Fifth in the table and eight points off leaders Hearts, Celtic are in what passes these days for a crisis in the East End of Glasgow. A defeat here will in all likelihood bring about the first use of the dreaded Cracked Club Crest in the Scottish dailies on Monday. In truth, Celtic have brought any recent criticism very much on themselves – their domestic form has been insipid outside of a win over Rangers where the 1-0 final score flattered Steven Gerrard’s visitors, who were lucky to get nil.
Tommy Wright has been getting about as much as can be expected from a limited Saints squad, who have picked up points against more vaunted sides such as Aberdeen and Hibernian. Their last two league outings have seen them travel to Rangers and to Hearts, and have unsurprisingly delivered no points. One stat of note is that with seven goals from seven games, they’ve scored as often as the Hoops this season. That’s good for Wright, but must be keeping his opposite number and fellow Northern Irishman Brendan Rodgers awake at nights. Celtic fans will hope that the limited opposition here will provide a springboard for direly-needed improvement.
St. Johnstone vs Celtic Prediction: St. Johnstone 0-2 Celtic
Celtic’s lack of attacking punch so far in 2017/18 is out of character for a side that rattled in four or more goals on six occasions in the league alone last season. Recent league results have seen them score once against Aberdeen, once against Kilmarnock (in a defeat) and not at all against St Mirren.
With Moussa Dembele away to Lyon, strikers Leigh Griffiths and Odsonne Edouard have picked the wrong time to lose form simultaneously, and yet … St Johnstone do have a leaky defence. Celtic know they need a fightback. Even a basic, brass-tacks, professional performance should see them past Wright’s side with a goal to spare. Should.
Our recommended tip: Ntcham to score
If there has been one ray of light in Celtic’s gloomy season so far, the form of French midfielder Olivier Ntcham would be it. Every so often the Hoops find a player who looks, frankly, far too good to be playing in the Scottish Premiership, and for at least a few games this season, that’s been Ntcham. He picks passes well, always seems to have time on the ball, and has developed the happy knack of getting forward to score a few. With Edouard and Griffiths struggling to get into gear, he may need to get in the goals here. 888sport fancy him at 10/3 (4.33) to do so.
The sides are resuming a series of games that had its last instalment just over a week ago, as a late Griffiths goal saw the visitors past Saints in a League Cup tie at McDiarmid Park. Perhaps as a sign of the state of things, Celtic fielded pretty much a full-strength side on the night rather than resting the stars.
Last season, the clubs had three meetings in the league, two of them at Celtic Park. Those games ended in 0-0 and 1-1 draws, but the Hoops’ visit to Perth will stick in Wright’s mind, as his side were entirely outclassed in a 4-0 thumping. When expected to come out and attack, as they often are at home, St Johnstone are rarely comfortable.
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Players to watch: Blair Alston & Youssouf Mulumbu
Alston, 25 years old and a product of the Falkirk youth system, is a midfielder with plenty of composure who is developing an increasing knack of chipping in with goals. He’s scored twice already this season, which doesn’t make him Mo Salah, but does equal his season’s total for both of the last two campaigns. In the absence of Scott Brown on the visiting side, the Kirkcaldy-born playmaker will aim to exploit any errors in the Hoops’ engine room.
Much of Kilmarnock’s impressive 2017/18 campaign was down to the composed, classy midfield performance of Mulumbu. Signed by Celtic on the penultimate day of the transfer window, the Congolese holding player has minimal experience in the side, but Brown’s injury now opens the door for him to make an impact. He’s already taken the opportunity to state in a press conference that Celtic will definitely win the league, and will beat Hearts easily when they next meet, so confidence is not something he lacks.