St Johnstone 0 Celtic 3
Celtic confirmed their domestic strength with a victory over St Johnstone at a freezing McDiarmid Park to take them four points clear of Aberdeen at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
Returning to action after concluding their doomed Europa League campaign against Fenerbahce on Thursday night, a double from striker Nadir Ciftci – a goal either side of a Dedryck Boyata header – gave the visitors a 3-0 win against a Saints side who were left bemoaning three spurned chances in the first half.
Ronny Deila’s side have won all 10 games following European ties this season and have a game in hand over the Dons with two domestic cups still in their sights, while Tommy Wright’s men, despite some decent work, suffered their first defeat in eight games.
After the trip to Turkey Deila brought back Emilio Izaguirre, Tom Rogic and James Forrest, with Kieran Tierney and Scott Allan on the bench and Nir Bitton out altogether. Top scorer Leigh Griffiths was again missing with a knock.
St Johnstone's loan defender Darnell Fisher was unable to play against his parent club and centre back Tam Scobbie was dropped to the bench with Steven Anderson and Brian Easton coming in.
There was less than a minute played when goalkeeper Craig Gordon, who had been at fault for Fenerbahce's goal in the 1-1 draw in Istanbul, had to come to Celtic's rescue, blocking a one-on-one with Michael O'Halloran after he had been sent clear of the Hoops defence by Steven MacLean.
The early drama, however, was not a portent of things to come and it was another 26 minutes before another chance emerged,
A clever pass from Hoops' impressive midfielder Rogic found Ciftci unmarked but his drive from 14 yards was straight at Perth goalkeeper Alan Mannus who knocked it behind for a corner, which came to nothing.
However, in the 35th minute, just after injured Saints midfielder Chris Millar was replaced by Liam Caddis, Celtic forged ahead.
Following a Callum McGregor corner which had been nudged on by stand-in skipper Mikael Lustig, Ciftci showed some nifty footwork before driving the ball in from close range.
Moments later, from a Stuart Armstrong corner, Mannus made a good save from Boyata's powerful header, a warning for Saints which was not heeded.
The league leaders looked to have a grip of the game but three minutes from the break they were cut open again and Gordon parried Murray Davidson’s point-blank drive before pushing David Wotherspoon’s shot past the post for a corner, which proved fruitless for the home side.
The Parkhead defence had not learned their lesson either and a minute later O'Halloran skipped past isolated stopper Jozo Simunovic to race through on goal but this time curled his shot past the far post.
When Boyata bulleted in McGregor’s corner with his head with just three minutes of the second-half played, the points were Glasgow-bound.
Moments later, Easton beat Gordon with an arrowed 25-yard drive only to see the ball rebound off the post.
But in the 67th minute, after Rogic had carelessly knocked Izaguirre’s cut-back past the post from six yards out, Ciftci rose to head in a Lustig cross to take his Hoops tally to four since signing from Dundee United in the summer, before the match fizzled out to a conclusion that was not so certain in the first-half.