St Johnstone performed superbly against Celtic but have been left with nothing to show for it after a late Scottish Cup quarter final defeat.
Saints had a few chances in the first half as Celtic dominated possession as expected. Drey Wright was causing problems and forced Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster into a good save towards the first half’s end when his long-range effort was palmed over the bar. James Forrest and Odsonne Edouard missed big chances to score at the start of the second half as Saints held firm.
The Hoops were beginning to get more and more chances as the second half wore on but Saints fought back with opportunities of their own when they had the chance. Unfortunately for them, there was to be heartbreak, as Celtic found a breakthrough from a Ryan Christie free kick into the box that bounced into the net off the back of what looked like a Christopher Julien touch.
St Johnstone entered this game with just two defeats in their last 15 but Celtic showed last time out how deadly they could be. They beat Tommy Wright’s side 3-0 and the Perth manager was no doubt hoping for much better this time around.
The Saints’ last Scottish Cup Quarter final berth was in 2014 – the year they went on to win the full thing. Perhaps that was a lucky sign but a bit more than luck was going to be needed to topple Celtic.
In the first five minutes St Johnstone troubled Celtic for the first time, Callum Hendry seeing an effort beaten away by Forster and Matt Butcher couldn’t put the follow-up on target. Callum McGregor had Celtic’s first chance from inside the box but Zander Clark eventually made sure there was no damage done.
St Johnstone were doing well to stay in the game and winger Wright was looking dangerous in attack for them. His cross into the box just before the half-hour mark made Forster react quickly, the towering Celtic stopper doing well to tip the Saints star’s cross over the bar. Greg Taylor certainly had his hands full against the McDiarmid Park number seven.
Wright was continually making himself a nuisance but Forster was stopping him from reaping any rewards out of this. The winger’s thunderous 25-yarder before half time was brilliantly tipped over by Celtic’s Southampton loanee.
Forrest has scored nine against St Johnstone and he almost made it ten during the second half’s beginning. His effort was tame despite the promising position he’d worked himself into. Edouard was next to spurn a great chance by curling the ball over the Saints bar. St Johnstone were living dangerously during the opening 15 minutes of the second half.
Celtic had carved out four good chances directly after the restart but they were valiantly holding on. There was a key difference from their last Perth meeting, in that St Johnstone were doing the ugly side of the game much, much better.
McGregor was bursting up the pitch again for Celtic and his run eventually broke to Christie, but the midfielder put his shot beyond the post just after the hour mark. Stevie May thought he’d got in behind a minute later but Nir Biton did well to provide cover.
How Edouard and Julien missed soon after was unbelievable. Clark did well to deny Edouard from point-blank range before Julien had the ball nicked off his boot by the Saints defence as an opener beckoned.
This was as entertaining a 0-0 as you’re likely to see, both teams pressing at a high intensity. What it really lacked was end product and both sides needed that bit of cutting edge in the final 20 to avoid a replay.
It was to be Celtic that got that magic finish. Christie floated in a free kick which seemed to avoid everyone before bouncing into the net, Julien appearing to have gotten the decisive touch as the Hoops claimed a 1-0 victory.
Saints perhaps merited a replay from this but it’s Celtic who continue their domestic dominance and march towards a fourth consecutive Scottish Cup.