SO often in the past, commentators have bemoaned Celtic’s lack of serious competition at domestic level, the disparity between run of the mill victories over Scottish opponents and the challenge posed by European greats considered too big a jump.
Scorers: Celtic - Commons (36, 90), Boerrigter (90); Aberdeen - McGinn (45)
Bookings: Celtic - Samaras
But this was a match for fans of Scottish football to savour and one that will have helped fine tune Celtic’s desire for victory ahead of their vital Champions League match with AC Milan on Tuesday. A tight game, fiercely contested, with both sides looking for a winner well into the dying minutes. Celtic had to show patience in their quest but they nevertheless dug out a couple of late goals. The result pleased their manager, Neil Lennon, who said it would be a psychological boost for his players ahead of their midweek fixture.
His opposite number Derek McInnes was a picture of misery as the final whistle sounded, only too well aware of how close his men had come to taking something from the match, perhaps even a win.
But he insisted it wasn’t Celtic’s greater ability but greater drive that had proved his side’s undoing and said that lessons would be learned.
“That’s why they are playing where they are, it’s the determination to get on it and get it over the line,” said the Pittodrie manager. “It wasn’t quality that beat us, and I mean that with all due respect. They are winners and they have the determination. It was that determination to get the ball over the line that beat us.”
The referee had already signalled three minutes of time would be added when substitute Derk Boerrigter bundled the ball over the line.
Charlie Mulgrew scored the stoppage-time winner the last time these teams met at Parkhead and it was his corner which was headed towards the target by Virgil van Dijk. While Aberdeen keeper Jamie Langfield must feel he could have done better with Celtic’s opener, he reacted well to parry that initial effort but Boeriggter reacted first to force it home.
It was a brutal blow to Aberdeen who had battled back from going behind to a 35th-minute goal from Kris Commons. Van Dijk had been the provider, his ball in from the left enticing Langfield off his line to punch the ball as Georgios Samaras waited to head home. But the keeper didn’t do well enough with his clearance and Commons picked the ball up on edge of the area and drove a low shot into the empty net.
However, as the seconds ticked down to half-time, Niall McGinn levelled the scores. This time it was Celtic’s keeper Fraser Forster who looked suspect as he failed to dominate his six-yard box. The initial cross came in from Jonny Hayes, who eventually went off with a tight hamstring, and Andrew Considine headed it into a melee of bodies before it dropped to the scorer.
“It just landed at my feet,” said the former Celtic player, “and it was just a tap in. I was in the right place at the right time. The most disappointing thing is the result.”
Lennon forgave Forster that transgression, however, after the England goalkeeper’s save three minutes from the end to keep the scoreline tied at 1-1.
Both teams had been probing for a winner and a beauty of a chance fell to Aberdeen but Forster got a hand to McGinn’s volley from about nine yards out and pushed it onto the post, before the rebound was cleared by Van Dijk
“There’s only a few goalkeepers who could make that save and he’s one of them. It even got a bounce before, which makes the save even more outstanding. I thought he could maybe have come for their goal, however, if there is any blame to be attached, he’s certainly redeemed himself with that world class save,” said Lennon.
Having been denied that one and then been rattled further by Boeriggter’s goal, Aberdeen then lost a third. It was Commons who claimed it, although Boeriggter again played a part. His shot was blocked by Langfield but Commons came in at the back post to net.
Not that that mattered too much. By then Celtic had tied up the points and Aberdeen had proved that, despite back-to-back league defeats, they are enjoying something of a comeback. The horror hammerings associated with previous trips to the East End of Glasgow are receding into the past, even if the stats show that they have now gone 17 league games at Parkhead without a win. This one was closer than the final scoreline suggests.
For large swathes of the 90 minutes it was a finely balanced affair and not what many punters would have wagered given the enforced absence of the injured Willo Flood – who has been a key component of Aberdeen’s revival this term – and the suspended Barry Robson. It meant McInnes had to manufacture a midfield he believed could help nullify Celtic, while also helping to create something going forward. But Celtic were still too determined and too patient.
“Listen, I think we can play better at home, said Lennon, “but it’s difficult because a lot of teams come here to be hard to beat. The onus is on us to find a way to do that. The character of the team is fantastic and, although the quality could be better, it will get better as the season goes.”
Celtic need to dredge up some of that latent quality and ally it with the determination that won them this one on Tuesday against AC Milan. James Forrest will be fit enough to feature, while Anthony Stokes, who watched yesterday’s match from the stand due to personal reasons will also be added to the squad, according to their manager.
“Psychologically this [result] will give the players a massive lift. But I don’t think they will need any motivating for Tuesday night, that comes from within… it’s Celtic Park, it’s AC Milan… it’s all there for us.”