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SCOTTISH PREMIER LEAGUE

Neil Lennon mystified that Celtic did not win easily

Celtic manager left scratching his head after Saint Johnstone hold side to a draw

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 February, 2013, 6:07am

Celtic manager Neil Lennon says he can't explain how his side failed to pick up maximum points after they were held to a 1-1 draw by St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.

The Hoops battered their Scottish Premier League rivals in the first half with Gary Hooper twice denied by keeper Alan Mannus, who put in a man-of-the-match performance, in the opening minutes.

Frazer Wright then stopped Lassad Nouioui's effort on the line before Efe Ambrose headed his side into a half-time lead.

But the home side rallied after the break and Steven McLean and Frazer Wright both had efforts disallowed for offside before substitute Nigel Hasselbaink curled home an 81st-minute equaliser.

Celtic came close to a late winner with Mannus reacting well to stop Charlie Mulgrew's deflected effort sneaking in as St Johnstone remain undefeated against the league leaders in three matches this season.

Despite the draw, Celtic increased their lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League to 19 points following Motherwell's loss to Dundee United.

But Lennon was at a loss to explain how his side's six-match winning run in the league had been halted.

"How we didn't win the game is beyond me. We were absolutely awesome first half. It was the best football I have seen from a Celtic team here in years," he said. "We were absolutely magnificent and I don't think the score line reflects the performance.

"We should have been out of sight and it could have been six or seven, we played that well.

"However, if you don't take your chances you always give teams a bit of encouragement. But even after St Johnstone scored Mannus has made another great save and we've clipped the bar.

"I've got to be philosophical about it. St Johnstone had a go in the second half and I don't think my players handled the physical side of it.

"But we looked comfortable without being brilliant in the second half.

"We just slackened off a little bit and got a little too deep and Thomas Rogne has slipped and Hasselbaink has scored a very good goal.

"But I can take a lot of positives from that performance tonight and we deserved to take the three points. Overall, I'm pretty pleased with that."

Lennon could not decide whether his side's lack of goals at McDiarmid Park was due to the heroics of Mannus in the St Johnstone goal or his strikers' inability in front of goal.

"Of course he did, It couldn't have been anyone else," the Celtic manager said on being told Mannus had taken the man-of-the-match award.

"I don't know if it's down to good goalkeeping or poor finishing … but our football was fantastic. I thought everyone played their part and it was a brilliant first-half team performance.

"And, of course, you go in at half-time and Steve has to do something to stay in the game and he did that."

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