Scout Report: How St. Johnstone will look to land knockout blow on Lennon and Celtic tomorrow

By Euan Davidson

December 5, 2020

St. Johnstone bother me. The club and I share a strange history that dates back years. I respect them, but they’re somewhat of a bogey team.

Whenever I select Saints players for my Fantasy Football team, they disappoint. The next week I drop Stevie May, and he becomes Lewandowski. On various editions of Football Manager, they confound me, regardless of what kind of form they’re in. They even beat me on PES during a lunch hour this week.

After parting with Tommy Wright, I thought they’d struggle. Instead, Callum Davidson has brought freshness and verve to a formerly defence-first outfit. They’re currently 7th in the table after Saturday’s results (BBC), but if they can continue the form they’re on, they’re good value for a top 6 finish.

Here are the areas where St. Johnstone can flourish or flounder against Celtic tomorrow.

Stevie May is back amongst the goals / (Photo by Roddy Scott/SNS Group via Getty Images)

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Movement and dynamism up front

Early in the season, the Saints were useless going forward. They managed 3 goals in the first ten rounds of matches, and 2 of those came against Kilmarnock in the same game.

However, Callum Davidson’s experimentation has reaped rewards. The Perth side now play a 3-4-2-1, or if you’re feeling festive, a Christmas Tree formation.

With Stevie May at the tip of the arrow, or as the angel on the tree (that’s enough – Ed), Craig Conway and David Wotherspoon filling in just behind, the Saints have looked livelier.

In October, for example, they put 5 past Hamilton Accies (BBC), with all three of their attack triumvirate getting on the scoresheet. Conway is most likely still out with a nose injury (Not The Old Firm), but their general shape will probably be unchanged against Celtic.

Ali McCan v Motherwell / (Photo by Ross MacDonald/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Ali McCann: midfield influencer

Ali McCann has already been spoken about as a Celtic target, with Celtic scout Tosh McKinlay keeping a keen eye on the Northern Irish midfielder. There’s a reason for that; he’s been good this season.

Keeping things moving along nicely for Callum Davidson’s men, McCann has been successful with 78.4% of his passes this season (WhoScored?). Averaging 32.4 passes a game, his distribution has been impressive. It compares favourably with Rangers’ Scott Arfield, who averages slightly higher percentages with 32.3 passes per game (WhoScored?), but the Canadian international has several years on McCann.

If Celtic are able to stop the 21-year-old from recycling possession in the middle of the park, they’ll be able to take away St. Johnstone’s attacking momentum.

Ex-Celt Jamie McCart / (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group via Getty Images)

Leaky at the back

If you’re into goals, you’re probably in for a treat tomorrow. Much like their opponents tomorrow, St. Johnstone haven’t been able to keep a clean sheet for weeks. In terms of league action, the Saints haven’t shut out their opposition since the November 6th match against Kilmarnock (BBC).

On that occasion, Killie were hampered by fog. It still counts, though.

Against a back three, which will most likely include ex-Celt Jamie McCart (Transfermarkt), there should be some joy for Celtic’s wide players.

St. Johnstone’s defence aren’t particularly proficient at intercepting the ball. Jason Kerr, for example, averages 1 interception a game, while Liam Gordon’s 1.4 average isn’t much better.

These stats are hard to compare, but bearing in mind that they average less than 50% possession so far this season (WhoScored?), the Saints defence should theoretically have more opportunities to breach passing lanes. A valid equivalence comes in the form of strugglers St. Mirren, who average 45.3% possession the league. Conor McCarthy, for example, makes 1.8 interceptions a game.

That makes sense, right? The central point is that St. Johnstone aren’t great at winning the ball back. Celtic should see plenty of possession tomorrow, and the onus is on the Bhoys to use it to their advantage.

Aye, 3 would be grand, Eddy / (Photo by VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images)

Prediction

With all of this in mind, specifically the state of two porous defences, I’d predict a narrow 3-2 win for Celtic at Parkhead tomorrow.

The Saints are good going forward but with Craig Conway missing, I can’t see Callum Davidson’s side toppling the Bhoys, who need to start a new run of form.

If Celtic can recreate the first 15 minutes against A.C. Milan, they’ll find opportunities in the attacking third. The difference in this game, however, is that Celtic can keep possession at their leisure, but they mustn’t waste it with sideways, negative passing.