Elliott and Hartson targeted by Celtic

Celtic 3 St Johnstone 0
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The Independent Online

Muscle-flexing appears to be Celtic's speciality right now, so what could be more appropriate than the arrival of John Hartson and Matt Elliott? The robust pair could be at Parkhead by Thursday if Martin O'Neill can tempt Coventry and his old club, Leicester, with the right kind of numbers. Their role is less likely to be minders for the collection of Scottish silverware, than markers for a future elsewhere.

Last season's treble-winners are already in pursuit of their 38th title, but the English Premiership is what they, and Rangers, are now publicly declaring they want a slice of. Even before St Johnstone had been brushed aside, Brian Quinn, the Celtic chairman, had outlined his club's hope of leaving the Scottish Premier League by 2004.

''There are going to be changes, not just in Scotland, but in England,'' stated Quinn, ''and when they happen, Celtic and Rangers will be present. All the English Premiership chairman I have spoken want us to join them in some form.''

It was hard to argue with the assessment of Quinn's counterpart, David Murray of Rangers, that the Old Firm are now too strong for the SPL.

The 58,000 crowd underlined Celtic's status as Europe's sixth-best supported club last season – behind Manchester United, Roma, Real Madrid, Dortmund and Barcelona.

The ease with which O'Neill's side won disguised a contest that was not really settled until Paul Lambert scored the first of two splendid goals after 65 minutes. Until then, St Johnstone's shrewd organisation had threatened to subdue Celtic once again. The Perth club had won three out of four meetings in 1998-99.

O'Neill has testified to the fierce nature of the SPL, and on Saturday another emigre from England, Chris Sutton, declared that the derision he encounters down south is born out of ignorance.

And yet Celtic and Rangers both know that the economic growth which funds the wages of Sutton (and Hartson and Elliott) can only come from a bigger pot of television gold.

Lambert provided value for money for the spectators after a sweet one-two with Henrik Larsson before steering a composed finish past Alan Main and then finding the net with a left-footed volley.

Johan Mjallby broke St Johnstone's resistance just before half-time. The Swede resembles action-hero Dolph Lundgren – another case of Celtic pushing their weight around.

Goals: 1-0 Mjallby 36, 2-0 Lambert 65, 3-0 Lambert 72.

Celtic (3-5-2): R Douglas; O Tebily, J Mjallby (S Crainey 76), J Valgaeren; D Agathe (J McNamara 76), P Lambert, N Lennon, A Thompson (L Moravcik 76), B Petta; C Sutton, H Larsson. Substitutes not used: D Kharine, S Maloney.

St Johnstone (3-5-2): A Main; D Dods, B Kemble, R Forsyth; P Hartley, P Kane, G Murray, J P McBride (P Connolly 74), T Lovenkrands; M Sylla, K Parker (R Djebaili 66). Substitutes not used: K Cuthbert, A Kernaghan.

Attendance: 58,005.

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