FOOTBALL: ROLLOVER JACKPOT!; Celtic 3 St. Mirren 0 Tennants Cup Third Round: Lars Laugh for O'Neill as Contract Killer Henrik Guns Down Saints

Article excerpt

Byline: David LEGGAT

CELTIC may have won - but their manager's one-year rollover contract did little to boost the team's performance.

The supporters didn't roll up in droves to give Martin O'Neill a big cheer either.

Just 30,000 of them were scattered around the 60,000-capacity ground - and they were worried until Henrik Larsson struck, almost inevitably, early in the second half.

After that it was plain sailing, yet during a feeble first-half performance Celtic seemed to be still thinking about their sunshine holiday in Florida.

O'Neill admitted he was relieved to come through an "awkward'' first game back after the winter break.

"We won pretty well in the end but they played with a lot of spirit in the first half,'' he said. "Their goalkeeper made a lot of good saves but once we got the breakthrough we won comfortably in the end.''

O'Neill, usually a jumping bundle of energy on the touchline, spent the first half hour lounging against the side of the dug-out. Maybe his mind was wandering back to the Barbados golf course where he talked shareholder Dermot Desmond into his new deal.

Or perhaps O'Neill was just quietly confident it would all turn out right.

The initial air of unreality was added to by the sight of a Celtic side missing SEVEN top-team stars.

As well as long-term crocks Rab Douglas and Neil Lennon, skipper Paul Lambert was also out, along with in-form John Hartson, Didier Agathe, Bobo Balde and Steve Guppy.

No wonder there was a nervy air about the Hoops when they suffered another blow after 26 minutes - Chris Sutton limping off after being caught by Greig Denham. Especially as it is almost exactly three years since THAT Scottish Cup shocker against Inverness Caley Thistle.

St Mirren, though, proved to be no Inverness and in the end they couldn't raise their game to cash in - and caved in instead.

Even though Celtic struggled before the break, there were chances and Sutton screwed in a near-post header which brought an amazing reflex save from Ludovic Roy.

Roy made another super stop from a well-struck shot aimed low to his left-hand corner by Alan Thompson from a Larsson pass.

At the other end, a slip by the usually reliable Joos Valgearen could have made it more of an uphill struggle for his team.

He was too casual and let Martin Cameron nip in but got back to deflect the St Mirren man's shot from a tight angle. …