CELTIC leapfrogged Rangers into top spot in the cinch Premiership table at Parkhead this afternoon when they strolled to a comfortable 3-1 win over St Johnstone thanks to goals from Kyogo Furuhashi, Nicolas Kuhn and James Forrest.

If their Ibrox rivals defeat Dundee tomorrow afternoon at Dens Park – where they triumphed 5-0 on their last visit to Tayside back at the start of November – they will fall two points behind once again.

However, the Govan club, who had a mentally and physically draining Europa League match against  Benfica on Thursday evening, will certainly be feeling under a little more pressure to perform in the lunchtime fixture after this result.

Furuhashi put the defending Scottish champions ahead six minutes before half-time, Kuhn doubled their lead early in the second half and Forrest came off the bench and added a third.

Connor Smith pulled one back for the visitors with nine minutes remaining after Joe Hart had saved a Stevie May header. But the final outcome was never in doubt. Here are five talking points from the encounter.  

Celtic class

Brendan Rodgers had been far from happy with how his charges had acquitted themselves in the Scottish Gas Scottish Cup quarter-final win over Livingston last Sunday despite the 4-2 triumph they recorded.

Whatever the Northern Irishman said to his charges during training at Lennoxtown this week in the wake of the flat display clearly had the desired impact. They were much improved against St Johnstone today.

The McDiarmid Park club kept the scoreline level for nearly 40 minutes. But Cameron Carter-Vickers, Daizen Maeda and Tomoki Iwata all had shots cleared off the line and Dimitar Mitov also palmed a powerful volley from Iwata wide before Furuhashi broke the deadlock.

Celtic were up against struggling opponents whose ambition this term is simply to remain in the division. Still, they played with a far better tempo and much more creativity. Their manager will be looking for more of the same when club football resumes after the international break.  

Furuhashi fizz

The Japanese internationalist has not, despite plundering 15 goals for club and country in the 2023/24 campaign, been his usual effervescent and ruthless self up front in the last few months.

Norwich City loanee Adam Idah was preferred to the PFA Scotland and Scottish Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year in the games against Motherwell, Hearts and Livingston.

But Furuhashi came on and netted in the triumph over the latter last weekend and he was restored to the starting line-up this afternoon.

He should really have broken the deadlock when Kuhn sent him through on Mitov with a lob over the top of the St Johnstone defence. He took too many touches and squandered the chance.

He had the ball in the back of the net moments later when he dove and chested a Paulo Bernardo cross in from a few yards out. But assistant referee Calum Spence raised his flag immediately and a VAR check subsequently proved him correct.

Furuhashi, though, stuck at it and was rewarded for his perseverance five minutes before half-time. He got on the end of another Kuhn delivery and headed home. On this occasion, the new technology showed he was not offside.

Scorer turned provider and provider turned scored in the first minute of the second half – Furuhashi squared across goal and Kuhn had the simplest of tasks to sidefoot beyond Mitov.  

The striker put in a power of work in the final third. He chased down every ball and did not give the St Johnstone defenders a second to relax. He received a standing ovation when he made way for Idah with 20 minutes left on the clock.

Could the rest he has received mean he is back to his very best for the run-in? On this evidence, it is a possibility.

CCV confidence

Celtic fans were relieved to see the Cameron Carter-Vickers, who missed the Livingston cup tie due to a minor niggle, back in the side at centre half today.

The United States internationalist dovetailed well with Stephen Welsh in the absence of Liam Scales and dealt comfortably with the limited threat which the Perth club posed going forward.

The defender, who has donned the captain’s armband while Callum McGregor has been sidelined, is so important to the Glasgow club. His team mates seem to take confidence from his considerable presence at the back.

Keeping him fit is so important for Celtic.  

Iwata composure

Celtic have lost their talismanic skipper McGregor at the worst possible time. But there was nothing wrong with how the midfield three performed today. Bernardo, Iwata and Matt O’Riley bossed proceedings.

Iwata sat deep in a 4-1-4-1 formation and pulled the strings for his side. His distribution was excellent and his reading of the game intelligent. He was, too, unfortunate not to score on a couple of occasions. Not least in injury time when he headed over from close range. 

The former J League Player of the Year has big boots to fill. But he is growing into the role with every game and starting to fulfil the potential he showed when he first arrived on these shores last year.

Saints alive!

Having put a four game losing run in the Premiership behind them with a win over Aberdeen away and a draw with Livingston at home, St Johnstone travelled to Glasgow in slightly better spirits.

Sven Sprangler limping off injured midway through the first half following a collision with Daizen Maeda did nothing to help their cause.

But Craig Levein’s men were well beaten today. Celtic keeper Joe Hart only had one save of note to make during the course of the 90 minutes. His opposite number Mitov, who tipped a dipping Matt O’Riley free-kick over his crossbar at 2-0, kept the scoreline semi-respectable for the visitors.

With Ross County recording a surprise 2-1 victory over third-placed Hearts at home, St Johnstone are now just a point above the second bottom Dingwall club with eight games remaining. The heat is well and truly on.