ST JOHNSTONE frustrated Celtic for the third time this season as substitute Nigel Hasselbaink scored in the 82nd minute to rescue a deserved point for the Perth side, who had two goals disallowed after Efe Ambrose’s first-half opener.
Celtic lost 2-1 on their previous visit to McDiarmid Park back last September, and drew 1-1 against St Johnstone at Parkhead in November, and again couldn’t muster three points against Steve Lomas’s determined side last night.
A delighted Lomas said: “We rode our luck in the first half. Alan Mannus made some great saves and there were some great blocks
“We did the same at Celtic Park we hung in there, because Celtic’s passing and movement was very good and we couldn’t get to grips with it. But we ruffled a few feathers after the break, so all credit to the subs and Nigel Hasselbaink has shown us what he can do again.”
The point was a relief for the St Johnstone manager, who had earlier seen close-range efforts from Steven MacLean and Frazer Wright ruled out – both for offside.
Hasselbaink’s winner arrived eight minutes from time when he curled a fantastic shot past Fraser Forster to stun the Parkhead side.
He picked up an Abeid pass, turned and curled shot from the edge of the box past Forster and into the far corner of the net.
Celtic responded with some desperation and moments later James Forrest sent a shot from the edge of the box just wide before Mannus made another fine save at his near post, after Liam Craig had deflected a shot from Charlie Mulgrew but there was to be no late winner for Celtic.
Celtic will still win the title after going 19 points clear of Motherwell but manager Neil Lennon will be unhappy with the dropping of two points in a game that should have been over by the interval.
At Fir Park meanwhile, James McFadden’s whirlwind return to Motherwell saw him step off the bench to make his second debut at Fir Park, but his 17-minute cameo was not enough to prevent Stuart McCall’s second-placed side going down to a 1-0 defeat to Dundee United.
Johnny Russell was United’s match-winner with a goal in the 17th minute as Jackie McNamara’s team showed great character to bounce back from the 6-2 drubbing they suffered at Celtic Park at the weekend.
Russell ran on to a fine pass by playmaker Gary Mackay-Steven and slotted past Darren Randolph.
United stay in the bottom half of the SPL on goal difference, but are now on the same 36-point tally as Kilmarnock and Aberdeen in an increasingly congested table, with all to play for in the battle for top-six places.
St Johnstone are just one point ahead of that trio of teams, and now share fourth spot with Hibernian, who have the same goal difference, although the Edinburgh team cling on to fourth place on goals scored.