Sluggish Celtic boost lead to seven

Celtic increased their lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League to seven points with a sluggish performance in a 1-0 win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Saturday. Midfielder Shaun Maloney scored the only goal of a poor game after half an hour as the home side made it 12 wins on the trot in the league. Earlier in the day Old Firm rivals Rangers blew the chance to reduce the gap at the top as they went down 2-1 to ten-men Hearts at Tynecastle.

Celtic manager Gordon Strachan said his team's problem had been giving the ball away in good areas. "We scored a smashing goal from a good pass but the longer the game went on the crowd and the players got a bit more nervous," he said. "I thought physically and mentally they were still up there 100 per cent because it has not been easy for them."

Inverness manager Craig Brewster said his side had plenty of possession but didn't do enough in the final third. "I thought we passed it pretty well, especially in the first-half," he said. "We got in some good areas and we elected to pass it instead of shooting or we picked the wrong option." 

There was a slow start at Parkhead with several Celtic players showing signs of a European hangover following their midweek defeat at the hands of Aalborg. Despite enjoying lots of possession Inverness lacked the creativity to get past a stubborn Celtic defence and failed to trouble Artur Boruc in goal. Opportunities were few and far between at either end in the first-half and the home side's first real effort came from Andreas Hinkel. The German went on a run down the right-wing before crossing to McDonald, whose shot was deflected back to the right-back but his shot trickled past Ryan Esson's post.

Georgios Samaras should have done better when he picked out by the Maloney at the edge of the box in the 25th minute but his low drive was easily saved. It was Maloney, who had looked lively throughout, that gave Celtic the lead after 30 minutes. Japanese international Shunsuke Nakamura played a wonderful ball over the top of the Inverness defence for Maloney, who took a touch on his chest before stroking the ball into the net. The diminutive midfielder had a chance for his second a minute later but Esson did well to get down to save his low drive from 30 yards.

Inverness rallied in the final minutes of the half and Doug Imrie chipped well over Boruc's bar after being found at the edge of the box following a good passing move. Ian Black wasted a good chance in the final minute following a neat Inverness interplay when his attemoy sailed well wide of the goal. Inverness started the second-half strongly but failed to create any clear cut chances with only Black's shot from the edge of the box after 56 minutes, which was easily dealt with by Boruc, to show for their efforts.

McDonald should have doubled Celtic's lead in the 67th minute. Substitute Lee Naylor curled a perfect pass behind the Inverness defence for the Australian striker, but keeper Esson was glad to watch his chipped shot trickle by the post. Inverness again saw plenty of the ball but their lack of cutting edge allowed Celtic to hold on for the win without registering a shot on target in the second-half.

In the early kick-off at Tynecastle Hearts defeated Rangers 2-1 with all the goals coming in a frantic six-minute first-half spell. The home side took the lead through Marius Zaliukas. A free-kick from Bruno Aguiar found the head of Christophe Berra who forced a save from Allan McGregor, but Zaliukas was there to scramble it home. The second was a carbon copy of the first but this time Laryea Kingston nodded in Berra's knock on. Rangers pulled one back before half-time after Kris Boyd's header from a Charlie Adam free-kick was knocked into the net by Hearts player Christos Karipidis but could not find an equaliser.

Jon Daly scored from a Willo Flood cross and then converted a late penalty to give Dundee United a 2-0 win away to St Mirren. Hamilton jumped off bottom spot with a 1-0 win over Kilmarnock thanks to a Richard Offiong goal. Gary McDonald and a Lee Miller penalty helped Aberdeen to a rare win at Pittodrie over Motherwell. Darren Barr and Colin Nish scored as Falkirk and Hibernian drew 1-1.