Celtic 0 - 0 St Johnstone: League leaders held at home

Scott Sinclair and St Johnstone's Joe Shaughnessy battle for possession. Picture: PA
Scott Sinclair and St Johnstone's Joe Shaughnessy battle for possession. Picture: PA
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For only the second time under Brendan Rodgers, Celtic drew a domestic blank at home as they passed up an opportunity to open up a double-digit lead at the top of the Premiership.

The Scottish champions can remain content enough with the nine-point advantage they now have over both Rangers and Aberdeen as they chase down a seventh consecutive title but this was still a frustrating afternoon for Rodgers and his much-altered side.

St Johnstone’s awkward squad rediscovered their resilience to plunder another precious point in the east end of Glasgow, giving themselves extra breathing space in a relegation battle they have been unaccustomed to being sucked into on Tommy Wright’s watch.

It was a fully merited outcome for the Perth side who took full advantage of Celtic’s squad rotation in the middle of their Europa League last 32 tie against Zenit St Petersburg.

As can often be the case in the domestic fixture immediately after a big European night, there was a real flatness in the atmosphere at Celtic Park compared to last Thursday night’s vibrant 1-0 win over Zenit. With seven changes to his starting line-up, there was no attempt by Rodgers to disguise where his priorities lay ahead of the trip to Russia for the second leg this week.

Before Celtic became bogged down in the occasionally attritional fare of an instantly forgettable first half, they were denied a fifth-minute opener which might have set a different tempo to the contest.

Charly Musonda’s well-delivered free-kick from the right picked out Kristoffer Ajer whose powerful close-range header was kept out by a tremendous reaction save by Alan Mannus. It was as threatening as Celtic looked in an opening 45 minutes, during which St Johnstone combined a ferocious work ethic with some decent spells of possession which might easily have provided them with a breakthrough.

Jack Hendry, partnering Ajer at the heart of an unfamiliar Celtic defence which had Cristian Gamboa and Calvin Miller in the full-back roles, had to hack clear in front of his own goal after a weak kick out by Dorus de Vries put the hosts in trouble.

Saints came close to an opener in the 29th minute and David Wotherspoon’s anguished reaction to heading Blair Alston’s fine cross wide of the target indicated just how good an opportunity it was.

As the visitors continued to enjoy plenty of time inside the Celtic half, Richard Foster’s 25-yard shot sailed just over before a dangerous Wotherspoon free-kick across the face of the six-yard box found no takers.

Odsonne Edouard had limited opportunities to make his presence felt up front for Celtic and it was perhaps more in hope than expectation that the young Frenchman drove a free-kick from all of 30 yards wide of Mannus’ right-hand post.

Edouard should have done better at the start of the second half when, after being played in by Scott Sinclair, he hesitated too long and saw his shot deflected tamely into the grasp of Mannus.

The fleet-footed Musonda looked as likely as anyone to find a way through for Celtic and the on-loan Chelsea playmaker was denied on a couple of occasions by Mannus as shots from distance were kept out by the Saints keeper.

Tom Rogic, making his first Celtic appearance after being sidelined for two months by a knee injury, had been well marshalled by Murray Davidson and he was replaced by James Forrest just after the hour mark.

Saints swapped one on-loan midfielder for another, Matty Willock replacing George Williams, and the Manchester United youngster spurned a great chance to break the deadlock when he burst into the Celtic penalty area and, instead of attempting a shot, tried a cutback which was smothered by the home defence.

Mannus made another smart stop to keep out a Sinclair shot at the other end as Celtic, with Moussa Dembele and Kieran Tierney stepping off the bench for the closing stages, tried to up the tempo in pursuit of a winner.

But St Johnstone remained resolute, no-one typifying their doggedness better than 21-year-old Jason Kerr. The central defender was immense throughout and sealed his fine contribution with a brilliantly timed penalty-box challenge on Dembele in the last minute.