Monday 22 January 2018

Saints stun Celts to leave Lennon livid

CELTIC 0, St Johnstone 1, Ewing Grahame

This was not supposed to happen. Celtic had won their 15 previous meetings with yesterday's opponents, who had harvested only 23 goals from their last 41 league fixtures.

On top of that, St Johnstone hadn't beaten Celtic for 12 years and hadn't won at Parkhead since 1998 but they turned in a composed performance and few would have begrudged them all three points.

For Celtic, who drop to third, the portents are worrying ahead of Thursday's Europa League qualifying round return against FC Sion in the Stade Tourbillon.

"If we play like that I wouldn't think we'll go through," said manager Neil Lennon, who took no prisoners afterwards. "We're looking for a huge reaction from our players, who need to toughen up mentally."

The Irishman tends to wear his heart on his sleeve and left no one in any doubt about his own reaction to this setback.

"I'm angry, really angry," he said. "We threw it away. We missed clear-cut chances and we were complacent and wasteful in front of goal.

"When you keep missing simple chances it gives the opposition encouragement. I'm fed up with us missing penalties. Our play in general wasn't too bad but in the final third we were awful.

"My back four get the blame because the other team scored and they don't deserve that because our front six were bang average, to say the least."

The home side squandered a glorious opportunity to take the lead in the second minute when referee Brian Winter granted them a penalty after Peter Enckelman was judged to have brought down Anthony Stokes as he was about to latch onto Scott Brown's through ball.

It was a soft award and perhaps the official had second thoughts since no further action was taken against the goalkeeper, who proceeded to make a fine save from Kris Commons, diving low to his right to keep out his attempted conversion. It was Celtic's sixth miss from the spot in 2011.

Charlie Mulgrew, withdrawn at the break with a hamstring injury which may rule him out of Thursday's tie, came closer shortly afterwards with a header from Ki Sung-Yeung's corner which beat Enckelman but rebounded to safety from the Finn's left-hand post.

A beautifully disguised reverse pass from Shaun Maloney once again left Stokes with only the goalkeeper to beat but on this occasion the Dubliner pulled his shot wide.

Commons also struck the woodwork with a free-kick five minutes from the interval but too often Celtic prevaricated in the final third of the field, allowing St Johnstone to regroup.

Stokes should have scored in the 43rd minute when Joe Ledley's incisive pass presented him with a shooting opportunity but the striker elected to take the ball round Enckelman and the goalkeeper pushed it to safety.

The visitors were inches away from shocking their hosts in the 53rd minute. Alan Maybury's cross to the far post was headed back across goal by Liam Craig but former Celt Cillian Sheridan, a yard out, somehow failed to make contact.


Fraser Forster, uncomfortable throughout, then parried a full-blooded drive from Jody Morris before the unthinkable happened: Saints scored.

There was an element of fortune involved. David Mackay's shot was certainly on target but it was the benign deflection it took off Joe Ledley which saw the ball spin away from Forster.

Commons, so effective when he arrived from Derby County in January, has had an unconvincing start to the current campaign and he immediately made way for Paddy McCourt.

He came closest to engineering an equaliser when he played a wall pass with Maloney before placing a shot against the far post. Enckelman then kept out a point-blank Stokes header with his foot. There was another penalty claim when Stokes went down under a challenge from Mackay in the box but Winter ignored it.

In the 83rd minute, Callum Davidson tripped McCourt 20 yards out but Maloney fired the free-kick wide to sum up a miserable afternoon for the home side.

Irish Independent

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