IF any scouts were despatched to McDiarmid Park to watch Odsonne Edouard, they may have left after an hour wondering just what all the fuss was about. A few minutes later, and the striker had gone from seemingly disinterested to utterly dazzling, turning this game on its head and showing exactly why there will no doubt be a line of suitors waiting to tempt him away from Celtic this summer.
For too long this season of course, it is the Edouard of the first 60 minutes that Celtic have had at their disposal, and manager Neil Lennon and their fans must have cause to wonder that if the forward had been at his unplayable best on a more consistent basis, might the ten-in-a-row dream still be alive? He now has eight goals in his last six matches, and has scored in all of Celtic’s last nine games, save for the defeat to Rangers at Ibrox.
Alas, there are enough deficiencies elsewhere in this Celtic side to cast doubt on that theory, and they trailed here after conceding a cheap goal from their point of view early in the second half, Shaun Rooney heading home powerfully to spark the game to life after a largely forgettable opening 45 minutes. It was the full-back’s third in six games.
Then, Edouard stepped forward with his quickfire double, abetted by the clever contributions of Ryan Christie, who had replaced Albian Ajeti in the starting line-up in behind the Frenchman.
In fact, Christie was one of five central midfielders named in the starting line-up for the visitors, despite the presence of three strikers on the bench. Conversely, with Shane Duffy coming in at the back in place of the injured Stephen Welsh, there was no centre-half cover on the bench for the champions.
Callum Davidson was without left-back Scott Tanser, who has picked up a hamstring strain, but Callum Booth proved a more than able deputy.
Saints started strongly, but a spot of hesitation in defence presented a chance to Kristoffer Ajer, who had come forward for a corner, but it was a case of the wrong man in the right place as the centre-back blazed over.
Celtic boss Lennon wasn’t best pleased about the lackadaisical start made by his men though, and he wasn’t shy about letting them know that they were far too slow and ponderous on the ball in the opening exchanges.
Things didn’t really improve though until just after the half hour, as Tom Rogic started and almost finished a decent move by sliding the ball past Zander Clark, only for Booth to get back and clear off the line.
Then, brilliant play from Rogic in a tight area in the Celtic right-back position allowed the Australian to free David Turnbull, who drove at the heart of the Saints defence before shooting over with his left foot.
It was St Johnstone who were first to threaten in the second half as Rooney put a low cross in that Duffy failed to deal with, allowing the ball to land at the feet of Craig Conway on the penalty spot, but the midfielder fluffed his lines and Celtic were off the hook. Temporarily at least.
Moments later, the home side were ahead, and the goal came from another cross, this time from the left and the foot of Booth, who picked out Rooney arriving like a steam train to bullet a header high past Scott Bain.
Celtic’s initial response was rather summed up as Christie slipped while taking a corner and put the ball directly out for a goal kick, but in fairness, he didn’t allow his stumble to keep him down for long. He drove down the left and fired a cross into the near post where Edouard was arriving to slam home into the top corner in what may have been the striker’s first constructive contribution.
A minute later, the same combination ripped the Saints apart again to turn the game on its head. A pass by Turnbull was left brilliantly by Christie to put Greg Taylor in behind on the left. The full-back’s low driven cross was cushioned by Edouard, who turned, side-stepped Clark and fired into the net.
Saints failed to really recover from that quickfire double blow, and Celtic managed to see the game out in a much more comfortable fashion than they might have expected.
There was one more cameo from Edouard, the forward producing an exquisite turn that would have sent Ali McCann and Craig Bryson to the snack bar had it been open, but his job was done. And Celtic, in the end, did just about enough too.