St Johnstone 0 - 2 Celtic: Weah the hero as Celtic go six points clear

It took them longer than they would have liked but Celtic duly and deservedly restored a six point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership with another victory over a St Johnstone side who must be heartily sick of the sight of the champions.

James Forrest, right, celebrates his opening goal with Timothy Weah, who provided the assist. Picture: SNS
James Forrest, right, celebrates his opening goal with Timothy Weah, who provided the assist. Picture: SNS

Two goals in the closing stages from James Forrest and substitute Timothy Weah broke the gutsy resistance of the Perth side and their outstanding goalkeeper Zander Clark. It was a repeat of the scoreline between the teams at Celtic Park four days earlier and the bad news for Tommy Wright’s men is that they must square up to the double-treble winners again in the Scottish Cup next weekend.

The only sour notes for Brendan Rodgers on an afternoon which saw his team reassert their authority in the title race were injuries to Mikael Lustig, Forrest and Odsonne Edouard, which will be assessed in the coming days, and a late red card for Kristoffer Ajer.

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Saints carried more of a threat in the opening moments of this contest than they had managed in the whole 90 minutes at Parkhead in midweek when they had failed to record a single attempt on target.

Scott Bain had been little more than a spectator for most of that evening but the Celtic ‘keeper had to make a fine save after just five minutes here to prevent the hosts taking an early lead.

Celtic were temporarily down to 10 men, Ajer off the pitch after treatment for a head knock following an accidental clash with Tony Watt, when Matty Kennedy combined with Murray Davidson to slice through the visitors’ short handed defence. Kennedy was left one-on-one with Bain who reacted smartly to keep out the forward’s shot.

While Celtic gradually settled into their accustomed pattern of dominating possession and playing the majority of the game in the opposition half, Saints were lively and menacing on the counter-attack. They came close again in the 12th minute when a swift raid saw Scott Tanser break free down the left. The full-back’s low cross picked out Watt but the former Celtic striker blazed his first time shot wide of Bain’s right hand post.

Two minutes later, Oliver Burke’s pace proved troublesome to St Johnstone for the first time and might easily have earned Celtic a penalty. The on-loan West Brom man seized upon a sloppy pass back from Danny Swanson and surged into the area. Before Burke could get his shot away, he went down under Jason Kerr’s challenge. Referee Willie Collum was unmoved by appeals for a spot-kick, ruling that Kerr had won the ball.

It was Burke who came closest to making a first half breakthrough for Celtic when he linked up well with Ryan Christie down the left before sprinting into the penalty area. From a tight angle, he managed to squeeze the ball beyond Clark but Richard Foster had made a good covering run and was able to clear off the line.

Celtic remained in the ascendancy, albeit lacking the incisiveness required to put the Saints defence under sustained pressure. Indeed, it was the home side who almost snatched the lead in first half stoppage time when Jozo Simunovic did well to block a shot from Ross Callachan after Ajer’s mistake had helped create the opening.

Celtic resumed after the break with Jeremy Toljan making his debut as a replacement for Lustig. The on-loan Borussia Dortmund right-back was soon prominent in a bright start to the second half from Rodgers’ side. Toljan combined cleverly with Forrest to set up an inviting chance for Burke in the 49th minute but Clark was equal to the task as he made a superb one-handed save to keep out the Scotland international’s well struck low shot.

Saints remained alive to opportunities to try and catch Celtic on the break, most notably through Kennedy, and Watt perhaps should have done better when he lacked the conviction to get on the end of a dangerous cross from his front line partner.

As Celtic upped the tempo and intensity of their work, Clark was called into action far more frequently, making saves which seemed to come with an ever increasing degree of difficulty. He blocked another effort from Burke, who was then replaced by Edouard, before stepping off his line to deny Simunovic who had ventured forward to join the waves of Celtic attacks. Edouard was next to find Clark an impenetrable barrier when his precise shot was brilliantly stopped low to the keeper’s right.

The next assault on the Saints goal brought an end to Edouard’s brief involvement when he was injured in a clash with Joe Shaughnessy in a frantic melee inside the six yard box after Clark had made yet another save, this time from a close range Scott Sinclair effort.

Edouard was led away on a stretcher as he was replaced by Weah whose impact saw Celtic finally make their merited breakthrough in the 78th minute. Sent clear down the left by Scott Brown, the American teenager’s low cross picked out Forrest for a simple close range tap-in.

It was Weah who wrapped up the points for Celtic. With Saints committing greater numbers forward in search of an equaliser, they were undone by a lightning counter which saw Callum McGregor lay the ball on a plate for Weah to score his third goal in five appearances since his loan move from Paris Saint Germain.

Celtic finished the match with just nine men on the pitch, Forrest limping off injured after all three substitutions had been made, then Ajer receiving a straight red card in stoppage time for pulling down Callum Hendry when the Saints sub was racing through on goal.