ST JOHNSTONE 0 CELTIC 0
CELTIC drew a blank for the second successive encounter against a resolute Perth side at McDiarmid Park tonight.
After losing 1-0 at Parkhead in March when Danny Swanson’s outrageous 25-yard first-timer swept high past Craig Gordon, Ronny Deila’s men were determined to redress the situation in Perth. They didn’t manage that and the main culprit, without argument, was James Forrest.
The game was deep in stoppage time when Saints’ Tam Scobie made a hash of a clearance just inside his own half. Forrest, totally unhindered, sped away with just the keeper to beat. He shimmied past the lunging Alan Mannus and, with the entire goal gaping, contrived to fire the ball wide of the post.
Admittedly, the ball took a bobble, but that cannot be held up as an excuse. Forrest still had time to take a touch, control the ball and roll it home. For reasons only known to himself, he elected to hammer the attempt into the net and missed embarrassingly.
But, in truth, the opposition deserved to take something from this game. They were a determined outfit, searching for something with Europe next season still a possibility.
They piled into the game like it was their Cup Final and Lukasz Zaluska was undoubtedly Celtic’s Man of the Match with a string of marvellous saves.
However, the Hoops should have taken the lead in the 10th minute when Stuart Armstrong swung in an inviting corner of the left which was met perfectly by Efe Ambrose. He glanced it down to Leigh Griffiths, only two yards out.
Unfortunately, the striker, so lethal in recent weeks, completely fluffed his lines and keeper Mannus flopped on the ball and the chance was gone.
Two minutes later Zaluska produced a save comeback man Gordon would have been proud to have claimed as one of his own.
Murray Davidson was presented with the opportunity just outside the box after some slack defensive play on the Hoops’ right.
Davidson practically toe-poked the ball towards the top left hand corner, but Zaluska read his intentions perfectly and catapulted across his line to claw the ball to safety.
In the 16th minute, Forrest, not for the first or last time this evening, showed an alarming lack of composure when he found himself in acres of space as he angled in on Mannus’s goal.
Griffiths, in a good position, was screaming for a pass, but the winger elected to go it alone and blazed wildly off target and into the crowd.
Celtic were almost made to pay when Ambrose was in the right place at the right time to clear a header from Gary Miller off the line after his team-mates failed to deal with a swirling corner-kick.
Deila’s men weren’t functioning as a unit at this stage and Kris Commons, Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven were contributing very little.
Zaluska came to their rescue in the 27th minute with a solid save to deny the Perth outfit. Michael O’Halloran got away from the cumbersome Ambrose with far too much ease before slamming in a low shot. The Pole did well to block the rasping drive.
New Bhoy Keiran Tierney, as expected, was concentrating on his defensive duties at left-back, but he burst into attack in the 35th minute to force a corner-kick after a last-ditch tackle from Chris Millar halted his progress.
A minute later and Zaluska, who could leave the club at the end of the season when his contract expires, produced an extraordinary double save.
David Wotherspoon spun to fire low to the keeper’s right, but he got down to push it away. Davidson swept in swiftly to blast in the rebound, but once again the shotstopper bravely threw himself to his right and the danger was cleared.
If he was attempting to persuade Deila into making an offer of an extension he was going the right way about it.
Eight minutes after the interval, Zaluska was defiant again after Scobie was allowed far too much time and space in the middle of the Celtic defence to direct a header from a left-wing Danny Swanson free-kick at goal.
Charlie Mulgrew had replaced Jason Denayer by this stage for his first top team appearance since playing against Partick Thistle on December 3. Obviously, he looked a little rusty.
In the 64th minute Commons made a complete hash of a Griffiths’ knockdown from a Forrest cross. The midfielder’s timing was out and he sent a tame drive wide from an angle. Clearly, it wasn’t his night.
With seven minutes to go, substitute James McFadden was unmarked as he flicked a left-wing corner-kick at goal. Emilio Izaguirre, who had replaced 17-year-old Tierney, managed to get the slightest of touches to knock the ball onto the post and it was cleared after a frantic melee in front of Zaluska.
A minute later came the horrendous miss from Forrest and, amazingly, there could have been two goals in the last minute, one from each team.
Mulgrew was way off target with a ball out of defence and it was seized upon by the Saints and worked to O’Halloran who swivelled and fired a low shot against the upright.
Seconds later, Griffiths had the opportunity to hit the headlines when he was given a chance, but, after an initial stumble, his right foot shot was pushed to safety by the athletic Mannus.
A couple of last things to note. Stefan Scepovic, on for the ineffective Commons in the 71st minute, did nothing of note apart from bizarrely directing a ball back to O’Halloran who couldn’t believe his luck. Thankfully, his low shot was collected by the sprawling Zaluska in the 87th minute. That apart, the Serb was worryingly anonymous yet again.
And the Celtic supporters were awesome from start to finish. They sang and urged their team throughout the evening and deserve a massive pat on the back for their superb backing. Well done, Bhoys!
TEAM: Zaluska; Matthews, Denayer, Ambrose, Tierney (sub: Izaguirre 68); Brown, Armstrong; Forrest, Commons (sub: Scepovic 71), Mackay-Steven; Griffiths.