Craig Levein: St Johnstone boss confident fitness improvement will help Premiership survival bid

St Johnstone manager Craig Levein saw his Perth team give champions Celtic a good run for their money.

But he believes he can get his side fitter as the season progresses.

The scope for improvement over the next few months on that front is one of the reasons Levein is optimistic about Saints’ Premiership survival hopes.

Losing to Celtic made it two defeats on the bounce.

However, it was another largely encouraging performance in the context of their fight to stay in the top-flight.

“My overriding feeling is one of disappointment,” said Levein.

“Like I said last week, we were in the match until the end.

“We did a lot of good things and defended really well.

“We’ve lost to two wonderful pieces of skill ( the Callum McGregor and Matt O’Riley long-range strikes that followed DJ Jaiyesimi’s opener).

DJ Jaiyesimi put St Johnstone in front. Image: Shutterstock.

“Those two goals really punched a hole in us and changed the match.

“The last goal I’m not bothered about – we were gung-ho by then.

“I was encouraged in a lot of ways.

“One of the things I’m confident about is we can improve is our fitness.

“We tired a bit in the second half, which is understandable.

“There’s a lot of concentration needed to cut off passing lines, close spaces and defend the box in the right areas.

“That’s tiring.

“But I know we can get fitter – and that will help us in our quest to climb the table.”

Bullied

Brendan Rodgers admitted his Celtic team were bullied in the first half.

“I wish we’d bullied them for 90 minutes!” joked Levein.

“They’re a good side and their movement is very hard to keep track of.

“We did it well.

“We played aggressively but we weren’t overly aggressive.

“And getting in front gave us something to protect.

“I was looking for us to win the ball, show a level of calmness, make two or three passes, get up the field and put their backline under pressure.

“There were enough of those moments, in the first half in particular.”

Changed roles

Jaiyesimi’s second start as a St Johnstone player was in the role of a lone striker.

“He’s a winger but he’s powerful guy and his technique is good,” said Levein.

“I thought that he troubled their centre-backs.

“And he got a goal, which is obviously a positive.

“I was pleased with him.

“I was pleased with a lot of things.

“By the time they scored their third we were having a go.

“Those two goals were like a kick in the whats-its.”

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