CELTIC’S UNBEATEN START to the season came to an end at McDiarmid Park today as preparations for their mid-week Champions League match were interrupted by a 2-1 defeat at St Johnstone.
The home side were forced to cancel training on Thursday after seven members of the squad were hit with a virus but they showed no ill effects as they fought back from a goal down to claim their first victory of the campaign.
Kris Commons had given the Hoops a fourth-minute lead with a fierce strike from 20 yards and nearly had another before Rowan Vine set up Gregory Tade to fire home an 18th-minute equaliser.
Chances were more restricted in the second period but with 10 minutes remaining, Vine curled a stunning shot past Fraser Forster to put St Johnstone in front. The result leaves Celtic, who open their Champions League campaign against Benefica at Parkhead on Wednesday, with just two wins from their opening five SPL matches.
At McDiarmid Park, Celtic captain Scott Brown started his first SPL game of the season and had a hand in Celtic’s early opener. The Scotland international won the ball in midfield and picked out Hooper, who laid it off for Commons to take a touch before sending an angled low drive past Alan Mannus from outside the area.
St Johnstone were rocked by the goal and could have found themselves further behind three minutes later when Murray Davidson’s attempted clearance only went as far as Commons, who tested Mannus with a fierce strike. This spurred the home side into action and they came close to an equaliser in the 10th minute when Forster had to scramble to tip Dave Mackay’s curling free-kick over the bar.
St Johnstone grabbed a deserved leveller eight minutes later. Vine raced down the left before cutting in and feeding Tade, who rifled a shot on the turn past the helpless Forster. Celtic had a penalty appeal turned down in the 26th minute when Commons appeared to be hauled down by Steve Anderson in the box after seizing on the defender’s weak headed back-pass, but referee Euan Norris waved away his protests.
New boy Miku then found himself in space at the edge of the box after being set up by striker partner Hooper, but he blazed his shot high and wide. St Johnstone had a chance to take the lead right on half-time when Tade laid the ball off to Peter Pawlett 10 yards out, but he blasted over.
Teenage striker Tony Watt and new signing Lassad came on for Celtic after the interval as the Hoops tried to find a winner. But it was St Johnstone substitute Nigel Hasselbaink who made a bigger impact in the 80th minute.
He picked out Vine at the edge of the box and the midfielder held off Mikel Lustig to curl a superb shot into the top corner and past the outstretched arm of Forster. Mannus was the hero in stoppage time when he rushed out to block Watt’s shot with his legs.