Rampant Celtic cleared another Premiership title hurdle with consummate ease as they hit struggling St Johnstone for sevem.
Ange Postecoglou’s side had the points wrapped up with less than 40 minutes played and it’s three which takes them nine clear of defending champions Rangers, who play St Mirren on Sunday.
Last weekend’s derby victory at Ibrox put the Parkhead men in control of the title race, a win savored in front of only 700 of their fans.
But they put on a show for a capacity crowd back home as goals from Reo Hatate, Giorgos Giakoumakis, Daizen Maeda, Josip Juranovic, Liel Abada and a double from Matt O’Riley blew relegation threatened Saints away.
Supporters were further treated upon the return of Kyogo Furuhashi, whose troublesome hamstring had kept him sidelined since the last time these two teams met in December.
His second-half arrival was greeted rapturously and further bolsters Postecoglou’s options in the pursuit of a domestic Treble.
But another step towards the title was all that mattered here and that outcome was never in doubt.
St Johnstone immediately retreated to the 18 yard line but mustered only seven minutes of resistance before Celtic made the breakthrough.
Saints had several opportunities to clear as home shirts poured into the box, and they kept it alive just long enough for Greg Taylor to cut back for Hatate to sweep into the far corner.
It set the tone for some relentless one way traffic.
Tom Rogic danced his way through for what looked a sure second, only to toe-poke against Zander Clark before Jota curled narrowly wide of the top corner as he drove in from the left.
The pressure was telling on the men from Perth and it proved fatal when Callum Booth panicked under pressure from Daizen Maeda and his short back pass was intercepted by Giakoumakis, who neatly rounded Clark and slotted home from a tight angle.
It proved to be the Greek striker’s final contribution, however, as he went down clutching a hamstring and was replaced by Liel Abada.
That change meant Maeda was stood exactly where Giakoumakis would’ve when Jota swung a cross in from the left for the Japanese to head in a third.
With the points safe, Postecoglou gave Rogic a breather and introduced Matt O’Riley.
But there was no let up in the pressure and when Hatate went tumbling under a tackle in the area, Juranovic stepped up to notch his third league penalty of the campaign.
The contest was long since over but the pursuit of goals continued unabated.
O’Riley was next to notch, rounding off a superb team move before helping himself to another just three minutes later.
Celtic’s passing was crisp and they worked their way into the Saints box for O’Riley to shuffle into a half-yard and lash into the top corner.
The break in play allowed the moment that fans had been waiting for, even amongst all these goals, to arrive.
On came Kyogo to a standing ovation and his first contribution was to loft a delightful ball in behind for Maeda.
He chested the ball down but ultimately into the path of Abada who arrived just in time to lash in the seventh.
3 talking points
another step closer
From the opening moments it was clear there was no hint of Celtic carrying a hangover from last weekend’s derby jubilation.
Postecoglou warned on Friday that anyone displaying the slightest hint of complacency wouldn’t be on the pitch at the weekend and that message was clearly taken to heart around his squad.
In all honesty, it felt like a job done after seven minutes for the league leaders, so little did St Johnstone offer. But that’s certainly not to detract from another free-flowing, dynamic and ruthless performance from Celtic.
Postecoglou’s side were in irresistible form once more and St Johnstone simply couldn’t live with them and their sizzling football.
It means Celtic are now just five matches, at most, away from regaining the Premiership title and, on this evidence, it’d take a remarkable turn of events for the trophy not to be transported across Glasgow.
And not a minute too soon, if his adoring Celtic Park public is anything to go by.
It’s been a torrid few months for the Japan international, who’s had to watch on from the sidelines as his team-mates pulled clear in the title race, no doubt desperate to play his part.
But without Kyogo’s goals in the opening half of the campaign, Postecoglou’s side likely wouldn’t be in this position.
And that wasn’t lost on the home crowd as they rose to their feet in unison for the forward’s second-half return – a timely one considering the injury to Giakoumakis.
He made a telling impact straight away by lofting over the Saints’ defense for what eventually yielded the seventh goal.
A goal of his own didn’t quite materialize, but that surely won’t be far off.
When Saints fans were marking their survival calendar for this all important next few weeks, they likely wouldn’t have marked this one as being too pivotal in deciding which division they end up in come next season.
But no matter who you’re up against, a comprehensive beating is never great for morale, despite their recent uptick in form.
Davidson will have been left aghast by much of his side’s defending which, as good as Celtic were, was generally poor and frequently abysmal.
It was a bruising day for Saints, the punishment relieved only by the fact Dundee were beaten by Dundee United to keep the status quo at the bottom.
But should St Mirren take anything from Rangers on Sunday, Saints’ chances of escaping the play-off place will be remote.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.