St. Johnstone v Celtic (League Cup)
Wednesday 26th September
McDiarmid Park, Perth
With silverware on the line, Celtic can ill afford another performance as was turned in at the weekend. Always-scrappy St. Johnstone will look to take advantage at home. It’s the League Cup quarterfinals!
Celtic will be desperate to convert some of the numerous missed chances that have helped sink them to the back of the five-team logjam downstream of Hearts. Their League Cup second-round tie saw Partick Thistle briefly level with Celtic late on at Firhill before two rapid-fire goals from Tom Rogic and some French guy who plays for Lyon. It is vital for Brendan Rodgers and his squad to get the finger out and show their quality against yet another determined opponent.
St. Johnstone, while still managed by the wily and capable Tommy Wright, are not quite the top-six contenders they have been in recent seasons. Sitting eighth in the league with two wins and two losses from six played, the Saintees come into this cup tie off a 5-1 away humping courtesy of Rangers. They will be ruing missed chances in front of goal at Ibrox, and will be looking to regain some of the form that saw them win a cup tie 4-2 at Queen of the South as well as take points in four straight coming into last weekend.
Stats & Facts Corner:
- St. Johnstone have scored in the last six games, and in nine of their 11 matches his season across all competitions.
- Celtic are unbeaten in seven straight games against the Saints
- Celtic have not allowed a goal in their last four matches.
Last Five Meetings:
Tony Watt is clearly your man to watch here. Since his goal six years ago to finish the iconic Champions League victory over Barcelona, he has drifted from club to club, angering some managers and merely frustrating others, scoring a couple goals, and reviewing some films. This season saw him signing in Perth, and he has been a very pleasant surprise for St. Johnstone, scoring six goals, including four in League Cup play. I suspect he would absolutely love to score against his old club.
Irishman David McMillan and midfield veteran Blair Alston have been bagging the goals for the Saints of late, both scoring in two of their last three matches. Physical midfielder Murray Davidson, always a good battle for Scott Brown, will miss out on this match, and most of this season, after ankle surgery.
Making five changes from the squad that squeaked past Rosenborg to the squad that fell to dispiriting last-minute defeat at Kilmarnock did not work for Brendan Rodgers. Before the Killie match, I remarked on Twitter that usually I didn’t like wholesale change, but that the offense had been so insipid of late that we might as well put some different faces in there and see what happens. Turns out it was the same old, same old.
Leigh Griffiths, who has scored Celtic’s only goal in each of the last two matches, should be given the start up front. The rest of the team will likely be the typical “best eleven” with most of the five players who missed out at Rugby Park (Ntcham, Forrest, Rogic, and Ajer) back in the squad. Two of the three of Sinclair, McGregor and Rogic will start along with Forrest.
- Referee vs Competency: John Beaton is one of the more competent refs in Scotland, and usually can be relied on not to let a match turn too far to the agricultural side of things. However, Celtic’s anemic offense has left themselves no room for error at the back.
- Celtic vs Motivation: Celtic have shown themselves quite capable of playing to the occasion (vs Rangers, last season’s Cup finals), and the prospect of their League Cup on the line could give a badly bruised and confidence-shy squad something to play for.
- Celtic vs Scoring: Reusing a familiar plot point here, Celtic have struggled for goals this season, although advanced statistics from ModernFitba.com in the below graph indicate that they should be scoring more than they actually are.
Prediction: St. Johnstone 1, Celtic 2
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