The rumour mill had been in full swing all week with talk of a Covid outbreak amongst Ange Postecoglou's side, and the truth of the matter was revealed an hour or so before kick off. The big shock was to see Vasilius Barkas in goal, along with the omission of captain Callum McGregor at the heart of midfield. Kyogo would lead the line in a welcome return, Welsh at right back and McCarthy in the midfield role vacated by McGregor. The subs bench included several surprises with Soro and Bolingoli, along with kids from the academy Doak, Dawson and Moffat.
With so many players out, the positive to be taken is that these players could get a chance to come in and make a claim for a spot. These are the chances young payers have to embrace when they come around. Would any take their opportunity - an action packed 90 minutes would tell!
The early signs were good with Kyogo getting on to an early ball from McCarthy and pinging a low cross ball into a dangerous area, but not finding a team mate.
The opening goal came at a good time in the game from a Celtic perspective. The ultra defensive St Johnstone set up relies on frustrating attacks with low blocks and big numbers at the back. An early goal really destroys the game plan and it came within the first ten minutes.
McCarthy played the ball down the right onto the run of the impressive Juranovic. His right footed cross ball whizzed invitingly into the path of Liel Abada who shot on target. The goalkeeper reacted brilliantly to stop the initial attempt, but the ball rebounded high and Abada reacted well to bundle the ball over the line, with goalie and two defenders in close attention.
The curse of the hamstring injury would strike once again, shortly after when Kyogo ran on to a through ball in the channel only to pull up instantly. The look on his face mid run told you immediately that he would take no further part, and this led to the introduction of 18 year old youth team striker Dawson.
Abada had an ambitious overhead kick attempt that he miss-timed but the ball fell well to Tom Rogic who hit high and wide with the effort on goal. The Rogic/Abada duo temed up well shotly after to double the lead. Rogic took the ball beautifully with a first touch that took the speed out the ball and his light pass into the run of Abada saw him slot easily into the keepers right hand corner for the second.
Celtic were controlling the game so well at this point, despite the makeshift look to the line up. Juranovic had a decent effort on goal and then the third looked like it was inevitable when Bitton robbed a player in the St Johnstone midfield and found Abada with a wonderfully weighted pass. The little Israeli did everything right and Looked to be grabbing his hattrick, but the keeper got a vital touch to turn it behind for a corner that Bitton nearly scored from.
Bitton dinked another through ball onto a good run from Abada that could have created another opportunity, but it was a fraction too heavy. A St Johnstone corner taken very well from Barkas led to a quick counter attack. Some lovely passing saw Abada with two efforts in quick succession that were eventually blocked away for another corner to Celtic.
The pressure was relentless with a long range header from Abada causing problems, and the little Israeli nearly got on to a good clipped ball from Rogic which was crowded out in a dangerous area.
Scales came close before the break with a move down the left that was pinged in to Scales only a few yards out, but it hit him on the back of the ankle and was lost to him for a second before he pirouetted on the spot to take a shot on target. The little delay to get control of the ball at his feet, allowed Parish the time to get into position to make the save, and the ball went by for another corner which was the last action of a very good first half.
Half Time - St Johnstone 0 Celtic 2
Abada came close again 90 seconds into the second half. Bitton took the ball and touched it infield to Rogic who turned at the Perth defence. He spotted the good run from Abada in the centre and the little hitman hit the target but it was well saved by Parish to deny him his third. Good early signs.
Scales did well on the outside and put in a tempting cross that was cleared by St Johnstone from the foot of Abada for yet another corner. Rogic went down in the box in the box when trying to get onto a Bitton ball into the danger area. There was a big shout from the players for a penalty but it looked like good defending from Brown to put pressure on the Aussie playmaker, and Madden was possibly right not to award a spot kick.
A corner floated in by Juranovic 20 minutes in fell to the head of Bitton for an opportunity, as a respite, after some St Johnstone pressure in the Celtic half for a while. St Johnstone pressed without any real threat, until Starfelt let an attack build with a short pass out of defence which was pounced on, and the ball down the right was fired across goal by Solomon-Otabor to the head of Kane who bulleted a header past Barkas to halve the lead.
Celtic took control of possession once again to calm the situation, but the next effort dropped to St Johnstone with a long range effort from Butterfield that whizzed past the post.
The Celtic team were starting to look a little weary, but the ability of the team was to help the League Cup winners, renew the two goal advantage with some fine interplay down the left. Scales, Bitton and Rogic probed down the flank and after a few passes under pressure Rogic found Bitton breaking inside the area, and the big Israeli midfielder let fly with a shot that found its way into the corner of the goal for the third of the afternoon.
A big penalty claim for St Johnstone was waved away correctly, and the counter almost saw young Joey Dawson get a debut goal. Dawson controlled a through ball which fell into the path of Abada. Dawson continued his run and Abada played him in, but the keeper got enough on the clipped shot to allow a defender to get in and clear off the line.
Booth got a vital touch to deny Juranovic who looked to be getting on to a fine pass from Rogic, but the move was thwarted by the St Johnstone defender.
This one ended with a victory for the injury ravaged Hoops. A tremendous performance - particularly in the first half for a team stretched to the limits. A number of the players can be very satisfied with their days work. Vasilius Barkas had a very comfortable afternoon. He commanded his box well from crosses and was comfortable with the ball at feet. Young Joey Dawson was strong and sure footed for his debut performance. He looks to have the ability to be relied upon if required and the physical attributes that could make him a danger to defences.
Abada played well in the striker role and got two goals and made some intelligent runs around the St Johnstone box. Bitton played very well too, as did McCarthy in midfield, but the star of the show was Tom Rogic with a sublime performance at the heart of everything good for Celtic. A definite man of the match performance from the Wizard of Oz.
All in all. it was a good performance from the team, when fears of a slip up wouldn't have taken many by surprise. We now go into the earlier than planned winter break which will hopefully allow us to bring in some new recruits and bolster the squad with players getting time to get fit once more. If we can play with the kind of show we put on today, but boost the quality available with players like Jota, Forrest and McGregor - then the future bodes well.
With Rangers to play later today, the expected 6 point difference will likely be restored, but that is certainly not an insurmountable lead. We have the funds to go out and get some quality into the squad and the next few weeks of the transfer window should be exciting indeed. Bring on the New Year.
Congratulations to the team today and Hail Hail.