ST JOHNSTONE 1 CELTIC 3
A BREATHTAKING mighty wallop from Matt O’Riley helped to turn things around in Perth as Celtic toiled for over an hour against a determined St Johnstone team this afternoon.
The Hoops footered and fumbled in an alarmingly inept performance that concerned onlookers as passes went astray with monotonous regularity.
There was no intensity and precious little invention as the champions edged towards the brink of a catastrophic defeat.
They were trailing 1-0 right up until the 67th minute before Callum McGregor drilled in the equaliser and O’Riley took centre stage 12 minutes later with one of the goals of the season.
ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL…Brendan Rodgers salutes the fans after another success.
The midfielder applied a pulverising finishing touch to a superb flowing move as Alistair Johnston swept a pass forward to his namesake Mikey who flicked the ball to Kyogo Furuhashi.
The hitman pushed the ball in front of the rampaging O’Riley who took a touch with his left before blitzing an upstoppable right-foot drive high into the net from 25 yards to give the visitors the advantage over the stubborn Perth side for the first time in two games.
James Forrest, an 80th-minute substitute for Luis Palma, calmly stroked No.3 past the exposed Dimitar Mitov in stoppage-time and it was party time for the visitors.
But there is no getting away from the obvious – Celtic made this a lot tougher for themselves than it needed to be.
The Hoops were sloppy as they stumbled through an error-strewn first-half and presented the hosts with an unlikely interval advantage with some slapstick defending at a Graham Carey right-wing corner-kick in the 40th minute.
Joe Hart flapped hopelessly at the inswinger and was given little cover from the dozy defenders in front of him. After some penalty-box ping-pong, the ball dropped to O’Riley who unbelievably sclaffed a wayward clearance against the grounded Diallang Jaiyesimi and the ricochet bounced over the line.
It was a horrendous piece of defending and the veteran keeper has to shoulder most of the blame for not coming and collecting the cross in the first place.
NUMBER ONE…Callum McGregor (extreme left) watches as his drive hurtles past Saints keeper Dimitar Mitov.
It was a perplexing performance in the opening period with the visitors way off the pace while Brendan Rodgers stood transfixed on the touchline as the horror show unfolded before his eyes.
The Hoops had one effort on target in the first-half against a team against whom they fired blanks at Parkhead in August.
David Turnbull drew a fine save from Mitov when he latched onto a pass from Luis Palma just outside the box and motioned to his right. Swiftly, he changed direction, switched the ball to his left foot and attempted to arc a curling effort into the top right-hand corner of the net.
The Bulgarian netminder was alert to the 25th-minute danger and threw himself full-length across his line to claw the ball to safety.
He was beaten six minutes earlier when Turnbull tucked one behind him, but Yang Hyun-jun, who delivered the cross from the right, had strayed about three yards offside before whipping over the cross.
NUMBER TWO…Matt O’Riley (extreme left) sends a pulverising drive high into the Saints net.
Celtic might have realised this was going to be a day of toil in only 47 SECONDS of the encounter when Palma touched a long ball from Liam Scales to Kyogo about 14 yards out.
The Japanese striker controlled the pass and then whipped a left-foot shot wildly over the crossbar. At the very least, he should have hit the target. But this was not one of the fans’ favourite’s most memorable outings and he gave the impression he could still have been playing until the middle of the week without scoring.
Rodgers replaced him with his comptriot Tomoki Iwata just before the end as he shut up shop.
It was no surprise when Yang, who will urgently need to brush up on the offside laws, was kept in at the interval with Mikey Johnston coming on in his place.
There was a lot of huffing puffing after the break, but the Hoops were struggling to up the tempo and deliver some killer passes into the danger zone.
Turnbull made way for Oh Hyeon-gyu in the 58th minute as Rodgers changed the shape with the South Korean going up front to add some menace to an attack who had been powderpuff until his arrival.
NUMBER THREE…James Forrest runs away in triumph after claiming the killer goal.
FORREST FIRE…the veteran Hoops hitman celebrates after his strike.
The leveller duly arrived nine minutes later as Oh had an effort pushed away by Mitov and defender Liam Gordon thought he had completed the clearance with a header to the edge of the box.
McGregor played a captain’s part as he pounced on the ball and sizzled an unsaveable left-foot drive wide of the stranded and courageous netminder.
Then O’Riley stepped into the spotlight to fire in the second goal, but the visitors still lived dangerously and there was a moment of anxiety just moments before the third and killer goal.
Jay Turner-Cooke was at the back post to get on the end of a left-wing cross to direct a header down and on target. Hart managed to get a vital touch to push the effort away and the champions went straight down the pitch to claim the points-clincher.
Oh scrapped for the ball in the middle of the park before poking a pass to Iwata who raced clear on the left before picking out Forrest and the evergreen winger kept calm as he nudged the ball wide of Mitov for the strike that made certain the title charge remained on course.
TEAM: Hart; Johnston, Carter-Vickers, Scales, Taylor; Turnbull (sub: Oh 58), McGregor, O’Riley; Yang (sub: M Johnston 46), Kyogo (sub: Iwata 85), Palma (sub: Forrest 80).