ST JOHNSTONE 0 CELTIC 2
CELTIC finished with nine men after a remarkable confrontation at Perth that saw them restore their six-point advantage at the pinnacle of the Premiership this afternoon.
James Forrest and Timothy Weah were the men who scored the second-half goals that mattered – the latter coming when the team had only 10 men with sub Odsonne Edouard stretchered off – and Kristoffer Ajer saw red in stoppage time.
It was almost written in the stars that Celtic would be denied a stonewall penalty-kick at some stage and we only had to wait until the 14th minute before controversy arrived.
Danny Swanson was wayward with a passback and Oliver Burke swept onto the ball and was poised to take a touch before Jason Kerr lunged in to send him toppling to the turf.
Certainly, the Saints defender got a toe to the ball, but he had to go through the Hoops attacker to achieve that. He cut him off at the ankles and that is a straight spot-kick in anyone language.
Except match official Willie Collum, who, remarkably, decided there was no infringement and turned a blind eye.
OUCH…Oliver Burke is sent flying with a wayward challenge from Jason Kerr, but no penalty was awarded.
This, of course, is the same Willie Collum who somehow missed Rangers keeper Allan McGregor lashing out a prone Kristoffer Ajer in the champions’ 1-0 win at Parkhead earlier in the season.
The same Ajer got off to a very unfortunate start to this encounter when he went down inside the first minute after a mid-air clash with former Celtic forward Tony Watt.
The Perth attacker and the Norwegian went for a high ball and the central defender caught the back of Watt’s head smack on the jaw.
He went down in a heap and the game was halted for a lengthy spell before he was helped to the touchline.
While Brendan Rodgers’ side were down to 10 men the home outfit had the best chance of the opening 45 minutes to open the scoring, despite the domination of the visitors.
HOOP HOOP HOORAY…Jeremy Toljan makes his first Hoops appearance.
In the fifth minute, Matty Kennedy, following a series of ricochets, found himself unmarked smack in front of goal only about eight yards out.
Scott Bain, thankfully, stood tall and didn’t commit himself. The Perth winger hurriedly hit a low shot at the gaping target and the keeper, who went into this game without conceding a goal following four appearances in 2019, blocked the effort and the ball was scrambled away for a corner-kick.
Ajer returned moments later and the game then relentlessly moved in the direction of the Saints goal.
Forrest, the scorer of four goals in his last visit to this ground, and Emilio Izaguirre both had opportunities to get in balls from their respective wings, but on both occasions there elevation was just out.
In the 27th minute, Ryan Christie flighted in a free-kick from the left, but the towering Ajer’s header floated across the goal and beyond the far upright.
New Bhoy Jeremy Toljan came on for the injured Mikael Lustig at the interval for an unforgettable second-half.
YIPPEE…James Forrest runs away in delight after opening the scoring.
It didn’t take long for the on-loan Borussia Dortmund defender, playing his first competitive game since April, to get involved in a brisk move down the right that involved Christie and McGregor before Ajer was presented with a shooting opportunity. A desperate lunge from a defender took the sting out of the shot and Clark saved comfortable.
Minutes later, the German ran onto a neat ball from Forrest to turn a pass inside for Burke and the Scotland international’s fierce shot was blocked low at post by the overworked Perth No.1.
The on-loan West Brom attacker had another shot repelled by Clark before he made way for Edouard in the 66th minute.
Alas, his stay on the pitch was to extend to only five minutes before being stretchered off following a reckless studs-up challenge from Joe Shaughnessy that prevented a certain goal.
THE VICTIM…Odsonne Edouard writhes in pain after the penalty-box challenge.
An assault like that anywhere else on the pitch would be likely to bring instant dismissal. On this occasion, the ref once again took no action and the Frenchman had to have treatment behind the goal before eventually being helped away.
He took the full brunt of the challenge on his instep and manager Brendan Rodgers must hope it is bruising and not a break.
Weah came on to take his former Paris Saint-Germain colleague’s place and with sublime irony he was involved in the breakthrough goal in the 78th minute.
Scott Brown, who put in a Man of the Match display, started it with a sublime long ball out of defence that was controlled in an instant by the American international.
He went to the left before hitting a telling cross and Forrest got in before Scott Tanser to hammer the ball in from close range. On this occasion, Clark, who had once again proved to be his side’s star man, had no answer and had to admit defeat.
Unfortunately, it was one of the last actions of the winger as he limped off moments later with what looked like a hamstring injury.
YANKS A LOT…Timothy Weah celebrates his killer goal for the champions. Pics: Geo.
Justice was done in the 89th minute when Scott Sinclair dispossessed Ross Callachan and carried the ball 50 yards before slipping a pass to McGregor who picked out Weah and the speedy raider tucked a slick effort beyond Clark low to his left.
Unfortunately, referee Collum would have the final say when he flashed a red card at Ajer who held back Callum Hendry after he had lost possession.
Was it a certain goalscoring opportunity? You could argue that it wasn’t.
The Saints sub would have had a lot of work to do plus Jozo Simunovic was behind his colleague when he slipped up. Either way, Ajer made no protest as he trudged off to add to his manager’s defensive woes.
However, there was no way Celtic were going to be afforded the benefit of the doubt.
But this team have been known to overcome all sorts of obstacles.
TEAM: Bain; Lustig (sub: Toljan 46), Ajer, Simunovic, Izaguirre; Brown, McGregor; Forrest, Christie, Sinclair; Burke (sub: Edouard 66; sub: Weah 74).