Football: Saints bedevil Celtic

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The Independent Online
St Johnstone 1

O'Halloran 45

Celtic 0

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 10,379

CELTIC'S TITLE ambitions now rest on a win and a prayer. They need to defeat Rangers at home a week today after blowing the chance to cut the gap on their Old Firm rivals to one point. The Saints have been more of a hindrance than a help this season. Keith O'Halloran's 55th-minute goal ensured St Johnstone enjoyed their third victory in four Premier League games over the champions.

Should Rangers defeat Aberdeen today, and leap seven points clear, it will take a miracle to rescue Celtic. As their supporters trudged out of McDiarmid Park, the scene was in stark contrast to the clamour for tickets before the match.

Josef Venglos's players shared that sense of frustration in a difficult first half. St Johnstone expertly squeezed the game, forcing Celtic to work hard to achieve every yard of space. The one man who looked capable of unlocking the door was Morten Wieghorst. The Danish international was starting his first competitive game since playing in the World Cup quarter- final against Brazil last summer.

But there was little evidence that he was feeling any effects of surgery on a cruciate ligament, showing strength and a fine touch before Jackie McNamara squandered the midfielder's cross with a poor header.

McNamara displayed more poise in the 15th minute to elude Gary Bollan and deliver a perfect cutback for Craig Burley, but Alan Main blocked the fierce shot. The St Johnstone goalkeeper eclipsed that stop on the half hour, thumping over McNamara's thunderous drive after the midfielder had worked a one-two with Mark Viduka.

Even Henrik Larsson could not pierce the home side's armour. The hitherto quiet Swede saw a curling free-kick evade the top corner seconds before half-time with Main frozen to the spot.

Yet, such is football's capricious nature that it was little surprise when St Johnstone actually broke the deadlock. Bollan began the move by robbing Viduka on the half-way line and galloping into the space left by Celtic's adventurous midfield, before transferring the ball to Miguel Simao. The Portuguese forward flighted a perfectly angled cross and O'Halloran got in front of Wieghorst to bullet a header past the goalkeeper Stewart Kerr.