25 Jan Twenty six and counting for Celts
Celtic matched the Lisbon Lions’ unbeaten domestic record as Dedryck Boyata scored the only goal of the game against St Johnstone at Parkhead.
Jock Stein’s all-conquering Hoops side of 1967 went 26 games without defeat in Scotland at the start of the season which saw them win which every competition they played in including the European Cup.
With skipper Scott Brown making his 400th appearance for the club, Celtic struggled to break down an organised Saints side until the 73rd minute when defender Boyata, just back in the side against Albion Rovers at the weekend and making only his third appearance of the season, headed in a Stuart Armstrong corner.
Celtic moved 22 points clear of Rangers at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership.
And while any comparisons with Stein’s side has to be put in context of a much-changed Scottish football landscape, nevertheless the achievement in Brendan Rodgers’ first season is commendable and points the way to a possible domestic treble, the Betfred Cup already in the Parkhead trophy room.
Rodgers made only one change from the William Hill Scottish Cup fourth-round win over Rovers with defender Jozo Simunovic replacing injured Mikael Lustig.
The visitors, with Tam Scobbie, Paul Paton, Chris Kane and Liam Craig back in the side, had no intention of simply sitting back for the evening.
Hoops midfielder Nir Bitton sent a free kick from 25 yards just wide of the post in the third minute but Saints raced up the park moments later and won a corner, with skipper Steven Anderson heading Liam Craig’s deep cross just past the post.
Winger Scott Sinclair had the ball in the net with a header in the 10th minute but the assistant linesman ruled that the ball had crossed the bye-line before James Forrest had floated it to the back post.
The close calls kept coming.
St Johnstone keeper Zander Clark tipped a thunderous drive from Armstrong past and from the corner Boyata’s header was cleared off the line by David Wotherspoon.
In the 20th minute, following another Saints corner, Danny Swanson fired in a shot from 16 yards which rebounded off the post with the Celtic defence scrambling the ball clear.
The champions’ grip on the match tightened as the interval approached.
But top scorer Moussa Dembele looked off the pace and twice turned Sinclair’s cut-back wide of the target before Clark pushed a Forrest drive away from danger.
St Johnstone remained dogged as Celtic pressed with increased tempo at the start of the second half.
Clark made saves from Brown and Armstrong, the second less comfortable than the first, before Patrick Roberts replaced Forrest to give some added zip to the home side.
The winger, on loan from Manchester City, immediately set up a chance with a great piece of trickery inside the box but Sinclair failed to convert.
Celtic were more or less camped inside Sat Johnstone’s half and the breakthrough eventually and perhaps inevitably arrived.
The home side got another corner when Clark parried a Boyata header and when Armstrong crossed into the box again this time the Belgian stopper bulleted a header past the helpless McDiarmid Park number one.
Saints came out their shell in the latter stages – there was a penalty claim when Brown appeared to push Anderson in the box – but there was no real drama and the Hoops skipper blazed over the bar in added time which denied him a perfect ending to a landmark occasion.