Depending on whether you count the Glasgow Cup or not, today’s match is either a chance to beat the one hundred year old 62 game unbeaten record of Willie Maley or it sets us up to equal it after the international break.
Yes, there’s another international break coming up. Ask our Irish supporters about it, they have huge playoffs to deal with. The Scots, on the other hand, have this one off.
Or at least they would if the SFA hadn’t arranged the most pointless international friendly in history. Malky Mackay, only in charge for this single match against the Dutch, has stated that this will be a chance for players who haven’t had the chance so far to stake their claim.
Forgetting the fact that whoever the next permanent manager is will want to start again and form their own opinion of who can try and get Scotland to Euro 2020, why have you then called up all the Celtic players that dragged Scotland back into a qualifying campaign that had been all but blown in the first few games? We all know what they can do! So why are Craig Gordon, Kieran Tierney, Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, James Forrest and Leigh Griffiths anywhere near that squad?
Callum McGregor, on the other hand, I can kind of understand. But he’s already got the better of Arjen Robben once this week, so I’m not sure what more we’d learn about him playing in that game. He’s as well waiting for the next Scotland manager, as is literally everyone else in that squad.
The last two international breaks have come around with Celtic dropping points at home. Last month it was the 2-2 draw against Hibernian with McGregor and John McGinn getting two goals each, while the month before it was the 1-1 draw with St Johnstone where again McGregor got our goal after Steven MacLean had the great fortune of opening the scoring. So it’s interesting that this latest break comes around with another game against the Perth side.
St Johnstone have been a real pain for us. The draw at home might be the first time they’ve taken points from us under Brendan Rodgers, but in most of the other games against them they’ve been tough to beat as well.
Well, I say that. The last game against them last season was a routine 4-1 win, although even then they did peg us back briefly to 1-1 through a MacLean equaliser just after we’d opened the scoring courtesy of Patrick Roberts at the start of the second half. Dedryck Boyata quickly restored our lead, before Roberts and McGregor made the result safe. The other home game last season was a narrow 1-0 win courtesy of Boyata, but the games at McDiarmid Park have been tough too.
The first one last season did see us race to a 3-0 half time lead thanks to goal from Griffiths, Scott Sinclair and Forrest, only to be pegged back to 3-2 thanks to a penalty by Danny Swanson and that man MacLean again with a few minutes left. It took an injury time Ryan Christie goal to calm the nerves after that and secure all three points.
The other visit up there last season saw us take an early lead through Liam Henderson only to be 2-1 down at half time after Keith Watson levelled and Boyata turned a cross into his own net. A harsh penalty helped us level a game where it was already looking like a matter of when and not if we’d level it, and eventually we won the game 5-2 to put any doubt over the result to bed.
Well, you’d think that would be the case but they still whinge about the penalty. It’s a fair point, but the way people go on about it you’d think we weren’t in total control of the game at that point anyway. Moussa Dembele was going to put them to the sword with or without it. He scoed the penalty and then got two more, with Sinclair getting the other.
Of course, McDiarmid Park is the last place Celtic lost a domestic match too. In Ronny Deila’s penultimate game in charge, St Johnstone came from behind to win 2-1 against many of Celtic’s second string. The Griffith opener being cancelled out by MacLean and the winner coming from Graham Cummins.
Mind you, that was eighteen months ago now and we’ve played a few more games with second string players and not lost, so I’m not sure that’s really a good excuse at this point! Although, 62 games later, it seems a little harsh to be slating a team for a post-title clinching defeat and who couldn’t possibly have known what was to follow.
As much as St Johnstone are usually a tough opposition for us, they’re going through a bit of a horrible spell of form at the moment. They’ve lost four of their last five games, and haven’t scored in any of them. True, they’ve played two of the three teams that finished above them last season in those five fixtures and lost 3-0 to both of them. But a 1-0 defeat at Murrayfield wasn’t a great result, and neither was losing 1-0 away to Partick Thistle last weekend. Even the goalless draw at home to Ross County isn’t great.
No wonder then that Tommy Wright expressed surprise at still being in the top six. They are, but only slightly ahead of Hearts on goal difference.
The Murray Davidson winner in the 2-1 win over Hamilton back in September seems a long time ago now then, and I’m sure St Johnstone would rather not be playing us next. But then again, maybe that’s exactly what they need. No pressure on them, all the pressure on Celtic to maintain the unbeaten record – especially with Aberdeen only a point behind in the league.
I’d love to say Celtic players are about to get a rest after this and so we’ll probably put out a strong starting eleven, but that international break suggests otherwise. After this game, it’s two weeks until we travel to Ross County, and every weekend and midweek has a fixture right up until the derby on December 30th.
I suspect we’re going to continue to see squad rotation for a while yet. And that’s without factoring in any further injuries of course. It’s November and we still haven’t had three fit central defenders yet!
Still, one thing is certain. We didn’t get to 62 games unbeaten with three trophies in the cabinet, one final already reached and sitting top of the league by accident. Brendan Rodgers knows how to manage this squad, and I have every faith that he’ll continue to do so to great success.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)