The Celtic goal which could matter more as trio in impress in St Johnstone scare

When the dust settles at the end of the Scottish Premiership season, there will be goals which will have mattered more. One of those may well be the one scored just after 2.20pm at McDiarmid Park.

Celtic had contrived to give up a 1-0 lead to a St Johnstone side who, until 68 minutes, had offered very little in an attacking sense. In the first half they had more clearances than completed passes in their own half (18-16).

But when Alex Mitchell prodded past Joe Hart in injury time it brought disbelief but also a sense it was coming. The introspection was a matter of minutes away. Was the triple substitution made by Ange Postecoglu with 22 minutes left the turning point?

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Then, five minutes into injury time, Alexandro Bernabei strode down the left, past a limping Drey Wright, to deliver a tantalising cross which Georgios Giakoumakis gobbled up.

The Greek striker may well have had his most disappointing 94 minutes for Celtic. Nothing seemed to go right for him, including a goal ruled out for offside. But that is the nature of being a striker. You are in a position to be a hero where one second, one moment, one goal can change everything.

Giakoumakis’ prevented plenty of questions in the aftermath. It also prevents Rangers from going level on points with their rivals at top of the Premiership.

Looking at the bigger picture, Celtic will know vast improvement is required after a difficult period which has brought losses to St Mirren and Leipzig, and narrow wins against Motherwell and now St Johnstone. Far tougher tests on paper on the horizon, starting with Leipzig on Tuesday.

St Johnstone ambition

Reo Hatate stepped up for Celtic in Callum McGregor's absence. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Saints, to their credit, had survived in the game, helped by wasteful play from the visitors, and Callum Davidson clearly sensed a result could be achieved.

Seconds after a triple substitution which saw both Hatate and O’Reily depart, St Johnstone should have scored through Stevie May but his effort, far from clean, came off the base of the post. Not long after, Davidson made attacking changes which put more pressure on a Celtic side which had become increasingly disorganised and nervy.

It was an encouraging response from St Johnstone after a disappointing result during the week, even if the visitors should arguably have been out of sight before giving Saints a sniff of a point.

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This was the start of a unique spell for Celtic. The first time since the 2016/17 season they will not be able to call on Callum McGregor for a sustained period. Since that campaign the midfielder has played 325 times for the Scottish champions and not included in a squad, for one reason or another, just 17 times.

Sead Haksabanovic was instrumental in the opening goal. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

In the build-up to the game, Postecoglou spoke of needing players to stand up and fill the breach in his captain’s absence. Summer signings Bernabei and Sead Haskbanovic, played centrally, in an advanced position beyond Reo Hatate and Matt O’Reily, both showed up positively. Then there was Hatate. The Japanese midfield maestro. A player who is constantly improving. He has the ability to become the on-field leader and reference point for this Celtic team. Him and Haksbanovic crucial in the opening goal.

Celtic, in the end, got away with one. But that one goal could be huge come the end.

St Johnstone (3-4-1-2): Matthews; Mitchell, Gordon, Condisdine; Wright, McGowan, Hallberg, Brown; Kucheriavyi; Clark, Murphy.

Celtic (4-3-3): Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Welsh, Bernabei; Hatate, O’Reily, Haksabanovic; Jota, Giakoumakis, Abada.

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