ST JOHNSTONE 0 CELTIC 3
CELTIC sizzled in the a blistering opening half, but turned in a strangely slipshod performance after the interval at McDiarrmid Park tonight.
A whirlwind start with three goals in 20 minutes swept the champions to three points at rain-lashed McDairmid Park.
But the anticipated goal deluge did not materialise in the second 45 minutes as the visitors took their foot off the gas.
To be fair, Tommy Wright must have left his players in no doubt about his thoughts on the first-half and they showed a lot more fight and vigour when they came out for the second period.
Underlining their zest for a battle, Ali McCann and Wallace Duffy were booked for fouls on Olivier Ntcham and Greg Taylor and Jason Kerr was extremely fortunate to escape any colour of card from referee John Beaton after a dodgy challenge that sent Odson Edouard flying.
At the end of a game played in adverse weather conditions, Celtic were still five points ahead at the Premiership pinnacle following Steven Gerrard’s side’s 2-0 victory over Ross County in Glasgow.
NUMBER ONE…flying Frenchman Olivier Ntcham fires in an unstoppable header.
NUMBER TWO…James Forrest zips a right-foot drive beyond Zander Clark.
NUMBER THREE…delighted Leigh Griffiths celebrates after a sublime volley.
The Hoops kicked off with their foot on the gas and they simply blew away their opponents with relentless pressure as they made absolutely certain there was no sign of a banana skin in Perth during their quest for nine in a row.
Neil Lennon had to be content with a 3-0 advantage at the interval, but he will know it could have been doubled at the very least. In fact, the visitors almost opened the scoring exactly on the first minute when some nice inter-changing by Leigh Griffiths and Edouard allowed the Frenchman a look at goal. He whipped in a low shot that gave keeper Zanfer Clark problems as it squirmed away from his arms, but he grabbed the rebound before Griffiths could pounce.
In the fifth minute, Taylor, who worked tirelessly on the left wing, swung in a cross and Griffiths nodded his effort wide of the post with Clark helpless. The striker acknowledged he should have hit the target.
However, the opening goal was only delayed until the 10th minutewhen Olivier Ntcham powered in an unstoppable six-yard header to finish off a breathtaking move.
Christopher Jullien, Jozo Simunovic, Scott Brown, Edoaurd and Griffiths were all involved in the huild-up before the French ace slid the ball into the tracks of James Forrest, rampaing into the box.
The winger clipped in a first-time cross and Ntcham arrived bang on time to leap high to power a header into the net with the keeper motionless.
OUCH…Greg Taylor is on the receiving end of a tough challege from Wallace Duffy.
Two minutes later, the Hoops almost doubled their advantage when Taylor tricked his way into the box before unleashing a ferocious right-foot drive at goal.
Clark managed to beat the effort away and Griffiths was onto the rebound in a flash. He thumped it straight back in, but Callum Booth somehow managed to block the attempt when a goal looked a certainty.
Moments later, Liam Gordon waywardly mis-kicked a cross from Taylor and Clark had to dive full-length to his right to push the ball to safety.
Celtic still rolled forward furiously as the rain teemed down and in the 20th minute Forrest collected a deserved second goal.
McGregor eased a pass into the path of the Scotland international who calmly took the ball up to Scott Tanser before dipping a shoulder to open up an angle to fire in a shot which he did with a certain amount of aplomb and his drive zipped beyond the stretching custodian.
In the 23rd minute, Clark made a superb diving save from a whiplash effort from Griffiths and the third was delayed for only delayed for three minutes.
And it was a peach of a strike as comeback Bhoy Griffiths scored his third goal in four games since the mid-winter break.
Taylor provided the opportunity again with an inviting cross from the left and the striker netted with an exquisite cushioned volley from 10 yards that whipped low past Zander at his right-hand post.
McGregor also had the overworked keeper scrambling with a 20-yard effort that zipped just wide of the right-hand upright. It was a procession in the rain – and the Celtic fans whooped it up.
Lennon put on Austrian international Mortitz Bauer for Simunovic for the start of the second-half and Mikey Johnston also arrived in the 67th minute as he replaced Griffiths.
Patryk Klimala became the third sub when he came on for Edouard in the 83rd minute.
TWO-WAY TUSSLE…Patryk Klimala challenges Liam Craig for possession.
UNHAPPY…grim-faced Neil Lennon can’t disguise his emotions as Mike Johnston limps off.
Johnston limped off three minutes from the end much to the displeasure of Lennon who had asked the player if he had been fit to stay on when he was about to take off Edouard. The sub was limping after a robust challenge from David Wotherspoon, but he said he was okay to continue.
The boss then took off the French talisman and put on Klimala only minutes before Johnston had to admit defeat and come off.
The Polish hitman came so close to his first Celtic goal when he was just a stud away from a superb Taylor left-wing cross.
And Forster earned his win bonus with a brilliant diving save from a Michael O’Halloran drive following some sloppy play from Jullien.
Four wins from four games in 2020 and now all eyes are on Hamilton on Sunday.
TEAM: Forster; Simunovic (sub: Bauer 46), Jullien, Ajer; Brown, Forrest, Ntcham, McGregor, Taylor; Griffiths (sub: Johnston 67), Edouard (sub: Klimala 83).