Celtic 2 - 0 St Johnstone: McGregor and Christie sink Saints

In a season when he has not been short of critics finding faults in his team, the home form of Brendan Rodgers’ men in the Premiership remains perfect.

Ryan Christie watches his shot head goalwards as he doubles Celtic's lead against St Johnstone. Picture: SNS

The Scottish champions duly made the most of their game in hand over their closest challengers at the top of the table, racking up their 12th consecutive league victory to move six points clear.

Two goals inside a minute early in the second half from Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie broke the resistance of a resolute but punchless St Johnstone side. It was ultimately a victory far more comprehensive and comfortable than the scoreline suggests as Celtic opened up their biggest lead of the campaign so far as they pursue an eighth successive title.

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Rodgers would have been well aware of St Johnstone’s potential to provide stiffer resistance than most domestic opposition at Celtic Park. Tommy Wright’s side secured two draws in the east end of Glasgow in the Premiership last season and were set up to try and prove equally obdurate on this occasion.

Saints were certainly keen to underline that the 6-0 mauling they suffered at home to the champions in October was out of character for team who are seldom a soft touch.

James Forrest, who helped himself to a four-goal haul in that rout at McDiarmid Park, was the first to threaten for Celtic here when the winger’s thrusting run was crudely halted on the edge of the penalty area by St Johnstone captain Joe Shaughnessy. Christie took the resulting free-kick and wasn’t too far away with a well-struck effort which rippled the outside of the net to Zander Clark’s left hand.

The action was almost exclusively taking place in the Saints half, albeit Celtic were finding it problematic to carve out any clear cut chances. Their next sight of goal came courtesy of a loose ball by the visitors which was pounced on by Oliver Burke. The on-loan West Brom man burst through the middle but saw his shot deflected wide off Shaughnessy.

Despite their dominance, it took Celtic until the 27th minute to force Clark into his first significant contribution. It was an exceptional save from the Saints keeper, underlining his claims for a place in the Scotland set-up, as he threw himself to his right to keep out Scott Sinclair’s close range header from Emilio Izaguirre’s inch-perfect cross.

Saints left-back Scott Tanser had his hands full trying to subdue Forrest and made a decent job of it most of the time. But Forrest should have done better when he weaved his way into the box before shanking a shot horribly wide. Bizarrely, a corner was awarded to Celtic despite there clearly being no touch from a Saints player. Fortunately for the blood pressure of the incandescent Wright on the sidelines, nothing came of the set piece.

Christie picked up the first booking of the evening for a blatant piece of simulation, his attempt to win a free-kick in a dangerous position perhaps betraying a growing frustration from Celtic as the interval approached. Burke curled a shot narrowly wide before Scott Brown scooped one over from around 22 yards as the one-sided pattern continued.

Michael O’Halloran, making his first appearance of what is his third spell with 
St Johnstone, was given little scope to have any impact in his role as their lone striker. It 
was the visitors, though, who were by far the more content with the goalless stalemate when the half-time whistle sounded.

That all changed rapidly after the break as Celtic’s double salvo in the 54th and 55th minutes finally translated their superiority into the commanding lead it merited. While a right-back may be top of Rodgers’ shopping list ahead of tonight’s transfer deadline, he had cause to be grateful to current incumbent Mikael Lustig for the breakthrough.

The Swedish international, out of contract this summer, found the space and had the composure to provide the assists for both McGregor and Christie. The opener saw Lustig find McGregor on the edge of the box from where the midfielder guided a low left-foot shot beyond the partially unsighted Clark.

Within 60 seconds, it was 2-0. This time Lustig picked out Christie just inside the penalty area where the playmaker brilliantly turned away from Shaughnessy and sent an arcing shot over Clark.

Celtic were unable to add to their tally, although substitutes Odsonne Edouard and Timothy Weah both came close as Saints continued to be hemmed into their own half.

The Perth men will hardly be relishing facing Rodgers’ men again at McDiarmid Park this Sunday.