CELTIC 2 ABERDEEN 1
CALLUM McGREGOR was the Celtic matchwinner in a tense encounter against a battling Dons outfit at Parkhead this afternoon.
Somehow it was fitting, on this emotional day of tributes to legendary Lisbon Lion Bertie Auld, that the points-clincher came from the midfielder’s left foot.
The iconic Hoops No.10 knocked in a few for the club with his trusty left peg in his glory years at the club.
There may have been a rub of the green on this occasion when Calmac managed to divert a clearance from former team-mate Jonny Hayes into the empty net, but it was the only piece of luck that came the way of Ange Postecoglou’s men on what could have become a costly afternoon.
HAPPY DAYS…Callum McGregor celebrates in front of the Celtic fans.
There was a minute’s rousing applause at the start of the game as a packed Parkhead honoured Bertie Auld, the club great who passed away a fortnight ago at the age of 83.
Inside three minutes, the Dons made it clear they were not a support act when Christian Ramirez waywardly clattered into Joe Hart as the keeper came to claim a bouncing ball at his near post.
The burly Dons striker thudded into the Celt’s left shoulder and the ground was hushed as the fans’ favourite hit the turf and had to be given intensive treatment.
Scott Bain was ordered to get ready before Hart recovered to take his usual place.
Lewis Ferguson bowled over Filipe Jota and then James McCarthy to give away free-kicks, but referee Kevin Clancy was obviously in a lenient mood and his cards remained firmly in his pocket.
In the 15th minute, Jota provided a moment of magic when he zipped in a cross from the left, but David Turnbull’s shot was deflected for a corner-kick.
Moments later, Josip Juranovic miscued when he was presented with a reasonable opportunity and the Dons breathed a sigh of relief for a second time.
NET PROFIT…Filipe Jota races away after opening the scoring with the Dons defence in disarray.
However, in the 20th minute, merchant of menace Jota claimed the opening goal after a superb move down the left-hand side.
Turnbull picked out McGregor who stabbed the ball in front of the on-loan Benfica winger who didn’t hesitate as he lashed his right-foot effort from 10 yards beyond the stranded Joe Lewis.
Bertie Auld, the celebrated No.10 with the mesmerising left foot, would have approved.
Six minutes later, McGregor, with his first ill-timed tackle, was immediately yellow-carded by Clancy after a clumsy challenge on Ryan Hedges.
Ross McCrorie was next to fall foul of the match official when he was booked for an obvious foul on Turnbull.
HART STOPPER…keeper Joe Hart makes a brilliant plunging save to deny Dons’ Marley Watkins.
In the 31st minute, Hart showed he had completely recovered from his knock when he dived full-length to his right to push away a rasping angled drive from Marley Watkins.
Unfortunately, the former England international No.1 had no chance when the Dons equalised with a controversial penalty-kick two minutes later when David Bates went down theatrically after the ball had broken loose in the box following a left-wing corner-kick.
Abada moved to tackle the Dons defender, but TV pictures showed he made no contact. Amazingly, the whistler had no hesitation as he pointed to the spot with a fair degree of haste. Soft doesn’t come close to describing it.
Ferguson, who was given two penalty-kicks in one game against Celtic at Pittodrie last season, swept the award wide of Hart to the keeper’s left as he took off for the opposite corner.
Three minutes from the interval, Stephen Welsh got in front of Kyogo Furuhashi to head a right-wing cross from Turnbull meekly wide of the upright. If he had let it go, the Japanese hitman had a far better chance of claiming the second goal.
HELPLESS…Joe Hart can only watch Lewis Ferguson’s penalty-kick hit the net for the equaliser.
McGregor then weaved away from his old mate Scott Brown on the edge of the box, but his right-foot shot was blocked by the sprawling Bates.
The home fans screamed in unison for a penalty-kick, but Clancy was not impressed. On this occasion, he got it right, the ball appeared to hit the centre-back on the chest.
Play was scrappy after the resumption and it was summed up by a left-wing cross from Juranovic, a naturally right-footed player, which sailed into the stand.
In the 54th minute, the Hoops were denied when a ferocious drive from the edge of the box from McGregor hit Ramirez and ricocheted to safety. The Dons frontman had to go off for treatment such was the power of the shot.
Jota was a constant threat on the left as he teased and probed, but there was little happening on the opposite flank.
However, the Hoops did manage to claim a second on the hour mark and it was quick thinking from McGregor to catch the Dons cold with a brave block following a save from Lewis at the feet of Abada after the Israeli winger had been sent clear with an astute pass from McCarthy.
CAPTAIN’S ROLE…Callum McGregor displays the joy of scoring a goal.
It looked as though the opportunity had gone, but the international midfielder seized the chance to divert a clearance from Hayes back into the inviting net with the keeper on the ground.
Not a classic from Calmac, but it didn’t stop the captain from celebrating joyously in front of the ecstatic fans.
A minute later, James Forrest, last week’s Premier Sports League Cup semi-final goal hero, replaced Abada to turn the screw on the visitors.
In the 66th minute, former Hoops skipper Brown limped off to a standing ovation from the Celtic supporters in appreciation of everything he gave the club, above and beyond, in a phenomenal career.
A remarkable reflex save from Lewis thwarted a goalbound header from Anthony Ralston after the right-back had thundered in a header from six yard following an inch-perfect right-wing corner-kick from Turnbull.
The keeper took off in spectacular style to touch the effort over the crossbar as it zoomed towards its intended destination.
With eight minutes to go, Jota was released by a clever pass from McGregor, but his low drive hammered off the far post and rebounded to safety.
It was the Portuguese ace’s last act before he was replaced by Mikey Johnston.
Referee Clancy made another bewildering decision when he refused a free-kick after Kyogo had been clearly fouled by Bates. The striker took one on the jaw before being decked, but the official looked the other way.
In an enthralling finale Juranovic headed one off the line and then Johnston set up Kyogo whose first-timed drive was blocked by Lewis.
Four minutes into stoppage time, Kyogo was replaced by Albian Ajeti as Celtic saw the game over the line.
Paradise was smiles better as the fans celebrated three precious Premiership points. It was an afternoon designed for the unforgettable Bertie Auld.
TEAM: Hart; Ralston, Carter-Vickers, Welsh, Juranovic; Turnbull, McCarthy, McGregor; Abada (sub: Forrest 61), Kyogo (sub: Ajeti 94), Jota (sub: Johnston 82).