Aberdeen 0 - 1 Celtic: Anthony Stokes on target to reward Celtic's perseverance
IT WAS not pretty, indeed at times it was ugly, but Celtic made it two wins out of two in the Scottish Premier League thanks to a solitary goal from Anthony Stokes.
Casting a massive shadow over the victory, however, was the news delivered by manager Neil Lennon after the match that Scotland's Player of the Year, Emilio Izaguirre, had suffered a broken leg in a seemingly harmless first-half clash with Aberdeen winger Peter Pawlett. The fracture to the fibula bone in the Honduran international's right leg was being assessed in hospital last night and he seems set for several months on the sidelines.
Perhaps it was starting at the ungodly hour of 12.15 on the Sabbath, or maybe the torrential rain which drenched Pittodrie had soaked up the best intentions of both teams, but this was no classic and Celtic in particular will wonder how they created numerous opportunities yet squandered all but one.
In their first meeting last year, Celtic thrashed Aberdeen 9-0 at Parkhead, and after an indifferent start to the league and with several first-choice players missing, manager Craig Brown decided on a safety-first policy so that there would not be a repeat or even an approximation of that fateful scoreline.
Celtic were missing Mark Wilson, out with a groin injury, and Adam Matthews came in for an assured competitive debut.
Brown set out his stall from the start, with only Scott Vernon left up front and the remaining nine outfielders behind the ball at all times in typically Brown-organised fashion.
It certainly worked, for though Celtic dominated the first half in terms of possession and territory, and menaced Aberdeen's goal on plenty occasions, they created very few stonewall chances, and Gary Hooper and Stokes often had to track back to look for the ball instead of lurking up front.
In truth, every time a Celtic player got the ball he was harried by a man or men in red, and though this meant virtually no real attacks by Aberdeen in the first 45 minutes, at least it kept the men in grey and green - a fashion faux pas if ever there was one - unaccustomedly quiet, which in turn subdued the Celtic supporters for unusually long periods.
Sadly, some of Celtic's 'away' support insist on misbehaving, such as letting off smoke flares, which they would not do at Parkhead. That's not clever, that's cowardly.
Aberdeen's defence in depth was admirable if you like that sort of thing, and on the occasions when he was tested, David Gonzalez in the home goal proved more than equal to the task, with an excellent save from Kris Commons as early as the fourth minute.
He also dealt comfortably with a Commons chip before Izaguirre's sad departure, his studs appearing to catch in the turf when Pawlett made his fair challenge.Pawlett's studs almost made their mark on Izaguirre's able replacement Charlie Mulgrew shortly afterwards, referee Calum Murray showing the busy Aberdonian a yellow card. Celtic's captain-for-the-day Daniel Majstorovic was also booked for a studs up challenge, so referee Murray was consistent.
Celtic slowly began to turn the screw as the half wore on, though they complicated matters for themselves far too often. Aberdeen were more direct, looking dangerous on the break and winning more corners in the half.
Beram Kayal was industrious in the midfield as always and flashed a shot just over the bar after 37 minutes, with fellow midfielder Joe Ledley then heading straight at Gonzalez.
The best chance of the half fell to Vernon just before half-time, his low shot being well saved by Lukasz Zaluska.
The second half was much more open, as Aberdeen sensed they had a chance of winning and came into attack more often. Ki's flashing header almost rocked them back, however, the ball beating Gonzalez and his right post.
Vernon came closest to scoring for Aberdeen when Darren Mackie struck a low cross and the striker was inches away from the vital touch.
The trouble with having to harry and chase and defend all day is that it is very tiring, which is a possibly generous explanation for the lapse in concentration on the part of Aberdeen captain Ricky Foster which led to Celtic's goal after 74 minutes.
There seemed little danger when he was about to clear his lines some 30 yards from his own goal, but Foster dwelt a fraction too long on the ball, allowing Commons to dispossess him.
Stokes picked up the ball and fed Commons on the right wing, then waited for the return pass, which, for once, was inch perfect so that Stokes had space and time to crash the ball past the helpless Gonzalez from about 12 yards out.
Substitute James Forrest should have made it two a few minutes later when Commons played him clean through on Gonzalez but somehow the Aberdeen goalkeeper got enough on the ball to deflect it over the bar. Celtic's third substitute Georgio Samaras then managed to miss with a diving header off a Mulgrew cross.
That was the last opportunity for either side and Celtic hung on for a win they deserved if only for their perseverance.
Aberdeen: Gonzalez; McArdle, Considine, Arnason, Foster; Pawlett (Paton 72), Milsom, Osbourne, Magennis (Megginson 82); Mackie (Low 87) Vernon. Subs not used: Jason Brown, Robertson, Shaughnessy, Jordon Brown.
Celtic: Zaluska; Matthews, Majstorovic, K Wilson, Izaguirre (Mulgrew 16); Commons, Kayal, Ki, Ledley (Forrest 63); Hooper, Stokes (Samaras 82). Subs not used: Cervi, Samaras, Maloney, Wanyama, McCourt.MAN OF THE MATCH
Kris Commons (Celtic)
Aberdeen had plenty doughty types such as Isaac Osbourne and Kari Arnason, while the likes of Ki Sung-Yeung and Adam Matthews caught the eye for Celtic, but the best attacking player in the winning team was Commons and thus he takes the nomination.
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