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  • Dembele the hat-trick hero as Celts storm back to sink Saints

    Dembele the hat-trick hero as Celts storm back to sink Saints

    By: Mark Henderson on 05 Feb, 2017 14:32

  • Scottish Premiership
    McDiarmid Park, Perth
    Sunday, February 5, 2017

    ST JOHNSTONE...2
    (Watson 31, Boyata o.g. 43)

    CELTIC...5
    (Henderson 6, Dembele pen. 61, 75, 85 Sinclair 81)

    MOUSSA Dembele came off the bench to bag a 24-minute hat-trick as Celtic fought back to sweep aside St Johnstone 5-2 at McDiamird Park and extend their domestic unbeaten run to 29 games.

    Liam Henderson had put the Hoops into an early lead in Perth but the hosts went in ahead at the interval thanks to Keith Watson’s header and Dedyrck Boyata’s own goal.

    But moments after entering the fray, Dembele restored parity from the penalty spot after Keith Watson had been penalised for handling Kieran Tierney’s cross.

    The striker’s cool finish from Mikael Lustig’s cutback made it 3-2 and, after Scott Sinclair had sealed the win with a breakaway goal, he completed his treble with five minutes left on the clock following some terrific skill from Lustig and Callum McGregor.

    Having clocked up their 19th consecutive league victory, Brendan Rodgers’ side now enjoy a 27-point lead at the top of the table as they close in on a sixth successive league title.  

    The Irishman had made made three changes from the Celtic team that defeated Aberdeen 1-0 on Wednesday night. Erik Sviatchenko returned in central defence, Henderson started in an advanced midfield role while Gary Mackay-Steven was deployed on the right of the attacking trident. Jozo Simunovic, McGregor and James Forrest were the players to drop out, with all of them named among the substitutes.

    And it only took Henderson six minutes to justify his selection as he opened the scoring after goalkeeper Zander Clark had denied the Hoops twice in quick succession.

    Industrious play from birthday Bhoy Patrick Roberts sparked the move. He stole possession from Danny Swanson and played in Mackay-Steven, whose shot was parried by Clark. Mackay-Steven retrieved the ball to maintain the danger, however, and then it was Roberts’ turn to be denied by Clark following Brown’s pass. But the shot-stopper left was helpless when Henderson followed up to confidently sweep home the rebound with an accurate left-footed finish.

    It was the perfect start for the champions, who had started with pace and purpose, and Henderson almost bagged a second shortly after when he met Kieran Tierney’s cutback but Tam Scobbie was on hand to block the shot.

    Having being under the cosh in the opening exchanges, the home side started to grow into the contest. Danny Swanson was off target with an ambitious effort from distance, and it was the Saints’ top scorer who spotted the run of Richard Foster into the box in the 18th minute but Craig Gordon was out quickly to block the wide-man’s effort.

    Celtic continued to look the more dangerous side, though, and a rapid breakaway from the Bhoys should have seen them double their advantage. Henderson fed Sinclair on the halfway line and he accelerated through the middle before supplying Mackay-Steven, who bore down on Clark but was unable to beat the keeper.

    And Brendan Rodgers’ side were punished for their profligacy just beyond the half-hour mark as the Saints levelled the match. After the Hoops had been forced to concede a corner after a quick counter-attack, Keith Watson rose highest from Swanson’s delivery to head home, despite Gordon’s best efforts.

    Stung by that setback, the Bhoys tried to muster a response and Henderson had a shot saved and Sinclair fired over.

    But, particularly on the break, the home side remained a threat and they completed a surprise turnaround as half-time approached. David Wotherspoon had just come close with a header minutes earlier, and it was his presence that caused Dedryck Boyata to head into his own net from Swanson’s delivery.

    There was still time for Celtic to mount a late flurry of pressure – Roberts tested Clark with a half-volley and Henderson had a free-kick saved – but they had the unusual sensation of trailing at the interval.

    The champions looked determined to remedy this situation as they started the second half at a furious tempo, with Henderson thwarted by Clark from an acute angle after a quickly-taken free-kick.

    St Johnstone midfielder Paul Paton was also lucky not to avoid further censure than just a yellow card when cynically taking out Nir Bitton  

    Just beyond the hour-mark, they got their reward. Tierney left Foster for dead on the left, and when his delivery appeared to strike the arm of Watson, referee Craig Thomson pointed to the spot. Dembele, only just on a sub, calmly slotted away the penalty with his first touch of the game.

    The momentum had now swung firmly back in Celtic’s direction, and Dembele put them back in front with 15 minutes left on the clock. Lustig managed to retrieve Tierney’s cross on the byline and when the Swede rolled the ball back towards the edge of the box, Dembele sent a composed finish beyond Clark.

    That forced the Saints to commit more men forward and Brendan Rodgers’ side took full advantage. From a St Johnstone corner, Brown picked out Roberts on the right. The winger burst inside and found Sinclair, who applied the finish.

    And there was still time for Dembele to grab his hat-trick, the 20-year-old adjusting his feet quickly to find the net after superb work from Lustig and McGregor as the champions survived another test to maintain their fabulous form.

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Lustig, Sviatchenko, Boyata, Tierney; Bitton, Brown; Mackay-Steven (Dembele 59), Henderson (McGregor 71), Sinclair; Roberts (Ciftci 86)
    Not Used: De Vries, Simunovic, Gamboa, Forrest

    ST JOHNSTONE (4-4-2) Clark; Watson, Shaughnessy, Scobbie, Easton; Foster (MacLean 78), Paton, Wotherspoon (Alston 70), Swanson; Davidson; Cummins
    Not Used: Manus, Millar, Smith, Craig, Thomson

    Website Man of the Match: Moussa Dembele

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