In a manner entirely in keeping with Ronny Deila’s tenure as manager, Celtic officially clinched the Scottish Premiership title with a performance which managed to make a straightforward task appear needlessly complicated.
Deila’s team were cruising to victory against closest challengers Aberdeen as they led 3-0 through two first-half goals from Patrick Roberts and an early Mikael Lustig strike in the second half.
In terms of asserting their status as Scotland’s pre-eminent club for a fifth consecutive season, Celtic could hardly have been more dominant at that stage of an afternoon witnessed by one their healthiest home crowds of the season.
But a late second-half slump, to which the introduction of substitute Efe Ambrose in defence contributed significantly, saw Aberdeen hit back with goals from Niall McGinn and Andrew Considine to leave Celtic hanging on grimly for all three points in the end.
For Derek McInnes and his players, coming up just short against Celtic on the day also neatly summed up their efforts over the past two years when they have been the only team to post a remotely credible title challenge.
Any hopes Aberdeen had of further delaying Celtic’s formal confirmation as champions this time around required them to win a league game at Parkhead for the first time since 2004. That prospect was rendered even more unlikely by Roberts’ eye-catching first-half double.
The visitors made a bright enough start, McGinn passing up a glorious opportunity to give them the lead in the fifth minute. Picked out by a perfect cross from the left from Jonny Hayes, McGinn was left with only Craig Gordon to beat from close range but could only clumsily skew a volley wide of target.
That initial threat from Aberdeen proved to be a misleading suggestion of what was to come in the rest of an opening 45 minutes which saw Celtic playing with a panache and freedom in sharp contrast to so many of their laboured and uncertain performances this season.
Two minutes after McGinn’s miss, Roberts put the hosts in front with a stunning strike. The young winger, as he invariably does, cut in from the right on his left foot. If it is a move which is predictable, halting him is another matter.
It proved beyond the Aberdeen defence on this occasion as they stood off him fatally, presenting him with the time and space to bend a superb left foot shot beyond Adam Collin’s right hand into the corner of the net. Named Premiership Player of the Month for April last week, Roberts brings no shortage of enterprise and entertainment to the party. The Celtic fans rose to acclaim him again when he doubled the lead in the 21st minute.
Leigh Griffiths was the creator with a neat reverse pass which completely wrong-footed both Ash Taylor and Graeme Shinnie and found Roberts in space on the right side of the penalty area. With admirable composure, he swept another unerring left foot shot past Collin.
Aberdeen, already without injured top scorer Adam Rooney, were forced into a change just before the interval when on-loan Welsh striker Simon Church limped off. He was replaced by defender Mark Reynolds as Hayes was moved into a more central attacking role.
Celtic appeared in the mood to try and emphasise their superiority and the prospect of a heavy defeat for Aberdeen loomed large when the champions made it 3-0 four minutes into the second half.
Callum McGregor, enjoying a fine late-season burst of form in recent weeks, engineered space for himself on the right before cutting the ball back into the path of Mikael Lustig, who cracked home a firm right-foot shot from around 12 yards.
But the introduction of Ambrose for the injured Charlie Mulgrew at the start of the second half quickly brought uncertainty and slackness to the Celtic defence. It was sensed and seized upon by Aberdeen who suddenly found themselves regularly on the front foot.
An Ambrose error sent Hayes clear through on goal, only for the Irish international to be denied by a smart save from Gordon.
But the Celtic ‘keeper was helpless to prevent Aberdeen pulling their first goal back in the 58th minute. Hayes’ pace was too hot for Ambrose & Co to handle once again and he squared the ball for the unmarked McGinn to slot a low shot beyond Gordon.
Griffiths should have restored Celtic’s two-goal advantage when he was picked out by a Roberts cutback, only to drag an uncharacteristically tame shot wide.
Shortly afterwards, it was very much game on when Aberdeen reduced the arrears to 3-2. Ambrose was booked for a clumsy foul on Shinnie in a dangerous position on the left. McGinn curled the free-kick into the area for Considine to rise highest and head home from close range.
Shay Logan should have equalised when he headed wide from a couple of yards out and Celtic survived a couple more frantic scrambles in their penalty area before seeing out the win which allowed them to cross the Premiership finishing line on a positive note.
Referee: B Madden
CELTIC: Gordon, Lustig (Janko 73), Sviatchenko, Mulgrew (Ambrose 46), Tierney; McGregor, Bitton; Roberts, Rogic (Johansen 82), Armstrong; Griffiths. Subs not used: Bailly, Izaguirre, Christie, Allan.
ABERDEEN: Collin, Logan, Considine, Taylor, Shinnie; Flood (Robson 79), Jack; McLean, McGinn, Hayes; Church (Reynolds 42). Subs not used: Brown, Storie, McKenna, Wright, Nuttall.