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Covid-hit Celtic see off St Johnstone, Rangers remain six clear


Glasgow (AFP) – Celtic coped without a host of first-team regulars due to a coronavirus outbreak to beat St Johnstone 3-1 on Sunday, but remain six points behind Scottish Premiership leaders Rangers, who were 2-0 winners over St. Mirren.

Both matches were played in front of crowds limited to just 500 due to fresh coronavirus restrictions aimed at halting the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant.

The new rules led to Scottish Premiership clubs bringing forward their winter break by a week following Sunday’s games.

Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou will be relieved to now have three weeks off to build up the strength in his squad.

The Hoops had to field their third-choice goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas with Joe Hart and Scott Bain plus captain Callum McGregor and full-backs Anthony Ralston and Greg Taylor missing due to suspected positive cases for Covid-19.

“The last couple of days have been pretty chaotic as you would imagine with everything that was happening,” said Postecoglou.

“But we stayed calm through the whole thing and we knew that this was just a different challenge from the other challenges we have had so far and we just had to get on with it.

Celtic already had a lengthy injury list and lost top scorer Kyogo Furuhashi to the recurrence of a hamstring problem early on.

However, the visitors already led at McDiarmid Park by then as Liel Abada forced the ball home from close range after Elliot Parish saved his initial effort.

Abada doubled Celtic’s lead with his 10th goal of the season from Tom Rogic’s fine through ball.

St Johnstone enjoyed their greatest ever season in 2020/21 by winning both domestic cup competitions.

But they are ending the year on a low as an eighth consecutive defeat left them still rooted to the foot of the table.

Substitute Chris Kane’s header gave the home side hope 21 minutes from time.

But Nir Bitton settled Celtic’s nerves on 82 minutes when he fired into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.

Rangers responded with a routine win at Ibrox against a St Mirren side also hit by a Covid outbreak.

Scott Wright and Alfredo Morelos struck inside the first 26 minutes to continue Giovanni Van Bronckhorst’s perfect record from seven league games since replacing Steven Gerrard.

“The scoreline needs to be more when you see the chances we created,” said the former Dutch captain.

“But we can go into the break in the place we want. We’ll have a good rest and start over again.”

Dundee’s application to have their 2-1 defeat at Aberdeen postponed ahead of the game was turned down despite having to name a bench with just four substitutes containing two goalkeepers, a 17-year-old and 40-year-old assistant manager Dave MacKay, who retired five years ago.

“The way it’s been handled is atrocious,” said Dundee manager James McPake. “We’ve put Aberdeen at risk all for the sake of getting a game of football played,”

Hearts remain five points clear of the chasing pack for third after holding on to beat Ross County 2-1.

New Hibernian boss Shaun Maloney has won both his opening two games after a 3-1 win at Dundee United.

But Hibs are still two points behind Motherwell as they beat Livingston 2-1.

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