Emilio Izaguirre scored his first goal for Celtic against St Johnstone
By Martin Conaghan
Celtic kept their first clean sheet in six matches with a comfortable win against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.
Niall McGinn fired in with just 69 seconds played after Saints keeper Graeme Smith parried a long-range shot.
Emilio Izaguirre slotted home his first Celtic goal before the break, then Saints' Danny Grainger was sent off in the 87th minute for a second booking.
McGinn sealed the points in the final minute with a mis-hit shot that bobbled past Smith in the Saints goal.
The win puts Celtic within a point of Rangers at the top of the table, after the Ibrox side drew with Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the later kick-off.
Glenn Loovens was dropped from Celtic's starting line-up, with Thomas Rogne and Mark Wilson stepping in.
Shaun Maloney was expected to return to the Celtic midfield, but was replaced at the last minute by Cha Du-Ri after complaining of feeling unwell.
Jennison Myrie-Williams earned a start for St Johnstone in place of the injured Murray Davidson, while Marcus Haber, Peter MacDonald and Steven Milne came in for Collin Samuel, Sam Parkin and Andy Jackson.
With just over one minute on the clock, Celtic opened the scoring when Ki Sung-Yong delivered a low free kick back into the St Johnstone penalty area from wide on the right and Stokes fired in from 18 yards. However, keeper Smith parried and McGinn pounced on the rebound to blast the ball into the back of the net.
Five minutes later, Stokes back-heeled a neat ball into the penalty area and Ki struck the woodwork with a blistering shot as Celtic took the match by the scruff of the neck.
A shell-shocked St Johnstone struggled to gain a foothold on the match in the early stages, although Grainger blasted in a bold 25-yard effort in the 16th minute that drifted wide of the target.
Stokes replied with a right-footed effort from the edge of the St Johnstone penalty area that Smith held well, then the Northern Ireland international missed with a close-range header from a Mark Wilson long-ball.
Saints midfielder Liam Craig struggled to control a loose ball just shortly after the half-hour mark, and sent a wild shot out for a goal-kick, then Georgios Samaras nodded a header towards the hosts' goal that Smith effortlessly collected.
As half-time approached, Peter McDonald looped a header towards Celtic keeper Fraser Forster that cleared the bar, then a Grainger corner failed to test the visitors' defence.
Izaguirre capitalised on a slack defensive pass-back by Milne four minutes from the break and glided into the St Johnstone penalty area before calmly slotting past Smith to give the hosts a two-goal lead at the interval.
Four minutes after the restart, Cha warmed Smith's hands with a blistering shot from wide on the right after Stokes unselfishly played the South Korea defender through.
Moments later, Myrie-Williams forced a save from Forster, then Haber slipped in from an offside position but was unable to capitalise on the rebound.
Some good build-up play from Haber near the hour mark fizzled out in the Celtic penalty area with Parkin waiting on the final ball.
Samuel flighted in a 68th minute cross that Myrie-Williams awkwardly sent towards the Celtic goal, but Forster was up to the challenge and cleared the danger.
St Johnstone continued to search for an opening, although Parkin was caught in an offside position with a close-range header in the 78th minute.
Samaras almost made it three for Celtic with less than 10 minutes to play, but lost his footing and sent a close-range shot wide of Smith's right-hand post.
Grainger was sent in for an early bath for a second bookable offence following a tackle on Stokes, then Smith was at full-stretch as Ki curved in a long-range free-kick that inched wide.
The match was over as a contest when McGinn swung a leg at a loose ball in the dying minutes of the game and the ball drifted past Smith and into the back of the St Johnstone net.
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