With pressure mounting on Steve Lomas he could have done without a sickness bug flooding through the Perth ranks on the eve of this early kick-off with champions Celtic.
Neil Lennon went onto this game hoping that his men would finally kick their SPL season into life, after some indifferent performances in the league, which is suffering from their Champions League successes.
There was a starting place for new signing Miku to partner Gary Hooper for Celtic, whereas St.Johnstone named an unchanged eleven from their stalemate against Dundee United two weeks ago.
[media-credit name=”Pic: Liam McFadden” align=”aligncenter” width=”300″][/media-credit]With the sun shining down on McDiarmid Park, the visitors could scarcely have got off to a better start when in just three minutes Kris Commons had time and space on the edge of the area to fire the ball past Mannus and send the travelling support into raptures.
A disastrous start for the home side who hadn’t won in the previous 14 games, but Commons’ strike seemed to galvanise the Perth men who slowly started to grind their way back into the game and could have brought themselves level, but for Forster, who saved smartly from a Mackay free kick which was arrowing into the top corner.
With St.Johnstone more than matching Celtic in midfield it wasn’t too much of a surprise when they drew level, some smart play by Rowan Vine coming in from the left to feed Tade who had slipped away from the attentions of Mulgrew, to turn and strike a first time shot low past a helpless Forster.
St.Johnstone had to rejig their midfield when midway through the first half influential midfielder Murray Davidson succumbed to his illness to be replaced by Millar.
As the Saints adjusted to the change, there was controversy as Commons ran through on goal to be challenged by Anderson but referee Euan Norris waved play on for what looked like a certain penalty.
As the game progressed St Johnstone were growing in confidence and impressed with some smart wing play by Pawlett and it was he who passed up a gilt-edged of chance scooping high from eight yards out with the goal at his mercy.
With Celtic fans not sensing any danger from the team at the bottom of the league the players seemed to adopt this attitude too and from the start of the second half St.Johnstone had the edge in their desire to take all three points from this match, epitomised by Cregg and Tade who never shirked a tackle or gave up on a lost cause.
On the hour mark referee Norris was again the talking point as his abject failure of a performance incurred the wrath of the home fans, as Pawlett danced down the right into the box he was met by blatant body check by Mulgrew with a challenge that anywhere else on the pitch would have picked up a yellow, but amazingly he again waved play on.
As the game progressed both teams kept up the tempo, but Celtic’s hunger seemed to be lacking. For all theIR good play they could not seriously threaten the home goal, but St Johnstone’s extra half yard of grit and determination saw them take the lead with ten minutes to play.
Hasselbaink drifted in from the right and laid the ball off to Vine and with Lustig giving him a yard of space he curled an excellent strike into the corner with Forster flailing.
With ten minutes left to salvage something from a game which they scarcely deserved, Celtic pressed forward but St Johnstone stood firm until the third minute of injury time when Steven Anderson inexplicably let a cross drift over his head to leave substitute Tony Watt one on one with Mannus, but the goalkeeper stayed tall and Watt put his shot out for a corner.
After the match, Celtic manager Neil Lennon slammed his players for their performance. He said: “I think some players are not concentrating on what they should be doing and thinking about the Champions League. Some players never turned up. They need to buck up their ideas.”
On Norris’ decision not to award a penalty after Commons was fouled inside the box, Lennon added: “I haven’t seen it again but from, where I was, it’s a penalty and a sending off.”
The less than happy Northern Irishman continued: “We looked leggy at times and there was no real urgency about our play. We did create some chances but we weren’t sharp enough to finish them off and defensively, at times, we looked poor; not committed enough to challenges, letting people run off us. We got off to a great start and never capitalised on it. We probably thought after we scored that it was going to be easy and games are never easy.
“We looked like strangers at time and some of my main, consistent performers were very, very poor. I’m not going to answer any more questions on Champions League games before SPL games because I just think it’s festering into the players and they look like they took their eye off the ball. That’s one point out of six in the last two league games. It’s not acceptable and that performance wasn’t acceptable.”
St.Johnstone manager Steve Lomas was delighted with his side’s performance, he said: “It was a reward for a lot of good performances and not a lot of results in the first five games. I was pleased for the boys, they put an awful lot into it.”
On Celtic’s call for a penalty, Lomas admitted: “I think that’s a free-kick any other area of the pitch but I’m not going to comment on referees.”
He added: “The quality of the finish from Viney at the end was exceptional. Thoroughly delighted, our boys were superb. I’m a big believer that performances normally take care of results but probably for four out of the first five games, it didn’t do that. It’s pretty hard when you keep telling the lads that they’re performing well and that they’ve got to keep believing. The most pleasing thing was, 1-0 down, it showed what our character, our team was all about and that can never be in doubt.”
St Johnstone: Mannus, Miller, MacKay, Cregg, Wright, Anderson, Davidson (Millar), Pawlett (Hasselbaink), Tade, Vine (MacLean), Craig.
Subs not used: Tuffey, Scobbie, Caddis, Kane.
Celtic: Forster, Izaguirre (Rogne), Wilson, Fedor (Watt), Brown (Nouioui), Commons, Mulgrew, Lustig, Forrest, Wanyama, Hooper.
Subs not used: Zaluska, Ibrahim, McGregor, Fraser.
Referee: Euan Norris
Assistants: Alan Mulvanny & Alastair Mather
Fourth Official: Mike Tumilty