sport

Griffiths giving spark to Stokes

Celtic boss Neil Lennon believes Leigh Griffiths' arrival is bringing out the best in striker Anthony Stokes.

The Parkhead boss handed the former Hibernian frontman his first start since securing a 1million switch from Wolves a fortnight ago in Sunday's 3-0 win over St Johnstone.

The victory was secured thanks to Stokes' third Hoops hat-trick.

Griffiths teed up the Irishman for the 16th-minute opener and saw a late chip over Perth keeper Alan Mannus wrongly ruled out for offside as the runaway Scottish Premiership leaders maintained their unbeaten record.

Lennon said: "When you see Leigh's performance, he was the energy bunny. He was everywhere. As the game grew on he got more and more confident and he was very unlucky, I thought he was onside when he scored the goal.

"His all-round game today was excellent. Stokesy has been looking for someone to play with at times. He had a great relationship with with Gary Hooper so we're hoping he will form a good bond with Leigh too."

Stokes put his side ahead after wriggling past a couple of half-hearted challenges to plant a dipping shot into the bottom corner.

Scott Brown then scooped a cross to the back post for the 25-year-old to bury his second on 64 minutes, while his treble was complete two minutes later as he smashed the ball beyond Mannus again after Stefan Johansen and Kris Commons combined down the left.

The victory also saw Fraser Forster rack up his 12th league shut-out in a row to equal the 43-year-old record set by former Aberdeen goalkeeper Bobby Clark. The England goalkeeper now has to survive just 31 minutes against Hearts at Tynecastle next Saturday to beat Clark's record of 1,155 minutes without conceding a league goal.

"He can be really proud of what he is doing at the minute," said Lennon. "It means a lot to him personally. He's got 31 minutes to go and these are great incentives for the players, not just to win the title, but to win it in a certain style.

"He's a fantastic goalkeeper. He's one of the best Celtic have ever had. For him to achieve what he has achieved in such a short space of time, I think, is miraculous."

Celtic reaffirmed their 21-point lead over Aberdeen with the win to put them on the verge of three-in-a-row.

But St Johnstone boss Tommy Wright refused to criticise his players for losing to the unbeaten Parkhead men.

"I thought Celtic were excellent, they played very well and kept the ball, " he said. "They would have been hurting from losing to Aberdeen last week so it was no surprise that they played so well.

"I'm not going to criticise my players coming up against a team like that. We had started okay but ended up chasing the game. But Celtic were fantastic today."