CELTIC 1 ST JOHNSTONE 1
CALLUM McGREGOR made a timely intervention to preserve Celtic’s Invincible tag as he netted a superb equaliser against a rugged Saints outfit at Parkhead this afternoon.
The silky midfield operator was introduced to the action just after the hour mark with the Hoops toiling a goal down.
Eighteen minutes later, McGregor’s quick thinking brought the leveller and, with a little bit of luck, the champions would have picked up yet another win.
Brendan Rodgers’ battlers struck the woodwork twice in the fading moments as the Saints held on grimly for a point.
Parkhead was silenced six minutes from the interval when Craig Gordon gifted the visitors a controversial opener.
The keeper was wayward with his distribution and the ball went straight to Steven MacLean who was clearly offside. However, referee Willie Collum, who made his usual array of bizarre decisions in this encounter, waved play on.
The Perth man plonked the ball in the net to give the visitors an unlikely lead.
An early head knock to Murray Davidson after a clash with Scott Brown held up the game for six minutes.
When it resumed, the Hoops surged forward, but Tommy Wright’s side always looked dangerous on the break.
Alan Mannus wasn’t exactly overworked in the opening 45 minutes and the Irish keeper made routine saves from James Forrest and Scotty Sinclair.
Rodgers sent on Jonny Hayes and Stuart Armstrong for Forrest and Olivier Ntcham after the interval as he attempted to turn the game around.
In the 52nd minute, Leigh Griffiths launched a free-kick over the bar and that was followed by an Armstrong run and drive that was well saved by Mannus.
Collum then booked Mikael Lustig after an obvious dive from MacLean and, thankfully, the free-kick on the edge of the box was cleared.
Celtic survived a real scare before the hour mark when Brian Easton was allowed to race away from Hayes on the Saints’ left.
The full-back picked out the unmarked MacLean, in between Lustig and Nir Bitton, but he sent his six-yard header straight at Gordon when it looked as though he must score.
McGregor came on for Tony Ralston with the Hoops reverting to a back three in the 61st minute.
Celtic piled on the presure as the tension mounted in an action-packed second period as the Perth defence, superbly marshalled by Steven Anderson, threw bodies at the ball to prevent a goal.
In the 66th minute, Tom Rogic curled one past Mannus, but also agonisingly wide of the upright.
The Celtic fans claimed a penalty-kick shortly afterward when it looked as though Ricky Foster had deflected the ball past the post with his hand, but the match official waved them away and awarded a corner-kick.
The Saints got lucky in the 72nd minute when MacLean appeared to punch Kieran Tierney in full view of Collum.
Remarkably, the ref saw fit only to flash the yellow card to the ire and surrprise of the home support.
Celtic hammered away in an effort to protect their incredible unbeaten record and Griffiths had a shot blocked before Mannus pushed away an effort from Hayes.
A goal just had to come and it arrived in the 79th minute and this time there was nothing the heroic Perth back lot could do.
Sinclair, who had been tormenting the visitors’ rearguard for the bulk of the second period, tried to feed a pass into the crowded box.
The ball was diverted to McGregor and the clever midfielder didn’t hesitate as he despatched a low drive into the corner of the net.
Parkhead was in bedlam as Rodgers’ champions went for the winner – and but for the woodwork they would have claimed all three points.
Sinclair crashed one off the junction of bar and post in the 85th minute after a swift free-kick from Tierney and Lustig also struck woodwork with an effort in the fading moments.
In the end, Celtic had to settle for a stalemate, a point earned and a lesson learned.
TEAM: Gordon; Ralston (sub: McGregor 61), Lustig, Bitton, Tierney; Brown, Ntcham (sub: Armstrong 46); Forrest (sub: Hayes 46), Rogic, Sinclair; Griffiths.