Celtic 4 - 1 St Johnstone: Roberts stars in second-half rout
The 20-year-old winger, on loan from Manchester City, had confirmed on Friday that he wanted to stay at Parkhead until after the William Hill Scottish Cup final against Aberdeen, foregoing the opportunity to go with England Under-20s to the World Cup in South Korea.
After a goalless first half, the goals rained in at the start of the second period with Roberts and defender Dedryck Boyata scoring either side of a Steven MacLean leveller.
Roberts grabbed a third and substitute Callum McGregor, on for Tom Rogic, added a fourth for the treble-chasing home team, as Brendan Rodgers’ side extended their unbeaten domestic run since the start of this season to 43 games - 35 in the league.
Rodgers, as expected, freshened up his side by looking to the club’s development squad
Michael Johnston and Anthony Ralston, both 18, were included, the former making his debut and the latter enjoying his first start having made two substitute appearances for the first team.
Ralston replaced Mikael Lustig at right-back and Johnston took over from attacker Scott Sinclair as midfielders Nir Bitton and Rogic returned, with McGregor and the suspended Scott Brown dropping out.
Saints captain Steven Anderson was making his 400th appearance for the fourth-placed visitors, who survived a scare in the first minute when keeper Zander Clark made a smart save from Rogic’s left-footed drive from distance.
Celtic slowly tightened their grip on the game and Clark beat away further efforts from Johnston and Rogic, with the impressive Australian then lifting a right-footed shot over the bar.
Left-back Kieran Tierney drilled a 20-yard shot past the far post in the 35th minute as the Hoops’ domination continued, although just before the break Saints midfielder Blair Alston blazed a drive over the bar from only eight yards after MacLean had teed him up with a cushioned header.
The Perth side were made to pay for that miss two minutes into the second half when Roberts, after taking a Johnston pass, almost casually curled a shot from 25 yards into the far corner of the net.
However, Saints equalised two minutes later when MacLean forced the ball in, after Hoops keeper Craig Gordon had made a great save from Graham Cummins’ close-range header following a Richard Foster cross.
But back came Celtic again and Boyata rose to head in a Leigh Griffiths corner from the left to restore the Hoops’ lead.
It was Griffiths who was instrumental in Celtic extending their advantage when his left-footed drive was parried by Clark, only for the alert Sinclair to turn the ball back for Roberts to stab it over the line from a yard out.
St Johnstone kept plugging away but McGregor had only replaced Rogic moments before he slalomed in to the Perth side’s box to fire in a fourth, with his third goal in three weeks.
Celtic threatened to stretch their lead further, with Roberts deserving his standing ovation when he was replaced by James Forrest eight minutes from time.