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Celtic 3 St Johnstone 0: Stokes boosts an absurdly low goal tally with help from porous defence

THE Green Brigade were allowed back into Parkhead and shouted and bawled incessantly for 90 minutes, but still did not deliver the loudest performance of the day.

Anthony Stokes shoots for the first of three goals, in the 16th minute, to help the champions ease past St Johnstone and cause Celtic fans to wonder why he has not scored more often. Picture: SNS
Anthony Stokes shoots for the first of three goals, in the 16th minute, to help the champions ease past St Johnstone and cause Celtic fans to wonder why he has not scored more often. Picture: SNS

Anthony Stokes' right boot screamed its way through this comfortable Celtic victory. Three fabulous finishes unpicked St Johnstone and took his total for the season to 11. Given his talent, that is an absurd number - as absurd as the 45,239 given as the official attendance - and on days like this it just looks inexplicably low.

How could it be more than two years since he scored a hat trick? His touch and shooting yesterday were exemplary and they delivered a 14th consecutive league win and their 25th without defeat. Celtic were in absolute control throughout, easily dealing with St Johnstone and enjoying fine individual performances from Nir Biton and the front two, Stokes and Leigh Griffiths. As a partnership they showed plenty of promise, although few defences will be as accommodating to them as that of St Johnstone. Too often there were pockets of space to exploit, too often they were not closely marked or closed down, and the pair clearly enjoyed themselves.

"I have played better in other games this year and not scored," said Stokes. "But it's my job to put the ball in the back of the net. I haven't been prolific this season but that's four in the last two games so hopefully I can keep going. We played a slightly different formation today.

"We played two up top with Kris Commons playing in the hole. Thoughout the season we've been playing with just me up top. Today gave me a bit more space, you could see it with a couple of the goals when we were dragging players around the place. Fingers crossed we can get a good pairing. Leigh's actually a quiet enough lad. He works his socks off and is a great finisher so he is going to be a great addition to the squad."

Signs of an understanding were first evident after 15 minutes. Virgil van Dijk broke upfield and his pass to Griffiths was shuttled immediately to Stokes, who was side-on to goal but turned and wriggled away from two defenders and then a third before drilling a low shot inside the post from 18 yards. Celtic need their forwards to deliver far more because they have been too reliant on Commons, whose total of 21 goals is still almost double what any of their recognised strikers have managed.

This was another day when nearly £6m-worth of attackers twiddled their thumbs on the bench. Neither Teemu Pukki, Amido Balde or Derk Boerrigter have done enough to make themselves essential selections. Griffiths is the next who must prove himself and his deft touch for the opener was encouraging.

Commons played behind the front two and looked inventive, while behind him Biton's passing was varied and accurate. Commons almost added to his impressive tally with a shot which rattled the crossbar after making room for himself in midfield, something Celtic managed all afternoon. St Johnstone looked unsure of themselves and anxious.

Their best hope of a goal, Stevie May, did nothing to worry the Celtic defence. He was well marshaled by van Dijk and Efe Ambrose and lacked the support to ask questions of them. Lee Croft was on the right and David Wotherspoon left, but St Johnstone had too little of the play to build anything. Their best chance came early when Wotherspoon took possession and struck a shot which rose over the bar.

Stokes scored twice in two second-half minutes. First Adam Matthews sent Scott Brown away down the right channel and his boot became a nine iron to whip up a cross to Stokes. The Irishman had his back to goal but was allowed by St Johnstone to take a touch, turn, and hook a firm shot into the net. Then Celtic broke again; Commons fed the ball wide and Stokes cut inside Dave Mackay and rifled a low shot which should not have beaten Alan Mannus at his near post but did. Mannus was a surprise inclusion having been out with a thumb injury. The absence of Frazer Wright and Murray Davidson, through suspension and injury, was sorely felt by St Johnstone.

There could have been others. Brown rattled a shot off the foot of the post and then Stokes backheeled a ball which put Boerrigter through for a finish which he smacked wide. Grifiths was declared offside when he put the ball in the net from a Commons through ball but in fact looked narrowly on. The striker still had time to flash a long-range shot just wide. It was the sort of exciting effort he often scored for Hibs and his new set of fans lapped it up.

Naturally there was another clean sheet for Fraser Forster. He equalled Bobby Clark's record of 12 consecutive league games without conceding and will beat the Aberdeen goal­keeper's 1971 record of 1155 league minutes unbeaten if he does not concede in the first 31 minutes against Hearts on Sunday. If he is as unworked at Tynecastle as he was here he could break the record from a seat in the stand.

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