ABERDEEN 2 CELTIC 1
A DRAMATIC injury-time goal-line clearance from Andy Considine thwarted Celtic of an equaliser at packed Pittodrie. Considine should have been watching the action from the stands at that stage after pulling down Leigh Griffiths in the first half. He should have received a red card from referee Craig Thomson who instead pulled yellow from his top pocket after pointing to the penalty spot.
So the Aberdeen challengers, with only 10 men on the pitch after Jonny Hayes was sent off, achieved something they couldn’t do last season – beat the SPFL champions.
Ronny Delia’s 100 per cent record against Derek McInnes’ outfit was obliterated on an afternoon when the Parkhead men had to field a new-look back four with Manchester United’s Tyler Blackett making an unimpressive debut at left-back.
Supporters wondered how much Celtic would miss the massive influence of Virgil van Dijk at the heart of the rearguard and they got their answer in this confrontation.
The Dutchman’s composure and control were sorely missed – particularly at the Dons’ winning goal four minutes from time. Efe Ambrose, a second-half substitute for Mikael Lustig, was slow and clumsy as he tackled ex-Celt Niall McGinn on the left wing.
McGinn took the resultant free-kick and the Hoops defenders gifted the goal to Paul Quinn. Craig Gordon hesitated as he left his line, there were no meaningful challenges as the Dons left-back sneaked in behind them to sidefoot the ball past the keeper from only six yards. It was a truly awful goal to lose.
Celtic led at the interval when Leigh Griffiths converted that 35th minute penalty. Even so Aberdeen could count themselves extremely fortunate referee Craig Thomson didn’t flash a red card at defender Considine at the award.
Charlie Mulgrew was the architect with a breathtaking 50-yard pass into the tracks of Griffiths. The livewire striker was clearly hauled back by Considine as he sped past him.
Clearly, it was a goalscoring opportunity for Griffiths, but the match official was unbelievably content to simply hand out a booking. And the significance of the decision was highlighted with the same player booted an effort from Griffiths off the line in added-on time.
However, Griffiths made no mistake with his spot-kick to score in his fifth successive league game.
He was out of luck earlier in the encounter when he thumped in a free-kick that took a flick off Shinnie before clattering against the crossbar in the 17th minute.
Celtic didn’t take a grip of the game and allowed Aberdeen too much possession in the middle of the park. Tom Rogic struggled to keep pace with the game and it was no surprise when he was withdrawn to be replaced by James Forrest.
Gary Mackay-Steven toiled, too, and Deila took him off to throw on Nadir Ciftci as the team went for the winner. Mackay-Steven has been out of sorts for a number of weeks and was a surprise choice to make the starting eleven, especially with Commons and Forrest on the bench. Many Celtic supporters would also have been happier seeing Ciftci start up from to allow Celtic to match up with the Dons in a 4-4-2 formation. As it was Mackay-Steven added little or nothing for Celtic today.
The home side were eventually reduced to 10 men in the 71st minute when Hayes was reckless in a wild tackle on Lustig. By that stage, though, they were back in the game after being granted a very soft penalty-kick.
Graeme Shinnie was going nowhere when Dedryck Boyata attempted a tackle from behind. There was minimal contact, but it was enough for the Aberdeen defender to go down. Boyatta was suckered and Thomson didn’t hesitate in pointing to the spot, having missed an earlier opportunity to even up the penalty awards when a crossed in ball appeared to make contact with Mulgrew’s arm.
Adam Rooney sent Gordon the wrong way for the leveller in the 55th minute and it was no more than Aberdeen deserved at that stage.
It just wasn’t Celtic’s day and that was emphasised right at the end when Ambrose charged down the right wing and wastefully hammered a high ball out of play with Griffiths and Ciftci in good positions in the box. That just about summed up a dreadful afternoon in fron of 20,385 fans.
Celtic now face a difficult midweek trip to Amsterdam on Wednesday. By that time Aberdeen could be 4 points clear if they can overcome Hamilton at Pittodrie the previous evening. It looks like Celtic have a challenger after all for the league title.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig (sub: Ambrose 73), Boyata, Mulgrew, Blackett; Brown, Bitton; Johansen, Rogic (sub: Forrest 73), Mackay-Steven (sub: Ciftci 76); Griffiths.