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Celtic romp to win over St Johnstone
Celtic confirmed their status as SPL champions on the day they received the SPL trophy with a thumping 4-0 win over St Johnstone at Parkhead.
The game was over almost before it had really started as midfielder Joe Ledley fired the home side ahead in the second minute before defender Charlie Mulgrew's whipped-in free-kick in the 36th minute evaded everyone before nestling in the net for number two.
James Forrest made it three early in the second half as Celtic refused to allow the Taysiders out of a tight grip which had turned the afternoon into a non-contest, with Saints stopper Frazer Wright putting through his own goal in the final seconds.
Skipper Scott Brown, who returned for the first time in three months after recovering from surgery to solve an abductor problem, was handed the trophy on the presentation platform from a representative of the league's sponsors to huge cheers from the Hoops fans, who, after some indifferent displays and results recently, saw their side back to its best.
Celtic now look ahead to clinching the double when they play Hibernian in the William Hill Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park in a fortnight's time.
Manager Neil Lennon had most of his big guns back in the side including keeper Frazer Forster, Mulgrew, Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper while Kris Commons was out with a stomach bug.
The Saints players applauded the champions on to the park before kick-off but would not have wanted to extend that act of sportsmanship to giving the home side a goal of a start, which is exactly what Ledley's quick-fire opener represented.
Hooper looked like he handled Anthony Stokes' long ball as the Parkhead side broke but referee Alan Muir allowed play to continue, probably certain that Tom Scobbie would clear.
However, the Perth defender mis-kicked inside his own box to Brown and the visitors were in trouble.
Hooper regained possession, passed to Forrest who set up Ledley at the edge of the box and the Wales midfielder rifled an unstoppable drive past the flailing Alan Mannus.
From then on it was one-way traffic as the champions pressed for number two.
Ledley's cut-back from the by-line was missed by Hooper with the McDiarmid Park defence scrambling the ball away before defender Mikael Lustig headed a Mulgrew free-kick past the far post from eight yards.
In the 19th minute the Celtic fans applauded in tribute to former Hoops player Stiliyan Petrov who announced his retirement from the game this week as he continues his battle against illness.
In the 28th minute Stokes pounced on a Hooper cross at the near post but flicked the ball just over the bar, moments before Mannus made a good save down at his right-hand side from Lustig's low drive from inside the box.
The tireless Brown was then denied a goal by the chest of Saints defender Frazer Wright, after being set up for a shot by Hooper.
It seemed only a matter of time until Celtic doubled their lead and it came when Gregory Tade was penalised for a foul on the Parkhead captain, 35 yards from goal on the right-hand side.
A trademark delivery from Mulgrew zipped past several heads inside the packed six-yard box and past Mannus into the far corner.
Amid a late first half battering for Saints, Mannus made a good save from Forrest at the expense of a corner which came to nothing before the keeper then saved from Emilio Izaguirre.
Within seconds of the restart Saints midfielder Liam Craig volleyed a cross from Steven MacLean over the bar at the back post, indicating that the Taysiders were looking to make a better fist of the second period.
However, in the 51st minute, just after Wanyama and Rowan Vine were booked for a spat, Celtic increased their lead further following another speedy break, when Hooper set up Forrest to shoot low past Mannus.
The Scotland winger had the chance to double up in the 58th minute when Stokes worked brilliantly to set him up 14 yards out but he blazed the ball high over the bar.
Georgios Samaras missed a great chance in the 68th minute when the St Johnstone defence hesitated in dealing with a deflected Izaguirre cross, the Greece international flicking his leg at the ball which flew wide from eight yards.
Not that it mattered much. The game was well over, the final result was the only thing up for grabs.
Forster made his first save of the game in the 78th minute from Nigel Hasselbaink and as the game petered out, Hooper missed with a header from close range, after getting on to the end of another fine Mulgrew cross.
However, there was time for Wright to compound his side's miserable afternoon when he headed a Mulgrew corner into his own net.
Notwithstanding the last league game of the campaign against Dundee United next week, all eyes at Parkhead now turn to the cup final and the chance of the double.
Inverness squandered the chance to secure a European spot after crashing to a last-gasp 2-1 defeat to Dundee United .
A win for Terry Butcher's side would have secured third place and the final Europa League berth.
But Aaron Doran's opener was cancelled out by Ryan Dow, before Gary Mackay-Steven struck in injury time to hand United their first post-split win.
The result means the race for Europe goes to the wire, with Inverness, St Johnstone and Ross County still in contention as it stands ahead of County's game against Motherwell.
Aberdeen extended their unbeaten run under new manager Derek McInnes to four matches but their goalless draw at St Mirren was a largely forgettable way to mark the 30th anniversary of their greatest triumph.
Three decades ago to the day, Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen side beat Real Madrid in Gothenburg to win the European Cup Winners' Cup but the current team are proving less effective on their travels.
Aberdeen have still not won an away game in 2013 although they came closer to three points than their hosts with Jonny Hayes seeing a goal disallowed and Marc McAusland clearing off the line from Scott Vernon.
Kilmarnock gained revenge over relegated Dundee for denying them a top-six place as they won 3-2 to hand new Dens boss John Brown just his third defeat since taking over