The extraordinary 33-match winning cup sequence is once again on the line on a threadbare Perth field. If Celtic had to hand pick their next opponent after the bewilderingly poor performance against Copenhagen, then it might be St Johnstone.
There is no team Celtic have found easier to play against this season than the Saints. An aggregate 10-0 in 2 SPFL wins is testament. It was the nature of those wins – 70%+ possession, 46 shots, and a Passes Per Defensive Action of over 10 – that indicates the gulf. They did manage 11 shots in the home 0-3 reverse but, frankly, Celtic cruised after going 3 up from 26 minutes in.
Since that home defeat, St Johnstone are undefeated in February. 3 wins and 3 draws, including victory at Pittodrie and salvaging a point at home to The Rangers last time around, mean safety in the league after a poor start. 11 goals in those 6 games speaks to a new found potency. Hendry has started to score and has 6 now in the SPFL, and May has found some form alongside him.Listen to the latest episode of the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind with ACE CITY RACERS
Their good run has ironically coincided with losing main creative threat Kennedy. But manager Wright has his hardworking Saints back again.
Celtic loanee Ralston has 20 appearances in the SPFL for the Perth side but won’t play against his parent club.
So, confidence will be high with the Saints, and Celtic will need to rediscover a midfield formula if Ntcham continues to be out. Christie should return, however, giving much needed energy. St Johnstone are usually the slowest side Celtic face and getting pace into a tricky surface will be key.
It won’t be as easy, given the context of the match, the pitch and the relative confidence of the sides. Celtic’s superior pace should see victory but it could be a scrappy 2-1. Christie to score on his return.
Alan MorrisonWatch Kevin McKenna with A Celtic State of Mind