SWASHBUCKLING skipper supreme Scott Brown scored one of the most spectacular goals of the season as Celtic completed a sparkling clean sweep over the Dons.
Ronny Deila’s team are now 14 points ahead of Derek McInnes’ outfit with only two games to go and the fourth successive Premiership crown safely in the Parkhead trophy room. Twelve of those points have come from four victories over exceptionally dangerous opponents.
The home side illustrated that again this afternoon at Pittodrie with an aggressive performance that was clearly intended to show they will be Celtic’s main threats in the next campaign. It also demonstrated they were absolutely desperate to turn over the Hoops at the fourth time of trying.
It didn’t quite work out that way and the main reason for that was a memorable strike from Brown in the 49th minute which combined everything that is good about this Celtic team – determination, spirit, pace, courage and skill.
Virgil Van Dijk, who put in a Man of the Match performance, flicked away a left-wing cross at the near post that was heading for ex-Celt Barry Robson, racing in to a great position on the edge of the box.
Brown was close to the penalty spot when he sprinted out to meet the danger. There was a clash of bodies as both battlers went wholeheartedly for a 50/50 ball.
Robson was left in a heap as the Hoops captain won the ball cleanly, got to his feet and began an amazing counter-attack. He ran about 30 yards before flicking a ball to Leigh Griffiths. The striker fed the ball left to Stuart Armstrong, who had been largely anonymous in the first-half.
However, the elegant midfielder, playing in a wide role in place of Gary Mackay-Steven in a tight formation, moved menacingly forward at an angle. Shay Logan was left in his slipstream and then he shimmied past Ash Taylor as he reached the bye-line.
He fired it low in the danger zone and Brown’s timing was impeccable as he met it first-time to flash the ball into the net before his namesake had the opportunity to move.
It was a goal worthy of winning any game. Brown took a bow behind the goal as his team-mates raced to congratulate him. It was a real case of leading from the back.
And it was just as well the midfield dynamo could show his colleagues how it was done. Griffiths, Kris Commons, Stefan Johansen and sub James Forrest contrived to miss a succession of chances that would have put the contest to bed.
Credit, though, to the other Scott Brown, the Dons keeper. He stood between his team and a landslide defeat although, to be fair, the Dons worked well throughout and made their rivals scrap all the way for the three points.
In the 37th minute, after McInnes’ side had come flying out of the blocks, Johansen should have put Deila’s men ahead. He was picked out by the immaculate Van Dijk with a cunning through ball and he was sent clear in on goal.
The Norwegian, who produced in another excellent shift, opted for a cute flick and Brown athletically pawed the ball round the post for the corner. It was an audicious attempt from Scotland’s Player of the Year, but the home shotstopper was equal to it.
Three minutes later, Darnell Fisher came so close to scoring his first Hoops’ goal when he worked a neat one-two with Griffiths on the edge of the box. The right-back, such a promising career surely lies ahead, swept onto the return, but elected for power rather than precision and his shot raised a couple of feet over the bar with Brown clawing air.
Deila’s counter-attacking strategy was working perfectly as the Dons swarmed forward and that was what led to the only goal of the game after some supreme skills from Brown.
Just before the hour mark, the Dons No.1 made a terrific double save to deny Griffiths and then Commons. This was definitely not one of the latter’s displays to remember in the hoops. He looked off the pace and often cumbersome in possession. He has had better days and it was no surprise when he was substituted near the end with Forrest come on in his place.
Van Dijk and Jason Denayer were a rock in the middle of the rearguard and Craig Gordon looked poised and comfortable behind them. Little had been seen of Emilio Izaguirre as an attacking force and he had his hands full when the tricky and pacy Johnny Hayes moved to the right to directly oppose him.
Fisher looks more of a natural right-back than Efe Ambrose and Brown and his midfield partner Nir Bitton also had to work throughout to stem the enthusiastic surges of the Dons.
Referee Craig Thomson had to book three home players – Robson, Hayes and Andy Considine – for a variety of fouls such was the verve and fervour displayed by the Pittodrie outfit.
Near the end, the game should have been put to bed long before it went into five minutes’ added-on time.
Johansen skilfully sauntered past two challenges, but his finishing shot was shovelled away by Brown at his left. It fell to Forrest who should have scored, but his finishing effort was too deliberate and the keeper got back to turn it to safety.
All in all, a good day’s work from the champions. It was a performance that emphasised all that is good in Deila’s team. Also, it was Gordon’s 20th clean sheet in a remarkable comeback campaign.
And we can all look forward to a new campaign with optimism. First, though, there is the little matter of St Johnsone in Perth on Friday and Inverness Caley Thistle at Paradise a week on Sunday.
Then it really is party time!
TEAM: Gordon; Fisher (sub: Matthews 57), Denayer, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton; Commons (sub: Forrest 82), Johansen, Armstrong (sub: Ambrose 82); Griffiths.
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