LETHAL Leigh Griffiths and scintillating Celtic are a powerful, potent mix at the moment.
Those qualities were emphasised again at Parkhead this afternoon as the Hoops eased seven points ahead of a Dons side demoralised long before Willie Collum’s final whistle came into play.
Ronny Deila’s side took command almost straight from the off and it was a comfortable encounter for the champions with their fifth successive title surely on the horizon.
Derek McInnes’ side simply crumbled under the overwhelming pressure that saw the Hoops rack up eleven corner-kicks in the first-half alone.
And the Glasgow side went in at the interval with a one-goal advantage after Griffiths, underlining his presence as a genuine penalty-box predator in this campaign, netted with a wonderful header in the 44th minute.
The impressive Keiran Tierney, starting the game in place of Emilio Izaguirre, flighted over a cross of the utmost perfection. This gifted defender is not content with simply sending balls into the mix and hoping for the best.
He hung the ball up for Griffiths to attack between two defenders and the prolific hitman’s timing couldn’t have been bettered. He got up, hovered for a moment and then snapped a header low past the helpless Danny Ward at his right-hand post.
It was what Celtic deserved and it had seemed only a matter of time before the master marksman added to his 14-goal haul.
In the 28th minute, a marvellous side-flick from Kris Commons, after a deflection from a Tom Rogic pass, set up Griffiths smack in front of goal with only the keeper to beat. The Celtic fans, so used to watching the net bulge behind their opponents on these occasions these days, were already acclaiming a goal.
The striker hit it with his right foot and credit to the Dons No.1 for a fine save as he spread himself and managed to divert the ball wide of the far upright. The Hoops support would have to wait a little longer to applaud the inevitable.
A minute later, Graeme Shinnie was booked for a shameful late, over-the-top challenge on Nir Bitton. It was nasty, but referee Collum was satisfied to merely wave the yellow card when a red may have been more warranted.
Celtic got a fright in the 35th minute when Jonny Hayes slung over a cross from the right and Rooney escaped his markers to meet the ball at the near post. He got a slight touch with his head and the ball shaved Craig Gordon’s left-hand post. It was a wake-up call for the defence.
Six minutes from half-time, there was another sight of the enterprising Tierney as he cut in from the left to have a dig with his right foot. It struck a defender and flew for a corner-kick.
Commons sent over a neat, inswinging effort and Dedryck Boyata was first to nod the ball goalwards. The Dons got lucky when Kenny McLean managed to deflect the ball onto the woodwork and it was cleared.
Then came the breakthrough goal from Griffiths and Rogic was unfortunate not to add to it right of half-time when he dragged a shot just wide of Ward’s left-hand post.
Inside the first five minutes of the second period, Celtic had let it be known they were determined to add to Griffiths’ effort very quickly.
Rogic had a swerving shot fisted away by Ward and then Commons, with a bit more time than he realised, sliced one wide of the upright.
In the 52nd minute, Dons defender Ash Taylor took a rush of blood to the head as he thundered into a challenge on Commons. The midfielder was just inside the edge of the box with his back to goal, but he was still cleaned out.
The ref awarded the stick-on spot-kick and Griffiths zipped a low left-foot effort in at the keeper’s left hand for a finish of exquisite quality.
On the hour mark, it was all over as a contest. Rogic, displaying a lot of enterprise, picked up a ball in midfield and strolled forward. He waited until James Forrest timed his run inside before he released his pass.
Forrest cushioned the ball behind Paul Quinn and caught it with the outside of his right foot as it dropped to the ground to steer it past Ward at his left. It was a superb piece of chance-taking and it was an excellent way for the winger to score his first goal of the season.
Another plus from this encounter was the obvious dove-tailing of Jozo Simunovic and Tierney on the left-hand side. The Croatian is growing into being a Celt with every passing game and the signs are encouraging.
He is a defender first and foremost and he is not afraid to make the brave tackles. The former Dinamo Zagreb man also looks happy to accept responsibility when the ball is the air.
It was probably significant that Adam Rooney claimed the Dons’ consolation goal a minute from time after Simunovic had been substituted.
Griffiths was obviously desperate to claim a hat-trick and walloped in a treacherous left-foot drive from just outside the box in the 69th minute, but Ward performed minor miracles by flicking the ball over the bar as it swerved and dipped while zeroing in on his goal.
Bitton, controlled and masterly, was in cruise control, too, and there was a wonderful little cameo of his skills when he hit a ball with the inside of his right foot down the left wing to Griffiths. It looked as though it would go out of play, but the spin the Israeli had put on the ball meant it hit the line and came spiralling back into play.
Stuart Armstrong, on for Forrest, played a supreme one-two with Commons, but his bending shot from the edge of the box curled just wide of the upright with Ward rooted to the spot.
In the 78th minute, Ronny Deila replaced Simunovic and Tierney with Efe Ambrose and Izaguirre with an eye on Thursday’s Europa League tie against Molde obviously in mind.
Gordon was forced to make a magnificent diving save low to his right when Peter Pawlett managed to get in a strong header in the 80th minute, but the keeper had no chance when Rooney, left totally unattended, nodded in a Shinnie free-kick.
No doubt Deila will have something to say about that lapse in concentration. But, overall, this was an impressive performance by his team who are now, very definitely, out on their own.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Simunovic (sub: Ambrose 78), Tierney (sub: Izaguirre 78); Johansen, Bitton; Commons, Rogic, Forrest (sub: Armstrong 67): Griffiths.