On the eve of Saturday’s game, champions Celtic were given a significant boost concerning their upcoming Scottish Cup final clash with Aberdeen. Patrick Roberts, who had been expected to miss the match due to his involvement in England’s under-20 World Cup squad, would be available to play in the match.
The midfielder then went out and underlined the importance of this news, scoring twice and playing a starring role as Celtic comfortably defeated St Johnstone at Parkhead.
After being frustrated by the visitors in the first half, Roberts broke the deadlock two minutes after the restart. The 20-year-old received a short pass from debutant Michael Johnston, looked up and placed an accurate shot low into the far corner. There was a hint of offside with Leigh Griffiths possibly obstructing the goalkeeper’s sight, though even Tommy Wright admitted it didn’t have a massive impact on the game’s final outcome, such was Celtic’s dominance.
The visitors did equalise almost immediately through Steven MacLean, but a Dedryck Boyata header restored the lead a short time later. The game was over as a contest when Griffiths took aim from the edge of the box and brought out a save from Zander Clark. Thinking the ball was heading out of play, St Johnstone switched off, allowing substitute Scott Sinclair to cut back for Roberts to tap in his second. Callum McGregor then put the cherry on top with a solo run and strike. Such is Celtic’s dominance over Scottish football this season, it may not seem like they need Roberts to complete the final leg of the treble, but they don’t want to leave anything to chance. He is in sparkling form with four goals in his last seven games, a run which has saw him finally usurp James Forrest as the team’s first-choice right-winger, and they will want all their best players when facing off against Aberdeen at Hampden.
“It’s a big boost,” said Boyata. “I know there was a doubt with the World Cup. He’s showed us a lot. He’s played as a striker, played as a winger, given us goals, given us assists. Today he scored two goals. It shows he’s a very good player.
“I think he’s improved a lot. The manager has improved him, giving him a lot of confidence, working with him. It’s paying off.”
Though obviously delighted by Roberts’ decision to stay for the cup final, it will likely be his last game for the Ladbrokes Premiership champions. The player’s 18-month loan is coming to an end and reports suggest he’ll be given a chance to prove himself by Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola when he returns south of the border. For a player signed for a £12m fee who regularly features in the England under-20 squad, big things are still expected in Manchester of the rising star.
Boyata knows all about life at the Etihad. The centre-back was at City for nine years, rising through the club’s youth academy before making his first-team debut in 2010 at the age of just 19. When, five years later, he’d only made a further 33 appearances for City’s first-team, Boyata rejected the offer of a new deal and joined Celtic for a £1.5m deal.
The Belgian knows just how tough it is for a player to establish himself as a first-team regular at the top end of the English Premier League, but he has belief in Roberts’ ability to return to City and show his worth, even if Celtic wouldn’t mind it if he did struggle, thereby opening the door for a quick return to Parkhead.
“I can’t predict the future, but Patrick is a great player with lots of abilities. He deserves to play with the biggest in the world,” Boyata added.
“I’ve been with Manchester City, I know it’s difficult to get your chances when you’re a young player. You don’t know what’s going to happen until you get there. For Patrick, it’s not going to be easy, but he’s going to give it his all. Everyone in here knows his qualities.
“Of course we want him to stay. He’s had a very good season. If I had to choose I’d have Patrick in my team, but it’s not up to me. If he goes, then good luck to him.”