Joel Sked gives his take as Celtic broke their own 100-year-old record for domestic games unbeaten as they swept aside St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.
Record breakers, history makers
After equalling their own British record for unbeaten domestic games last week the celebrations and congratulations within the club were slightly muted. Players, management and fans were reserved after a disappointing draw. Fast forward a week and the team put in a dogged performance against Bayern Munich, going down 2-1, before easing past St Johnstone 4-0 to break the record in appropriate fashion.
Going back to the reaction after last week’s draw with Kilmarnock, it shows the standards at the club since Brendan Rodgers arrived. Celtic have recorded an incredible 56 wins out of 63. FIFTY-SIX. FIFTY. SIX.
Generations to come will look back at the appointment of Rodgers as a defining moment in the club’s history. Celtic were sleepwalking under Ronny Deila. They’ve been woken from their slumber and are now sprinting ahead of their rivals who can only gasp for dear breath as their peers disappear in the distance.
Scott Brown, in a revealing interview on Sky Sports, said that Rodgers has completely revamped training. It is every much as important as games. The tempo is high, it’s competitive and organised. Through sessions players know exactly what is expected of them come game day.
Tactically, Deila was criticised for being too one-dimensional. Rodgers is anything but, while his man-management has won over a large squad with little to no gripes.
• READ MORE: St Johnstone 0 - 4 Celtic: How the players rated
What European hangover?
Twice this season Celtic have dropped points after European travails. It only occurred once last season. A trip to St Johnstone, even if they are currently under performing, is the epitome of a banana skin. So, with an international break on the horizon, Rodgers simply played the same side who impressed against Bayern Munich.
The first half saw similarities to the Betfred Cup semi-final against Hibs after the previous match with Bayern. Celtic didn’t attack with pace and try to suffocate St Johnstone. There was more control, a mature performance.
Rather than resting on their laurels it seems if this Celtic side are becoming stronger, tactically, physically and mentally. The latter quality is shining through. They are managing games better, certainly domestically. They seem to know when to force the game or take the foot off.
Celtic are becoming robotic. But a highly-advanced model. A superior model to the mere humans they come up against in Scotland.
Against this Celtic side you need to make any chances you get count. If you are struggling to create from open play, set pieces are a prime opportunity to put pressure on the Hoops’ defence. It is something which can be worked on on the training ground and, you could say, it is a relatively level playing field.
It offers defensive possibilities as well. Take time over the kick, put the ball into a dangerous area.
Tommy Wright must have been furious with his team’s set plays. An early free-kick was taken quickly to Steven MacLean who was offside. A corner then failed to pass the front post before a second sailed out the other side of the box. It was summed up towards the end of the half when Paul Paton sent a free-kick straight out of play.
Then Celtic showed the ingenuity and rewards of both training ground work and quality. Up against St Johnstone’s man markers, Rodgers’ men worked it to their advantage. Sinclair took his marker Scott Tanser into a crowded area before using the crowd to create space for himself to meet a low corner and fire Celtic in front.
Simple and effective.
Stefan Scougall situation
Tommy Wright pinpointed Stefan Scougall as one of his key transfer targets, alongside Michael O’Halloran. The former Livingston schemer had interest either side of the border after 100 games with Sheffield United but Saints pulled of quite the coup to land him.
He was seen as a more than capable replacement for Danny Swanson who swapped Perth for Edinburgh for the second time. Yet, he has been the Swanson which frustrated Saints fans in the second half of last season, compared to the one who lit up the league in the first half.
He is quick, lithe, ambidextrous and skilful and has had his moments where he has embarrassed opposition players, while exciting his own fans. But it has been mere flashes. It can simply be viewed as new player struggling in a struggling side.
Saints, understandably, sat deep to prevent and frustrate. For the majority of the first half it worked as they forced Celtic into a lot of shots but most from distance; a common St Johnstone trait.
Fielded in an unusual and revolving 5-4-1 formation. The midfield played narrow with Scougall the highest of the quartet on the left. Yet, he spent most of his game chasing the ball, doing doggies to try and support lone striker Steven MacLean.
When possession was won, it was often lost soon after. St Johnstone rank second-bottom of the league for possession, bottom for passing accuracy and bottom for passes per minute of possession. That is something Wright needs to solve if he is to get Saints going up again and to get the best out of a creative player like Scougall who is wasted if he’s not fed the ball regularly and accurately.
Is Tommy Wright’s St Johnstone cycle nearing an end?
Unbeaten in their first five games, including draws with Celtic and Hibernian, it looked like St Johnstone were set for another season in the upper echelons of the league, gaining patronising praise and people querying when Tommy Wright is going to get the praise he deserves or a move to a ‘bigger’ club.
However, what was perhaps not mentioned in the nascent period of the campaign is that, despite the positive results, the performances weren’t so positive. They defeated eight man Motherwell 4-1, but for long periods Motherwell were the dominant team.
Now results are matching performances.
Have Wright and St Johnstone burst through so many glass ceilings that they are now so dizzy that they can’t go any further? This is not a slight against Wright. It is natural for club and manager to reach a point where both need to freshen up to prevent stagnation.
That being said it is very unlikely St Johnstone will make that decision, the risk would be too much. However, for Wright it is different. It would be surprising if he wasn’t putting feelers out for positions that become available. However, he is far too sensible to send any towards Tannadice.