Double strikes from Marc-Antoine Fortune and Shaun Maloney sent Celtic top of the table with a thrilling 5-2 win over St. Johnstone. With Rangers facing a difficult trip away to Hearts on Sunday, the Hoops knew a win would put their Old Firm rivals under pressure. They did it in style with a comprehensive victory against a spirited St. Johnstone side.
Fortune scored his first for the Hoops since joining from Nancy in the summer before Maloney made it 2-0. Celtic appeared to be cruising, but Gary Caldwell's nightmare start to the season - which has seen him ordered off for Scotland and scoring an own goal against Arsenal in the UEFA Champions League - continued with his mistake allowing Colin Samuel to score past Artur Boruc.
But a dominant second-half performance involved Maloney and Fortune adding to their personal tallies with Australian Scott McDonald heading in a fifth before former Chelsea midfielder Jody Morris pulled one back for Saints. Celtic manager Tony Mowbray said the win would give his side confidence ahead of their UEFA Champions League play-off second leg against Arsenal in midweek where they trail 2-0.
"There were plenty of positives. I think all our possession and the goals we scored were important for the confidence of the team," said Mowbray. "I was happy for Fortune getting off the mark with some clinical finishes."
Saints manager Derek McInnes said it was disappointing to give up five goals.
"If you come to Parkhead, you need to be able to defend for 90 minutes if you are going to get a result," he said.
St. Johnstone started the game brightly and Trinidad and Tobago international Colin Samuel was giving Glen Loovens a torrid time in defence. Filipe Morais should have put St. Johnstone ahead in the 14th minute when he was sent clean through from a ball over the top by Morris, but he dithered and Scott Brown managed to get back to block his shot.
A dazzling display of wing play from Maloney set up Fortune to score his first goal for the Hoops in the 21st minute. The Scotland talent's quick footwork took him past two defenders on the left wing before his cutback found Fortune hovering around the penalty spot to side-foot his shot past Alan Main. Two minutes later the Frenchman nearly had his second when his header from Aiden McGeady's cross was cleared off the line.
It wasn't long before Celtic increased their lead. German international Andreas Hinkel's cross from the by-line picked out Maloney in the box and his powerful header from ten yards out left Main helpless.
Caldwell then handed St. Johnstone a lifeline in the 37th minute. The Celtic captain completely misjudged his backward header to Boruc allowing Samuel to nip in and rifle home a superb shot from 25 yards out which flew into the bottom corner of the net.
Celtic regained their composure in the second-half and immediately had the Perth club on the backfoot. A superb solo run from Maloney earned him his second of the game in the 53rd minute. The former Aston Villa player picked up the ball on the left wing before cutting in and letting fire with a powerful shot that sailed past Main from 20 yards out.
Fortune scored again just over a minute later. The Frenchman collected a pass just inside the box and sent a low angled shot past the helpless Main. Socceroos striker McDonald made it 5-1 in the 75th minute. Daniel Fox sent a cross to the back post and McDonald leaped above his marker to head in.
But St. Johnstone did not give up and Morris pulled one back two minutes later. The Englishman darted into the box and just managed to poke his shot past the advancing Boruc which hit the post and trickled in.
Elsewhere, Jim Gannon's Motherwell side defeated Kilmarnock 3-1 while St. Mirren and Dundee United ended goalless. Mark McGhee got his first win as Aberdeen manager as they won 3-0 away to Hamilton Academical. In the early kick-off, John Hughes had a victorious return to Falkirk with Derek Riordan's double helping secure a 3-1 win for Hibernian.