St Johnstone 0-3 Celtic: Hoops ease to win against Saints in front of 6,339 travelling fans
The opening that Neil Lennon’s men produced to retain their five-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership table wasn’t so much whirlwind as torrnado-like.
It was notable too that the three goals they claimed in that 30-minute period allowed them to establish a goal difference of +50 that is unrivalled in European top flight football.
That goal difference really should be higher. A chance seemed to arrive every other minute in the early stages as Celtic ripped their opponents to shreds.
The fact the advantage at the interval was only 3-0 in the Scottish champions’ favour was something of a result for Tommy Wright’s team. It was the only result they were ever going to obtain against opponents who seem to relish handing them ritual slaughters.
With no additions in the second period to the goals bagged by Oliver Ntcham, James Forrest and Leigh Griffiths inside half an hour, for St Johnstone the the final scoreline may have fallen well shy of the 7-0, 5-0, and 6-0 wins that Celtic have racked up in this match-up across the past 14 months.
However, the gulf in class between the sides was in keeping with these previous blitzings. In Celtic easing up to walking pace in the second period, St Johnstone even were able to fashion a couple of chances, Fraser Forster saving from David Wotherspoon before Patryk Klimala blocked a Jason Kerr header on the line.
The upshot of those close calls was that goal difference now reads 30-0 for Celtic across the clubs’ past nine meetings. No wonder that the McDiarmid Park side were moved to give their visitors three stands as a result of their own punters bodyswerving the fixture.
The fact that 2,404 turned up - the attendance of 8,743 comprising 6,339 travelling supporters - suggested masochism retains a hold on certain residents in the Perthshire area.
The intent Celtic set about the latest mauling had to be viewed in the context of Rangers’ defeat by Hearts at the weekend, though.
Gerrard said his side had “blinked”. The response was Celtic proving to wide and wild-eyed as they set about their powerless hosts like a pack of ravenous wolves.
Returning to the 3-5-2 formation that allowed Lennon to once again partner Odsonne Edouard with Griffiths, Celtic had their teeth and claws deep into the home side in a matter of seconds.
From one of Celtic’s first forays forward, Greg Taylor, impressive in the left wing-back role, swung in a ball from the right that Griffiths glanced only inches wide of the upright. It was to serve as a declaration of intent.
Only six minutes were on the clock when Lennon’s men lacerated the home defence with a move that resulted from the ball being played out to Forrest on the right. The winger sent over a curling cross that Ntcham nodded effortlessly in at the near post.
A procession to the St Johnstone goal followed for a 20-minute spell in which Wright’s players became increasingly dazed and confused, unable to provide even token resistance.
So in the mood were Lennon’s side, Griffiths had two glorious opportunities to double their advantage while Callum McGregor drilled an effort just past all within ten minutes.
It was a wonder that they had to wait until the 19th minute for a second goal, indeed, but when it came it was worth waiting for as Forrest, in the wide right channel, shifted the ball from his left to right as if indulging in a spot of keepy-uppy before slapping an unstoppable effort into the far corner of the net.
Any number of counters seemed possible for Celtic as Griffiths forced a fine stop from Zander Clark before a dazzling spot of twisting and turning from Edouard ended with a low fizzer sliding narrowly past.
Few thought that Griffiths would play such a central role in refocusing Celtic following their morale-damaging defeat in the Old Firm clash just before the winter break.
Yet in dovetailing so potently with Edouard, the Scotland striker has breathed new life into Celtic’s drive for a ninth straight title, illustrated by his third goal in his four starts since the season’s resumption.
Time, place and touch were all on point when Taylor arced over a cross from the right in the 27th minute to allow Griffiths to crack a half-volley into the top corner.
There was nothing like this moment of class for Celtic in the second period as they conserved energy in the second period and St Johnstone puts their backs into a pride-saving exercise. But there didn’t need to be.