Report and highlights as Celtic beat St Johnstone to move top before later Rangers win bumps them back down to second, with game in hand
Monday 5 October 2020 08:11, UK
Leigh Griffiths came off the bench to score in the final minute to help Celtic beat a stubborn St Johnstone 2-0 at McDiarmid Park.
Griffiths, making his first appearance of the season, headed home as the clock ticked down in Perth, before fellow substitute Patryk Klimala sealed the champions' win in injury time.
After Rangers' own 2-0 win against Ross County later on Sunday, Celtic remain a point behind their Old Firm rivals in second, but do have a game in hand. St Johnstone drop to the bottom of the table after another late defeat.
St Johnstone: Clark (7), Tanser (7), Kerr (6), McCart (6), Gordon (6), McNamara (6), Davidson (6), McCann (6), Conway (7), Wotherspoon (8), May (7)
Subs: O’Halloran (6), Hendry (6)
Celtic: Barkas (6), Taylor (7), Duffy (6), Turnbull (6), Ntcham (7), Edouard (6), Elyounoussi (6), Frimpong (7), Ajer (7), McGregor (7), Elhamed (7)
Subs: Brown (7), Christie (7), Rogic (6), Griffiths (9), Klimala (8)
Man of the match: Leigh Griffiths
Celtic may have arrived at a wet and windy McDiarmid Park having won their last eight contests against St Johnstone without conceding, but they were faced with a well-organised Saints outfit which they struggled to break down.
In a largely forgettable first period, neither goalkeeper was seriously called into action, with the visitors' trip to Sarajevo in the Europa League on Thursday night resulting in a lethargic display from them.
In fact, Celtic were fortunate not to find themselves behind early in the second half when David Wotherspoon's deep cross from the left somehow found its way through to the unmarked Craig Conway.
However, the winger crashed his shot against the post, with that near-miss seeming to breathe new life into Celtic, who then moved from first to fifth gear in search of a breakthrough.
David Wotherspoon returned for St Johnstone, while David Turnbull made his first start of the season for Celtic after his eye-catching cameo against Hibs last weekend, with Olivier Ntcham dropping back in to replace the rested captain Scott Brown.
Such was the home team's resilience, though, that Celtic were made to wait until the final minute for their opener, by which time Lennon had thrown on all five of his substitutes.
And one of those, Griffiths, found himself space in a crowded box to head Hatem Elhamed's cross from the left into the bottom corner, before fellow-sub Klimala evaded Liam Gordon's rugby tackle to pick himself up and smash an unstoppable shot into the net.
What a time to come on and make your first appearance of the season, with the Scotland international delivering a lively cameo after entering the fray with just 14 minutes left to play in Perthshire.
However, the striker reminded everyone of his penalty-box prowess by guiding a header into the bottom corner of the net in the final minute to give his side a vital breakthrough against resilient opposition.
And one wonders just how important the 30-year-old's return to action will be in Celtic's defence of their title?
St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson said: "It was sore to take because we played to a very high level and I felt we were comfortable.
"Celtic had to bring on five quality subs to win the game, they had to bring on some of their star players. I'm disappointed with the goal because we had a set-piece and that's three goals in the last two games we've lost from that.
"But otherwise I was very happy with the performance level, the enthusiasm and the composure of the team."
Celtic manager Neil Lennon said: "I know what I have got with him [Griffiths]. I was disappointed with the way he came back (from pre-season) and then he picked up an injury. We've been patient with him but he knows what I think of him as a player.
"That was Leigh Griffiths in a nutshell. Towards the end we started putting real quality into the box early but we were too passive in the first half.
"Leigh was unlucky with the one Ryan Christie put in and Hatem put over a great cross and he buried the header. That's what he does. We don't take that for granted with him, but that's a great start to his season."
Sky Sports pundit and former Rangers and Scotland striker Kris Boyd:
"That is the difference and you have to take your opportunities at this level. When it comes across, you actually fancy him [Conway] as he has had a right good afternoon, his confidence is up, you can see him well ahead of Greg Taylor.
"But just go back across the goalkeeper, I know it is one of those ones where you just hit the target, but if you try and arrow it in that front post, that is sometimes what happens. And he will be disappointed that he has missed that today."
St Johnstone travel to Kelty Hearts in the Scottish League Cup on Wednesday night, before hosting Brechin City in the same competition three days later. Callum Davidson's side then return to league action at Hamilton Academical on Saturday October 17 (3pm).
Meanwhile, Celtic entertain city rivals Rangers at Parkhead on October 17 at 12.30pm in a game you can see live on Sky Sports Football.