They were singing “Champion-ees” in the Autumn sunshine in the away section at Pittodrie yesterday. Celtic fans celebrated a win that felt hugely significant. It should certainly serve to terrify their side’s rivals this Halloween.
Aberdeen were meant to be Celtic’s nearest challengers again. But this victory, one that was only placed in jeopardy in the dying moments following Tom Rogic’s early opener, stretches Celtic’s lead over the Pittodrie side to 10 points. Brendan Rodgers’ side also have a game in hand.
It seemed to say it all when Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis was sent up twice in the dying moments to make his presence felt after the award of free-kicks. It’s the sort of thing you associate with those promotion and relegation dog days of Spring. When there’s nothing, in short, to lose. Lewis’ sorties into the box conveyed a similar sense of desperation. October has still to run its course and it yet it felt like now-or-never for Aberdeen.
But while the bold Lewis so very nearly got his head to a cross, and the home side were also denied a decent penalty claim, Derek McInnes’ side were left to watch as Celtic disappeared further over the horizon.
The victory also meant Celtic temporarily widened the gap between themselves and Rangers, if that’s even an issue any longer. “Are you Rangers in disguise?” sang the away supporters as Celtic threatened to put a few goals between themselves and their opponents at the start of the second-half.
Celtic coped with the loss of left-back Kieran Tierney, who will undergo an operation on his ankle in the coming days. Emilio Izaguirre filled in competently and other non-regulars such as Stuart Armstrong distinguished themselves too.
Man of the moment Scott Brown, booed throughout by the Aberdeen fans, endured a rocky start before growing to become a dominant figure.
But it was Armstrong who really set the tone for Celtic’s play with a tireless display in midfield. He should have ornamented this performance with a goal just before half-time from Rogic’s cross. Somehow the midfielder skewed his effort wide when in front of the goalposts.
A goal then would surely have extinguished Aberdeen’s chances. Pittodrie had already fallen notably flat following Rogic’s opener. After an energetic start from the home side, this sumptuous strike really seemed to dampen Aberdeen’s ardour on perfect Autumn afternoon.
In fact, given the midday kick-off, it felt like it could still be morning when Rogic sent a spray of dew in the air while striking a half-volley with the outside of his left foot into the far corner of Lewis’ goal following Shay Logan’s headed clearance.
Aside from that bright opening spell, this was not the planned atonement by Aberdeen for Tuesday’s defeat at Hamilton Accies. Only goalkeeper Lewis truly distinguished himself, keeping his side in the game after the interval with a string of fine saves.
The pick of these was tipping over Scott Sinclair’s curling effort with what looked like the less natural hand to use. The goalkeeper also blocked well from Rogic and saved a Moussa Dembele snapshot from just outside the six-yard box. Lewis was also relieved to watch a James Forrest shot curl past his far post.
But Aberdeen survived these torrid moments and looked to make use of the arrival of James Maddison and Adam Rooney in a double substitution, Ryan Jack and Niall McGinn making way.
Tempers flared after Mikael Lustig’s challenge dumped Graeme Shinnie on the ground, with Brown appearing to then kick the ball at the stricken Aberdeen player. Brown then fell over as referee Steven McLean rushed in to try and deal with the situation. All three players were booked, including Lustig for the original challenge.
The game’s most absorbing moments came near the end, however. Shinnie will feel he should have gained a penalty when Jozo Simunovic left a hand on his shoulder as he burst through on goal. Shortly after this, and with five minutes added time having been confirmed, Lewis was waved up-field and asked to make a nuisance of himself at two set-pieces.
He did to the extent that Erik Sviatchenko was sufficiently spooked to send a header towards his own goal that brought out a superb reaction save from Craig Gordon.