What can I say about St Johnstone that I haven’t already said in the previous few blogs?
I could point out that they did a reasonable job of trying to kick us off the park last weekend, to the point that it kept Edouard out of the Hibernian game and made Ryan Christie a doubt which thankfully he overcame.
But then that’s not really something that’s restricted to just St Johnstone. Emilio Izaguirre is a doubt for this game after a shocking challenge in the Hibernian game. Miraculously the referee even issued a booking for that challenge, which is more than can be said for the challenges on Christie and Edouard that didn’t even merit a foul.
There’s a lot of that going around. Celtic players seem to be fair game to kick, and have been for some time. Players of other teams seem to think it’s the best way to deal with the fact that we have players of quality, and the referees seem to mostly let them away with it. There isn’t a game goes by where you don’t think someone should have been booked by now, or a free kick should have warranted a booking and it didn’t.
Or in the case of Wednesday night, that a booking really should have been a straight red. That’s the other remarkable thing though, the compliance officer on this occasion agrees with us. The yellow card is being upgraded to a red card, something no one thought was possible. The referee saw the incident, dealt with the incident as he saw fit, that’s usually the end of it. The SFA have continually told us this, most recently with Alfredo Morelos who was given free reign to kick and stamp on Celtic players at Ibrox and got away with it because referee John Beaton claimed he’d seen every incident and decided it didn’t need to be dealt with.
So what’s different now? Has a rule suddenly changed this week? Has a rule been interpreted differently? Has the compliance officer suddenly started talking to referees like we all know she hasn’t been doing all season?
Yet again I find I’m exasperated because there is no transparency at the SFA. It seems to me that no one really knows the rules. Not the fans, not the media, not the players, not the SFA or their officials either. There’s no consistency at all, and even if you try to piece it all together it doesn’t always match up. The only conclusion you can really come to is that they’re making it up as they see fit.
Take Allan McGregor as another example. He has been cited this week for a challenge on Lewis Ferguson where he claimed a loose ball and in doing so he lifted his leg to ensure he put his studs into Ferguson’s leg. It’s a shocking challenge and definitely merited a red card and a penalty on the night. It didn’t happen, which could ultimately be crucial this season as Aberdeen would have had a penalty at 3-2 down and facing nine men with their own ten.
But why has McGregor been pulled up for that incident when earlier this season he gathered a loose ball and in a completely separate move lashed out at Kristoffer Ajer? There’s no defence for that one, he couldn’t claim that his momentum carried him into Ajer as he could do with Ferguson. For me, McGregor has lashed out twice, one more obvious than the other, and the SFA have punished him for the less obvious one.
See? No consistency.
I really can’t see today being any better. We have Nick Walsh refereeing today’s game, not exactly a big name referee but not exactly one renowned for taking control of awful challenges either. I’m not sure there is a referee like that in Scotland.
Throw in the fact that this is third game in less than fortnight against St Johnstone and we’re having to deal with familiarity due to this fixture consistency at this point as well. Our squad may be getting stretched by injury, but we know that St Johnstone have found a way to play against us that frustrates. Two quick goals after half time a week and a half ago was enough against a stuffy opposition, while it took until the 78th minute for us to break the deadlock last weekend and a counter attack to seal it in the final minute.
But this game has added spice to it. The previous two games were league matches. Lose one of those and it’s not great but it’s only one in thirty eight. Plenty of more points to get, plenty of more games to make up for the ones you dropped. It’s different in the Scottish Cup. Lose today and the chance of a trophy slips through your fingers.
For St Johnstone, it’s their first Scottish Cup visit to Celtic Park since quite possibly the biggest day in the club’s history. Despite being founded in 1884, it took 130 years before St Johnstone got their hands on major silverware. They won the second tier on seven occasions, won the Challenge Cup once, and a couple more long since defunct trophies along the way, but it wasn’t until they beat Dundee United 2-0 in the Scottish Cup final of 2014 that they finally won one of the big ones.
And that final took place at Celtic Park rather than Hampden as our national stadium was masquerading as an athletics venue for the Commonwealth Games at the time.
Their defence of the trophy didn’t last long as they were knocked out at this stage by Queen of the South. Indeed, they haven’t been beyond this stage of the competition since they won it, so they will be looking to change that today.
Of course, we are defending this trophy at the moment. It was the final part of the double treble last season, and the final part of the invincible treble the season before that. We’re hoping to make it a treble of trebles this season, and to do that we’ll need to ensure we not only maintain our position at the top of the league until May 19th, but ensure we are in the Scottish Cup final on May 25th.
We can’t get there without getting past St Johnstone, and as much as they might have their own aspirations and plenty of recent experience in trying to get the better of us, we still have our 100% home record behind us and our own ideas of where St Johnstone’s strengths and weaknesses are.
We just have to make sure we make all of that count in our favour, and book our place in the quarter final draw.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)