McCourt scored a magnificent goal for Celtic, running past five Saints players
Celtic moved five points clear at the top of the Scottish Premier League with a win over St Mirren in a match that was brought to life by two fine goals.
Paddy McCourt had the travelling fans in raptures with a great first-half strike, beating five players before smacking a shot past Paul Gallacher.
An Andy Dorman glancing header and a Craig Dargo snap-shot were the Buddies' best chances in a hard-fought match.
Shaun Maloney curled a shot home in 78 minutes to guarantee the points.
The big news at kick-off was the absence from the Celtic line-up of Gary Caldwell, currently in a contract dispute at the club and dropped in favour of captain Stephen McManus.
St Mirren were searching for their first league win at their new ground and their first league victory over Celtic in 19 years.
With closest rivals Rangers not playing until later on Saturday, Celtic knew a win would put pressure on their city rivals and mean they would be ahead of the Ibrox side for the first Old Firm match of the season.
But the early exchanges were characterised by both sides losing possession cheaply as time after time passes were over-hit and free-kicks were either delivered without sufficient loft or ballooned hopelessly.
Such was the lack of goalscoring threat, goalkeepers Paul Gallacher and Artur Boruc could have been forgiven for spreading a tartan rug in their goalmouth and enjoying a Saturday lunch-time picnic.
How that was to change for the home keeper, however, when McCourt scored a superb individual goal in the 27th minute to add to his goal in midweek against Falkirk.
Picking up the ball 30 yards out, he skipped past five St Mirren players, who offered nothing resembling a challenge, then, having run diagonally across the box, the Irishman smashed a shot beyond Gallacher.
St Mirren's lack of belief was betrayed in a terrible mess of a free-kick in 36 minutes, Garry Brady rolling the ball feebly straight at Celtic's two-man wall.
The visitors broke at pace up the left through Maloney and switched play to McCourt on the right flank to send over a low cross that Gallacher parried to the feet of the advancing Chris Killen.
John Potter had followed the Kiwi's run and felled him when the striker pulled his leg back to shoot. Referee Charlie Richmond decided the clash was accidental.
The Buddies had just a few moves with which to encourage their fans at the interval.
A clipped Stephen McGinn free-kick deserved an effort on goal by a team-mate. Instead, Potter, as best-placed Saint, failed to connect at all with his head and the ball drifted harmlessly out of play.
Then Billy Mehmet finally managed to turn unleash a shot, but his effort was deflected a few yards wide by Hinkel.
At the start of the second half, the trickery of Daniel Fox and Maloney in the Saints box momentarily spelled danger, but an aggressive challenge by Murray kept the home goal intact.
Referees have been criticised in the past week, but Richmond had little choice but to produce yellow cards in a two-minute spell that saw Scott Brown, Killen and Potter let their tempers get the better of them.
A surging run from deep in 59 minutes by Landry N'Guemo fractured the spine of the St Mirren side.
His pass to substitute Georgios Samaras on the left wing looked promising, but the Greek's low cross was cut out by Chris Innes, making his second debut for the Buddies after a loan spell from Kilmarnock 10 years ago.
Andy Dorman was the Co-operative Insurance Cup hero for St Mirren against Kilmarnock in midweek and it was to the Englishman that Gus MacPherson turned to produce the equaliser.
That Dorman did not do so was down to the alertness of the otherwise idle Boruc, who smothered his glancing header from Mehmet's cross.
Predictably, as the home side pushed up the pitch, Celtic were presented with a few more chances, but Innes provided muscular opposition for Samaras.
Craig Dargo ought to have restored parity from a Dorman cross, but his goal-bound shot was blocked at close quarters by Glenn Loovens.
Celtic went two in front after Gallacher had first made a save from a stabbed shot by Maloney.
But, when the ball came back into the box, Scott McDonald headed the ball out to Maloney once more, who dinked a beautiful shot over the outstretched left arm of Gallacher.
A third goal for Tony Mowbray's side may have been harsh on St Mirren and only a sense of pity could explain McDonald's dreadful miss in front of goal, Maloney having laid the chance for the Australian on a plate.
St Mirren manager Gus MacPherson:
"I was more pleased with the second half. In the first half we showed Celtic far too much respect.
"You've got to make it difficult for them. We did that in the second half.
"We took a chance or two with the personnel when it came round to the changes.
"In the end we've lost out to a counter-attack. That's what Celtic are capable of.
"I thought it was a good game. We've got to accept some of the things that went on and get on with it.
"I don't think we made a single tackle in the first half.
"In the second half there were positives in terms of the manner in which we played and the good areas we got into that caused more problems."
Celtic manager Tony Mowbray:
"It was a very poor performance today. We know we have to be better than we showed today.
"We got drawn into a scrap. We should be controlling the match better than we did today.
"If we find the level of performance we've had in the last couple of games, and that is the norm of the season, we won't be as successful as we hope to be and the biggest teams will take points off us.
"We have to take better decisions with the ball, we have to be more clinical and take more care of the ball with our passing.
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