Verdict: Celtic and Neil Lennon now being judged through title prism - not performances or points-gathering

Everything in Celtic’s world is viewed through previous paltry attempts to mount a title challenge across their obsessed-over 10-in-a-row chasing season.
Odsonne Edouard celebrates after scoring his second to complete a Celtic comeback for their 2-1 win against St Johnstone in Perth. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)Odsonne Edouard celebrates after scoring his second to complete a Celtic comeback for their 2-1 win against St Johnstone in Perth. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)
Odsonne Edouard celebrates after scoring his second to complete a Celtic comeback for their 2-1 win against St Johnstone in Perth. (Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

It is why, despite the classy comeback they initiated to see off St Johnstone in Perth that made for a fourth straight Premiership victory, there were still grumbles from their supporters about the slender nature of the 2-1 success. Neil Lennon stated afterwards that his team are performing well and not “grinding out” results. He was entitled to offer up that summation, which could be read as a nod to the fact that only once over their past eight league games have Rangers won by more than a single goal.

Such form is seen as a sign of strength in Steven Gerrard’s men; in contrast any close outcomes involving their Parkhead rivals are merely considered indicators of the weaknesses that have left them a distant 18 points behind the Ibrox champions-elect. This gap colours all considerations of the relative capabilities, as is the footballing way.

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Yet, however much disaffected Celtic followers may refuse to countenance the fact, whatever was ailing Lennon’s men across October and November, and again in January, it largely has been overcome. Far too late to mean anything, no question, but Celtic’s players deserve some recognition for not simply chucking it in this crisisfest of a Covid-impacted campaign.

A familiar story seemed as if it might play out come the 50th minute at McDiarmid Park. It was then that a contest in which Celtic had been the ascendant side and yielded very little to hosts with only one loss in their previous eight games, seemed transformed. The product of a left-wing cross from Callum Booth that found Shaun Rooney springing between Greg Taylor and Callum McGregor to send a thumping header wide of Scott Bain.

In countless occasions this season, Celtic have turned such setbacks into sorry tales. It appeared their latest Perth visit would join the litany of these when the visitors won a corner seven minutes later. A chance to hit back, instead, in mortifying fashion, Ryan Christie slipped as he struck the corner and sent it straight out of the pitch. It seemed such a symbolic moment for a season that veered so wildly off target months ago.

Yet, quality and character ensured that was not to be the case again, and the buzzing Christie – restored to the starting line-up after a couple of games benched – was central to that. In the 60th minute David Turnbull picked him out bounding into the box down the left channel. The angles seemed against him, but he reached the byline and was able to twist his body to whip over a cross that Odsonne Edouard superbly stabbed in at the near post with aplomb.

Three minutes later, a delightful dummy from Christie allowed Greg Taylor to turn provider down the left, his driven in cross seized on by Edouard. The Frenchman works to his own pace. And, just as he had over-elaborated too often as Celtic moved the ball into dangerous areas over the closing quarter of the opening period, it seemed he might do so again when he didn’t seek to get a shot off immediately. Edouard-time meant him spinning round like a top. However, once he had done so, he was still able to top off his pirouetting by tucking the ball in at the back post.

Edouard isn’t quite restored to the unplayable attacker of the second half of last season. Equally, though, he is far removed from the disengaged performer of the early part of this season. It may be just coincidence that he seems more receptive to the fray, evident in the enjoyment showing on his face duing games, since his huffy pal Olivier Ntcham engineered the escape he had long sought in moving to Marseille on loan. Or maybe it is just the case that Edouard wants to ensure his numbers will attract the sort of suitors he hoped for last summer when the end of this season rolls around.

For all his uneven displays, there is now every possibility Edouard will match his 28-goal total achieved in the three-quarter campaign that the gobal pandemic allowed the 2019-20 term to be. The Frenchman’s Perth double was his first fashioned entirely from open play since his hat-trick against Hamilton on the opening weekend of the season. He has now netted 11 times in his past 11 outings. When you have a striker accruing goals in those quantities, you tend to achieve the desired outcomes. And in only one of those games – the 2-1 collective brain-freeze loss at home to St Mirren a fortnight ago – has Edouard swelling his tally not given Lennon’s men the platform to succeed.

It wasn’t as hairy as some of their closing stages, but Celtic held on to their 2-1 advantage against Callum Davidson’s men with a couple of jumpy moments. That would have been considered a personal triumph for the magnet for misfortune on-loan Brighton centre-back Shane Duffy has been across his ill-fated stay in Glasgow. The Republic of Ireland captain, taking the place of the injured Stephen Welsh, wasn’t faultless, but neither was he seriously at fault. As a result, his temporary club closed out what represents only the second win in the past six games he has started. Wonders may never cease.

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St Johnstone: Clark, Rooney, Kerr (O’Halloran 83), Gordon, McCart, Booth, Bryson, McCann, Wotherspoon, Conway (Middleton 71), Kane (May 71). Subs: Parish, Brown, Craig, Melamed, Gilmour.

Celtic: Bain, Kenny, Ajer, Duffy, Taylor, Brown, Turnbull (Elyounoussi 76), McGregor, Rogic (Griffiths 76), Christie, Edouard. Subs: Barkas, Ajeti, Klimala, Soro, Johnston, Ralston, Laxalt.

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