Perfection in Paradise as Neil Lennon’s Celtic blast out a warning

There was a deluge in Glasgow yesterday as the heavens opened, but St Johnstone had already been swept away by the irresistible force of Neil Lennon’s Celtic.

Lennon has been back in charge of the club since February, but his Celtic teams appeared hampered at times by his reluctance to change an all-conquering system in the run-in to a season.

Having safely negotiated a title win and a Scottish Cup, Lennon is now building his own team with its own mix of panache and utter ruthlessness.

Before St Johnstone were hit for a magnificent seven, though, a sunny and warm Celtic Park saw the league flag raised for the eighth time in a row.

It’s only the second time in our history that fans will have witnessed such a moment.

Two of the men part of that previous run were sadly lost this year, but the names of Billy McNeill and Stevie Chalmers will always ring out loud and proud, as they did yesterday.

Their wives Liz and Sadie unfurled the flag in what was a fitting and emotional tribute to two of our finest sons.

Such days will never grow old.  

The flag represents the blood, sweat and tears of a season-long battle and it’s to the credit of everyone who took part in what was a tumultuous campaign played against a backdrop of bitter infighting.

To rise above that and the lengthy injury list speaks volumes. The experience will see them even more battle-hardened for the upcoming campaign when Scottish football will throw the kitchen sink at us.

Celtic played with verve and energy, with Mikey Johnston getting the ball rolling with the first goal of the league season, a cool finish into the bottom corner having turned his man inside-out and back-to-front like an origami toy.

Ryan Christie bagged a hat trick with three goals from outside the box. This time last year he may well have been lost to the club but such is his rise to prominence he’s now one of the first men on the team sheet.

He runs, he harries, he can pass, as evidenced by his first-time ball out to Johnston for the opener, and when he shoots he invariably scores.

Another two players who, for various reasons, may have been lost to the club added to the tally. Oliver Ntcham made a lung-bursting run from his own half and Edouard teed him up perfectly for a goal with his first touch. Then Leigh Griffiths did what he does best with a clinical finish.

In between those two, Edouard got his reward for a brilliant performance when he latched onto a perfectly weighted through ball before rounding the keeper and firing home.

Eddie for long periods carried the attack last season and, while still developing, is comfortable with the responsibility. He scores from inside and outside the box and his close control is frightening at times.

His mazy first-half run through a wall of St Johnstone players was a highlight, even if it didn’t produce a goal. He’s everything you’d want in a Celtic forward and is only going to get better.

The Green Brigade had his name echoing to the tune of the Stone Roses’ I Wanna Be Adored and it’s only a matter of time before it become as full stadium classic.

The only downside was Hatem Abd Elhamed being forced to go off with an injury. He looked good going forward, but St Johnstone had offered little in attack to test him.

Tougher tests will lie in wait for Celtic, starting with Cluj in midweek. But with the likes of Tierney, Jullien, Rogic and Shved not in the squad for various reasons, the worry for domestic opposition at least is that this wasn’t even a full-strength side.

If Celtic can keep all of our major talents and add in a couple of key areas, the initial signs are that it’s going to be another long, hard season for everyone else.  


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