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Draw for history-making St Johnstone against Celtic should surprise nobody

The St Johnstone players celebrate their opening goal from Chris Kane.
The St Johnstone players celebrate their opening goal from Chris Kane.

It really would be very unjust on any manager to lose his job after holding this St Johnstone side to a draw.

A history-making St Johnstone side, no less.

There have been some embarrassing, maybe even shameful, performances from Celtic over the course of the last couple of months but sharing the points with Callum Davidson’s team doesn’t deserve to be listed among them.

Saints are playing very well, have been since these sides last met at the start of October. They have now extended an unbeaten run to 11 for the first time as a top-flight club. Celtic are totally lacking in confidence.

Therefore, a 1-1 result should surprise nobody.

In fact, it took a fortuitous Mohamed Elyounoussi header to deny the Perth side all three points on 83 minutes – just four minutes after Chris Kane had opened the scoring.

You can add leaving Celtic Park with a feeling of what might have been to Callum Davidson’s accomplishments as an increasingly impressive football manager.

It was a pretty even first 15 minutes, with both sides having near misses.

For Saints, a Stevie May shot into the ground from a David Wotherspoon free-kick looked like it would have found the net had it not been for Nir Bitton being in the right place at the right time, heading clear at the post.

Stevie May comes close early in the game.

Either side of that opportunity was an Odsonne Edouard shot that took a kind deflection into the arms of Zander Clark and a Tom Rogic free header that missed the target by half-a-yard.

This season Edouard has been a poor imitation of the striker so feared in Scotland – and Europe – in previous campaigns.

When he was put through on goal by Callum McGregor, threading a pass between Shaun Rooney and Danny McNamara, he really should have scored. Clark didn’t commit himself too early and in the end the Frenchman’s outside of the boot finish was a weak one and he saved quite comfortably.

Making use of Michael O’Halloran’s pace would have been a key pillar of Davidson’s game plan but the Saints boss had to come up with a plan B midway through the first half when his winger was forced off through injury as a result of a heavy challenge from Scott Brown.

St Johnstone’s Michael O’Halloran goes off injured.

Kane was the replacement, taking up the loan striker role as May was switched out wide.

It was a credit to the substitute, and his team-mates, that Saints adjusted seamlessly.

Their shape remained compact, Celtic continued to struggle to build anything resembling momentum and the new number nine was getting the visitors up the pitch when the opportunity arose.

On one such occasion in stoppage-time he used his strength to occupy a couple of Hoops defenders and, as they waited for the referee to intervene, Ali McCann took advantage of the hesitation to pick up the loose ball, drive into the box and pick out May. Unfortunately, the Saints top scorer made a poor contact with his attempted sliding finish.

No Clark heroics were required in the first 45 but the Perth keeper had to make an outstanding reflex save eight minutes into the second one.

From an out-swinging corner the hosts won three headers in rapid succession, the last of them from Bitton at close-range. Clark only had a split-second to adjust his arms and keep it out.

The man who broke Saints hearts in the previous fixture between these teams, Leigh Griffiths, was sent on just before the hour mark.

He would have been disappointed that Edouard took a free-kick 20 yards from goal five minutes later, and even more disappointed that it was struck straight into the defensive wall.

Clark was called into action again on 76 minutes, this time to claw away a deflected David Turnbull strike low to his left.

The running total was now 33-1.

It was a save that looked even better moments later when Saints took the lead – their first goal in 12 matches against Celtic. The running total was now 33-1.

Scott Tanser slipped in May with a beautifully measured pass and the all-energy forward, by now in behind the home defence, squared the ball across the six-yard box into the sort of space strikers love to attack. And there was Kane to finish it off.

That Saints could only hold on to that hard-earned lead for four minutes, and that the scores were levelled with a header that probably wasn’t even meant as an attempt on goal, was hugely frustrating.

Ryan Christie had too much time to deliver an in-swinging left foot cross from the right and Elyounoussi had too much space to help the ball on. The next bit was sheer good/bad luck as it looped all the way over Clark and into the far corner of the net.

It was to the great credit of the McDiarmid Park men that Celtic didn’t come close to grabbing a winner. The game-management in the last 10 minutes was superb and 1-1 it finished.

One point, even against a Parkhead side in turmoil, represents an excellent afternoon’s work.

Celtic’s 10 is all but over. Saints’ 11 may keep on growing.

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