CELTIC 7 ST JOHNSTONE 0
SUNSHINE bathed Celtic Park as Ange Postecoglou’s entertainers thundered in seven goals to hurtle nine points ahead at the Premiership summit.
It was a devastating display against their Perth visitors and any potential banana skin was removed in a one-sided first-half with strikes from Reo Hatate, Giorgos Giakoumakis and Daizen Maeda.
In the second-half, substitute Matt O’Riley, on for Tom Rogic at the interval, claimed two, Josip Juranovic stuck away a penalty-kick and Liel Abada thumped in the magnificent seventh.
And, just to make the afternoon even sweeter, there was an appearance of Kyogo Furuhashi as a 74th-minute substitute for his first outing of the year after missing 17 games with a hamstring problem.
JOY BHOYS…Reo Hatate and Liel Abada celebrate another Celtic goal as they zero in on the title.
Now all eyes are on Hampden a week tomorrow with Postecoglou’s men bidding for a place in the Scottish Cup Final on May 21 to bring down the curtain on a remarkable campaign.
It was Zander Clark to Saints’ rescue in seventh minute when he got down swiftly to his right to push away a shot from Hatate, but there was little the keeper could do when the Japanese international midfielder got the opener within 30 seconds.
There was a slick piece of interchanging in the box before Greg Taylor whipped in a low cross from the left and Hatate fired a first-time left-foot drive low into the corner of the net.
And the same player came close to doubling the advantage with 25-yard shot that was smuggled past for a corner-kick by the netminder.
Tom Rogic passed up a superb chance in the 13th minute when he danced his way through the Perth rearguard, but his low drive was blocked by Clark. The ball broke to Filipe Jota who cut in from the right to curl in a cunning left-foot drive which swept just wide with the shotstopper scrambling across his line.
PARADISE…Giorgos Giakoumakis celebrates a Celtic goal in front of delighted Parkhead fans.
Giakoumakis struck in the 22nd minute for his 13th goal of the campaign after he snapped onto a slack passback to round the lunging keeper to slot the ball in from a tight angle. Fair play to Maeda who put the pressure on the defender as he chased a through ball from Juranovic.
Four minutes later, the Greek hitman limped off with what looked like a hamstring pull and Liel Abada came on in his place with Jota moving to the left and Maeda coming inside to lead the attack.
In the 36th minute, Jota prised open the Saints defence with a wonderful ball from the left and Maeda raced clear to plant a header beyond the stranded Clark for No.3 and his seventh counter since his Hogmanay arrival.
Celtic Park was bouncing as the fans cheered in unison and it was obvious to everyone Ange Postecoglou’s men were in the mood to get the job done with the crown now in sharp focus.
SPOT ON…Josip Juranovic celebrates slotting away a penalty-kick.
O’Riley replaced Rogic at the start of the second-half as Postecoglou gave the Danish Under-21 international some game time after his appearance in the 3-0 win at Ibrox last weekend was cut short after a hefty challenge from Joe Aribo.
Six minutes after the interval, the substitute clipped a neat pass into the tracks of Hatate who was downed by defender Tom Sang.
Referee Andrew Dallas had no option but to point to the spot and up stepped Josip Juranovic to slide the ball into Clark’s left-hand corner of the net with exquisite ease.
In the 55th minute, David Turnbull came on to give the hard-working Hatate a break with the manager obviously looking to next Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden.
On the hour mark, Juranovic came within inches of a fifth goal with a clever 25-yard free-kick that left Clark rooted, but swept just wide of the left-hand upright.
Six minutes later, O’Riley zipped one into the side net following another neat piece of movement from the Hoops and a precise pass from Jota on the left.
In the 70th minute, however, the stylish midfielder did get on the scoresheet with a diving header after Juranovic had sent Turnbull racing clear on the right.
OH BHOY, O’RILEY…two-goal midfielder Matt O’Riley is congratulated by fellow-substitute David Turnbull.
SEVENTH HEAVEN…Liel Abada capped a wonderful Celtic performance against St Johnstone.
Three minutes later, O’Riley scored a breathtaking sixth goal with some neat footwork in the box before arcing an unstoppable left-foot effort high past the helpless Clark.
There was an extra loud cheer in the 74th minute when fans’ favourite Kyogo Furuhashi came on for his first appearance of 2022. The Japanese ace replaced Jota at the same time as James McCarthy came on for Callum McGregor with the armband being passed to Joe Hart.
Four minutes later, Kyogo showed he had lost none of his sharpness with a wonderful pass to Maeda who knocked the ball into the path of the rampaging Abada. The Israel international walloped a first-time effort beyond Clark for the seventh goal of a memorable afternoon.
And the Japanese international came so close to capping his comeback with his 17th goal of the term as he sizzled a low right-foot drive past the overworked Clark, but the ball edged just wide of the far upright.
Possibly Kyogo will have better luck next weekend at Hampden – a happy hunting ground after scoring twice in the Premier Sports League Cup Final victory over Hibs in December.
TEAM: Hart; Juranovic, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor; Rogic (sub: O’Riley 46), McGregor (sub: McCarthy 74), Hatate (sub: Turnbull 55); Jota (sub: Kyogo 74), Giakoumakis (sub: Abada 26), Maeda.