PAINSTAKING research by Dutch scientists, it was reported yesterday, has led them to conclude that there is no cure for a hangover. Celtic could have told them that before they ever committed any time and effort to their study. Ronny Deila’s side moved to the top of the Premiership table yesterday. They welcomed a new player, in the form of loan signing Tyler Blackett. Yet events at Parkhead were the football equivalent of the morning after the night before.
The misery endured in Malmo on Tuesday evening will be headache a long time in the shifting for Celtic. A fizzy Europa League group draw that paired them with Ajax and Fenerbahce won’t appease a support that want to drink in Champions League nights above all else.
The mood of the club’s faithful was betrayed by the banner held up at kick-off from within the section housing fan group the Green Brigade that read: “gutless in Malmo, clueless in boardroom”. And by the fact that, after the home side had overcome a dreadful start to run out convincing winners, the full-time ‘Ronny roar’ – which the Norwegian surprisingly still embarked upon – was more like a squeak, with few waiting behind to exercise their vocal cords in sync with his uppercuts.
The Celtic manager, gilding the lily somewhat, spoke of “pride” in the show of “character” from his team on finding themselves a goal down inside 11 minutes. Never mind that a clutch of calamities from those adorned in green and white precipitated the opener. Gary Mackay-Steven missed a challenge from Michael O’Halloran down the right. The St Johnstone attacker then burned Emilio Izaguirre before sending over a cross that Craig Gordon fresh-aired only for the ball to bounce off Dedryck Boyata and in.
Perth manager Tommy Wright mused afterwards on how the goal made a flat atmosphere “even flatter”... for all of the seven minutes it took for Celtic to equalise through Leigh Griffiths. An eighth goal of the season for the Scotland striker came courtesy of his pop from the edge of the area rearing up off David Wotherspoon and clipping Tom Scobbie before Alan Mannus touched it on to the underside of the crossbar.
“There was a bit of frustration in the crowd but we didn’t hold on to that lead long enough to build on that,” Wright said. “Fair play to Celtic, they do get into good positions and while it may have been fortuitous in the deflection, they worked the ball well and got into good positions. You could say we missed an opportunity but they are a good side and they proved that today.”
The best of Celtic came with the solo effort from Thomas Rogic that allowed them to take a 2-1 lead into the interval. Deployed in the Stefan Johansen role – the Norwegian one of three players dropping out from the starting line-up in Malmo – his drive, bustle and dainty footwork led to him carving his way round two blue-shirted opponents along the byline before planting a low effort beyond Mannus with a flourish from a tight angle. It marked the Australian’s first goal at Celtic Park. “It is special to score in front of the fans. I am sure I won’t forget it,” he said.
The second half wasn’t forgettable but reminded that Celtic, with Kris Commons giving free reign to his creativity, can be a good watch. The schemer’s 68th-minute corner from the right perhaps provided Virgil van Dijk with his last telling intervention as a Celtic player, with the far-post stationed Dutchman heading the ball back into the six-yard box for the lurking Charlie Mulgrew to nod in. Mulgrew had earlier appeared as a substitute for a limping Scott Brown, who was left grounded after sliding in and colliding with Chris Millar as they both chased a loose ball.
It seems the injury will not prevent the Scotland captain joining up with the national squad tomorrow, where he will be joined by Gordon, and a clutch of team-mates. The Celtic keeper was the last man cheered heartily yesterday, pulling off a terrific double save to thwart Joe Shaugnessy and O’Halloran. The former Hearts man seems to make a habit of excelling in such fashion against St Johnstone, having produced a such goalkeeping excellence at McDiarmid Park last season.
Celtic: Gordon; Janko, Boyata, van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown (Mulgrew 60), Bitton, (McGregor 87); Commons (Allan 77), Rogic, Mackay-Steven; Griffiths. Subs not used: Bailly, Ambrose, Stokes, Forrest.
St Johnstone: Mannus; Shaugnessy, Mackay, Scobbie, Easton,: O’Halloran, Millar, Davidson (Craig 46), Wotherspoon; Cummins (Kane 81), MacLean (Sutton 68). Subs: Clark, Lappin, McKay, Caddis.
Referee: J Beaton. Attendance: 42,507.