Celtic lose top spot after St Johnstone draw
Celtic have been knocked off the top of the Scottish Premier League after St Johnstone came from behind to claim a share of the spoils in a 1-1 draw at Parkhead.
Just four days after beating Barcelona in a historic Champions League match at the same venue, Neil Lennon’s side showed all the signs of a European hangover as they failed to find a win in the league for the third match running.
Ten of the Celtic side that had put in a heroic shift in midweek started the match against the Perth side but their play lacked the intensity shown to defeat the Catalan giants in what was a lacklustre first half.
Super-sub Tony Watt, who scored the crucial second against Barca, was introduced at half-time and again had an instant impact when he opened the scoring in the 51st minute as he bundled Charlie Mulgrew’s lofted pass past Alan Mannus.
However, the Hoops failed to build on their advantage and after seeing a fierce strike superbly saved by Fraser Forster, Dutch forward Nigel Hasselbaink fired St Johnstone level in the 77th minute with a low drive on the turn.
The result leaves the Hoops trailing Hibernian, who won 2-1 against Dundee United in Sunday’s early kick-off match, by two points at the top of the table having played a game less than the Easter Road side.
“I think there was a lot of mental and physical fatigue in the team. We’ve had a heavy schedule and it has just taken its toll a little bit,” Celtic manager Lennon said.
“The squad’s stretched and the players who are playing are giving me everything at the minute but they are just running out of puff.” St Johnstone boss Steve Lomas thought his side thoroughly deserved a point.
“I thought our men were superb. We came here with a game plan and executed it to perfection,” Lomas said.
“We stopped Celtic having too many chances and created a few ourselves. I think some of the lads feel hard done by as they thought it was a stonewall penalty so it could have been even better.” At Celtic Park, captain Scott Brown returned after a bout of flu with Mikel Lustig dropping to the bench.
St Johnstone, who were thrashed 5-0 by Celtic on League Cup duty 12 days earlier, enjoyed some early pressure with Efe Ambrose forced to clear the danger after David McCracken had threatened from a corner.
In a quick breakaway Steven MacLean got the better of Ambrose and played in Hasselbaink but his first touch was heavy allowing Celtic to get back and clear the danger.
The home side’s play was lacking in intensity and when Kris Commons picked out Victor Wanyama with a lofted pass to the back post the Kenyan could only send his tame header well wide.
Joe Ledley was next to threaten from a Commons cross but he couldn’t convert his header before Commons himself fired a shot on the turn over the bar.
Teenager Watt climbed off the bench at the break to open the scoring in the 51st minute. Mulgrew launched a high ball into the box from just inside his own half and Watt showed the desire and hunger that had been lacking from Celtic in the first half when he beat keeper Mannus to it and bundled it over the line from close range.
St Johnstone got back into the game after the goal with Dave McKay close to equalising with an angled dipping volley from just inside the box that bounced just wide.
The visitors were appealing for a penalty in the 75th minute when substitute Gregory Tade went down following a challenge from Ambrose but referee Iain Brines waved away their protests.
Fraser Forster produced a superb one-handed save to push Hasselbaink’s shot over the bar but from the resultant corner St Johnstone grabbed a leveller.
Chris Millar took a short corner to McKay who swung it into the box where Wright knocked it on to Hasselbaink and the Dutch striker sent a smart low shot on the turn past the helpless Forster.