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Hamilton clash is bigger than Celtic game for St Mirren's survival bid, admits Kearney

Wise head: Oran Kearney has the crucial clash with Hamilton on his mind
Wise head: Oran Kearney has the crucial clash with Hamilton on his mind

By Robert Jones

St Mirren boss Oran Kearney admits that he has one eye on this weekend's crucial clash with relegation rivals Hamilton.

Champions Celtic come calling to St Mirren Park first tonight however, a repeat of Kearney's first match in charge of the Paisley side.

On that occasion he gained a vital point against Brendan Rodgers' men, but with the Carnlough native gone he is up against another Ulsterman in Neil Lennon this evening.

Former Coleraine boss Kearney said: "It's a massive week for us and, while we can't look past Wednesday, there's what is possibly an even bigger game at the end of the week.

"There's so much at stake for both teams. Because of that, I think you pick the team for Wednesday with an eye on the weekend game.

"You ask the players to be single-minded and only worry about the next game and the next training session. But as a manager you have to look at it in blocks, rather than individual games.

"Saturday will be four games in 11 days, so it's important to share the load. It's not just this week. You look at this month and even the last couple of weeks, in relation to the volume of games and how quickly they have come.

"We need to take care of it the way we took care of last week and approach these two games in the right manner."

Meanwhile, Callum McGregor has backed Scott Brown and claimed the Celtic skipper was "basically assaulted twice" during the 2-1 win over Rangers on Sunday.

Gers striker Alfredo Morelos was sent off in the first half for the fifth time this season - one red card was subsequently downgraded - for throwing an elbow at the Hoops captain after he appeared to clip the Colombian's heel.

Later in the match, Ibrox forward Ryan Kent knocked the midfielder to the ground, for which he was handed a disciplinary charge yesterday afternoon, while a melee after the final whistle saw Rangers defender Andy Halliday receive a second yellow card for taking exception to Brown's winning celebrations.

The Hoops' victory took them 13 points clear of the Light Blues at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership with seven games remaining and set them up for an eighth successive title.

Parkhead midfielder McGregor said: "I don't think Scott did anything wrong. Tactical, mind games, whatever you want to call them, are part of football.

"He didn't actually do a lot wrong. The Morelos one, he runs across the path of him and gets that reaction.

"People can say what they want about Scott Brown, that certainly didn't warrant the reaction it got.

"He was basically assaulted twice in the game, for a bit of mind games and a bit of tactics.

"That's nothing for anyone to speak about Scott and his behaviour, it is the other side."

The Scotland midfielder insists there was "never a specific tactic" to wind up Morelos but added professional footballers "are not stupid".

McGregor, who believes Celtic are "within touching distance" of the title, said: "I wouldn't say it was in the game plan. But players are professional footballers, they understand what they see in other games and they are not stupid, they know how to win.

"There are different ways of winning, and if you can provoke people or do things to get an advantage then it is fair game.

"You can see his (Morelos') record over the season. If people provoke him or try to get in his head then he is going to react.

"In a big game for us, we are always trying to get the edge, whether football-wise or tactical, you try to get any advantage you can to win because the only thing that matters is the result."

Celtic defender Kieran Tierney could feature against St Mirren tonight after going off against Rangers with cramp on his return from a calf problem.

Dedryck Boyata is out after suffering a hamstring injury.

Ryan Christie and Filip Benkovic are closing in on returns while Craig Gordon, Eboue Kouassi and Daniel Arzani (all knee) remain out and Leigh Griffiths is working his way back from personal issues. Vakoun Bayo (groin) is also struggling.

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