tanser, Conor McCarthy and Curtis Main coming in for Marcus Fraser, Alex Greive, and the suspended Connor Ronan.

Saints were sitting deep at the start of the game with five across the back, and it was one of their own players who almost broke the deadlock for Celtic as a Jota cross was sliced off the face of his own bar from six yards by Charles Dunne.

The visitors steadied after that for a spell, but just after the quarter hour Celtic ramped it up again, Jota’s low ball across goal missed by Maeda and followed up by Abada, but his side-foot effort was palmed away by Jak Alnwick.

Celtic were getting joy down the left, and Greg Taylor managed to get to the by-line and cut back for Josip Juranovic to blast over from the edge of the box.

For all their possession though, Celtic were struggling to create anything too clear-cut, and the frustration from the crowd around the half hour started to manifest itself on the pitch in the form of anxiety in the home side’s passing.

Maeda had buzzed around and got his head on a couple of crosses without remotely threatening the St Mirren goal, but the blame for the bluntness of the Celtic attack couldn’t be laid solely with the striker.

As the half wore on the hosts struggled to maintain their tempo, and that played into the hands of an organised St Mirren side, who managed to keep them at arm’s length comfortably enough without doing anything of note themselves in an attacking sense.

The Celtic players needed a shake, and captain McGregor was visibly trying to get them going at the start of the second period, urging his teammates to up the pace of their passing.

There wasn’t an immediate effect, but 10 minutes into the half, the deadlock was finally broken. And from an unlikely source, not just in the identity of the goalscorer, but in the manner of the goal.

Celtic don’t make a habit of finding the net from set-pieces, but when Scott Tanser fouled Abada out on the Celtic right, they managed just that.

Jota swung the ball into the mixer, Carl Starfelt challenged for it, the ball broke to his fellow centre-back Carter-Vickers and he produced a tidy volleyed finish to give Celtic the opener.

The relief around Celtic Park was palpable, and the noise level increased exponentially as a result. There was now a spring in the step of the Celtic players too, and Maeda almost added a second with an acrobatic overhead effort from McGregor’s clipped pass, but Alnwick was able to field.

When that clinching goal failed to materialise immediately though, the crowd began to get a little antsy again. When there is only a single goal in it, you just never know.

But any lingering nerves were eased as Juranovic’s cross from the right was headed by Jota off the face of Saints defender Richard Tait.

The ball broke kindly for McGregor, who steadied himself and drilled the ball home low across Alnwick.

Job done. And Celtic are one step closer to their ultimate goal.