SCOTT Sinclair hit a hat-trick as Celtic swept aside St Johnstone by five goals to nil to move into the quarter finals of the Scottish Cup. It was a history-making 24th consecutive cup win for the double treble winners, now the longest winning streak in knockout football in their history.
A stunning goal from Celtic captain Scott Brown and another from James Forrest wrapped up a comfortable win, meaning that they have now scored 16 goals without reply against the Saints in five games this season.
Here are five talking points from a convincing Celtic showing.
OLIVER BURKE IS FLOURISHING IN STRIKER ROLE, AND PARTNERSHIP WITH SCOTT SINCLAIR IS DEVELOPING
Everyone is aware of the raw pace and power that Oliver Burke possesses, and he displayed all of that here, but it was also married to a guile and an awareness of his teammates’ positions that allowed him to be at his devastating best.
He may not have scored as the central focal point of the Celtic attack, but he created two goals for his teammates and showed that there is more to him than just his outstanding physical attributes.
His trademark burst of pace was on show as early as the third minute as he burned away from the St Johnstone defence to get in behind. It looked a prime position to get a shot away, but instead he squared to find Sinclair arriving at the back post to fire home.
He also created Sinclair’s second and Celtic’s fourth on the day, driving to the byline and playing a delightful low ball across the six-yard box that left the winger with the simple task of tapping into an empty net.
While Burke’s physical attributes will always be his defining feature as a player, on this evidence, there is more brain to go with his brawn than he is often given credit for.
After Burke had taken his leave, there was still time for Sinclair to bring up his hat-trick, picking up the ball after Timothy Weah’s shot had been blocked and showing composure to side-step a defender and side-foot beyond Clark. He now has 16 for the season, not bad for a player supposedly struggling for form.
SCOTT BROWN SHOULD SHOOT MORE OFTEN
The Celtic captain might not score too regularly, but almost two years to the day since his last goal against Inverness in the Scottish Cup, Brown pulled out a stunner of a strike to kill the game as a contest before 10 minutes were out.
You always know something unexpected has happened when the crowd greet a goal with disbelieving laughter rather than a cheer, and Brown himself could hardly believe it as he picked up the ball 25 yards out after a poor Scott Tanser clearance, took a touch and then hammered an unstoppable strike past Zander Clark and into the top corner.
It had been a long time coming, but it was a goal that was certainly worth the wait.
INJURY CRISIS DEEPENING FOR CELTIC?
Given that the champions could field a more than decent team of players who are currently holed up in the Celtic treatment room, the last thing that Brendan Rodgers would have wanted was further scares in what was a routine passage into the quarter finals of the cup.
Unfortunately for him and for Celtic, the first setback came before the game had even started, as midfielder Olivier Ntcham – who was named among the substitutes – was forced to withdraw altogether with a tight hamstring with Mikey Johnston taking his seat on the bench.
There was then further concern as centre-half Jozo Simunovic had to be withdrawn at half-time after feeling unwell, with Kris Ajer coming on in his place.
It is fortunate that Celtic enjoy such strength in depth as their deepening injury woes have yet to hold them back in a domestic sense, but manager Rodgers would surely have loved some of his preferred starters to be on ruder health as they return to Europa League duty.
CAN JONNY HAYES FILL IN AT LEFT-BACK AGAINST VALENCIA?
Injuries to Kieran Tierney and Emilio Izaguirre opened the door for the Irishman to get a rare start here, and he may have to fill in again when Valencia come calling on Thursday if Izaguirre fails to recover in time.
He coped well enough defensively against a St Johnstone side that offered very little in the way of attacking threat down his side, or anywhere else for that matter. He was caught out once though as he rashly dived into a challenge on Tony Watt that brought a yellow card.Unsurprisingly, it was in attack that he caught the eye. A powerful run carried him all the way from his full-back berth to the edge of the St Johnstone area to create Celtic’s third goal on the day, laying the ball on a plate for James Forrest to finish low under Clark.
The visit of the Spaniards will of course provide a sterner test of his capabilities in the role.
Another way that Rodgers could go may well be to play new arrival Jeremy Toljan on the left, where he has played before, with Mikael Lustig coming back in on the right, but Hayes has at least shown he can be an adequate makeshift option too.
PLAYING CELTIC THREE TIMES IN A FORTNIGHT IS TOO MUCH FOR TEAMS LIKE ST JOHNSTONE
When Motherwell played Celtic three times in a week last winter, it almost derailed their entire season, and this game was similar to the final match of that trilogy which ended in a 5-1 Celtic win, as the weary limbs of the visitors just couldn’t handle the pace and attacking verve of the hosts.
Given that they have spent over 270 minutes essentially chasing shadows against Celtic in a little under two weeks now, it was no wonder the players in blue looked dead on their feet way before the end of this game.
Nine goals have flown past Clark in the St Johnstone goal in these three recent matches, and a trip to Ibrox to face Rangers now awaits in their next fixture on Saturday.
To add insult to injury, they also had a midweek trip to the astroturf of Hamilton sandwiched between, which also ended in a dismal defeat, and manager Tommy Wright will be hoping that his men can now recover as they battle to retain their position in the top six after this punishing run of games.