ABERDEEN 1 CELTIC 1
NICOLAS KUHN scored his first Celtic goal to rescue a point for the champions at Pittodrie this afternoon.
The Hoops were toiling after a dramatic second-half turnaround in fortunes as the hosts suddenly sparked to life and snatched the lead against the run of play through the menacing Bojan Miovski.
And it took the introduction on new Bhoy Kuhn, a 57th-minute substitute for Liel Abada, to at least salvage a draw when Brendan Rodgers saw his side carelessly gift-wrap a point for the managerless home side who had Peter Leven in the dug-out after sacking Barry Robson during the week.
It was a bizarre conclusion to an encounter that looked to be only a matter of time before the Parkhead men got the opener and added to it.
NO GOAL…Luis Palma knocks the ball into the Dons net, but Celtic’s joy was short-lived.
Didn’t quite work out like that with the midfield malfunctioning for lengthy spells in the game. Matt O’Riley was due a dreadful performance and this was it. You have got to hope he has got it out of his system after this inept display.
And captain Callum McGregor was less than imposing while a struggling Paulo Bernardo didn’t last to the hour mark before he got the hook.
After dominating the first-half, a feeling of dread must have been descending upon the visitors.
A goal disallowed after a lengthy VAR check and two efforts smacking off the crossbar must have brought frowns to Rodgers and all of a Celtic persuasion. At that stage, we didn’t know worse was to follow.
The Hoops thought they had gone ahead in the seventh minute when Luis Palma pounced on a rebound from keeper Kelle Roos to thump home from close range.
DELIGHT…Luis Palma is congratulated by Paulo Bernardo, Matt O’Riley and Liel Abada after his strike against Aberdeen.
DESPAIR…Luis Palma realises his ‘goal’ will not stand.
It looked the perfect outcome to a neat move that started with a raking long-range pass from Maik Nawrocki that carved open the Dons back-line and set Kyogo Furuhashi galloping into space.
The Japanese raider touched the ball forward to Abada who was left with just the keeper to beat. Unfortunately, the winger elected for power rather than precision and his whizzbang drive was beaten away by the Dutch netminder.
The ball spun to the lurking Palma who made no mistake as he rifled it into the empty net. Celebrations were cut short for the Honduran, his team-mates and travelling fans when referee Steven McLean indicated VAR were checking the validity of the strike.
To be fair, Palma looked offside, but it took the assistants reviewing the incident on the multi-screens in their Glasgow office almost three full minutes to reach the conclusion.
On the half-hour mark, the visitors were out of luck when Palma snapped an angled drive off the top of the bar and the ball ricocheted to safety.
TAKE AIM…Celtic new Bhoy Nicolas Kuhn prepares to send the ball goalwards.
PICK IT OUT…Kuhn’s effort flummoxes Dons keeper Kelle Roos for the leveller.
Once again, a little more composure in his finishing would have almost certainly brought a better reward.
The same could have been said about Bernardo in first-half stoppage-time when the Portuguese playmaker, who had been virtually anonymous, clipped the bar with an effort that should have made the keeper work.
The on-loan Benfica midfielder controlled a headed clearance in an instant, sized up the situation from 12 yards and then lofted the ball onto the crossbar and over.
Joe Hart had been relatively untroubled at the opposite end of the pitch, but the former England international No.1 had to look alert at one stage to race from his line to grab a through ball after Miovski had sprung the visitors’ offside trap.
Obviously, Scotland’s title kings didn’t heed the warnings and they paid a heavy price five minutes after the interval when the Macedonian opened the scoring.
Alexandro Bernabei gifted the opposition possession with a sloppy ball forward to Bernardo and the Dons broke at pace.
Dante Polvara whipped a pass into acres of space in front of Nawrocki with Liam Scales caught upfield.
RED ALERT…Bojan Miovski fires Aberdeen in front with Maik Nawrocki too late to intervene and Liam Scales looking on helplessly.
Miovski raced onto it, took some touches, feinted to the right, went the other and sent the former Legia Warsaw the wrong way. He then curled an exquisite finish past the groping fingers of the helpless Hart to send the home fans into a frenzy.
Seven minutes later, Rodgers made an urgent triple substitution when he sent of Kuhn, new recruit Adam Idah and Anthony Ralston to replace Abada, Bernardo and Bernabei.
It took six minutes for the changes to have an impact when O’Riley sent Kuhn scampering into the box. There was a touch in front of Idah who smuggled the ball in front of the German winger.
He didn’t pause as he struck a left-foot shot at the target and it took a slight deflection off Nicky Devlin’s heel on its way past Roos.
In the 66th minute, O’Riley had a shot diverted into the foot of the left-hand post after he had been set up by another fine touch from Idah.
Two minutes later, Hart made an excellent save from a 20-yard piledriver from Connor Barron after a wayward header by Nawrocki.
HART THE HERO…Graeme Shinnie is denied by Celtic keeper Joe Hart.
And the veteran shotstopper came to his side’s rescue again in the 71st minute when he blocked a point-blank effort from Graeme Shinnie when a goal looked a certainty.
In the 77th minute, Stephen Welsh replaced the toiling Nawrocki and then Rocco Vata came on for Palma as Rodgers went for broke.
There was a chance in the fading moments when Vata knocked a ball in front of O’Riley. However, the fans’ favourite hesitated and Roos managed to deflect the ball away and the opportunity was gone.
And with it the chance of the champions earning three points from a fixture that became a lot more difficult than it should have been.
Now all eyes are on Easter Road on Wednesday where the Hoops can ill afford to throw away any more points.
TEAM: Hart; Johnston, Nawrocki (sub: Welsh 77), Scales, Bernabei (sub: Ralston 57); Bernardo (sub: Idah 57), McGregor, O’Riley; Abada (sub: Kuhn 57), Kyogo, Palma (sub: Vata 87).