St Johnstone V Celtic at McDiarmid Park : Match Preview

24 December 2013 02:31
St Johnstone V Celtic - view commentary, squad, and statistics of the game live.

Lennon dismisses 'unbeaten' talk

Neil Lennon has played down talk of Celtic going the whole of the Scottish Premiership campaign unbeaten ahead of the trip to St Johnstone on Boxing Day.

The Hoops' 2-0 win over Hearts at Parkhead on Saturday stretched their run to 16 games and at the pre-match press conference for the McDiarmid Park match, skipper Scott Brown said: "We want to go the whole season without getting beat. We want to get as many points on the board as possible as well."

However, the Hoops boss applied the brakes to any notions of a runaway title season.

"It is something that people talk about very prematurely," said Lennon, whose team are already 10 points clear of Dundee United at the top of the table.

"I wouldn't say (it was) impossible but it is a very difficult thing to do so I wouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves on that.

"We are 16 games into a 38-game season so we are not even halfway there, so it is still a lot to ask for.

"What I am pleased about is that we are unbeaten (in the league) since the start of the season which, considering the amount of games we have had, is a very good effort so far.

"What I want to do in the festive period is to try to increase the gap at the top and give ourselves a bit of leeway going into the break we are taking in January and be ready to go again."

Brown was speaking partly in the context of what will keep the Parkhead club going after Christmas given that they are out of Europe and odds-on to retain their title.

However, Lennon believes a rather chastening experience in the Champions League this season, where the Parkhead side finished bottom of their section with three points from six games which included a 6-1 defeat by Barcelona in the Nou Camp, should provide plenty of motivation.

"We are still a very long way from where we want to be and the Champions League showed that," he said.

"While we had a brilliant year the year before (getting to the last 16), it wasn't so great this year in the Champions League.

"We have set the bar very high and we want to keep pushing the players to strive to be a consistent Champions League team and competing well in the Champions League and to do that, we have to play consistently well week in, week out."

The Northern Irishman believes Celtic are set to undergo two of the stiffest tests of the season.

"We have two very tough games coming up, St Johnstone away and Inverness away," he said.

"This will really test the players but they are good tests in my view.

"We obviously want to keep the unbeaten run going and try to get a decent performance in both games.

"But St Johnstone at home can beat anyone. They are a very good side and have been very consistent in the last couple of years.

"Tommy Wright has kept the continuity going that Steve Lomas had brought in and look at the resilience they have, they were down to 10 men at Hibs for a long period in their last game and didn't get beat.

"So they are a very tough nut to crack and we know that Inverness are having a great season.

"They will be disappointed in the (4-3 defeat) against Aberdeen but the comeback in the second half (from 4-0 down) was fantastic."

Adam Matthews has recovered from a fever to join the Celtic squad.

Midfielder Tom Rogic will train on Tuesday after recovering from a calf complaint and will come into contention.

Charlie Mulgrew (groin), Dirk Boerrigter (hamstring), Mikael Lustig (hip), Beram Kayal (foot) and Steven Mouyokolo (Achilles) remain out.

St Johnstone boss Tommy Wright hopes the prospect of stopping Celtic's incredible unbeaten streak will fire up his players ahead of their Boxing Day clash.

The Perth men welcome Neil Lennon's side to McDiarmid on Thursday knowing no side has managed to topple the Parkhead outfit on Scottish Premiership duty since Motherwell's Fir Park victory back in April.

The Scottish champions' have dropped just six points from the first 16 games of the campaign and some pundits are already speculating on the odds of them going the full 38-game schedule without suffering a major stumble.

Saints' Northern Irish boss insists Celtic are good enough to close out the season without defeat but says the prize of becoming the first club to scalp the Glasgow giants may be the motivating factor his side needs to triumph.

Wright told Press Association Sport: "Celtic are the champions and the best team in the country. They are still unbeaten but that is a motivation for everybody to try and get that first win against them.

"They are capable of going the season unbeaten with the quality of players that they have and the depth of squad available to them.

"On top of that they have a lot of young players coming through so they are more than capable of clocking up an achievement like that.

"They have been tremendous this season with some of the quality of their performances, particularly on the road, so we need to make sure we are on top of our game.

"We've been given a few warnings this season of just what they can do. They went to Motherwell and won heavily, so they can destroy teams and we need to be wary of that."

Celtic may have been all-conquering this term but they twice tried and failed to beat St Johnstone in Perth last year and Wright hopes the Fair City will again prove to be impenetrable.

"We have got a decent record against them at McDiarmid and hopefully that will give us a little bit of confidence going into the game," said Wright as he looked back on a 2-1 McDiarmid win which was later followed by a 1-1 draw.

"Our home record is decent this season in any case. We have only been beaten twice there in the league.

"We will need the same kind of defensive display and determination that we had last week when we went down to 10 men against Hibs."

That Easter Road red card was shown to Paddy Cregg after he was sent off just half a minute after replacing the injured Murray Davidson.

Saints clung on for a goalless draw but that did not soften their sense of injustice at Alan Muir's decision and they have now appealed the dismissal, meaning Irishman Cregg is available to face Lennon's team.

It was the second straight sending off in as many games for Wright's side after Rory Fallon was also dismissed for an elbowing offence against Aberdeen's Michael Hector.

Wright says he does not feel his side are being picked on, but does think top-flight referees could can be more even handed.

"Rory's red card was a definite red but then James Collins elbowed Frazer Wright last week and only got a yellow, so we are looking for a bit of consistency," he said.

"As for Padge's one, it was a 50-50 tackle which he was a little bit late on, and that's why we are appealing. We don't think it merited a red, only a yellow."

Injuries sustained at Easter Road have ruled out Murray Davidson (abdomen) and Chris Millar (groin) from the Hoops' Boxing Day visit to McDiarmid Park.

Steven MacLean remains on the sidelines with a knee injury and fellow striker Rory Fallon is suspended.

Source: PA

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