Celtic in choppy waters ahead of Rangers trip despite one bright spark in St Johnstone stalemate

Celtic's Matt O'Riley was twice denied by St Johnstone goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Celtic's Matt O'Riley was twice denied by St Johnstone goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

After the plain sailing of last season – when Ange Postecoglou's side were near flawless on the domestic front in claiming every trophy on offer – one poor result followed by another resembles something of a mini-crisis for returning manager Brendan Rodgers. It is unfamiliar territory for this Celtic side – and for Rodgers himself given the success of his first tenure – which is only partly attributed to the injury situation currently gripping the club.

A makeshift defence saw Liam Scales make an unconvincing first Celtic start in 548 days since a 2-0 defeat away to Bodo/Glimt in the Europa Conference League in February 2021. The 25-year-old, who spent last season on loan at Aberdeen, could only have expected to be on his way out of the club this week. Now suddenly thrust into first-team action with a trip to Ibrox looming and partnered alongside another center-back two years his younger in Gustaf Lagerbielke, himself making only his second Celtic appearance since joining from Elfsborg. No wonder there were shaky moments at the back in spite of the return of first-choice right-back Alistair Johnston, making his first start under Rodgers after missing pre-season with an ankle injury.

Celtic were missing four centre-halves and seven players in total but against a St Johnstone side who had started the season badly – exiting the Viaplay Cup in ignominious fashion and losing their opening two league fixtures – a home win was expected to soothe concerns built up among the Celtic support following the loss at Rugby Park.

But those concerns have only grown after a powderpuff display against a much more resilient Perth side for whom Bulgarian goalkeeper Dimitar Mitov impressed alongside the rest of his team-mates – which included three debutant loanees brought up from England in the past week – in not only shutting out the home side but threatening to steal the three points in a second half that had the near 60,000 sell-out home crowd vexing their frustrations.

Twice Joe Hart was called into action to deny the visitors – firstly with a one-handed reflex save to keep out a Darra Costelloe volley after Scales had been turned inside-out by the on-loan Burnley forward, then to block a shot from substitute Stevie May after he had raced through unchallenged during a Saints breakaway.

Celtic's best chances fell to Matt O'Riley either side of half-time with the midfielder twice meeting cut-backs little more than six yards but failing to beat Mitov who made brilliant blocks when a more clinical finish would have surely given him no chance.

Statistics of 75 per cent possession and 19 shots but no goals to show for it told the story for Celtic, for whom the one positive was the performance of Korean winger Hyungjun Yang, the youngster's pace and trickery on the left on his first start catching the eye. Kyogo Furuhashi, the man who Celtic so often turn to in their hour of need, went close with one first-half snapshot, but was mostly well marshalled and starved of service.

Celtic struggled to create the longer the match went on and that continued through eight minutes of added time. For St Johnstone this can be a turning point. Celtic will hope theirs comes against Rangers next week.