Celtic decimated and dealing with another Kyogo Furuhashi worry but win again despite using astonishing number of players in 18 days
There would have been many Celtic supporters that spent the early part of Boxing Day morning experiencing the shudders normally reserved for reheated Brussels sprouts servings as they digested the prospects for their team at Perth.
Instead, the ghosts of their terrifying season past could only have been raised by word that covid issues had struck Ange Postecoglou’s already injury-depleted squad before their encounter in a McDiarmid Park largely deserted by pandemic restrictions. And with Vasilis Barkas in goal – the Greek having come to symbolise the everything that went wrong in the disastrous campaign that ended their 10-in-a-row quest.
For Celtic to shake off all these problems, shake off the loss of two points in a sobering scoreless draw with St Mirren in midweek, says much about how Postecoglou has moved them on across his six months. The past three of these having witnessed a 14-game league unbeaten run in which they have recorded 11 wins. Granted, it also said much about the poverty of their opponents, in complete freefall with this latest reverse their eighth on the spin.
Indeed, a regular sight in the first period, wherein his team were down 2-0 inside 22 minutes, was a despairing Callum Davidson burying head in hands. In fairness, they had their own covid issues, Zander Clark and Shaun Rooney missing without injury being cited. Into that category for Celtic came Callum McGregor, Scott Bain, Anthony Ralston and Mikey Johnston, to add to known injury absentees David Turnbull, Jota, James Forrest, Albian Ajeti and Giorgos Giakoumakis.
To see Kyogo Furuhashi in the line-up surprised. Less so that he was forced off only a quarter an hour in to necessitate the Celtic manager giving a debut to 18-year-old summer Scunthorpe signing Joey Dawson. His introduction took the number of players utilised by Postecoglou to 27 over a matter of 18 days.
The teenager stepped into a side exhibiting brio and intent they could not muster in midweek in Paisley. Such application paid instant dividends with emergency striker Liel Abada capitalising on a cross whipped in from Josip Juranovic nine minutes in. The Israeli’s initial volley was smartly blocked by Elliot Parish but when the ball then looped up the keeper seemed to lose himself, Abada able to nod it over from practically the goalline as it dropped.
He doubled his tally midway through the period when a clever through pass from Tom Rogic sent him through before he tucked the ball wide of the advancing Parish.
Configured in a 3-4-1-2, with James McCarthy and Rogic pulling the strings commandingly as a deep-lying duo, Abada had a host of chances either side of the interval to bag a hat-trick.
Celtic looked like they might be punished for not scoring a third goal when 72nd minutes in, and from nowhere, the home side pulled a goal back. Carl Starfelt then giving the ball away to Viv Solomon-Otabor, who had all the time and space required to fire over a right-wing cross Chris Kane was able to attack, leaving the otherwise assured Barkas with no chance in connecting powerfully at full-stretch to bury a diving header.
The Perth side’s rally was snuffed out within 13 minutes, though, Rogic again the provider by slipping the ball inside for Bitton to drill low in-off the post and snare the stand-in captain a first club counter in almost a year. It was an afternoon for the unexpected, and a minute later Dawson was only denied a goal on debut by a Callum Booth goalline clearance. At the conclusion there was only one commonality between the opposing teams: both will be relieved at the advancing of their now ushered in winter break.