St Johnstone boss doesn’t expect Celtic to be distracted

Tommy Wright and Brendan Rodgers.

Neymar is coming next month. Neuer a few weeks later. But Tommy Wright is sure that domestic dominance will be at the forefront of the Celtic players’ minds, not Champions League glamour.

Wright was full of admiration for a Parkhead team whose collective focus didn’t waver after they made the group stage of world football’s most prestigious competition last year.

And he expects it to be the same this time, as the sides face each other in a top of the table Premiership encounter.

“I don’t think it will (the Champions League) will make any difference,” he said. “And their focus will be getting back to the league after yesterday’s draw.

“They will now look to win the league as quickly as possible and that’s what I imagine they will do.

“Everything will have been done to make sure they are in the right state mentally and physically to go and perform again.”

He added: “Are they stronger than last season? They haven’t got any worse, that’s for sure. They’re still winning games and it’s no secret Brendan is still looking to strength now they are in the Champions League.

“They’ve got the core of their team there, although Moussa Dembele has been injured for part of it, and they’ve played youngsters to illustrate the depth and quality they have throughout the squad.

“It’s in the back of my mind that they might freshen things up but ultimately with the system they play you still have to be organised.

“They’ve got good players and their depth in quality in the squad means that the personnel might change but the enormity of the task doesn’t.”

The four goals conceded by Celtic in Kazakhstan in midweek have given Saints “a little encouragement”, according to Wright.

But the message to his players remains the same – they will need to be at their very best to have any chance of ending the Hoops’ long unbeaten league run.

“They were going to be put under pressure in Kazakhstan because of the 5-0 first leg result as Astana had nothing to lose,” said Wright.

“Astana had a right go and they did cause Celtic a lot of problems, and at 4-1 had a couple of chances, and Celtic didn’t play as well as they could defensively. But they had Bitton in defence again and young players at the back.

“That would give you a little bit of encouragement but to ask questions of them we need to make sure we keep the ball and get up the pitch and try and make it difficult for them.

“We need to play for 90 minutes and we need to be disciplined. You can be organised but the key is making them work the other way when you win the ball back.

“We’ve got to make sure we get three or four passes in that can get us up the pitch and the important thing is what we do when we get the ball.

“Michael O’Halloran’s pace is something we think we can utilise against all teams because without the ball he’s one of the quickest players in the league.

“But I keep reiterating that if we don’t keep the ball we don’t be able to get Michael or Scougall on the ball.”

Saints have more league success against Celtic than most to cling on to, but it isn’t that recent, even if they can claim to be the last Scottish side to beat them.

“I hope it’s a good omen,” Wright admitted. “But it’s a different manager and different time of the season.

“The league was won and we still had something to play for but a win is a win and we’ve won at Parkhead before.

“We probably scored more goals against them than anyone last season and played particularly well for an hour of a lot of the games but didn’t pick up a single point.

“We’ve had some bad decisions against them. At 2-1 last season (at McDiarmid) for example but to be fair to Craig Thomson he came out and phoned me.

“But there was an even worse one in the 1-0 defeat when Scott Brown pushed Steven Anderson and Andrew Dallas didn’t award what was a blatant penalty.

“We’ve done well against them for periods but with their quality they can just go bang, bang, bang and you find yourself 2-0 or 3-0 down.

“It’s the most difficult game of the season for all the clubs.”

Keith Watson has joined Hartlepool on loan until January and Blair Alston is sidelined this afternoon.