CELTIC 3 ABERDEEN 2
IT’S OFFICIAL – Celtic are the Scottish Premiership champions for season 2015/16!
The honour was rubber-stamped following a curious display and a ground-out triumph over nearest challengers Aberdeen at Parkhead this afternoon.
It looked as though the Hoops were about to swashbuckle their way through a memorable encounter as they raced into a three-goal advantage inside 50 minutes.
In the middle of the park, there was a refreshing movement, willingness, tempo, thrust and vigour about their play that threatened to swamp the Dons.
Stuart Armstrong looked inventive and eager upon his return to the first team, Callum McGregor was always busy, Tom Rogic performed with authority and Patrick Roberts was electrifying on the right wing.
It was the on-loan Manchester City teenager who revelled in the east end sunshine as he scored the goals that gave the Hoops a 2-0 advantage in the first-half.
The opening goal in the seventh minute was breathtaking in its manufacture and execution and set Parkhead alight.
Armstrong, deep in his own half, got the ball rolling when he intercepted a pass to Jonny Hayes. He slipped the ball to Nir Nitton who moved it onto Rogic and it was shuttled across to Mikael Lustig.
The Swede shoved a pass to Roberts, ten yards inside the Dons half. The fleet-footed youngster decided to cut inside Graeme Shinnie as he headed for the danger zone.
With the opposing defenders anticipating a pass, he exploited the time and space they so graciously and generously granted him.
He picked up pace, checked where goalkeeper Adam Collin was positioned and then drew back his left foot to arc an unstoppable 25-yard drive high into the net. The 19-year-old personality lapped up the applause from his new set of adoring fans – and how he deserved the plaudits.
And he doubled the advantage in the 20th minute with an opportunist strike after another movement of bewildering touch and pace. Rogic picked out Leigh Griffiths and he spotted a gap between Shinnie and Andrew Considine and fed the ball through the inviting space.
Roberts read the move perfectly and arrived bang on time to first-time a sweet left foot effort with immaculate precision away from the diving Collin.
In between, Lustig had his name taken by card-happy Bobby Madden. The Celt’s sin was not being able to dematerialise in time as Shinnie raced into him. The right-back couldn’t get out of the way of his charging opponent, but it didn’t prevent Madden from reaching for his yellow card with all the speed of an old Wild West gunslinger. It was a free-kick, but a booking was simply ludicrous.
Shay Logan also fell foul of Madden after a trip on Keiran Tierney as the youngster tried to burst down the left wing.
Efe Ambrose came on for Charlie Mulgrew after the interval and the captain’s armband was passed to Lustig. The hard-working, overlapping defender celebrated the honour by netting the third goal in the 49th minute.
This time McGregor showed his devastating skills on the touchline as he zipped down the right, hit the by-line and picked out Lustig with a neat pass inside. The Swede didn’t hesitate as he drilled a low right-foot drive past the keeper.
At that stage, the Celtic fans were wondering iof they were poised to witness a goal avalanche. Alarmingly, though, the sparkle was replaced by some sloppy play from their heroes. The poise evaporated as panic set it for some obscure reason.
The Dons, dogged and determined, refused to be demoralised. In the 53rd minute, after Willo Flood had been rightly booked for clattering into Bitton, a thoughtless clearance from Ambrose was charged down by Hayes.
The speedy Irishman left the toiling Nigerian in his slipstream as he bore down on Craig Gordon and, thankfully, the keeper was alert to his low drive. It was a warning, though, that the game was not over.
Four minutes later, more slack play was punished when Hayes was allowed to tee up former Celt Niall McGinn and he fired low past Gordon from 10 yards.
Ash Taylor, the Pittodrie side’s lumbering central defender, was next to be booked after a clumsy foul on the unfortunate Bitton.
Roberts, after another teasing, tantalising run coming in from the right, presented the strangely-subdued Griffiths with an opportunity, but he screwed his effort well wide of the target.
In the 63rd minute, Aberdeen scored a second which seemed an impossibility shortly after the turnaround. Ambrose was yellow-carded for a rash challenge on Shinnie and McGinn flighted a free-kick into the box.
Ambrose mistimed his jump and got under the ball as Considine raced between him and Erik Sviatchenko to divert a header away from the helpless Gordon.
However, six minutes later, Griffiths should have restored the two-goal lead when Rogic set him free as he came in from the left-hand side of the box.
The 39-goal striker elected for power as opposed to precision and blasted the ball off the legs of the keeper.
Ronny Deila, with only a couple of games to go until his two-year reign comes to an end, put on Saidy Janko for the tiring Lustig in the 73rd minute. It was the first sighting of the former Manchester United defender since his ankle injury in October.
Celtic, with the darting Roberts still a danger, saw out the game as the fans cheerfully sang “Five-In-A-Row” at the conclusion.
It became a lot less comfortable than it should have been, but, at least, there are no unlikely mathematical equations that say the title could end up elsewhere.
Griffiths now has one game – against St Johnstone in Perth on Wednesday – to score his 40th goal. He’ll have to be a lot sharper than he was on this performance, but would anyone bet against him?
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig (sub: Janko 73), Sviatchenko, Mulgrew (sub: Ambrose 46), Tierney; McGregor, Bitton; Roberts, Rogic (sub: Johansen 82), Armstrong; Griffiths.