ABERDEEN 0 CELTIC 1
A WONDERFUL Wizard of Oz moment from Aussie ace Tom Rogic saw Celtic hurtle TEN points clear of Aberdeen at Pittodrie this afternoon.
The midfielder netted the only goal of the game in the 23rd minute with a sublime finish, but it was Craig Gordon who shared the plaudits at the end with a remarkable save to deny the Dons an ill-deserved equaliser.
Referee Steven McLean was refusing to blow the final whistle five minutes and 39 seconds into stoppage time when Erik Sviatchenko, under pressure from Anthony O’Connor, misdirected a header towards his own goal.
It looked as though it was rocketing into the roof of the net until the keeper, who has now gone almost 500 minutes without conceding in a domestic game, threw up his hands to divert the effort over the crossbar.
The corner-kick was cleared and, finally, the match official called time on a well-earned victory for the champions.
But, in all honesty, they should never been worrying about dropping two points as the Dons mounted a late challenge.
The Hoops made several chances, especially in the second-half, and they were either denied by an inspired Joe Lewis, the home keeper, or were wasteful in their finishing.
Brendan Rodgers wasn’t bothering too much about that at the end after succeeding at a ground where Ronny Deila had failed twice last season.
Rogic’s goal was worthy of the three points and it was another fabulous and composed finish from the Australian playmaker.
Scott Brown, who was majestic throughout as he controlled the midfield, and Stuart Armstrong combined before the ball was fed wide right to Mikael Lustig.
The Swede curled over a cross into the danger zone which was headed clear by Shay Logan. However, it fell perfectly for Rogic about 20 yards out.
He took a touch with his right foot to set up the opportunity before hitting an impeccable effort off the outside of his left boot that left Lewis sprawling in vain as it zipped beyond his right hand low down at his post.
Rogic tends not to score ordinary goals and this was definitely up there with the best of them. He deserved the accolades when he left the pitch in the 70th minute to be replaced by Nir Bitton.
The game wasn’t even a minute old when Sviatchenko was booked by referee McLean after a challenge on Jonny Hayes who had just robbed the dithering Emilio Izaguirre of the ball.
The Danish defender signalled to the match official it was his first tackle of the day, but it cut no ice with the eager whistler who unhesitatingly flashed the yellow card.
Three minutes later, the home defence was in a panic as Armstrong was presented with a chance. Lewis managed to block his low, angled effort and Moussa Dembele attempted to force home the rebound, but the Dons rearguard scrambled the ball clear and the chance was lost.
Nial McGinn set up a shooting opportunity for the unmarked Shay Logan, but his drilled drive was blocked by the alert Sviatchenko.
In the 15th minute, Kenny McLean had an obvious swipe at Izaguirre that sent the Honduran spinning, but, remarkably, his refereeing namesake didn’t even bother with a single word of admonishment to the culprit.
Then in the 23rd minute came the moment of sheer poetry from Rogic that would eventually settle the outcome.
Three minutes later, a superb pass from Scott Sinclair found the Aussie running into a great position, but his second touch was heavy and the Dons breathed a sigh of relief.
Four minutes from the break, McGinn sent over an inviting cross from the right that was thumped goalwards by defender Andy Considine, looking for his first strike at Pittodrie in five years.
Jozo Simunovic took the sting off the shot and a grateful Gordon dived on the ball to clear the danger.
A couple of minutes later, Armstrong squandered a superb opportunity to double the champions’ advantage.
James Forrest, who had been quiet on the right wing, came inside to toe-poke the ball to the ever-willing Rogic on the right-hand side of the box.
The cultured midfielder rolled a perfect pass into the tracks of Armstrong and it looked as hough he couldn’t fail to hit the net from close range. Unfortunately, he managed to screw his effort wide of the far upright.
Graeme Shinnie joined Sviatchenko in the referee’s black book after a crude lunge on Armstrong shortly after the interval.
Then, in the 49th minute, Lewis produced an outstanding save to thwart Scott Sinclair. The attacker turned Logan inside out before attempting to curl a fine effort into the keeper’s top left-hand corner.
It looked a goal although the way until Lewis leapt across his line to get a touch to the ball and send it spiralling over the crossbar.
The second-half wasn’t even 10 minutes old when Derek McInnes decided to freshen things up by sending on Adam Rooney and James Maddison for Ryan Jack and McGinn.
The changes had little effect on Celtic’s domination of the confrontation. Lustig picked out Rogic with a low, diagonal ball from the right, but his drive was blocked by Lewis.
In the 57th minute, Rogic teed up the hard-working Dembele, but, once again, the Dons keeper was on the spot to make a fine save.
A few seconds later, a Rogic 25-yarder bobbled in front of the Pittodrie No.1, but he managed to beat the ball away from the inrushing Dembele.
On the hour mark, Rogic slashed one wide of the far post when he should have hit the target and, five minutes later, Forrest did likewise after he had been set up on the edge of the box by Dembele.
Forrest departed to be replaced by Patrick Roberts in the 75th minute and Lustig was taken off near the end with Cristiano Gamboa coming on.
One of the Swedish full-back’s last actions was to be yellow-carded by referee McLean and Brown and Hayes were also booked after a flare-up that, thankfully, calmed down immediately.
The game then entered stoppage time and Sviatchenko had a good block on a Shinnie drive before Armstrong sliced one off target at the other end.
Then came Gordon’s glorious save to tip over from his own team-mate Sviatchenko, who, otherwise, had a flawless performance. Simunovic, too, looked up for the battle.
So, Rodgers has now guided the team to a double Premiership victory over the Dons and it would be marvellous to complete the hat-trick of successes in the Betfred League Cup Final at Hampden on November 27.
That would be Rodgers’ first piece of silverware as Celtic manager – and also the club’s 100th major trophy.
Don’t bet against it!
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig (sub: Gamboa 80), Simunovic, Sviatchenko, Izaguirre; Brown, Armstrong; Forrest (sub: Roberts 75), Rogic (sub: Bitton 70), Sinclair; Dembele.