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  • Mackay-Steven at the double as Celts sink Saints

    Mackay-Steven at the double as Celts sink Saints

    By: Mark Henderson on 23 Jan, 2016 17:01

  • Scottish Premiership
    Celtic Park, Glasgow
    Saturday, January 23, 2016

    CELTIC...3
    (Mackay-Steven 9, 55, Armstrong 43)

    ST JOHNSTONE...1
    (MacLean 12)

    GARY Mackay-Steven scored his first two goals of the season to help Celtic sweep aside St Johnstone 3-1 in Paradise and restore their six-point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

    The winger opened the scoring inside the opening 10 minutes, stroking the ball home after Leigh Griffiths’ shot had deflected into his path.

    That goal was swiftly cancelled out by Steven MacLean but Stuart Armstrong put the dominant Hoops in the driving seat again just before the break, blasting in from Mikael Lustig’s cross.

    And Mackay-Steven sealed the points early in the second half, collecting Stefan Johansen’s pass and rolling the ball into the corner.  

    Kieran Tierney and Johansen returned to the starting XI as Ronny Deila made two changes to the team which trounced Hamilton 8-1 on Tuesday night. Emilio Izaguirre was named among the substitutes while Tom Rogic missed out through injury.

    Recent recruit Erik Sviatchenko was paraded to the crowd prior to kick off, while Ryan Christie, having officially become a Bhoy at the start of January, came off the bench late in the game to make his Hoops debut.

    Fuelled by their exhilarating showing earlier in the week, Celtic made a brisk start, moving the ball at pace and creating several promising positions before taking the lead in ninth minute.

    Griffiths, the hat-trick hero against the Accies, inadvertently turned provider this time. Collecting a pass on the edge of the area, he cut inside and pulled the trigger. His shot was deflected into Mackay-Steven’s path and the winger took a touch and then drilled a shot under Alan Mannus.  

    Moments later, Armstrong almost doubled the advantage when Mannus blocked his shot after he had been sent clear by Callum McGregor.

    But on their first meaningful attack, the visitors levelled the match. Michael O’Halloran held off Jozo Simunovic and cut the ball back from the byline and MacLean was on hand to convert from close-range at the near post.

    Aside from MacLean squeezing a shot on target from which Craig Gordon made a comfortable save, it was all Celtic, with the Perth side working hard to get men behind the ball and repel constant attacking waves.

    Bitton tested Mannus with a dipping drive from distance and Ronny Deila’s side sent in a number of inviting crosses to the box from either flank, with Tierney providing plentiful supply down the left in addition to defending diligently at the back.

    And it was from another of the teenager’s deliveries that the Hoops came close in the 27th minute as Mackay-Steven fired a first-time shot over the bar.

    Johansen then sent Lustig scampering down the right with a precise pass, the Swede’s low centre somehow missed by several awaiting Celtic players inside the six-yard box.

    It was one-way traffic, and Ronny Deila’s side opened up the resilient away side with some slick, passing football twice in quick succession, but McGregor and then Griffiths were crowded out at crucial moment.

    Griffiths was denied by last-gasp challenge by Brian Easton and McGregor had a shot well-saved by Mannus as the Bhoys continued to pile on the pressure before half-time. Eventually, it paid off.

    Mackay-Steven released Lustig down the right and the stand-in skipper’s cross was volleyed home by Armstrong.  

    It was a well-deserved lead for the hosts after their dominance in the opening period and they were determined not to let Tommy Wright’s side back into contest.

    The lively Mackay-Steven had the first effort on target after the restart, spinning away from his marker and unleashing a rasping shot from 20 yards. Mannus was unable to hold it but Griffiths was unable to convert the rebound.

    Surging inside off the right flank, Mackay-Steven had been a constant threat and he bagged his second goal of the afternoon 10 minutes into the second half to give Celtic a two-goal cushion.

    Johansen burst forward from midfield and his clever reverse ball picked out the run of Mackay-Steven, who steadied himself before finding the far corner.

    With the Perth outfit now forced to emerge from their defensive shell, the match suddenly became more open with a flurry of chances at either end.

    Armstrong and Griffiths were thwarted by Mannus, before Johansen had to clear off the line following a corner. Gordon also made a superb reflex save to deny Liam Craig from close-range.  

    Griffiths, Mackay-Steven and McGregor had opportunities to add to the Hoops’ tally, while Michael O’Halloran came close late on for the Saints but the champions were not to be denied maximum reward, a prize they richly deserved.

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Lustig, Ambrose, Simunovic, Tierney; Bitton, Johansen; Mackay-Steven (Forrest 86) McGregor (Allan 79), Armstrong (Christie 88) Griffiths
    Not Used: Fasan, Izaguirre, Ciftci, Boyata

    ST JOHNSTONE (4-4-1-1) Mannus; Shaughnessy, Anderson, Scobbie, Easton; Davidson (Caddis 69); O’Halloran, Wotherspoon, Lappin, Cummins (Craig 46); MacLean (Sutton 65)
    Not Used: Clark, Mackay, Kane, Thomson

    Website Man of the Match: Gary Mackay-Steven

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