Both St Johnstone and Hibernian benefited from Celtic's latest display of domestic lethargy. After beating Barcelona on one of the most memorable nights Celtic Park has hosted, Neil Lennon's team could manage no better than a draw against a St Johnstone side who have now taken four points from two league games against the champions. Hibs' win over Dundee United earlier on Sunday leaves the Edinburgh club two points clear at the top of the table.
In any other season, Celtic's SPL touch would be considered disastrous. They have collected only 22 points from 12 matches and are without a victory in three league games. In total, they have won just half of their SPL fixtures.
Context, however, is all important. Despite Hibs' prominence, the SPL lacks both Rangers and an alternative, credible title contender in the longer term. Subconsciously, it is clear that Celtic's players are being hampered by the sense that they will reclaim the SPL no matter what slip-ups occur at this stage. They have also, of course, placed a considerable amount of effort and energy into a successful European run. Balancing that with a supposedly straightforward league defence has not proved as simple as anticipated.
"There was a lot of mental and physical fatigue in the team today," Lennon said. "We looked knackered, it's as simple as that. That is the balancing act we have just now. We have a heavy schedule and it is taking its toll a little bit. The players are giving me everything, they just ran out of puff."
After adding that there had been "flatness" in Celtic's play, Lennon denied the situation represented cause for concern. "We have been in worse positions; last year we were 15 points behind [Rangers]," he said. "Once the Champions League games are out of the way and we are playing week to week, I think you will start to see us being more consistent."
More immediately, Lennon will seek leniency from international coaches over the use of Celtic players during friendly matches in the coming days. "I will be ringing managers up to say, 'Give my boys a rest here'," he said. "What are coaches going to find out about their players that they didn't know last month?"
In a turgid fixture, Tony Watt – one of the scorers in the Barcelona triumph – provided Celtic with a second-half lead. But St Johnstone's equaliser arrived from Nigel Hasselbaink, who supplied a fine spin and low finish after the Celtic defence failed to clear their lines. Steve Lomas, the St Johnstone manager, was sent to the stand before his team's equaliser after objecting to Watt re-entering the field to join a Celtic attack following treatment. Lomas, who said he apologised to the referee for his language, also insisted his team were denied "a stonewall penalty" in the 76th minute when Efe Ambrose upended Gregory Tade.
Man of the match Murray Davidson (St Johnstone)