When the returning Josip Juranovic stepped up and executed the penalty which would ultimately confirm the three points for his side this afternoon, it epitomised Celtic’s performance against St Johnstone. Composed, clinical and precise.
Was this the most exciting performance the Hoops have delivered this season – possibly not. Was it the most complete? Absolutely. The signs were there on Tuesday afternoon. A slow build up to a brilliant crescendo where a goalless draw looked possible – but never a defeat. Yet by the end, had Ferenccvaros lost by more than the two they did, they could have had little argument.
And it was much the same today. St Johnstone were well organised, dogged in their positional discipline, clever enough, if a little laboured, in possession beyond their defensive confines, yet a difficult team to break down.
Despite that stubbornness from the Perth side Celtic prodded and probed. And like the boxer who lands the jabs to the ribs repetitively the guard around the jaw eventually drops. And so it did in the 35th minute as Giakoumakis opened his account for the Hoops with a striker’s finish on his first start for the club, having shown flashes of his abilities against the Hungarians in midweek.
Perhaps the most telling of moments in the build up to that goal was his refusal to drop deep as his Captain Callum McGregor looked for him to do so. Instead, he moved back inside, forced McGregor to look for an alternative pass, which in turn came from Juranovic who had the aid of a deflected pass spinning cruelly, if you were a traveling Saints fan, past Booth in the Saints defence, before Anthony Ralston delivered the telling pass for the big Greek hitman. Giakoumakis then showed why he shied away from the build-up. Instead, as he’d evidenced on a previous occasions, the striker’s instinct was to leave the creativity to those who are paid to do so and headed between the two posts and waited expectantly for the delivery, and when it did, he found the net.
That’s not to say Giakoumakis doesn’t contribute outside the area, he does, and cleverly and strongly so. It’s just he knows where he’s needed when the penalty box is surrounded with hooped shirts, and it isn’t to add to the numbers around the danger area. Instead Giakoumakis wants to be available to add the finishing touch, something he did simply – as all good strikers do – yet the decision making in the build-up should be applauded.
Celtic eventually won by two with that Juranovic penalty, as the referee felt the pressure for a momentary loss of control of the game, following the inexplicable decision to issue dual cautions for far from weighted indiscretions, as Carter Vickers and St Johnstone’s Kane clashed inside Celtic’s half.
Look at the start Johnstone players reaction, he knows he should have been off aswell, everyone bar the ref https://t.co/CYGVuURq9O
— lynchy 🍀 (@stephenlynch81) October 23, 2021
That in itself also added a moment many of us have been waiting for as Celtic fans, when all the Celts in the vicinity of the St Johnstone striker’s kick out, and the subsequent attempt at a swing of his handbag, surrounded the referee and challenged every player within touching distance of the resulting stramash.
Was this team spirit and solidarity breaking out? If it was, it wasn’t just Celtic’s cohesive performance that should serve notice on the rest of Scottish football, it was also the emerging unity of a side willing to fight for as well as play alongside each other?
It takes time with a new team of course, but as we reach the last week of October and the nights draw in, darkness descends, the pitches get heavier and tackles meatier, it takes that sort of togetherness to get through the winter as much as any flashes of brilliance to bring home a title in Scotland.
Hopefully that is the start of a bit of muscle and brotherhood being added to the artistry and invention of this team, if so, Celtic are onto something, something allied to Postecoglou’s playing philosophy that return trophies.
From the backline, through midfield, out to the wide areas and through the middle Celtic were superb today. The attacking intent was there, but so was the awareness to ensure defensive areas were protected, less exposed, and you still felt if the need arose caution could have been thrown to the wind.
In the end it wasn’t needed. In the last half hour, the opposition, much like Ferencvaros, had simply ran out of steam trying to hold their positions, pass on their man and hold their shape. Mentally as much as physically Celtic ground St Johnstone down today and the ability to close that back door as much as bang on the front was just as evident today.
There has been much said about the Postecoglou philosophy that we may have got wrong. Comparisons to Burns, Deila and even Mowbray have been made as the weeks past. Yet the performances are now starting to show that this is not simply a gung-ho Celtic, instead the goal is for balance, composure, patience and a belief they will break the opposition down. Yet now we see a third clean sheet in a row, but most importantly an assurance emerging as a defensive unit starting at the front and culminating in the backline.
The signs were evident on Tuesday, when there were moments we thought the Hungarians were soaking up pressure and waiting for a Celtic mistake to pounce. Historically that has happened so you couldn’t fault their gameplan. In the end however the mistakes didn’t appear and Celtic picked them off. Today was a similar story as St Johnstone wilted, not only under attacking pressure but also defensive doggedness.
Giakoumakis got the first goal and Juranovic found us a penalty taker -at long last – today, but the story goes deeper than that.
Ange Postecoglou has said, the journey to the end game of his philosophy is the part he enjoys the most. It looks now not only does that involve attacking endeavour, it also includes defensive solidity.
As Juranovic executed that beautifully composed finish, it should also be remembered he was also part of a defensive performance at the other end that will put the rest of Scottish football on notice. There is more to a Postecoglou team than many of us considered possible. I bet he’s enjoying the penny dropping tonight after the most complete team performance of the season.