Celtic bounce back from Champions League exit with win
Scottish champions came from behind to see off St Johnstone and move top of the league
Charlie Mulgrew scored Cletic’s third in their 3-1 win over St Johnstone. Photograph: Reuters
Celtic 3 St Johnstone 1
Ronny Deila’s side exited the Champions League play-off on a 4-3 aggregate to Malmo in Sweden on Tuesday night and, on their return to domestic duty, fell behind after 11 minutes when defender Dedryck Boyata put through his own goal.
However, striker Leigh Griffiths levelled with a deflected strike seven minutes later for his eighth of the season and midfielder Tom Rogic scored a fine goal just before the break, which saw the parading of 21-year-old defender Tyler Blackett, signed on a season loan from Manchester United.
Substitute Charlie Mulgrew, on for the injured skipper Scott Brown — who could be a doubt for Scotland’s upcoming Euro 2016 qualifying double-header against Georgia and Germany — headed in number three in the 67th minute as the home side leapfrogged Hearts to the summit, one point ahead of Aberdeen, who have a game in hand.
Emilio Izaguirre returned at left-back at the expense of Mulgrew while Kris Commons, Rogic and Gary Mackay-Steven came back into a new-look midfield attacking three as Saints midfielder David Wotherspoon replaced Simon Lappin.
The sense of anti-climax which hung over Celtic Park was helped little by the Green Brigade, the ultras-style section of the Hoops support, who held a two-part banner up which read ‘Gutless in Malmo; Clueless in Boardroom’ although there were some cheers from other Hoops fans when it was lowered.
However, there was general green and white disgruntlement in the 11th minute when Saints midfielder Michael O’Halloran’s cut-back from the right somehow went through the hands of goalkeeper Craig Gordon to Boyata who inadvertently turned it into his own net under no real pressure.
However, the Hoops striker soon levelled with a drive from 22 yards, although it appeared to take a deflection before flying high past the McDiarmid Park number one.
Celtic slowly grew in confidence.
With seconds remaining of the regular 45 minutes, preceded by four added minutes of injury time for treatment required following a head clash between Murray Davidson and Izaguirre, the home side forged ahead.
From a tight angle on the left of the box, Rogic weaved his way past Davidson and Saints skipper Dave Mackay before firing past Mannus.
Davidson stayed in at the interval, replaced by Liam Craig, while Brown had to be replaced by Mulgrew on the hour mark after failing to shrug off a knock.
Celtic were more assured by then.
After Mannus made a fine save from a Commons drive, from the resultant corner the Hoops midfielder swung in a cross which was headed back across goal by Virgil van Dijk to give Mulgrew the chance to finish it off from two yards out.
It looked like the home side would go on to finish the match in comfort, but again moments of slackness almost cost dearly.
In the 75th minute, Saints substitute John Sutton, on for Steven MacLean, clipped the top of the bar with a turn and shot from close range, and Gordon had to make a great double save from Joe Shaugnessy and O’Halloran close to the end, but it was a deserved home win.