Celtic close gap on leaders Rangers
© AFP

Celtic closed the gap on league leaders Rangers with a 4-1 win over ten-man St. Johnstone. Tony Mowbray's side suffered an early shock at McDiarmid Park when Liam Craig's penalty put St. Johnstone ahead, but the match turned Celtic's way when Graham Gartland was sent off early in the second half. Marc-Antoine Fortune equalised for the Glasgow club and Georgios Samaras put them in front. Fortune added his second of the match before Paddy McCourt's late goal sealed the rout.

Celtic's victory was crucial after Rangers were held to a draw by Hearts on Saturday and the Hoops are now seven points behind Rangers with a game in hand. Mowbray had ten players unavailable for the trip to Perth and, with Lee Naylor injured during the midweek Scottish Cup win at Morton, teenage defender Josh Thompson was handed his first start.

The lack of familiarity among Mowbray's defence seemed to disturb Celtic in the opening stages and St. Johnstone, who last beat the Hoops back in 1999, took a shock lead in the 12th minute. Celtic defender Glenn Loovens was the guilty party as he needlessly gave away a penalty by hauling down Steven Milne to prevent the striker reaching Kenny Deuchar's pass. Referee William Collum pointed to the spot and Craig stepped up to send Artur Boruc the wrong way.

Celtic responded quickly and moments later Chinese midfielder Zheng Zhi's shot was cleared off the line by Jody Morris. Loovens' dismal day was completed when he was forced off midway through the first half after clashing heads with Deuchar. A mistake by Gartland that gifted a chance to Niall McGinn failed to spark Celtic into life and the midfielder shot tamely at Graeme Smith from close range.

Mowbray would have demanded more from his players at half-time and got an immediate response. Just seconds after the restart Gartland was shown a straight red card for a desperate last-ditch tackle on Fortune just outside the penalty area.

Fortune fires equaliser
Prompted by Aidan McGeady in midfield, Celtic finally began to threaten and would have been level but for poor finishing from Greek striker Samaras. He mis-kicked McGinn's cutback then hit the outside of a post from ten yards after being set up by Fortune. But Celtic's pressure finally told as Fortune fired a superb strike past Smith from the edge of the penalty area in the 64th minute.

St. Johnstone had nothing left to give in the final stages as Celtic made the most of their extra man. Samaras broke their resolve in the 77th minute when he pounced on Thompson's header and drove a perfectly struck shot past Smith.

Smith was under siege now and in the 81st minute the St. Johnstone goalkeeper could only parry McCourt's long-range drive to Fortune, who sent the rebound back past the keeper and into the far corner. McCourt rubbed salt into St. Johnstone's wounds in the 86th minute when he finished off a typically incisive run with a fine finish.