Glasgow (AFP) – Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers lauded the impact of striker Moussa Dembele after he came off the bench to fire the Hoops to a 5-2 victory over St Johnstone.
The French forward replaced Gary Mackay-Steven in the 59th minute with the Scottish champions trailing 2-1 after a Keith Watson header and Dedryck Boyata’s own goal cancelled out Liam Henderson’s opener.
The former Fulham striker levelled from the spot with his first touch before firing his side in front with a low drive and completed his hat-trick after Scott Sinclair had made it 4-2.
“We are glad he is back as there is only so long we can play without a striker,” said Rodgers, who has been without Dembele and fellow striker Leigh Griffiths in recent weeks.
“You could see the difference in the team the minute he came on and he became a reference point with everyone able to move around him.
“He was really enthused to come on and he’s a big game player. We have seen that in his time here already.
“He has an inherent belief in his own ability. He knows where he wants to get to, but he also knows that he is at a big club.
“It is a great chance for him to play under pressure where you have to win virtually every game and you get the chance to win trophies.”
Dembele, linked with a £40 million ($49.9 million, 46.3 million euros) move to English Premier League leaders Chelsea in the January transfer window, now has 23 goals for the season.
Celtic’s strong finish to Sunday’s game left them 27 points clear of Aberdeen at the top of the Scottish Premiership as they extended their unbeaten start to 29 games.
“I always think that the mark of the really great teams is that they start well and finish strongly,” former Liverpool manager Rodgers added.
“We try to impress our style at the start of a game and no matter how tough it is, we have to keep going to the very end.
“That is the type of mindset and winning mentality we are trying to create here.”
– Wright furious –
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright was furious with the performance of the match officials after claiming his side were denied two strong penalty appeals at 2-1 up.
“I am extremely disappointed for my players as I thought they were magnificent,” Wright said.
“They deserved a better performance from the referee. We should have had two penalties.
“When Scott Brown’s knee makes contact with Danny Swanson and not the ball, that’s a penalty, and he doesn’t give it.
“Then Joe Shaughnessy is dragged down when the ball is in the air from a corner in the penalty box.
“As for Celtic’s penalty, I genuinely don’t know how he could give it. It has hit his hip and could have touched his elbow, but I don’t know how he could have seen it.
“That should not happen at this level of football. Granted, Celtic could go on to win the game without that decision as they have so much talent.
“But the decision changes the whole dynamics of the game. With the right decisions on another day we may have held on for a draw, but that was taken out of our hands.
“There were three teams out there. Celtic were excellent. We were excellent, but unfortunately the third team (the match officials) were way below that standard today.”
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