Celtic’s hopes of completing the season unbeaten in the league perished at Pittodrie last night on a special night for Aberdeen, who clinched their second victory over the Parkhead side inside a month.
It is also the first time in over 20 years that Aberdeen have beaten Celtic both home and away in the same season. Already eliminated from both cup competitions, Celtic manager Neil Lennon had challenged his side to show they were “invincible” in the league. However, they could not overcome the red card shown to Virgil Van Dijk after only 11 minutes and conceded two goals in the five period before half-time. Goalkeeper Fraser Forster surrendered his clean sheets record after 1255 minutes of league football while Celtic’s 26-match unbeaten run in the league was also undone at Pittodrie, in front of a crowd of over 16,000.
Jonny Hayes’ thunderous effort from 30 yards after 40 minutes finally broke Forster’s long run without conceding a goal in the league and Adam Rooney added a second soon afterwards. Substitute James Forrest pulled one back for ten man Celtic and Lennon described their efforts to get back into the game as “outstanding”. This was not a word he used in connection with referee Craig Thomson, who infuriated the manager with his decision to send off Van Dijk for a last-ditch foul on Peter Pawlett and also his refused to award Celtic a penalty in the second half for what Lennon felt was a handball by Mark Reynolds. “I thought we were worthy of the win,” said Lennon. “I thought we deserved it. The referee ruined the game – it’s not a sending-off. Pawlett’s going across the goal rather than towards the goal and I’m pretty sure [Efe] Ambrose was getting across. There was a clear handball in the second-half. He has seen it and said it wasn’t deliberate. Everyone else in the ground must have known it was a penalty. He’s had two crucial decisions go against us.”
“I’ve seen the red card back,” Lennon continued. “I didn’t think it was a red card at the time and I still don’t. I spoke to the referee briefly after the game, on the pitch. He didn’t give an explanation – he just said he understood I was upset and left it at that. I think it’s poor. Maybe I’m the only one who sees it that way but I’m pretty convinced it’s not a red card
“I thought we were outstanding,” he added. “The first goal you can hold your hand up and say it was a great hit. You don’t mind that – it’s going to take a special goal to beat Fraser. The second goal is disappointing from our point of view but I thought we were magnificent in the second half and I expect that from these players.”
Derek McInnes saluted his Aberdeen team, who bounced back from Saturday 3-1 defeat to Partick Thistle to record another win over Celtic after their Scottish Cup fifth round triumph.
“I am delighted with every one of the players, it is a good night for the club,” he said. “You saw Pittodrie at its best tonight. The supporters were really energised and got behind the team. It was a big, big turn out and it was important that they saw the team win tonight.
McInnes thanked the fans for “not getting as anxious as we were” during the second-half comeback from ten man Celtic.
“They have seen their team beat Celtic deservedly with two magnificent goals and loads of effort,” he said. It is not easy to beat Celtic whether they have ten or 11 men. You can see why these players play for Celtic. They never know when they are beaten.”
“It was a bit disappointing we never kept the ball better in the second half. It added to the anxiety in the ground. But, over the 90 minutes, we were the better team. It was the right decision to send Van Dijk off. It is a big ask to beat Celtic because they are proud of their unbeaten run.”
In last night’s two other Premiership games, Inverness Caledonian Thistle enjoyed a fine 3-0 away derby win over Ross County and St Johnstone comfortably beat Motherwell 3-0 at McDiarmid Park.