St Johnstone v Celtic: “Watch this space,” says Lennon. “Deals can be done in the last few hours of the window”

Neil Lennon will make the short journey from Celtic’s pre-match hotel in Dunblane up to Perth this morning looking for another three points to conclude this block of fixtures and set his side up nicely for what follows next.

And tomorrow he has the to attempt to bring in a left sided defender/ wing back after losing both Jonny Hayes and Boli Bolingoli in recent months. The former was a Celtic decision that the manager may well be privately regretting but it must have seemed like the correct call at the time. The latter was a no brainer after the notoriety achieved by the Belgium who had already proved himself to be nowhere near worth the £3million that Celtic paid to Rapid flaming Vienna.

Charlton’s Alfie Doughty remains an last day of the window option but while we were hopeful that Tottenham’s Ryan Sessegnon’s would be a viable option with Celtic’s glamorous Europa League Group as a key factor in attracting the player, it now looks like he’s heading to Germany.

Oh and the new Charlton owner insisted yesterday that Doughty will not be sold in this window as Peter Lawwell gets ready to try that old “we’ll sign him on a pre-contract in January and you’ll get nothing trick”. You remember the one, think Peterborough and the player ending up at Brentford instead.

“There will be a lot of names thrown at us over the next couple of days and from my own experience I know a lot of deals can be done in the last few hours of the window. You will have to watch this space,” the Celtic manager told the media, as reported by Daily Record.

As for last minute bargain hunters from down south trying to poach Celtic’s best players, Neil Lennon I confident that no-one else will be leaving in this window.

“It’s fraught, there’s no question of that, but I’m really confident we will have all our players here,” Lennon said. “Anyone who has been attracting attention, we are pretty confident now that there will be no business done going out.The only real business we want to do is bring one in. There are no bids in for players I’m aware of.”

“We are working feverishly in the background though and we do need support there. Bolingoli has gone and Jonny Hayes left in the summer so Greg is the only one who can really fill that role at the minute. He needs support so it’s the one area that we do need to strengthen.”

While the last few days of the transfer window is stressful Lennon appreciates that the club’s season has brighter prospects ahead now that the Europa League group stage qualification has been secured and the draw provided a real touch of glamour akin to what you’d more usually expect in the Champions League.

Alfie Doughty remains a strong possibility

“Getting into the group stage changes the whole landscape of the season and with the quality of the teams in the group that’s something the players will relish. That’s huge for us to have in front of us. It’s very exciting and I think it will make the players think ‘Yeah, I want to be here.’

“We have a big season domestically and that huge challenge in front of us in Europe. That’s something not a lot of clubs can offer. Things will hopefully settle down after Monday. The flip side is players are going off with their international teams and that’s another worry they could pick up an injury.”

One player who won’t be Celtic bound is fans favourite Paddy Roberts who looks set to complete yet another lion move from Manchester City back to Middlesbrough where he also spent the second half last season.  With the outstanding form of Jeremie Frimpong and the long term tenant in the right wing, James Forrest – a big favourite of the manager – there is little logic in looking to bring Roberts back to the place where he played the best football of his career.

Roberts is going back to Middlesbrough for yet another loan spell away from Manchester City

Maybe one day Paddy, but good luck at Middlebrough. And talking of Frimpong, spare a thought for the St Johnstone left back who will be looking particularly anxious eating his cornflakes this morning. Here’s another chance to read Niall J’s outstanding match preview…

St Johnstone v Celtic Preview: Spare a thought for left back Scott Tanser, he’s gonna be Frimponged

When the final whistle blows today Celtic will head into another Nations League International shutdown and Neil Lennon will have time to reflect. Possibly his last chance to do so for some time.

The Celtic manager indicated in a recent press conference that he has been breaking the season down into blocks. In this particular set of fixtures Celtic have played four domestic games and two European qualifiers. Sundays visit to Perth to face St Johnstone could then see the Hoops having negotiated that seven-match block with seven straight wins and that’s what Celtic will be aiming for.

It’s a marked improvement on the previous seven games Celtic played in August, prior to the first Nations League break. Five wins, a draw at Kilmarnock and a Champions league defeat to Ferencvaros saw some lacklustre performances even when results were good.

The recent move to a 3-5-2 formation seems to be paying dividends and it’s clear the performances as well as the results are picking up.

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When it comes to consistency the closure of the transfer window tomorrow will also be welcome. Neil Lennon and the players will have one less distraction and the manager will soon be able to plan ahead with a level of certainty and without the sideshow of rumoured exits for star performers.

Today’s match against St Johnstone therefore becomes vital and it will be no easy task for a Celtic side who were delayed an extra night in Bosnia and only arrived back in Glasgow late yesterday afternoon. As such Lennon will only have the players for today before its straight back into match day action and a lunchtime kick off to boot. It’s a torrid schedule and one that’s about to get worse.

Much of the angst around Celtic’s performances has been due to Neil Lennon’s squad rotation, yet given the fixture run Celtic will have until December it may end up being a wise move to have had as many players as possible getting first team football. They’ll soon be needed. All of them.

When Celtic return to action they will start with the first Glasgow Derby of the season before heading into an intense period of domestic and European football. Thursday and Sunday fixtures will be the norm until mid-December. There will be little time for training ground work. It will mainly be recovery work followed by immediate planning for the next opponent.

October alone will see the Derby on the 17th followed by AC Milan, Aberdeen and Lille before November begins with the Scottish Cup Semi Final with Aberdeen. It’s going to be a relentless run of fixtures and all against challenging opponents. As such there can be no consideration for Celtic to drop points in Perth on Sunday.

Davidson’s Rebuild

Sunday’s opponents are a side very much in transition. Legendary manager Tommy Wright has made a silk purse from a sow’s ear for so long that he simply tired of it. He’s been replaced by the St Johnstone support’s first choice Callum Davidson and it’s fair to say it’s taking a bit of time for the changes to take effect.

Aside from Tommy Wright leaving, Davidson has also overseen the exit of 10 players. Amongst the most notable of those leaving was star winger Drey Wright’s transfer to Hibs, midfielder Ross Callachan to Hamilton, while veteran defender Steven Anderson joined Forfar Athletic. Midfielder Matt Butcher also returned to parent club Bournemouth and Danny Swanson was freed.

There have only been five new additions for Callum Davidson to begin his rebuild. Craig Conway has come in from Salford City, Defender Shaun Rooney from Inverness and the surprising signing of the injury prone – but certainly talented – Craig Bryson after his contract was ended by Aberdeen. Two loan signings make up the roster for the new manager and both have come from Davidson’s Millwall connections, Defender Danny McNamara and striker Isaac Olaofe signing from the East London club.

Saints season so far

It’s fair to say St Johnstone have had a disappointing start to the season. They currently sit 10th in the Scottish Premiership with two wins, a draw and six defeats prior to the visit from the Champions.

The worrying aspect for the new manager will be the fact they’ve only managed to hit the back of the net a meagre four times this season and they have lost their last three games without scoring, against Motherwell and Ross County by a single goal, before their most recent defeat came against Livingston, going down 2-0 in that one at the Tony Macaroni.

The Perth club certainly then have a goalscoring Achilles heel but scratch the surface and they don’t lose by much. They have only lost two of those nine games by more than a solitary goal with only last week’s opponents Livingston and ‘the’ Rangers where they lost 3-0 at Ibrox back on 12 August having breached the Saints rear-guard on more than one occasion. Defensively they remain tight.

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It looks like games are not escaping the Perth Saints indeed it appears they are staying competitive in most matches. There may then be food for thought ahead of Monday’s transfer window closing for the St Johnstone board to push the boat out just a little and supply a bona fide creative midfielder for Callum Davidson and see if adding some inventiveness to what is a predominately industrious midfield doesn’t make an immediate impact on results.

The stats for the season at least scream out just that need as they are not shy of forwards. They have five on their books in a 22-man squad, including Stevie May and Callum Hendry, both players who can score goals but will need a decent pass or two to fulfil their jobs. To continue in this vein with a stubborn midfield lacking imagination and relegation must be a real possibility.

How they shape up

The first 5 games of the season saw Callum Davidson try and make his mark. Tommy Wright’s pragmatic approach looked to be shelved as St Johnstone played all five fixtures with a 3-4-3 formation. Adventurous it certainly was, especially when you consider they went to places like Ibrox and played Hibs and Aberdeen playing that way. But there is a fine line between adventure and idiocy and Callum Davidson may have realised he was landing on the wrong side of that argument.

In the last four fixtures played Davidson has adapted to an attacking 3-5-2 and won against St Mirren and again the following week where they lost to Motherwell. For the next encounter, a 1-0 home defeat against Ross County, they continued with three at the back but played a flat 5 across the middle, before last weekend dispensing with a three-man defence altogether and experimenting with a 4-1-4-1 formation against Livingston. The 2-0 reverse may well see them revert to a back three once more.

One to watch

Stevie May and Michael O’ Halloran are both good players and more than capable of causing Celtic problems, however the best player in the St Johnstone squad is without doubt central midfielder Ali McCann.

At only 20 years of age McCann has already developed into a fine reader of the game, he doesn’t fear a physical battle and is brave enough to get his foot on the ball and spray passes around. McCann lacks creative support and though you’d expect that to come from David Wotherspoon, his midfield cohort has never quite believed in himself as much as others do. As such he hasn’t ever quite fulfilled his undoubted potential.

McCann however seems to have that belief and if he continues as he has been, he won’t be plying his trade in Perth for much longer, his talents will see him perform on a higher stage at some point and soon.

One to target

Former Port Vale left back Scott Tanser has been with St Johnstone since 2017 and if there’s one player who will be worried on Sunday morning at breakfast about the shift ahead it will be the Saints wing-back. A most ordinary of defenders he would certainly suit a pragmatic Tommy Wright eleven, when asked to go beyond that he’s simply a workmanlike pro.

Jeremie Frimpong will be learning all about his opposite number this weekend and will be more than ready to take advantage of his opposite number’s limitations. If St Johnstone do play a 3-5-2, expect Frimpong to face Tanser up and take advantage of the space behind. With a decent final ball Frimpong may find he has a goal creating influence come today’s lunchtime kick off, possibly more.

In recent weeks Celtic have started to add performances to the points and although all Celtic fans really want from a trip to Perth is to return with three points, there is an opportunity to supply both on Sunday. St Johnstone are firing blanks in front of goal and such barren spells eat away at confidence. Sunday will see an opportunity for Celtic to turn the screw.

Neil Lennon has had defensive concerns around injuries to both Bitton and Jullien of late and even if Sunday comes too soon for a Christopher Jullien return Hatem Abd Elhamed will be a more than able deputy. Further forward Frimpong will have an important role to play as there is mileage to be had from his opposite number Tanser, and Odsonne Edouard looked to have found his spark again as soon as the monkey off his back of a goal came against Sarajevo on Thursday night. With Scott Brown sitting centrally and Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie being allowed more freedom Celtic have removed their left-hand sided predictability and will now leave teams guessing as to where the danger will come from.

Getting a win prior to an international break is always important, when it’s also the last encounter before a Glasgow Derby it becomes essential. St Johnstone may prove stubborn but Celtic will break them down. It should be a comfortable win on Sunday as long as there isn’t much lethargy from our European travels. A 3-0 win shouldn’t be beyond Celtic and Frimpong might add a goal to his recent fine performances. However the game pans out Celtic just need to claim the points, we can debate performances another day.

Niall J

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About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor David Faulds has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email

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