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  • Celts sink Saints to make it eight in a row

    Celts sink Saints to make it eight in a row

    By: Mark Henderson on 14 Feb, 2015 14:48

  • Scottish Premiership
    McDiarmid Park, Perth
    Saturday, February 14, 2015

    ST JOHNSTONE...1
    (O’Halloran 72)

    CELTIC...2
    (Griffiths 1, Johansen 52)

    CELTIC preserved their perfect start to 2015, seeing off a late St Johnstone fightback to claim a deserved 2-1 victory at McDiarmid Park.   

    Leigh Griffiths slotted into the empty net inside the opening 60 seconds to as the Hoops burst from the blocks with intent.

    Playing some sparkling stuff, the champions came close to increasing their advantage several times before Stefan Johansen doubled the advantage seven minutes into the second half.

    Michael O’Halloran reduced the deficit in the closing stages to set up a frenetic finish but Ronny Deila’s side held on, helped by some heroic goalkeeping from Craig Gordon, to seal an eight successive win in all competitions, the perfect way to head into Thursday’s glamour UEFA Europa League meeting with Inter Milan.

    Following Wednesday’s impressive 3-0 victory over Partick Thistle, Ronny Deila only made one change to the starting XI, with Griffiths restored the side at the expense of John Guidetti, who was named among the substitutes.

    And the Hoops hit-man took only 36 seconds to make his presence felt as he sensationally opened the scoring. Nir Bitton was the architect, picking a hole through the home defence with a pinpoint pass to send Griffiths clear and he calmly rolled the ball under the onrushing Alan Mannus.   

    It was the second successive game Celtic had broken the deadlock within the opening minute and they maintained their incredible intensity and tempo to quickly fashion further chances.

    Only a desperate block denied Scott Brown after receiving Adam Matthews’ cutback and Griffiths lashed a first-time volley wide as the beleaguered St Johnstone rearguard struggled to cope.

    They did earn some respite around the 10-minute mark, getting their foot on the ball and winning a free-kick on the right. When the set-piece was knocked down in the box, Michael O’Halloran could only scoop a shot straight at Craig Gordon.

    An early injury to influential midfielder Murray Davidson didn’t aid their cause, and he was replaced by Chris Kane.

    The movement and link-up play between Celtic’s attacking quartet of Gary Mackay-Steven, Stefan Johansen, Stuart Armstrong and Leigh Griffiths was causing consternation for the hosts.

    And when Armstrong’s surging run has resulted in a corner, Virgil van Dijk’s powerful header was close to being converted by Griffiths, with Mannus grateful to grasp the loose ball on the line.

    After Kane had headed wide from O’Halloran’s cross at one end, Celtic swiftly responded as Griffiths controlled Mackay-Steven’s pass in the box and unleashed a rasping effort, forcing Mannus to make a sprawling save.

    Despite the frequency of Celtic’s attacks, Tommy Wright’s men were playing with plenty of spirit and were finding some joy down the flanks. Both Steven MacLean and Kane won headers from corners, though Gordon was untroubled.  

    But Mannus has to be at his best to deny Mackay-Steven shortly after, springing to his right and getting a hand to the winger’s ferocious strike from 20 yards.

    With Mackay-Steven in particular continuing to wreak havoc, Celtic regained the ascendancy as the interval drew closer – Brown was unable to generate sufficient power to test Mannus from Johansen’s pass and Griffiths had a shot deflected over.

    Mackay-Steven then shot across goal, after another penetrative thrust into the area, with Matthews unable to control the rebound.

    And on the stroke of half-time, Jason Denayer glanced a header over – but the Bhoys only took seven minutes after the restart to increase their tally with a well-worked goal.

    Armstrong’s accurate pass was flicked on by Griffiths into Johansen’s path and the Norwegian kept his composure under pressure to slam the ball home.

    Brown had been typically tenacious, working in tandem alongside the assured Nir Bitton, to control possession and drive the team on.

    And a lovely interchange between the skipper and Emilio Izaguirre down the left forced a foul and gave van Dijk the chance to try his luck from the set-piece. His low drive deflected wide.

    Brown was next to threaten, collecting a pass from the left in his stride and hitting the target but he was unable to find a way past Mannus, stretching as he shot.

    Van Dijk’s physical presence had posed problems for the Perth side from dead-ball situations throughout the game and the Dutchman was unfortunate to see a thumping volley deflect wide from a corner.

    Celtic were cruising at the stage but the hosts were given renewed hope when they pulled a goal back with just under 20 minutes left on the clock. Tam Scobbie was afforded space to cross from the left, resulting in a melee. When the ball broke loose, O’Halloran forced it home.

    Mackay-Steven and substitute Liam Henderson replied for the Hoops, and the latter was agonisingly close to killing off the contest in the final five minutes.

    Anthony Stokes did well to reach the byline and his cutback was met by Henderson but it ricocheted off a defender and spun inches wide.

    And Celtic had Gordon to thank for them leaving with maximum reward, with an outstanding double save from Brian Graham and Dave Mackay as the clock ticked down.

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Matthews, Denayer, van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton; Mackay-Steven (Efe Ambrose 82), Johansen, Armstrong (Henderson 68); Griffiths (Stokes 62)
    Not Used: Zaluska, Guidetti, Scepovic, McGregor

    ST JOHNSTONE (4-5-1) Mannus, Mackay, Anderson, Scobbie, Easton; Croft (McFadden 65), Davidson (Kane 14), Millar, Lappin O’Halloran; MacLean (Graham 76)
    Not Used: Banks, Wright, Caddis, G. Miller

    Website Man of the Match: Scott Brown

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