Survival v Living
St Johnstone boss Callum Davidson noted that to have a chance of getting a result against Celtic there is an element of hoping and needing Ange Postecoglou’s men to have somewhat of an off day. That was the case with the Scottish champions. The front three of Jota, Georgios Giakoumakis and Liel Abada are a potent trio. They weren’t at McDiarmid Park, well not until the 95th minute.
Celtic’s wastefulness allowed Saints to remain in the game. Davidson thought the team got it right tactically in the first half. In this writer’s view, they didn't. As this graphic provided by a St Johnstone analysis account on Twitter demonstrates, the team were very deep and quite negative. They had 18 per cent possession and it was a display which seemed to be waiting for the inevitable to happen. As it did just before half-time.
Now, the second half performance was far better, far more ambitious. As St Mirren showed, teams don’t have to have a lot of the ball against Celtic but to trouble the league leaders there needs to be bravery to push players forward and attack quickly. St Johnstone survived to be able to live.
There was some surprise when both Reo Hatate and Matt O’Riley were replaced as part of a triple substitution in the 68th minute. It is easy to understand why Postecoglou did it with RB Leipzig on the horizon but taking both players out, with Callum McGregor already missing, saw the team become disorientated.
Celtic have great depth in attack, while all four full-backs are comfortable in what’s asked of them. The one area where there can be a noticeable drop off when changes are made is in midfield. Hatate, in particular, was a hugely controlling presence in midfield and at the heart of all things good.
Postecoglou spoke of players stepping up. Aaron Mooy, James McCarthy and Oliver Abildgaard should get plenty of chances to do so over the next three or four weeks. They need to take it.
One substitute who showed up really well was James Forrest. The winger has had a difficult period, missing a lot of football through injury, and struggling to reach the standards and levels expected of him. Against St Johnstone, there were signs of the real James Forrest. He was a scampering menace, quick, positive and direct in his 22 minutes on the pitch.
It was a small sample size but it was an encouraging one.
The Wright stuff… until it went wrong
St Johnstone, once they get over the concession of a 95th minute goal, will take plenty of positives from their performance against Celtic. One of those was Drey Wright. The 27-year-old is putting his best run of form together since his first spell at McDiarmid Park. The wing-back role seems to really suit him and he is an effective ball carrier. However, up against Jota, the Englishman displayed plenty of defensive endeavour and awareness.
If only he had stood still when he rolled his ankle in the build-up to the Celtic winner. He’d have likely witnessed the ball roll past him and have surely knocked it out of the play.