Mannus simply different class, admits Lennon
St Johnstone 1 Celtic 1
Published 20/02/2013 | 04:20
Neil Lennon paid tribute to Northern Ireland keeper Alan Mannus after Celtic contrived to draw 1-1 with St Johnstone in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League encounter at McDiarmid Park.
In the 37th minute of a first half controlled by the champions, defender Efe Ambrose scored his second goal in two games after twice costing the Hoops in their 3-0 Champions League last-16 defeat against Juventus a week ago.
Ulsterman Steve Lomas' side made a better fist of the second half and had the ball in the net twice through Steven MacLean and then Fraser Wright, only to see both efforts ruled out for off-side.
However, with eight minutes remaining substitute Nigel Hasselbaink, on for Rowan Vine, curled a fantastic shot past Fraser Forster to stun the Parkhead side.
With Motherwell losing 1-0 at home to Dundee United the Hoops stretched their lead at the top of the table over the Steelmen to 19 points, but it was Celtic's first half performance which pleased their boss more.
"The first 45 minutes was the best football I have seen under my time here," said the Ulsterman.
"On a glue pot of a pitch, the football, the pace, the movement was exceptional and it is a travesty we haven't won the game because that 45 minutes alone would have won two games.
"But for the goalkeeper it should have been six.
"I thought we looked a quality side in the first 45 minutes. We had chance after chance, we cut them open at will and I knew half-time gave them a chance to regroup and make changes.
"Sometimes it is hard to replicate the tempo of the game and that proved to be the case.
"But even our reaction after their goal was very good and I'm sitting here scratching my head as to why we haven't won the game.
"We will probably tip our hat off to their keeper Alan Mannus – he had one of those games.
"But at 1-0 you always give a team encouragement. They are at home, anything can happen, but we should have been out of sight.
"I am not too disappointed. Motherwell lost so we have gained a point so it hasn't been a bad night after all."
Celtic have dropped seven points to St Johnstone in three games this season, but Saints boss Lomas admitted the game could have been over in half an hour.
The former Northern Ireland skipper said: "It is an old cliche but it was a game of two halves and we are not stupid – we know it could have been well and truly over by 30 minutes and we could have been looking at a long evening if it wasn't for Alan, who made four or five great saves, and the back four.
"You have to hold your hands up and say Celtic's passing and movement was a joy to watch.
"But we had a change for the second half when we put Gregory Tade on, went to four in midfield and were then able to compete and I think we were well worth it in the second half."
Saints' Wright claimed he had been on-side when he headed in Liam Craig's free-kick.
He said: "I just watched it (on television) and I am two yards on-side. I feel a wee bit (hard done by) but it's a hard job they've (the officials) got."