St Johnstone vs Celtic used to be such a straightforward fixture until this nightmare season came along.
Indeed, we came into the campaign on the back of nine wins and 10 consecutive clean sheets against the Perth side. We did manage to keep that up in our first meeting this term. Our 2-0 win on the last trip to McDiarmid, however, came with goals arriving in the final few minutes.
Saints would then take a 1-1 draw from Parkhead at the tail-end of 2020. And that was followed up today with another slog of a contest. In the end, Celtic managed to secure a 2-1 comeback win.
And here, we delve right into three things we feel we learned from the contest:
1. Two strikers still the way to go
I have absolutely no idea what Neil Lennon was thinking when he reverted back to one striker. Albian Ajeti dropped out for Ryan Christie to start today’s contest at McDiarmid. Effectively, Celtic therefore switched the system back to a one-striker formation with Odsonne Edouard leading the line.
His supply-line was made up of Christie, David Turnbull, and Tom Rogic respectively. Each individual performed to differing levels of success, but we didn’t create anywhere near the chances we have been with two front-men in recent games.
Over a week ago, Lennon threw Ajeti in alongside Edouard to make up a strike-pairing. That led to a run of 10 goals in three games. The general consensus being it could’ve been a lot more. Yet even though the Swiss striker was dropped, we still had Patryk Klimala and Leigh Griffiths available. Neither were chosen, with Celtic instead effectively playing with three number 10s as an alternative.
It didn’t work for long spells. The Saints defence was barely troubled until Edouard’s individual class told. Eddy was often isolated, and with Christie often the most advanced of the midfielders, his service was woefully under-par.
The decision to drop any form of strike partnership felt random and unnecessary today. But hey, nothing’s truly surprising you this season. For Lennon, three points will be three points.
2. Edouard still Hoops’ best performer
He’s taken a heck of an amount of stick this season, but Odsonne Edouard’s influence on Celtic cannot be under-estimated. Once again today, the big Frenchman produced to help continue the Hoops’ momentum.
It looked like the grim results were about to return after Shaun Rooney headed the Saints in front. But two superb finishes from Edouard turned the game on its head.
For so long this season, he’s been criticised for not looking interested. Or perhaps simply not performing to his highest standards. As much as you can understand that argument, he now has 20 goals for the season after today’s brace. There’s still plenty of time for him to beat last year’s total of 28.
This is why he won’t be dropped anytime soon. He’s still Celtic’s MVP. He’s still the one capable of pulling Lennon out of deep holes like he did today. And whether you’ve admired or been frustrated by his displays this season, he’s the main reason we’re on a four-game winning run.
3. St Johnstone vs Celtic another example of our pressing game having disappeared
Against Motherwell last Saturday, Celtic looked menacing as they pressed intensely from the front. They forced the Steelmen to either go wide or blooter it out of possession. It led to a host of individual errors from Graham Alexander’s side and put us into a comfortable position after the hour.
That wasn’t on show against St Mirren and even to a lesser extent today. Liam Gordon and Jason Kerr were given plenty of time and space to spray the ball around and give Saints early possession.
A huge reason for us failing to get decent control of the game in the first half was down to this. Edouard was far too isolated in the final third. Anything he chased down wasn’t being hunted with the same tenacity by the attacking midfielders behind him.
This approach allows the opposition easier access up the park. It allows them to either go long with simplicity or even try and stretch the game like Saints attempted today.
Celtic have the quality in their ranks to press higher up the pitch than we do. We showed that against Motherwell when we should’ve been out of sight by half-time. Why it’s suddenly disappeared from our game over the last seven days is a touch frustrating.
Still, a win is a win.