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St Johnstone 1-3 Celtic: Ange Postecoglou's depleted side ease to victory against St Johnstone

Liel Abada scored twice as Celtic beat St Johnstone 3-1; Chris Kane pulled a goal back for the Perth side; Celtic keep up the pressure on Premiership leaders Rangers; St Johnstone remain two points adrift at the bottom

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Highlights of the Scottish Premiership Boxing Day clash between St Johnstone and Celtic

Celtic returned to winning ways by beating St Johnstone 3-1 at McDiarmid Park to keep up the pressure on Premiership leaders Rangers.

Liel Abada scored twice early on as Celtic started the game at McDiarmid Park with real intent after dropping points at St Mirren last time out.

Illness and injury meant manager Ange Postecoglou made five changes for the game and he was then dealt another blow when striker Kyogo Furuhashi was forced off injured after just 14 minutes.

Kyogo Furuhashi was forced off at McDairmid Park
Image: Kyogo Furuhashi was forced off at McDairmid Park

Chris Kane returned to the St Johnstone squad after self-isolation and the substitute's second-half header gave the Perth side hope.

But Nir Bitton scored a rare goal late on to secure the victory for Celtic, leaving St Johnstone without a win in their last eight Premiership matches.

Player ratings

St Johnstone: Parish (6), Dendoncker (4), Gordon (4), Crawford (4), McCart(5), Brown (5), Booth (5), Bryson (5), Butterfield (6), May (5), Solomon-Otabor (5)

Subs: Kane (6), Craig (5), Middleton (5)

Celtic: Barkas (6), Welsh (6), Carter-Vickers (7), Starfelt (6), Scales (6), Bitton (7), McCarthy (6), Juranovic (6), Rogic (8), Abada (8), Kyogo (5)

Subs: Dawson (7), Montgomery (6)

Man of the match: Liel Abada

How Celtic closed gap on Rangers

Celtic had already been missing eight players before Scott Bain, Callum McGregor, Anthony Ralston, Greg Taylor and Liam Shaw dropped out. The Hoops then handed a debut to their 18-year-old former Scunthorpe striker Joey Dawson as a 15th-minute replacement for Furuhashi.

Team news

St Johnstone boss Callum Davidson's made two changes, with Ali Crawford and Viv Solomon-Otabor coming into the starting XI, with Murray Davidson and Michael O'Halloran dropping out. Chris Kane was available after isolation and starts on the bench.

Celtic striker Kyogo Furuhashi was back in the starting XI. The biggest surprise was seeing Vasilis Barkas starting in goal. Carl Starfelt returned from suspension, with Josip Juranovic and James McCarthy starting too.

With new crowd limits of 500 coming into force in Scotland, the Saints season-ticket holders who were successful in the ballot witnessed an eighth consecutive defeat.

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Michael Dawson's nephew Joey comes on for his Celtic debut while he's working in the Soccer Saturday studio!

After his side failed to convert 31 shots in a goalless draw against Covid-hit St Mirren in midweek, Celtic manager Postecoglou brought back Furuhashi after the Japan forward missed games either side of his match-winning League Cup final double.

Celtic had Carl Starfelt back from suspension in a back three and had Vasilis Barkas in goal in a new-look starting line-up, which was however full of recognisable players. Their bench was light on experience and included 16-year-old Ben Doak, who was looking to become the club's youngest player of all time.

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Liel Abada bundles the ball in to give Celtic an early lead against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.

Saints had one fresh Covid absence. Murray Davidson was absent while Kane was only fit for a place on the bench after being the first of four other players to end self-isolation stints.

Celtic took nine minutes to settle the nerves of their fans who were watching or listening from home, and the dozen or so who tried to get a glimpse of the action from a hill and even up a tree outside McDiarmid Park.

Joey Dawson made his Celtic debut against St Johnstone.
Image: Joey Dawson made his Celtic debut against St Johnstone

Saints twice lost the ball in quick succession in their own half and Josip Juranovic delivered a perfect low cross for Abada. The Israeli winger's initial shot was brilliantly saved by Elliott Parish but the Celtic player got his head to the rebound amid a clutch of bodies and knocked it into the net.

Tom Rogic was off target with a couple of chances before threading the ball through for Abada to slot into the corner in the 22nd minute.

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Tom Rogic's brilliant pass finds Liel Abada to slot his second of the afternoon against St Johnstone

Juranovic had an effort saved before Parish made a better stop after Bitton had played Abada clean through.

Parish denied Liam Scales from close range and Abada had two more openings before the break but was ultimately crowded out by the Saints defence.

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St Johnstone's Viv Solomon-Otabor delivers a beautiful cross to Chris Kane who heads past Celtic goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas

The half-time whistle was met by boos from the fans, whose only glimpse of hope had been a cross which led to a stretching Stevie May heading well over.

Little changed at the start of the second half. Parish again produced an excellent stop to thwart Abada following Rogic's through pass, and Liam Gordon diverted Scales' cross just over his own bar under pressure from Abada.

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Celtic's Nir Bitton's low strike beats Elliot Parish at his near post.

Saints improved and got back into the game in the 69th minute after Starfelt gave the ball away. Kane ran on to Viv Solomon-Otabor's cross and steered a header into the far top corner.

Jacob Butterfield shot wide from distance for the hosts but Celtic generally kept the ball after Kane's goal.

They killed the game off in the 82nd minute after a spell of possession down the left flank. Scales passed the ball inside for Bitton and the midfielder placed the ball inside the near post from 16 yards.

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Celtic captain Nir Bitton says his side controlled the game as they comfortably beat St Johnstone 3-1 on Boxing Day.

Dawson was denied a debut goal by Callum Booth's goal-line clearance.

What the managers said...

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St Johnstone boss Callum Davidson says his side lacked confidence and discipline as they lost 3-1 to Celtic on Boxing Day.

St Johnstone boss Callum Davidson: "It's going to be a busy couple of weeks. I said to the players in there that some of you need to go and have a look at yourselves.

"We have to find a way of bringing in some players with quality to, with players who we have here, start getting us out of this mess.

"We gave away a goal easily in the first 10 minutes after giving them possession and that was us chasing the game. All three goals we made it far too easy for them."

Davidson believes they will make big improvements in the second half of the season.

He added: "With the addition of a few quality players - seven or eight starters were missing today - a bit more luck, and more quality, I firmly believe we'll start playing a lot better.

"The basics is the biggest thing. We did that really well last season and had fantastic success. The players have to be better at it or they won't play. Simple."

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Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou was full of praise for his sides convincing 3-1 win over St Johnstone.

Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou: "The last couple of days have been pretty chaotic as you would imagine with everything that was happening. But we stayed calm through the whole thing and we knew that this was just a different challenge from the other challenges we have had so far and we just had to get on with it.

"To be fair, it's been challenging from the moment I set foot here, it has just been different challenges.

"That's what I keep saying to the players, all along we haven't made excuses or felt sorry for ourselves, we have just got on with the job. Every challenge we have had we have, for the most part, overcome. That is testament to the character within the group."

Man of the match: Liel Abada

Liel Abada scored a double for Celtic at St Johnstone
Image: Liel Abada scored a double for Celtic at St Johnstone

The winger was filling in as a striker at McDiarmid Park and he took his chances, with St Johnstone goalkeeper Elliot Parish denying him a hat-trick on more than one occasion.

Celtic's match-winner just beats midfielder Tom Rogic as the top performer.

What's next?

After the winter break, St Johnstone travel to Hearts on Tuesday January 18 (7.45pm), while Celtic visit Hibs on Monday January 17 (7.45pm).

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