CELTIC 1 ST JOHNSTONE 1
CALAMITY Celtic stumbled to a miserable stalemate to drop two precious points to St Johnstone in what many reckoned was a make-or-break game for the champions this afternoon.
Neil Lennon watched his team concede a late goal, come back to level through substitute Mohamed Elyounoussi before capitulating and adding more woe to their wretched run that is threatening to wreck their season.
They are now 13 points behind Steven Gerrard’s Ibrox side although they have two games in hand.
PARADISE LOST…Neil Lennon looks crestfallen as another two points are dropped.
Under-pressure Lennon has now seen his side win only two of their last 12 games as they have nosedived towards oblivion.
Celtic last won at Parkhead on September 27 when they beat Hibs 3-0. They have lost that winning feeling with a sequence that is creating concern throughout the club.
There was an early scare when the dithering Hoops defence almost allowed Stevie May to open the scoring, but Nir Bitton stretched to head the ball clear for a corner-kick.
In the 12th minute, however, Tom Rogic should have put the champions head after a neat free-kick from Ryan Christie was knocked across goal by Christopher Jullien.
The Aussie rose unchallenged 10 yards out and completely missed the target with his header when he should have worked keeper Zander Clark at least.
Celtic then had a double miss in the 21st minute when they should have broken the Perth barrier. Callum McGregor sent Odsonne Edouard running clear through the retreating rearguard, but his parting shot lacked pace and precision and was blocked by Clark.
ODSONNE AGONY…Edouard looks frustrated after another miss.
The ball broke to Diego Laxalt who was hopelessly wayward with the follow-up shot and his effort bounced wide of the far post. Like Rogic, he should have hit the target.
The Edouard of last season would have slid the ball into the far corner. But last season seems an awful long time ago for the French ace who is not performing with the confidence associated with him.
Scott Brown, making his 600th appearance for Celtic, showed some wonderful improvisional skills when he acrobatically hooked a clearance out of the danger zone and the ball fell straight to Christie.
The champions, not for the first time this season, looked determined to make things hard for themselves. With a bit more poise, they really should have been ahead.
Referee David Munro irked the home players with a series of free-kick decisions to the Saints and ignored an obvious foul on Edouard when he was bundled over. Moments later, the match official was quick to penalise Rogic after a mid-air challenge.
That was followed by Munro awarding a throw-in to Saints after a clear push on Nir Bitton. The Israeli simply shook his head and smiled wryly at the decision.
Frustration was growing in as the Hoops had the bulk of possession without looking too threatening, That was highlighted when Christie lashed the ball widly wide of the untroubled Clark’s goal.
THE EQUALISER…Zander Clark is beaten as Mohamed Elyounoussi’s header soars into the net. Leigh Griffith gets a close-up view.
Edouard was also running through with Liam Gordon closing in as McGregor set him free. However, he lost control at a crucial moment and the chance was gone.
Half-time was reached with the game deadlocked at 0-0 and once again boss Lennon had some work to do and make the observations that would hopefully turn the team’s fortunes around.
Christie, for a start, would have to be instructed to be more positive. The playmaker was flitting around the periphery of the game without making a telling impact.
Greg Taylor replaced Laxalt for the start of the second-half as Lennon attempted to shake things up.
As early as the 50th minute, Rogic was toiling and looking a likely candidate to be replaced as the Hoops continued to be stymied in their efforts to fashion an opening.
In the 53rd minute, the Saints goal survived when it looked as though Celtic must score. Jullien headed on a left-wing corner-kick from Christie. Edouard and Bitton got touches before the ball was pawed away by Clark and was hastily booted to safety. It was an astonishing escape.
FALL GUY…Christopher Jullien sits this one out.
Craig Bryson was then booked for a wild challenge on Christie that might have merited a straight red. It was reckless and another ref on another day may well have banished the Saints defender.
In the 58th minute, Brown was withdrawn as Lennon threw on Leigh Griffiths to see if he could make a difference. It was a surprising decision by the manager with the skipper looking well in control in his midfield beat.
Next up, David Wotherspoon was yellow-carded for chopping down Edouard just outside the box. The Frenchman smashed the award straight at the defensive wall and the chance was gone.
Chris Kane then went into the book for a challenge on Jullien. It looked a harsh decision.
David Turnbull came on for the toiling Rogic in the 68th minute as Lennon made the inevitable change. The team urgently required an injection of positivity and energy and it was hoped the former Motherwell youngster could apply the needful..
Griffiths was getting busy in his usual fashion, but precious little was opening for the frontman who certainly looked eager to pull the trigger.
IT’S ALL OVER…Mohamed Elyounoussi at the end.
In the 76th minute, a rasping low drive from Turnbull took a nick off a Saints defender and Clark had to scramble to his left to push the ball round the post.
Edouard’s threat grew less as he withdrew more and more from the penalty area with the visiting defenders hardly complaining about his self-isolation.
McGregor was booked for handball as the Hoops defended and in the 79th minute Celtic’s defence collapsed again to a breakaway goal.
May race clear on the left, fired a ball across goal, keeper Vasilis Barkas was caught at his near post and Kane slid in ahead of Jullien to knock the ball in from two yards.
The goal and how it was scored was so ypical of all that is wrong with Celtic at the moment. Anything on target looks like ending in the net.
At the other end, Clark again saved when he shovelled away a shot from Edouard.
Mohamed Elyounoussi came on for Kristoffer Ajer in the 81st minute as Lennon took a desperate throw of the dice.
Amazingly, the substitute levelled within moments when he headed on a Christie right-wing cross and Clark was left helpless as it dropped under the bar as Griffiths challenged.
Turnbull then glanced a header over the bar as the Hoops charged forward at every opportunity in an effort to snatch a winner.
But it wasn’t enough. Yet again.
TEAM: Barkas; Jullien, Bitton, Ajer (sub: Elyounoussi 81); Frimpong, Brown (sub: Griffiths 58), Christie, McGregor, Laxalt (sub: Taylor 46); Rogic (sub: Turnbull 68); Edouard.