With the wheel being secured back on the Celtic juggernaut with Saturday’s 6-2 demolition of Dundee United, they faced up to St.Johnstone once again as they travelled to McDiarmid Park. St.Johnstone had to do without Murray and Callum Davidson as they joined Dave Mackay, Chris Miller and Gary Miller in the stands. Celtic had to cope without skipper Scott Brown, Georgios Samaras and Mikael Lustig.
As expected the Perth side made two changes from Saturday’s defeat at Ross County, both Davidson’s seeing injury rule them out with Scobbie and on loan Michael Doughty coming in, Celtic made just the one change from Saturday’s victory with Lassad coming in for Anthony Stokes.
With the visitors failing to secure a win over the Perth outfit in the league this season, they started the match with a ferocious intent to rectify this from the opening seconds. Saints ‘keeper Mannus had to look lively not once but twice to deny in form hit man Gary Hooper.
With the tempo being set by a Celtic side intent on continuing their form from Saturday, they dominated possession in the early exchanges, with Joe Ledley’s constant breaking from midfield causing consternation for the patched up home defence. Yet time and again they survived.
Although not in possession for great spells the Perth Saints did have brief and positive glimpses of the ball, almost taking a surprise lead when Efe Ambrose – not learning his lesson from the Juventus game – was caught with the ball, this time by the lesser known name of Abeid who seemed surprised that he had the ball and snatched his shot into the side netting with only Forster to beat.
As time wore on though the black tide of Celtic kept pressing with Lassad and Ledley passing up chances, but the inevitable finally arrived as Celtic took the lead. A short corner by Commons to the unmarked Izaguirre caught the home side napping and his cross was met by the on-rushing Ambrose who headed the ball past the helpless Mannus.
The half time whistle signalled some welcome respite for St Johnstone and a chance to find a way to halt the relentless pressure Celtic had inflicted on them.
Manager Lomas chose to turn to Gregory Tade to try to relieve the pressure on his weary defence, unsurprisingly Neil Lennon stuck with the same eleven to continue and finish the job.
The second half started at a good tempo by both teams, as St.Johnstone’s new shape allowed them to match Celtic around the pitch, with the threat of Tade easing the pressure on the defence.
Although the home side started to claw their way slowly into the game, Celtic were a constant threat in the early stages, but with the killer second goal elusive, the Perth men always had a chance and thought they had done so, when on 55 minutes MacLean nodded a free kick passed Forster but linesman Middleton cut short the striker’s celebrations with the raising of his flag.
Buoyed by this, St.Johnstone took the game to the champions-elect and when Liam Craig’s lofted free kick was headed into the net by Frazer Wright they thought they had secured the comeback but inexplicably Middleton again took centre-stage by raising his flag to rule the goal out once again.
As the game ebbed and flowed both teams had chances to score, but weak finishing and the colossal performance of Alan Mannus kept Celtic’s advantage to one, until tidy play on the left by the home side set up Hasselbaink to cut in passed Thomas Rogne, before the striker curled his shot into the corner of Forster’s goal.
Both teams searched for that winning goal, but neither could, with Celtic coming the closest when a Mulgrew cross cannoned off Craig, but again Mannus was alert to save low at his near post.
As the final whistle blew on an unlikely draw at McDiarmid Park, in what was an excellent match, Neil Lennon was left bemused by his side’s failure to take all three points after such a dominating first half. Steve Lomas was keen to look to the second half and how the game had turned after such a one-sided first 45.
St. Johnstone: Mannus, Anderson, Scobbie, Cregg, Wright, McCracken, Doughty (Tade), Abeid, Vine (Hasselbaink), MacLean (Edwards), Craig.
Subs not used: Tuffey, C Davidson, Caddis, Rodger.
Celtic: Forster, Matthews (Rogne), Izaguirre, Ambrose, Wilson, Mulgrew, Commons (Forest), Ledley, Wanyama, Nouioui (Stokes), Hooper.
Subs not used: Zaluska, Rogic, Kayal, McCourt.