St Johnstone 0-3 Celtic
29th January 2020
It was a classic case of a game of two halves as Celtic continued their winning start to 2020 with a comfortable 3-0 win over St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park last night in a match that was effectively a home game for the hoops.
Racing into a 3-0 lead after only 26 minutes, it looked like the 7000 fans who had travelled north to Perth would be treated to another big win over the Saints this season with some scintillating football on show during the opening 45 minutes.
However, it was a different story after the break as the hoops struggled to break down the St Johnstone defence with the Perth side arguably having the better of the chances in what was a quiet second half.
Cheered on by a huge travelling support on three sides of the ground, the hoops wasted no time in flying out of the blocks with Odsonne Edouard testing Saints goalkeeper Zander Clark before Leigh Griffiths directed a looping header just wide of the left-hand post.
It wouldn’t take long for the Hoops to open the scoring though and it was Olivier Ntcham who broke the deadlock after only six minutes heading in a James Forrest cross at the near post to finish off a fantastic passing move which included some terrific interplay from Leigh Griffiths and Odsonne Edouard on the edge of the box.
The Celts continued to attack the opposition goal thereafter and went close again when Greg Taylor, who was back in the team after missing Saturday’s victory against Ross County, forced another good save from Zander Clark before Leigh Griffiths’ follow up was blocked superbly by the Saints’ defence.
By this point Celtic were in total control of the game as St Johnstone struggled to deal with the champions’ relentless pressure in the final third of the pitch and Greg Taylor went close again from a deflected cross before Callum McGregor fired narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
It was a whirlwind start from the bhoys and they were finally rewarded for their efforts with a second goal of the game on the 20th-minute mark as James Forrest slammed the ball home after jinking his way around Saints defender Scott Tanser following a pass from Callum McGregor.
The Celts were clearly enjoying their football by this point and after going close again through Edouard and Griffiths, a third goal was only minutes away as Greg Taylor picked out Leigh Griffiths with a pinpoint cross from the left which was expertly volleyed home by the Scotland international.
In truth, the Perth side could not get near the champions in the opening half an hour of the match and despite making it to half time with only three goals conceded, it seemed there would be more goals waiting for Celtic in the second half.
This was not to be the case though and with conditions worsening and rain pouring down onto an already poor surface, the Celts were forced into a change of shape at half time with Jozo Simunovic being replaced by Moritz Bauer and they simply could not regain their rhythm in the second half as the pace of the game ground to a halt on a rapidly deteriorating pitch.
It was a far cry from the constant pressure of the first half as chances were few and far between in the final 45 minutes and only a tame effort from James Forrest came close to extending the champions’ lead as attack after attack broke down on the edge of the box.
In fact, it was St Johnstone who came the closest to finding the back of the net as Saints midfielder David Wotherspoon was denied superbly by Fraser Forster as the Englishman dived low to his left to tip the Saints man’s low drive around the post.
The introduction of new bhoy Patryk Klimala did add some energy in the last ten minutes as the Polish forward cleared a late St Johnstone header off the line in between two chances of his own as he narrowly missed playing in James Forrest for a fourth before going close himself and almost getting on the end of a Callum McGregor cross.
In the end though, it was a case of ‘job done’ in the first half for the Champions and with the Celts now in complete control at the top of the table once more following the weekend’s results, Neil Lennon will be happy with the result and in particular the blistering opening thirty minutes which would have caused any team problems.
MAN OF THE MATCH
The Scotland full-back has been in and out of the team this season, but he impressed against the Saints and was a constant threat down the left-hand side in an unfamiliar position of left-wing-back.
The ex-Kilmarnock player delivered cross after cross into the back and gave his opposite number a torrid time as he assisted Leigh Griffiths’ third goal and forced a couple of good saves from the St Johnstone goalkeeper.
Taylor was also excellent at the back and it is a testament to him that the majority of St Johnstone’s chances came down the opposite side of the pitch as he consistently cut out diagonal through balls and won the ball back high up the pitch.
The Celts continue their tough run of away games with a trip to New Douglas Park to take on Hamilton Accies. The Lanarkshire side will be without their manager however after Brian Rice received a five-match ban for gambling offences from the SFA.
24 Booth (McCart 45')
19 Holt (Craig 45')
22 Hendry (Kane 63')
Booked: Duffy, McCann.
5 Simunovic (Bauer 45')
9 Griffiths (Johnston 67')
22 Edouard (Klimala 82')
Goals: Ntcham 6, Forrest 20, Griffiths 26.