Callum McGregor was the catalyst for this Celtic revival as the Celtic captain dragged Brendan Rodgers’ side back into a game that looked in danger of slipping away from them – but it was the Celtic manager’s fury that lit the fire in his side.
The Hoops boss revealed that his half-time team talk is the angriest he has ever been as a manager as he tore into his ‘soft’ side whom he believes had been bullied into conceding the lead.
‘We got bullied for the goal and we were soft in everything, with and without the ball,’ he said. ‘Half-time was the angriest I have ever been as a manager.
‘People who have been around me will know I’m normally very calm. It was nothing tactical; this was about desire and what it takes to play for this club. Thankfully in the second half the players were brilliant.
‘Callum McGregor was outstanding, and I got more of the energy and ambition that I want. Second half, it was a real testament to the players, because they could have folded and been nervy, but they got to the level I demand from them. They were fantastic goals and we could have had more. It’s a reminder that if you go soft, if you go timid against any team, they can hurt you.’
With St Johnstone desperately holding on to a lead they had established through Dialling Jaiyesimi five minutes before the interval it was McGregor who finally found a way through and set the platform for Celtic to go and take all three points.
Matt O’Riley put them in front for the first time in the game with a goal that will be a contender for goal of the season before James Forrest added a gloss to the scoreline with the third in added time – immediately after St Johnstone had hit the post from Jay Turner-Cooke’s header.
Rodgers suggested Hart redeemed himself in those dying minutes, with the veteran keeper clawing a fingertip to the ball to turn it on to the woodwork.
The Celtic manager would not be drawn on whether a goalkeeper will be top of his January shopping list when the window opens next month. ‘It’s not one for now. I want to improve the squad over my time here and particularly over these next couple of windows.’
O’Riley might have set an early tone for the game when he sclaffed an attempt from inside the six-yard box that was never liable to trouble Dimitar Mitov. Indeed, it took until the latter stages of the opening period before he had to muddy his gloves when he pushed away a decent curling effort from David Turnbull from the edge of the box.
The Celtic midfielder had had a goal chopped off after Yang had been offside in its build-up.
As the minutes ticked by, St Johnstone imposed themselves more on the encounter with Celtic sloppy defensively.
They failed to heed the warnings, however, with St Johnstone opening the scoring five minutes before the break.
Graham Carey’s corner was swung into the six-yard box with the Celtic defence recoiling from properly clearing their lines. Joe Hart didn’t come out the claim it – and then claimed to have been impeded – as Jaiyesimi netted from close range with Celtic gaping at one another.
Rodgers rang the changes at the break with Mikey Johnston introduced for Yang.
It was Saints, though, who looked to carry more of a threat upon front with Carey lifting one effort onto the roof of Hart’s net as the visiting support made their feelings known.
Callum McGregor tried to find some impetus as he let fly from the edge of the box with a wild effort that sailed harmlessly high and wide of Mitov’s goal.
The Celtic captain was instrumental moments later when he slipped a perfectly weighted ball through the St Johnstone defence and to the feet of Kyogo but the striker’s effort was blocked by Mitov who scrambled quickly off his line.
Oh was Celtic’s next change with Turnbull going off as Rodgers changed shape to go with a front two.
Celtic’s pressure was sustained as St Johnstone struggled to get out their own half. It was McGregor who pulled Celtic back into it when Saints failed to properly clear their lines. The ball fell invitingly to the Celtic captain just inside the box who lashed a low effort into the back of the net.
O’Riley broke St Johnstone’s resistance again with a finely worked goal involving O’Riley, Alistair Johnston, Johnston and then Kyogo. The latter’s pass to O’Riley was touched by the midfielder who then let fly with a rasping half volley into the top corner to flip the game in Celtic’s favour.
Still, though, there was a nervousness about Celtic defensively as St Johnstone went for it in added time. Turner-Cooke’s header off the post was cleared with Forrest then adding the third to – finally – ease the nerves.