ABERDEEN 0 CELTIC 1
COMEBACK captain Callum McGregor produced a pre-Christmas cracker to fire Celtic back to a nine-point advantage at the Premiership pinnacle.
There were only three of the regulation minutes to go when the midfielder thumped in the Hoops’ 200th goal since Ange Postecoglou took charge in June last year.
The champions had dominated possession without penetration and the Dons were clearly content to take a point from a goalless draw.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS…comeback Bhoy Callum McGregor celebrates his matchinning strike with Matt O’Riley.
Relentlessly, the visitors stormed the red barrier and it looked as though all their efforts would be in vain with two points surrendered.
And then, with the clock ticking down, James Forrest, introduced as a 73rd minute substitute for Filipe Jota, nursed the ball across the the box about 25 yards out before deftly slipping a pass to the side to set up his rampaging skipper.
McGregor, making his return after missing 11 games through injury sustained in early October, didn’t hesitate as he took a touch and then drilled an unstoppable drive from 18 yards low past the helpless Kelle Roos at the far post.
It was a goal fit to win any game and the Hoops inspiration certainly looked happy to be back in the thick of things.
One thing is certain – no-one can fault the onfield leader’s sense of timing.
It was a scoreless stalemate at the interval and there were two near things as Postecoglou’s men probed for openings in a packed penalty box.
CHEERS AND TEARS…Callum McGregor and Matt O’Riley celebrate while Aberdeen keeper Kelle Roos is left disappointed.
In the 14th minute, Anthony Ralston, Daizen Maeda and Matt O’Riley worked the ball in from the right to Greg Taylor who switched a pass onto Jota.
The Portuguese flyer showed menace immediately as he took possession, darted inside, took the ball to his right foot and curled in a dangerous efort from 20 yards.
Dutch keeper Roos had to race swiftly to get across his goal to beat the ball away at his left.
Seven minutes later, a low ball from Maeda on the right broke to Reo Hatate who swivelled to create a shooting chance, but again Roos got down well to block the shot with his left hand and then boot it clear with Kyogo Furuhashi racing in.
Liel Abada replaced Maeda at the interval as Postecoglou freshened up his front three.
Kyogo had an awful miss eight minutes into the second period after Ralston picked out Abada with a superb through ball. The Israeli winger whipped an inviting cross into the box, but the Japanese hitman, inexplicably, took a swing from six yards and knocked the ball wide of the far post.
Postecoglou didn’t even try to hide his disappointment on the touchline.
In the 70th minute, Kyogo was again off target with an acrobaic effort after a neat one-two from O’Riley and Ralston had fashioned the opportunity.
DOUBLE CENTURIAN…Ange Postecoglou celebrates watching Celtic netting their 200th goal since his arrival.
Moments later, O’Riley sizzled over a cross from the right and Taylor was unmarked as he raced in from the left, but he flashed a low shot wide of the far post. He should have hit the target.
In the 73rd minute, Celtic made the expected changes when Giorgos Giakoumakis, David Turnbull and Forrest replaced Kyogo, Hatate and Jota.
The hosts, though, remained defiant in the face of constant pressure, but they were undone by a flash of inspiration from skipper McGregor that was well worth the wait – and the three points.
Welcome back, Callum.
Aaron Mooy came on for O’Riley as four minutes of stoppage time were played out, but there was no way the champions were going to allow a precious victory to slip away.
TEAM: Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor; O’Riley (sub: Mooy 89), McGregor, Hatate (sub: Turnbull 73); Maeda (sub: Abada 46), Kyogo (sub: Giakoumakis 73), Jota (sub: Forrest 73).