Kayal strikes as Celtic turn heat up on Rangers
St Johnstone 0
Beram Kayal's first Celtic goal was enough to beat St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park and take the Hoops five points clear of Rangers at the top of the SPL.
The Hoops midfielder, signed from Maccabi Haifa last summer, struck in added time in the first half to give Neil Lennon's side a deserved interval lead which they never looked like losing.
In fact, the Saints survived a controversial penalty claim in the 85th minute when substitute Michael Duberry appeared to handle the ball twice in the box as he lay on the ground, but referee Iain Brines surprisingly took no action.
Had the home side somehow managed to grab an equaliser no doubt more would have been made of that decision, but, as it was, Celtic saw the game out and put pressure on Rangers, who play Aberdeen at Pittodrie tonight.
Celtic boss Lennon, who returned to the dugout for the first time following a five-match touchline ban, took the acclaim of the travelling support at the end realising his side are again in the driving seat in the title race.
Lennon had earlier sprung a surprise by naming Daryl Murphy in his side. The Waterford man had not featured since February 1 at Aberdeen.
And in the early stages, Murphy set up Georgios Samaras a couple of times with headers, but the Greek striker failed to take advantage.
But in the 10th minute Saints keeper Graeme Smith made a decent save down at his right-hand post from Kris Commons' free-kick, awarded when Graham Gartland fouled Murphy.
Six minutes later, as the visitors pressed again, Commons volleyed over the bar from distance with Smith out of his goal after the 'keeper had come out to punch clear, before making a save from a Samaras header.
The visitors were firmly in control in the 25th minute and Murphy should have scored with a free header from a Charlie Mulgrew corner, but the former Sunderland striker somehow missed the target from six yards.
On the half-hour mark Samaras had a great chance when he was set up by Scott Brown inside the box, but Smith made a good block.
But there was to be a sting in the tail for the Saints, just as they believed they had survived the first 45 minutes. In the first minute of added time Brown flicked the ball on to Kayal, who got the break of the ball inside the box before he knocked it past Smith with the outside of his foot.
The tempo dipped for a spell after the interval with neither side offering much in attack and neither 'keeper was seeing much action although Smith made a comfortable save from Commons' long-distance effort in the 62nd minute.
A minute later at the other end, Fraser Forster made a fine save from Liam Craig's 25-yard drive, the Celtic 'keeper diving to his left to push the shot round the post for a corner.
There was a moment of controversy five minutes from the end when Duberry fell on the by-line under pressure from Samaras and appeared to grab the ball twice.
Brown cracked the bar with a drive in the 88th minute and from the rebound, Shaun Maloney, on for Commons, headed towards goal, but Smith got back to claw the ball away on the line. However, in the end, the second goal was not needed.