St Mirren 0 Celtic 1: Neil Lennon called his Celtic players “brilliant” after Gary Hooper's dramatic injury-time winner against St Mirren took them back to within a point of Clydesdale Bank Premier League leaders Rangers.
The game at New St Mirren Park came alive in the second half but looked to be heading for a draw until the former Scunthorpe striker pounced with seconds remaining of the three added minutes to grab his 10th goal since signing from the Championship club in the summer.
The winner sparked wild scenes of celebration among the travelling support which owed much to relief but the Celtic boss insisted his side deserved their win and had special praise for skipper Shaun Maloney and midfielder Ki Sung-yueng.
“We were brilliant,” he said. “Absolutely brilliant.
“I wasn't even ranting and raving at half-time. I thought that we could have done a little bit better in the final third but I wouldn't have been disappointed to draw the game.
“You could have held your hands up and said it might not have been our day but the fact we were creating good chances and they still believed they could win the game.
“So their attitude and application was tremendous and I thought we got what we deserved.
“Sometimes you don't get what you deserve in football, but we did.
“The substitutes Niall McGinn, Paddy McCourt and Daryl Murphy made a huge impact when they come on.
“I thought Ki and Maloney were world class out there and defensively we were excellent as well.”
Lennon (right) revealed he will appeal against the automatic two-match touchline ban he is facing after being sent off by referee Craig Thomson in the 2-0 defeat against Hearts at Tynecastle in midweek.
The Lurgan man then claimed he had predicted the manner of the win in Paisley — and the scorer.
He said: “Believe it or not I said at half-time that we might have to go to the 93rd minute to get one goal.
“I'm not a prophet or anything like that but I've been in that situation many times with Celtic.
“Hooper was wasn't at his best against St Mirren in terms of his play in general but he can score goals.
“I pointed him out half time and said he might nick the win for us.
“But I don't think we nicked it, I thought we merited it. It was a great reaction from last Wednesday night.
“It's testament to their character, belief and fitness levels.
“It was imperative that we didn't lose the game but winning is a huge shot in the arm for us and I felt we deserved it.”
Ki played in the 4-0 defeat at New St Mirren Park in March which brought former manager Tony Mowbray's tenure to an ignominious end and he was glad to leave with happier memories.
“I was very disappointed in the 4-0 defeat and I was looking for revenge,” the South Korean said.
“After that game I didn't play in the first 11 for 10 games.
“It was a very hard time for me. The manager was changed after the game so I can't forget it.
“It was very difficult. If we
had drawn I would have been disappointed but we won so it's fine.”
St Mirren boss Danny Lennon thought his side deserved a point but claims to be happy with the progress his side are making.
He said: “To lose a match in the final minute is very disappointing no matter who the opposition is but I feel we are now looking a very difficult side to beat which is pleasing.
“Rangers and Celtic never give in, a game of football for them lasts from the first to the 93rd minute.
“I thought we limited them and when they did get through we got good blocks in. I can only take the positives.”
Buddies' skipper John Potter was left shattered by the defeat.
“I thought we deserved a point,” he said. “Gareth Wardlaw had a chance and Michael Higdon hit the bar.
“It's a hard one to take but that's what Celtic do, they go to the end and it's no coincidence that they score late goals.
“You are never there until the end.
“I think Hooper hit it off my foot and it's went straight back to him but that's why they are at the top, they keep going to the end.”