Nov 13 2012 by Alison Lowson, Perthshire Advertiser
St Johnstone’s trip to the less than sunny climes of Paradise was one they were far from relishing after a 5-0 drubbing in the League Cup a mere 10 days earlier.
With Celtic boosted by their stunning midweek result against the normally imperious Barcelona, Saints fans could have been forgiven for fearing another heavy defeat was on the cards.
But they pulled off a result which evaded the Catalans, having already won in Perth.
Celtic Park wasn’t exactly bursting at the seams but it was fuller than it has been for most games this term, with an expectant home support looking for their team to regain top spot in the SPL after Hibs had taken pole position with their defeat of Dundee United earlier in the day.
Saints dominated early possession against their leggy looking hosts and created the first opening of the game from a Liam Craig corner, though David McCracken paid the price by taking a nasty facial knock, forcing manager Steve Lomas into an early change, with Gary Miller coming on to replace the luckless centre-back. Celtic’s midweek shift left them nursing the proverbial hangover and the mood was shared by a subdued home support who also failed to rediscover their midweek enthusiasm.
If the otherwise superb Nigel Hasselbaink had not dallied on a Steven MacLean tee-up after 12 minutes, Saints could have silenced them totally.
Keeper Allan Mannus would have had a sleepless Saturday night fretting over how to stop the Celtic strikeforce but he had little more to do in the first half than collect a couple of routine crosses as the hosts failed to find the target on any notable occasion.
Celtic’s best chance of the half fell to Victor Wanyama, who got on the end of a Kris Commons cross in the same spot where he headed past Victor Valdes last week. But this time his attempt didn’t even reach Mannus in the Saints goal.
Youngster Tony Watt was introduced by Celtic at half-time and his appearance buoyed the hosts as he got on the end of a cross at the back post to bundle an untidy finish over the line.
Lomas, clearly incensed by referee Brines’ decision to wave an injured Watt back onto the pitch during a Celtic attack, was sent to the stand after remonstrating with the fourth official. That two-game suspended ban now looks like coming into play.
The 100 or so travelling fans were equally furious with the officials after being denied a penalty when the referee bizarrely awarded a corner when Gregory Tade was taken out by Efe Ambrose inside the Celtic box.
Saints could have been excused for thinking their luck was out but they rolled their sleeves up and eventually got their reward.
After England international Fraser Forster had brilliantly flicked over a deflected Frazer Wright effort, the resultant corner-kick eventually broke to Hasselbaink in the box.
The Dutchman turned his marker with aplomb before drilling a low shot into the net from 10 yards.
The equaliser was more than merited by a determined St Johnstone side who refused to be deflated by going a goal down and, over the piece, created as many clear-cut chances as their illustrious hosts.
Celtic endeavours to secure a winner failed to deliver and remarkably Mannus will be unlikely to have a quieter afternoon all season.
Now Saints can look forward to a home game with Ross County, when the Highlanders make their first-ever SPL visit to McDiarmid Park.