THIS was an afternoon for Celtic to show what champions are made of in a gruelling, no-holds-barred confrontation at Pittodrie this afternoon.

Brendan Rodgers’ Hoops claimed three vital points with goals from Liel Abada, Kyogo Furuhashi and Matt O’Riley, but that only tells you part of the story.

The visitors had to roll up their sleeves and overcome the challenge of committed opponents who made no pretence of putting on an easy-on-the-eye display.

And the Parkhead men also had to dig out a triumph without the services of the influential Cameron Carter-Vickers for the entire second-half with the rugged defender left in the dressing room for treatment while forgotten man Stephen Welsh took his place in the rearguard alongside Maik Nawrocki.

AIR WE GO…Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates Celtic’s second goal at Pittodrie.

In the end, it was a praiseworthy showing from a set of players who refused to roll over and were well worthy of their success following a full-throttle meeting.

It was a rip-roaring contest right from the start with Barry Robson’s side challenging fiercely for every ball as they attempted to knock the champions out of their stride.

It was Kyogo – who else? – who came closest to the breakthrough goal in the ninth minute after some nice combination play between David Turnbull and O’Riley on the right.

The ball was played into the tracks of the Japanese ace just two yards outside the box and he curled in a wicked attempt that left keeper Kelle Roos motionless, but, alas, it swept just too high and cleared the bar.

Two minutes later, though, Liel Abada did get the ball in the net although there was the usual agonising wait before VAR assistant Andrew Dallas gave it the green light after onfield match official Kevin Clancy had ruled it out on the say-so of his standside assistant.

O’Riley had set up the opportunity with a cunning free-kick to the far post where it was met by Daizen Maeda who nodded the ball across goal.

The Dons rearguard was caught on their heels as Abada reacted with his customary stealth and killer instinct at the near post to belt the ball home.

PICK IT OUT…Liel Abada lashes a close-range shot into the Dons net for the opener which was awarded after a VAR intervention.

His immediate joyous celebration was cut short by the linesman who erroneously flagged for offside. VAR images showed the Celt had been clearly played onside by an opponent and the goal stood.

Amazingly, the Hoops could have doubled their advantage within moments when they won the ball immediately from the recentre. O’Riley fired a ball to Kyogo who cleverly turned it onto Maeda coming in from the left.

Unfortunately, the pacy raider lacked composure at the crucial moment and tamely hit a shot straight into the arms of the grateful Dons No.1.

In the 25th minute, the home side levelled with a goal of simplicity after the Celtic defence switched off. Carter-Vickers lost the flight of a ball forward from Ryan Duncan and Portuguese hitman Duk gathered possession on the left before switching quickly into the box from the left.

Strike partner Bojan Miovski, with new Bhoy Nawrocki alarmingly slow to react to the danger signals, raced in unguarded in front of goal to sweep the ball beyond the exposed and helpless Joe Hart.

However, it took a mere four minutes before the champions regained the lead and it was that man Kyogo who pulled the trigger after a clanger from Nicky Devlin.

The veteran defender misdirected a header back to Roos and the lurking Hoops hitman latched onto the ball before lashing an unstoppable right-foot drive past Roos.

JOY BHOY…Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates in his usual fashion after making it 2-1 for Celtic.

Rodgers made changes at the interval with Welsh and Reo Hatate replacing Carter-Vickers and Turnbull who had been off the pace in a pulsating opening period.

It seemed evident the USA World Cup defender hadn’t recovered completely from his knee surgery in April and had looked a bit sluggish in the frantic pace of the contest.

The approach from the Dons wasn’t particularly scientific as they thumped long balls into the heart of the Hoops rearguard with Welsh and Nawrocki playing alongside each other for the first time.

However, the visitors should have claimed a third in the 57th minute to soothe the nerves of the travelling fans, but Kyogo proved he was only human after all by walloping a drive waywardly over the bar from 10 yards.

The talisman was left with a fabulous opportunity after Ross had pushed a left-wing cross from Hatate straight to his feet. Alas, he seemed to lean back as he swung his left foot at the chance and his effort flew high off target.

Greg Taylor was enduring a torrid time against the pacy Shayden Morris and the left-back struggled throughout the game, gifting possession on far too many occasions to the opposition – even from two throw-ins!

From one of his aimless shies, Hart had to race to the edge of his box to whip the ball off the toes of Miovski as he was left with a clear run-in on goal.

EASY AS ONE, TWO, THREE…Matt O’Riley fires in the third goal that sealed the Hoops win at Pittodrie.

In the 70th minute, there was a moment of consternation for Rodgers as Hatate signalled he couldn’t continue. As the playmaker limped off, the manager sent on Norwegian Odin Thiago Holm who took the opportunity to show some deft touches in a competent performance.

South Korean Yang Hyun-jun also came on at the same time for Abada who looked out on his feet after a stupendous shift.

Maeda, who had also failed to match his expected levels, should have wrapped up the points in the 84th minute when he was sent through by a clever Yang pass in a one-on-one with the netminder.

The Japanese raider never looked comfortable and it was no surprise when Roos diverted his half-hit shot.

Moments later, though, O’Riley, who had put in a Man-of-the-Match performance, hit the clinching third goal.

Credit must go to the tricky Yang who teased and tormented an opponent on the left-hand side of the box. He went wide, checked twice and seized the moment when he saw an opening.

He whipped over a low and inviting cross and O’Riley arrived smack on time to hit a first-time left-foot drive into the net from 10 yards with the keeper helpless.

In the fading moments, Rodgers sent on James Forrest for Kyogo as Celtic saw out a difficult encounter to claim three points.

When May arrives and the medals are being handed out, these are the sort of days title can be won – and lost.

TEAM: Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers (sub: Welsh 46), Nawrocki, Taylor; Turnbull (sub: Hatate 46; sub: Holm 70), McGregor, O’Riley; Abada (sub: Yang 70), Kyogo (sub: Forrest 87), Maeda.

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