Leigh Griffiths is Celtic's Rocky as the comeback king floors Saints with last gasp goal
First appearance in seven months for striker sees him bail out toothless Scottish champions for another dramatic chapter in his career story
ST JOHNSTONE 0
Griffiths 90, Klimala 90+3
It was a Rocky quote Leigh Griffiths dared to stick up on his social media when the latest predictions of his demise at Celtic were being churned out following his, er,lackadaisical lockdown. The striker was mocked for it, but even across a - seemingly - never-ending film series it is doubtful that Balboa has picked himself off the canvas as much as the irrepressible Griffiths.
At Perth, he delivered a punch that Celtic never seemed capable of administering with a 90th minute goal only 14 minutes on from ending a seven-month exile from the first team. Griffiths is a drama magnet, a maverick with madcap movie-style moments, and the capacity for self-destruction. Most of all, though, he is a player with an incredible scoring instinct.
His 76th minute introduction - in tandem with earlier substitute Patryck Klimala - transformed Celtic from toothless to a team with a bite. In added time he was found by a hanging cross from the right by Hatem Elhamed, – right place at right time – to apply a simple downward header. And essentially carry on from where he left off - his last outing in March having brought him a hat-trick.
The salt in the wound for St Johnstone then came with Klimala putting a sheen on the scoreline entirely unkind to the home side’s display three minutes later. The Polish forward was barged to the ground in the box by Liam Gordon but simply bounced up and lashed the ball high past Zander Clark.
Such a cruel end would have had St Johnstone, who have slid to bottom of the Premiership, despairing over Craig Conway battering the upright when finding himself free at the back post just after the restart.
It was the best opportunity either side had fashioned for an hour of an encounter that might have been one in the eye for the cyber-statisticians among the club’s support. The Celtic line-up selected by Lennon would have had them drooling over their laptops. The clamour for David Turnbull to be given a first start, and Scott Brown to be benched both to accommodate the £3.25m signing and be flanked by Olivier Ntcham, has been incessant for a month. Following their Europa League exertions in Bosnia and Herzogovina, Lennon further tweaked with Ryan Christie held in reserve, but the changes didn’t prevent a familiar pattern developing in the early stages.
Indeed, it wasn’t until the old guard were all back on the pitch, with Brown arriving as the cavalry in the closing minutes after Christie had been thrown on and Tom Rogic had appeared for his first outing in seven months, that the Scottish champions had a real drve and intensity.
It was yet another slog for so long for Celtic, though, as have a number of games been of late...without any damage being inflicted to their aspirations. Callum Davidson’s men did what sides have set out to do when facing the Scottish champions. Working like trojans, they squeezed the space, limited any attacking intent, and forced Celtic to take too many touches in seeking to engineer openings.
Turnbull and Ntcham were caught in that bind. The former Motherwell man didn’t perform poorly in his first major outing. However, the ponderous manner n which Celtic moved the ball and themselves around, stymied any attempts to pierce their opponents’ backline with the sort of deft little passes that are Turnbull’s forte. The triumph for Davidson’s approach with St Johnstone on a run of eight straight defeats against the Scottish champions, without a goal in 951 minutes across their past 10 confrontations, and on the wrong end of a 27-0 goal difference.
A trip to Perth must have appeared the perfect encounter to come into on the back of a tight turnaround following their Europa League play-off - even if they only returned to the country on Friday evening. Yet, Lennon’s side never looked comfortable, and lacked a spark against a team putting the onus on them to break them down. A familiar story this season. An early penalty claim for a pull on Shane Duffy by Liam Gordon, gace way to an opening 45 minutes in which St Johnstone never looked like yielding.
Indeed, it was the McDiarmid Park men that had the most noteowrthy moment in the early stages with Vasilis Barkas misjudging a cross that David Wotherspoon should have connected with to punish the Greek to the full. It wasn’t until a minute before half-time that home keeper Clark had anything to do, a shot on the turn from an again ineffectual Odsonne Edouard smothered with ease.
Celtic made more half-chances and pinned their opponents further back in pushing all the harder following the break but there was no inevitability about their victory. Well, not until comeback king Griffiths found his way on to the pitch, and into the headlines once more.
St Johnstone: Clark: Kerr (Hendry 90+1), Gordon, McCart: McNamara, Davidson, McCann, Tanser: Conway, Wotherspoon (O’Halloran 66): May. Subs: Parish, Rooney, Booth, Craig, Bryson, Olaofe, C Hendry, J Robertson.
Celtic: Barkas; Elhamed, Duffy, Ajer; Frimpong, Ntcham (Rogic 76), Turnbull (Christie 59), McGregor, Taylor (Brown 82); Edouard (Klimala 59), Elyounoussi (Griffiths 76).
Substitutes not used: Bain, Jullien, Soro, Welsh.
Referee: N Walsh
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