IN SO many ways it felt like the 1980s were being revisited at Celtic Park yesterday.
SCORERS: Celtic: Stokes 9; Aberdeen: Anderson 38 Pawlett 50
Aberdeen, a week after clinching their place in the League Cup final, had the poise and competitive flintiness to go toe-to-toe with their hosts and take them down with some heavy hitting. And, in some respects, it was a return to those times for their vanquished opponents too.
Not since the 1981-82 season have Celtic failed to make the quarter-finals of either domestic cup, as is now their fate in this season. And, for all the talk of records that have accompanied their unbeaten status in the league and Fraser Forster’s shut-out sequence on that front – yesterday was the first time his goal had been breached by Scottish opponents in 13 games – their inability to translate championship dominance into cup silverware is becoming marked in the Lennon era.
The tantalising prospect that the Derek McInnes era at Pittodrie can bring success on several fronts, over several years, was only be strengthened by the events at Celtic Park yesterday lunchtime. Even after going behind after only eight minutes, the visitors did not waver. And, for all that Celtic were as passive and pallid as their home support, there was a conviction to Aberdeen that has long been absent in their play in the east end of Glasgow arena.
Of course, when talking about an Aberdeen who appear to be back in the game where trophy hunting is concerned, it is important to look beyond Alex Ferguson’s time. Under the stewardship of Alex Smith era at the turn of the 1990s, league should have been added to triumphs in both cups. In 1993-94, Willie Miller’s team finished runners-up in all competitions and then, in 1995, Roy Aitken’s team claimed the League Cup.
McInnes’ side have all the attributes to drive the club on to a two-decade high and their credentials were all on display in how they responded to going behind after Anthony Stokes had deftly controlled a Georgios Samaras diagonal through ball and beaten Jamie Langfield from close range at his near post.
“It was a real solid team performance,” McInnes said. “I know, given the standard of Celtic, people will maybe look at their failings today but you’ve got to say we did restrict that. We never allowed the game to be stretched. We never allowed their better players to effect the game too much. It’s important we do that, we can’t just come here and think it’s all about us. We have to have a gameplan and be organised. We limited Celtic’s ability to be effective.”
It was the engine-room of Barry Robson and Willo Flood and the darting, driving forward play of Peter Pawlett and Johnny Hayes which allowed Aberdeen to prevail with some conviction. And it was a Robson corner kick that allowed the visitors to equalise seven minutes from half-time, Russell Anderson applying a brilliant hook-come-hitch-kick finish after the ball broke to him off the chest of Andrew Considine. Within four minutes of the restart, Aberdeen were in front thanks again to Robson’s craft, a reverse pass into the path of Pawlett down the left channel that his manager labelled “terrific” allowing the forward to power forward and send a low effort in off Forster’s far post.
Lennon bemoaned Virgil van Dijk heading over when the goal appeared at his mercy but he had little else to complain about. On 63 minutes, he threw on Leigh Griffiths for the forward’s first outing, and he did stub an effort wide in the desperate final minutes, but late appearances for Amido Balde and Derk Boerrigter could not turn the tie.
“I have been here as a player and manager when it has felt like you are hanging in and I never felt that today,” McInnes added. “Even at one-each it was what could we do to try to win the game and more importantly the players on the pitch thought they could go and win it.”
On a day to remember for the travelling Aberdeen support, their repertoire was one to forget.
The encounter was played against the backdrop of abuse suffered by Lennon when at Tynecastle last week to watch the Dons’ 4-0 semi-final win over St Johnstone.
Fair enough, if they wanted to tell him to “get tae f***” within seconds of the first whistle, and offer a surreal interpretation of the events in Gorgie with a chant of “always the victim, it’s never your fault”. But they strayed towards the offensive with “you’re in the wrong f***in’ country” and “Jimmy Savile is one of your own”. Maybe Aberdeen really are heading towards the big time again if their followers can show they’re up there with the foulest in Scotland.