Celtic 1-0 St Johnstone: Champions equal unbeaten record

On a landmark evening for the Celtic side moulded by Brendan Rodgers, it was someone who has so far been a bit-part player under his management who ensured they matched a 50-year record set by the Lisbon Lions on a winning note.

Celtic defender Dedryck Boyata, right, heads home what proved to be the winner against St Johnstone at Celtic Park. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
Celtic defender Dedryck Boyata, right, heads home what proved to be the winner against St Johnstone at Celtic Park. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

Dedryck Boyata, making only his third appearance of the season, broke St Johnstone’s stubborn resistance with 17 minutes remaining as Celtic completed a 26th domestic fixture unbeaten since the start of the season.

The victory extended their lead at the top of the Premiership to 22 points and they will have the opportunity to eclipse the undefeated sequence of Jock Stein’s iconic 1966-67 team when they welcome Hearts to Glasgow on Sunday.

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On a night which also saw captain Scott Brown make his 400th appearance for the club, Celtic fully deserved their latest haul of maximum points but seldom during their impressive run under Rodgers have they had to graft as earnestly as they did here.

St Johnstone would always be high up the list of opponents capable of knocking Celtic out of the fluent stride they have developed under Rodgers and the visitors duly presented an obdurate and awkward threat to that domestic impregnability. While defending intelligently and occasionally heroically, Saints also provided the Celtic rearguard with several uncomfortable moments at the other end of the pitch as they broke swiftly and dangerously whenever the opportunity arose.

In a frustrating first half for the champions, they were forced to rely largely on long-range efforts to try and find a breakthrough. Nir Bitton was the first to threaten, guiding a well struck free-kick narrowly wide of the left-hand post.

Saints were quick to indicate their unwillingness simply to sit back and soak up pressure, however, and Steven Anderson guided a header narrowly wide after rising unchallenged to meet a Liam Craig corner.

The tone was set for a contest than ebbed and flowed a little more than Celtic would have liked. They looked menacing again when Scott Sinclair headed home a James Forrest cross, but the ball had crossed the byline just before it was delivered and the linesman’s flag cut short the celebrations.

Saints then caused Celtic problems with another corner, this time curled in from the right by Danny Swanson. The ball was fumbled by Craig Gordon, dropping to Anderson who cleverly improvised with a lob over the Celtic keeper who had to scramble back to touch it over the crossbar.

Zander Clark made a fine save to keep out a Stuart Armstrong shot and from the subsequent corner from Sinclair, a Boyata header was cleared off the line by David Wotherspoon. Celtic were almost caught out as Saints launched a rapid counter attack which saw Chris Kane break free into the penalty area.

Just before he could get his shot away, however, Kane was denied by a brilliantly executed tackle from Boyata who was clearly keen to make the most of his fresh chance to claim a regular place at the heart of Celtic’s back four. But Boyata was as helpless and relieved as the rest of the defence when, after they failed to properly clear a corner, Swanson’s shot rebounded off the inside of Gordon’s right-hand post and skidded to safety.

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Celtic quickly recovered their poise and Armstrong came close with a dipping shot from 25 yards before another effort from the midfielder took a deflection before being held by Clark.

Moussa Dembele was finding it difficult to get involved, the supply routes to Celtic’s top scorer well policed by the Saints defence, but he finally found space and time to hook a left-foot shot narrowly over seven minutes before the interval.

Clark made another smart save to divert a Forrest shot wide and Dembele curled an effort just beyond the keeper’s left-hand post. Tam Scobbie’s alert block on Sinclair then halted Celtic’s final assault of the first half.

Brown ensured Celtic remained firmly on the front foot after the break, driving his team forward with relentless energy and desire. Some fine work down the right saw him create a premium chance for Forrest but the winger scuffed his shot wide.

Forrest was replaced by Patrick Roberts just after the hour mark and the substitute’s impact was immediate, skipping beyond two challenges to whip in a cross which Sinclair was unable to convert from close range.

Celtic’s high tempo was unfaltering and Clark produced a tremendous save to keep out a close-range header from Bitton but was finally beaten from the resultant corner. Armstrong’s delivery from the right found the towering figure of Boyata who thundered a header beyond Clark from six yards.

Saints had scarcely been in Celtic’s half of the pitch since the break but, immediately after going behind, they almost caught the hosts cold as they forced a corner of their own from which they had loud appeals for a penalty ignored as Anderson went down under a shove from Brown. There were another couple of hairy moments for Celtic’s defence in the closing stages but, as so consistently this season, they saw the job through.