Darren Mackie experienced good and bad with Aberdeen at Celtic Park but believes the current side have the solidity and pace to trouble the champions
IF THEY were able to do it against a Celtic team who were near the peak of their powers, there is no reason why they cannot do it now. That is the message from Darren Mackie as his old club head for the east end of Glasgow this afternoon, aiming for a victory that would blow open the title race.
In October 2004, the young striker scored the first goal in Aberdeen’s 3-2 victory, which is still their last success in a league match at Celtic Park. He and Fernando Pasquinelli put the visitors two up inside six minutes, John Hartson’s double pegged them back and John Stewart, a substitute, burst clear to thump in a stoppage-time winner.
“For us to go down there and get a result, especially at a time when Celtic were really strong, was pretty special,” says Mackie. “Now, it’s maybe changed a little bit. I don’t think teams are as fearful of the Old Firm. Don’t get me wrong, Celtic are still a strong team with talented players, but I don’t think they intimidate opponents like they used to. I remember in my earlier days, you were going down there and lining up against Hartson, Sutton and players of that calibre. It is a different proposition now.”
These days, there is less between the sides. While Celtic have lost none of their last eight league games, Aberdeen are unbeaten in 13, a sequence that includes 11 clean sheets. When they last met, they were separated only by Virgil van Dijk’s late winner. A year ago, Aberdeen knocked Celtic out of the Scottish Cup with a 2-1 victory at Celtic Park.
Mackie knows how that that feels. At the same venue in 2008, his goal eliminated the holders in a nerve-racking quarter-final tie. It was a hard-working, backs-to-the-wall performance, the reward for which was a semi-final against Queen of the South, which they contrived to lose.
Mackie, now 33, spent almost all of his career at Aberdeen. Before leaving the club in 2012, there were highs and lows, even just at Celtic Park. While he has had more success than most at the Glasgow venue, there were also some traumatic experiences, not least the 9-0 humiliation in November 2010.
Still Aberdeen’s biggest defeat, it cost Mark McGhee, the manager, his job. It damaged the pride of a club that, under Alex Ferguson, used to live for beating the Old Firm in Glasgow. “There have been times when you’ve gone down to Celtic Park and been on the end of a doing, but lost maybe 2-0,” says Mackie. “That day, everything they hit seemed to go in. Three penalties. An own goal. Two sent off. It was just a comedy of things going wrong. There was a spell under Ebbe Skovdahl when we seemed to go down there and get beat by five, six, even seven, but 9-0 left everyone shellshocked. There was this silence in the dressing room afterwards. We were stunned. It’s the heaviest defeat I’ve ever experienced, even going back to when I was a kid.”
There is no danger of a repeat performance this afternoon. Aberdeen are solid at the back, quick and imaginative going forward and not in the least prone to collapse under pressure. That, in fact, is what Mackie likes most about the side Derek McInnes, their current manager, has built.
“They’re never beat,” he says. “If they do go behind, you have the feeling that they’ve got the players who can go and get goals. There is pace all over the pitch, which is a huge thing. Peter Pawlett is a flying machine.
“I think they’ll fancy their chances of going down there and getting a result. It’s a difficult game, but Celtic are just coming off the back of two really hard European matches. They got beat in the last minute on Thursday night. How much will that deflate them? I’m sure Aberdeen will be thinking, ‘you know what, we’ve got a chance here’.”
Mackie scored 58 goals in 312 appearances for Aberdeen before moving to the United States, where a spell with Phoenix did not work out. After tearing his groin during pre-season training, he played through the injury, but not well enough to remain at the club, who released him at the end of the campaign.
He then joined Turriff United, of the Highland League, where he remains. This season has been a write-off for Mackie, who has ruptured the cruciate ligament in his left knee, but his team are second in the table, with high hopes of scaling Scotland’s pyramid structure. “It’s a great set-up Turriff have got. They have everything in place to move up. It’s touch and go between us and Brora at the top of the league. I signed a two-year contract in the summer so, if I can just get fit for next season, I will have the chance to have some fun, maybe finish my career on a high by winning some honours.”
Mackie’s main regret is that he never reached a final with Aberdeen, who have since won the Scottish League Cup. If the Pittodrie club are not to be bracketed alongside the one-hit wonders of recent years, their task is to make a habit of challenging for silverware.
Eliminated from both of this season’s knockout competitions, they know how big it would be to have a proper tilt at the league title. Mackie, who lives just outside the city, thinks that this could be the team and the club that their long-suffering supporters have demanded for so long. He can sense a new and exciting era in the north east. “Everyone is really positive. Everyone is thinking, yes, these boys have got a chance. They’re putting together a decent squad and with things happening off the field, like the debt being cleared, there is huge potential to push on, keep the squad together and maybe add some new players as they go. They want to be contenders every season, not just this one.”