SOME aspects of this enjoyable afternoon recalled another, perhaps better age of Scottish football. An enthusiastic travelling support from Aberdeen, who hoped to watch their team draw nearer to the top of the league, and a 3pm Saturday afternoon kick off, provided a nostalgic backdrop.
However, in one critical way the afternoon remained faithful to more recent times as Celtic posted their 17th successive win in the league against Aberdeen, whose ambitions of taking at least something from the game were dashed by a combination of late defensive lapses and fine goalkeeping from Fraser Forster. Any student of this fixture had reason to anticipate the sting contained in the tail for Aberdeen.
Indeed, one needed only knowledge of last season’s sole match at Parkhead between these teams to expect something of note to happen as we entered into three minutes of added time. When the teams last met here, Aberdeen reacted to going a goal down by scoring three times, before losing two goals in the final three minutes to lose 4-3. It was perhaps yet more agonising on Saturday, since Aberdeen came so close to taking a lead in the dying minutes before Celtic edged ahead in the next attack. Having done the hard work once more, Aberdeen faltered here once again in the dying moments. After Celtic won a corner, Aberdeen goalkeeper Jamie Langfield could be seen urging his teammates to stay focused.
Sadly for Aberdeen, who had done well when getting heads and other body parts to the ball in the previous 90 minutes, the warning went unheeded, although there does come a time when well-delivered crosses into the box will eventually reap a reward, as Charlie Mulgrew’s corner on this occasion did.
Mark Reynolds and Russell Anderson had been almost faultless in their previous efforts to keep Celtic out, sliding in to intercepts balls that were not always theirs to win. But it was infuriating for Aberdeen that they were posted absent at the death. Virgil van Dijk won the header on the edge of the six-yard box and though Langfield did his best to prevent the ball from going in, substitute Derk Boerrigter struck the rebound over the line. It was, according to Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes, evidence of the home side’s “sheer determination” to get the ball over the line. With Aberdeen’s spirit broken, it was not a surprise when Celtic scored again in the brief time that remained, Kris Commons steering the ball in at the back post after a Georgios Samaras shot had again been saved by Langfield.
“It’s a hard one to take,” said Michael Hector, who was pushed into a midfield role in order to help break down Celtic attacks, and looked far from out of place. “We had a lot of chances and to get done on a set piece goal at the end was heartbreaking. We can take some positives out of it but we should have come away with at least a draw.” The fact that they didn’t both Hector and McInnes attributed to Forster, who returned from a testing few days with the England international team to star again here, although he did look suspect as Aberdeen scored their equaliser, on the stroke of half-time.
The goalkeeper was in no-man’s land as a cross from Jonny Hayes tested the Celtic defence. Andrew Considine looped a header over the ’keeper and Niall McGinn reacted first amid a melee of players to knock the ball over the line, equalising Commons’ earlier effort after Langfield had failed to get enough purchase on a punch-out. Sometimes it seems that whatever Forster does in Scotland will be scoffed at by English observers. But his save to deny McGinn after 87 minutes could surely not have been bettered anywhere in Britain on Saturday. The Northern Irishman’s effort was slightly scuffed, making it even more tricky to anticipate, particularly since it took a bounce before Forster flicked the ball onto the far post. “Saves like that win games for your team,” said Hector, who, speaking as an Englishman, added that he felt it underlined why Forster has been knocking at the international door. Commons also paid tribute to the goalkeeper. “He’s incredible,” the midfielder said. “He does nothing and he’ll be patrolling his box for 80 minutes and getting cold in this sort of weather. And then when he’s needed late on he comes up with a finger-tip save onto the post that keeps us in the game and then we then go on and win the game.”