Two of our next three games are against St Johnstone. As was our last one.
Indeed, thanks to television coverage, we’re in almost exactly the same position today as we were on Wednesday. We’re three points clear at the top of the league, with everyone except St Johnstone having played a game more than us.
However, other than the fact that we’re all one more game played in the season than we were then, there is one major difference between today’s match and Wednesday night’s 2-0 win.
This time we’re away from home.
At Celtic Park we’ve won all twelve of our league matches, but away from home our eleven games have seen defeats at Tynecastle, Rugby Park, Easter Road and Ibrox as well as draws at St Mirren Park, Almondvale and Fir Park. We’ve won less than half of our away games this season in the league.
This is where we’ll look to improve for the second half of the season, although in this single fixture it might prove difficult given we ran out 6-0 winners earlier in the season. That result is one of just three defeats St Johnstone have suffered at home, with another four draws coming at McDiarmid Park as well.
It seems unlikely that we’ll be able to break through the St Johnstone defences quite as easily as we did that day. St Johnstone improved considerably after that defeat, won the next five games without conceding, had a goalless draw in the sixth, finally conceded in the seventh but drew 2-2, then beat Aberdeen at Pittodrie. There were then back to back 2-1 defeats but they bounced back with another run of victories to nil before their most recent back to back 2-0 defeats.
The latter of those was Wednesday night, and it was a game of Celtic trying to breakthrough the St Johnstone resistance. The Saints only had one shot all night and it was off target, while we had twenty one shots with seven of the nine on target being kept out by Zander Clark. It was only two goals in two minutes that saw us get the win, with Ryan Christie’s beautiful finish into the top corner quickly following Callum McGregor’s bottom corner finish.
But the trouble with playing the same team over and over again is you tend to learn your opponent quite well. It’s a double edged sword. They will learn your weaknesses and come up with ways to stop you getting through theirs, just as much as we will learn their weaknesses and… well, it’s tougher for us to figure out how to stop them if they didn’t attack us in the first place I guess!
When we played Motherwell three times in a week last season, the first game was the League Cup final which we won, but the middle game was a near defeat for us at Fir Park. Only a late penalty earned us a draw after an unfortunate own goal had nearly lost us our unbeaten run a few games early. With a third game coming up in the Scottish Cup next weekend back at Celtic Park, St Johnstone might fancy that this game today is their best chance to get something. They know our away form isn’t great, they know they can change things up and attack us and we might not expect it.
Mind you, if it were me then it would be next weekend’s game I would really want to win. So today might be a good day to try things with that game in mind. See what works, see what doesn’t.
I’m not sure if this is how football managers think or not. But then Scottish Football is weird in making us play the same team over and over again in quick succession. In most other countries this would be unusual, but in this case I’m talking about it as being an annual occurrence!
There’s no real change to our squad for today either. Tom Rogic is back from international duty but since he came back injured that’s no good to us. Jeremy Toljan could feature, but that seems unlikely having just arrived and possibly not match sharp yet. So even that feels like a repeat as we’ll once again be looking at players like Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie.
And of course, it would be nice if James Forrest can recapture his form from the last time we played at McDiarmid Park as well! But I’m sure Tommy Wright will have his team set up to avoid any such repeat of that first half between the two teams.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)