The domestic bliss Celtic have experienced under Brendan Rodgers shows no signs of being disturbed as they relentlessly close in on another clean sweep of silverware.
St Johnstone were swept aside with maximum efficiency and minimum fuss as Rodgers’ side reached both the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup and yet another landmark moment under his record-breaking tenure.
This was Celtic’s 24th straight victory in domestic cup ties, a new all-time best in Scottish football as they eclipsed the run of 23 wins set by Walter Smith’s Rangers from 1992 to 1994.
On their current form, few would bet against Celtic extending the sequence all the way to another triumphant afternoon at Hampden in May. A hat-trick from Scott Sinclair, a long-range stunner from captain Scott Brown and a tidy finish from James Forrest adorned this rout of a St Johnstone outfit who have suffered more than most against them.
This was the fifth meeting of the teams this season, the third in the last 11 days, and Celtic have won the lot with an aggregate score of 16-0. At this rate, Tommy Wright and his players may be tempted to try and finish outside the top six of the Premiership in order to avoid facing their torturers again in this campaign.
Saints goalkeeper Zander Clark had excelled in many of the four previous clashes with Celtic, often sparing the Perth men from heavier defeats. But Clark wouldn’t have been satisfied with his part in the third minute goal which set Celtic on their way to another comfortable victory.
The build-up from the champions was excellent, Jeremy Toljan and Forrest combining slickly on the right to send Oliver Burke scampering into the penalty area. Burke’s low ball across the face of the six yard box found its way to Sinclair whose first time left foot shot beat the unusually hesitant Clark at his near post.
Sinclair getting on the scoresheet is a familiar sight for the Celtic fans, the his treble here taking his tally to 16 in another productive season on that front for the winger. But the goal which doubled the lead just six minutes later was a real collector’s item.
St Johnstone had a hand in their own downfall once more, some unconvincing defending culminating in Scott Tanser’s weak attempt to clear the ball merely succeeding in rolling it into the path of Brown.
The Celtic skipper strode onto it in imperious fashion and unleashed a rising right foot shot from around 22 yards beyond the left hand of the helpless Clark into the top corner of the net. Brown lapped up the acclaim of the home fans as he celebrated his first goal for two years.
It already looked like a case of ‘job done’ for the cup holders but to St Johnstone’s credit, they at least emerged from the worst possible start to the tie to restore some kind of competitive edge to it for a spell.
Scott Bain, whose status as Celtic’s new first choice ‘keeper looks more secure with every passing week, was called into action to prevent Saints halving the deficit in the 31st minute. Jonny Hayes, looking less than wholly comfortable with his defensive duties as a stand-in left-back for Celtic with both Kieran Tierney and Emilio Izaguirre unavailable, surrendered possession cheaply to Richard Foster who made ground to deliver an inviting cutback for Chris Kane. The striker’s well struck close range shot was brilliantly kept out by Bain, diving at full stretch to his right.
That close call prompted Celtic to move back into top gear, Burke once more sprinting free into the penalty area but on this occasion Sinclair was unable to connect with the low cross.
Saints made a spirited end to the first half, forging a couple of decent chances in quick succession as headers from Kane and Murray Davidson were blocked.
Both teams made changes at the start of the second half, Tony Watt replacing Sean Goss in a more attack-minded Saints set-up, while Kristoffer Ajer took over from Jozo Simunovic in central defence for Celtic.
Before the visitors could bring any momentum to their unlikely hopes of a comeback, the tie was settled beyond all doubt as Celtic made as vibrant a start to the second period as they had the first. They made it 3-0 in the 52nd minute, Hayes reminding everyone how effective he can be in an attacking role as he played a one-two with Ryan Christie and surged infield towards the edge of the Saints penalty area.
Hayes calmly laid the ball off into the path of Forrest who slipped his 13th goal of the season under the body of the advancing Clark.
Two minutes later, Celtic claimed their fourth of the afternoon when the jet-heeled Burke left Jason Kerr trailing in his wake as he burst down the right before drilling over a low cross which left Sinclair with the simplest of close range tap-ins.
Celtic Park was the scene of the greatest day in St Johnstone’s history when they lifted the Scottish Cup at the stadium back in 2014. They couldn’t leave it quickly enough on this occasion and their agony was completed a minute from time when Sinclair neatly completed his hat-trick after a shot from substitute Odsonne Edouard was deflected into his path.
CELTIC: Bain, Toljan, Boyata, Simunovic (Ajer 46), Hayes; Brown, McGregor; Forrest, Christie (Edouard 62), Sinclair; Burke (Weah 67). Subs not used: Gordon, Bitton, Johnston, Lustig.
ST JOHNSTONE: Clark, Foster, Shaughnessy, Kerr, Tanser; Goss (Watt 46); Wotherspoon, Davidson (Callachan 68), Craig, Kennedy (Keown 60); Kane. Subs not used: Bell, Alston, Swanson, O’Halloran.