Three of our next four games are against St Johnstone.
This is the problem with playing in a small league that insists on cramming all of games into a small space of time. When you’re scheduled to play the same team three and potentially four times a season in the league, this is always likely to happen.
It happened last season when we played Motherwell three times in the space of a week, and ended up facing them five times in total as we had three league games and two cup finals against them. St Johnstone will be at least the same for us this season, and if they make the top six we’ll have a sixth game against them as well. Indeed, if they do that and our Scottish Cup tie is a draw then there’s potential to face them seven times in one season.
It’s ridiculous that we continue to do this and is one of many reasons I believe a bigger league with more variety in teams and a few less league fixtures overall would be far better for everyone.
However, for now we have this setup and we have to just get on with it.
Tonight’s match is our rescheduled fixture from the weekend when we won the League Cup final. Unlike our opponents that day, Aberdeen, we didn’t have any space in December to fit it in. So until now we’ve had a game in hand over our nearest competitors. Tonight we make that up.
But of course so do St Johnstone. As much as we have a three point lead at the top of the table and are hoping to extend it to six, St Johnstone are looking to leapfrog the team that finally ended their great run at the weekend.
It was 414 minutes since St Johnstone had last conceded a goal, but that came to an end at Tynecastle as a Hearts ran out 2-0 winners to retake fifth spot in the league. That defeat dented St Johnstone’s away record but actually they are still the best team in the Premiership on that measure with 21 points from seven wins across eleven games. We’ve only take 15 points in that same period.
Then again, take a look at the home record and you’ll see Celtic run away with it. A maximum of 33 points, seven more than the next best home record in the league, means this game takes on another interesting aspect. The best home record against the best away record.
Despite our relatively poor away record, both of our previous games against St Johnstone have been wins for us at McDiarmid Park. Indeed, the league game up there was easily our best performance of the season as we ran out 6-0 winners and James Forrest has four of those in the first half himself. Odsonne Edouard was the othe first half scorer while the second half was much better for the hosts as they limited us to just the Callum McGregor goal late on.
The League Cup quarter final was far tighter, with Leigh Griffiths getting the only goal of the game late on and Scott Bain putting our hearts in our mouths late on when he came out and missed a high ball but thankfully that was sent wide of the mark and we hung on for the victory. No one fancied extra time in that game given we had lost Dedryck Boyata to a red card for foul and abusive language towards John Beaton.
Yes, that guy. Unsurprisingly his refereeing that allowed many St Johnstone fouls to go unpunished led go Boyata losing the plot at him, and I’m not saying it’s a pattern with Beaton but this wasn’t the last time questions would be asked about his leniency this season.
Boyata won’t feature tonight as he’s injured, and worryingly Filip Benkovic has joined him in that with rumours that his season is done. With these two due to leave in the summer, I was already of the belief that we need to be signing their replacements now so we’re not trying to sign them and get them up to speed during our most crucial matches of the season in European qualifiers. But now it might be the case that we need their replacements for the latter half of this season too, so the urgency should be even greater.
Cue Thursday night’s usual apologies around us trying to get signings but we just couldn’t get them over the line and once more making life far harder for ourselves than we should.
With Anthony Ralston and Kieran Tierney both out injured we are missing an entire back four, and while I expect Emilio Izaguirre and Mikael Lustig to continue in the fullback positions, it will be interesting to see what we do in the centre tonight. Kristoffer Ajer is one that played at the weekend, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him partnered by Nir Bitton at this rate.
I’m trying not to think too much about that pairing in Kazakhstan last season!
Hopefully Scott Sinclair can continue his run of form, and with both Ryan Christie and Callum McGregor finding the net again at the weekend as well as Timothy Weah and Oliver Burke finding goals in recent games then we’re certainly doing the business at that end of the park.
It would be nice if James Forrest can recapture his form from the last time we played St Johnstone as well! But I’m sure Tommy Wright will have his team set up to avoid any such repeat of the last first half between the two teams.
Krys (Twitter @krys1888)