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Celtic 1 St Johnstone 0: Stokes lights up low-key affair as fringe players fail to shine

By Sportsmail ReporterPUBLISHED: 18:41 EST, 3 May 2012 | UPDATED: 19:42 EST, 3 May 2012 Celtics’ charity stopped short of giving St Johnstone a helping hand to qualify for Europe as Neil Lennon’s weakened champions maintained the chasm at the top of the SPL table.A night which began with a pre-match concert from the Thai Tims ended with a fifth successive league win which underscored the manager’s intention to end the season with the foot firmly on the gas. Happy 21st: Celtic’s Anthony Stokes scores the only goalMATCH FACTSCeltic: Zaluska, Mark Wilson (Cha 74), Kelvin Wilson, Rogne, Izaguirre, McGeouch (Hooper 68), Wanyama, Ledley, Commons (Ibrahim 74), Bangura, Stokes. Subs Not Used: Forster, Brozek, Lustig, Blackman.Goals: Stokes 28.St Johnstone: Mannus, Maybury, McCracken, Anderson, Callum Davidson, Millar (Riordan 42), Morris, Adams (Haber 76), Murray Davidson,Craig, Sheridan. Subs Not Used: Enckelman, Moon, Oyenuga, Moffat, Hutchinson.Booked: McCracken.Att: 50,297Ref: Crawford Allan (Scotland). Lennon watched his third successive game from the stand courtesy of a second touchline ban from the SFA kicking in, yet the bird’s-eye view was again to his  pleasing. While he would doubtless prefer to be in the dugout, his temporary vantage point might just be growing on him.It’s not often that pre-match entertainment can drag fans into a ground half an hour before kick-off but many in the 45,000 crowd were in place for that reason last night.A club formed for charitable purposes 124 years ago went back to its roots to fly 42 disadvantaged children from Asia to  Glasgow for a week they, and indeed those who saw them perform, will never forget.After a pre-match concert in the centre circle, they took their place in the stand to watch a contest that, in truth, rarely set the pulse racing.With a massive lead at the top of the table and Rangers swatted aside with ease on Sunday, Lennon was afforded a luxury rarely afforded to managers — scope for an experimental line-up in a competitive game. Banned: Celtic’s manager Neil Lennon watches from the standsHe made seven changes from the side thatstarted on Sunday, a selection that,  in the cases of Emilio Izaguirre and Mo Bangura, gave game time to players whose seasons have been badlyhit by injury.Dylan McGeough, the midfielder whose stunning solo goal against  St Mirren was voted the best of the season by fans, was rewarded for  his promise with a first start while Mark Wilson, a likely departure this  summer, wore the armband.The five-man midfield predictably shaped by Steve Lomas served to frustrate Celtic in the early exchanges, with Murray Davidson and Jamie Adams knocking their counterparts out of any kind of rhythm. Crunch: St Johnstone’s Jamie Adams (right) collides with Celtic’s Kris CommonsWhen Thomas Rogne went back to front with a searching diagonal, Anthony Stokes had no shortage of options but his attempt to pick out the onrushing McGeough at the far post was poorly executed.The yellow shirted-visitors forced a succession of early set-pieces but none came close to testing the sharpness of Lukasz Zaluska, the Polish keeper another who was enjoying a rare first-team run-out.St Johnstone must just have been fancying their chances of taking what would have been deemed a bonus point in their quest for Europe when theyfell behind from what, from Lomas’s perspective, was an extremely cheapgoal to lose.McGeough fed a short corner to Kris Commons, who rolled the ball on to Victor Wanyama. The Kenyan’s deft chip was helped on in turn by Mark Wilson and Stokes applied the  finishing touch from five yards. Crocked: The assistant referee sits on the pitch after sustaining an injuryBangura had been busy enough up until that point without really threatening. Sixty seconds after the opener, he almost claimed his firstgoal in a Celtic shirt by turning onto Commons’ pass and firing low. The outstretched arm of Alan Mannus denied him his moment of joy.Referee Crawford Allan dipped into his pocket for the first time to caution David McCracken for  tripping Stokes before Commons tried his luck from the resulting  set-piece. Mannus moved his feet quickly to deny the midfielder.Saints’ early promise faded the more the first half wore on. A rare set-piece was teed up by Liam Craig 20 yards out but his normally trustyleft foot failed him as the ball arced the wrong side of Zaluska’s post.Lomas was forced to replace the injured Chris Millar with Derek Riordan three minutes from the break and, as Celtic looked for any change in formation, their defence temporarily switched off. Flying the flag: The Thai Tims perform before the gameJody Morris played a delicious ball in behind the back four which, if anything, gave Murray Davidson too much time to think. Credit to Zaluska, though for standing up big and blocking with his legs.Celtic started the second half on the front foot. Joe Ledley’s volley was parried by Mannus but  Commons was unable to prevent his follow-up shot from flying over. The Saints keeper then did well to keep an eye onCommons’ free-kick as it breached the defensive wall.Bangura was next to try his luck, turning McCracken inside out, only for his shot to rebound off the post. Having enjoyed a lucky break, Saints almost levelled three minutes later. Wanyama ran into trouble on the edge of his box and was thankful that Morris’s chip drifted wide.  While the deficit remained a single goal, Saints’ heads remained up. What a pity, from their point of view, that Cillian Sheridan hadn’t thrown himself at Riordan’s cross with 12 minutes remaining. The target looked to be at his mercy but he seemed to give up the ball.Celtic thought they had doubled their lead in the closing seconds but substitute Gary Hooper’s was offside as he tapped in fellow sub Rabiu Ibrahim’s goal-bound effort.There was one final change to the line-ups. Linesman Raymond Whyte pulled up injured, forcing fourth official David Somers to replace him. There was even some sympathetic applause for the crocked official as he made his way up the tunnel. A world first surely.  

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