AFTER the drought, a deluge. This match was billed by those of a Celtic persuasion as the opportunity for Neil Lennon’s side to make amends. To atone for back-to-back defeats by the Pittodrie side that both cost Celtic the chance of doing a double and remaining unbeaten throughout the league campaign. They seized the opportunity with relish.
Celtic 5 - 2 Aberdeen
Scorers: Celtic; Brown 26, 44; Stokes 53; Commons 69, 86, Aberdeen; McGinn 28; Logan 56
Aberdeen gave plenty, and twice put the outcome in the balance, but this was a day when their second place was compromised as defeat allowed Motherwell to move to within a point of them.
No wonder Lennon delighted in the fact that, four weeks after his team had claimed the title, and in an encounter he pointed out meant so much more to the opponents, his players could show the “professionalism and quality to keep going”.
Moreover, it was a day when Kris Commons hit the 30-goal mark, Anthony Stokes brought up his 20 goals and Scott Brown scored twice. With two swings of his left leg. “It has turned into my good foot,” said the Celtic captain, who scored in Scotland’s last two wins away to Poland and Norway with the same peg. “It has been 11 years and it is a long time, but I have just found out I am left-footed.”
The Celtic manager had glowing praise for his skipper – “fantastic today and a player coming to his peak” he called him – and had a wee whinge about the fact that so much was made of what had happened previously to his team in games against Aberdeen.
“There has been a lot of talk about it,” said the Irishman. “We’ve only lost one league game this season but people want to keep reminding me about it and people keep talking about it. So I suppose the players wanted to put a marker down and they certainly did that.”
The day was indelibly marked for McInnes, by the failure to award a penalty with the score at 3-2 and 25 minutes remaining. A run forward by Johnny Hayes ended with the winger going to the deck after darting at Efe Ambrose, and the Aberdeen manager was in no doubt as to what should have ensued from the incident.
“The pivotal moment”, McInnes called it. The wrong call made from erratic referee Iain Brines, he was sure of that.
“It’s a penalty. Not only that, Ambrose was last man and so you’re looking at playing the rest of the match against ten men and it’s game on,” he said. “At 3-2 I felt the momentum was with us. I think Ambrose was a bit lazy in his defending. He was caught square to the ball and sticks his leg out.”
The encounter did swing on this passage, which came after a first half that fizzed with more life than so many Celtic Park encounters. The effervescence of Brown had much do to do with this, the midfielder putting his side ahead when, with his back to goal, he spun round and tucked the ball low into the left-hand corner of Jamie Langfield’s net.
That was in the 26th minute, but within two more a short back-pass by Adam Matthews allowed Niall McGinn to nip in, round Fraser Forster and restore parity.
That lasted until a minute from the interval, when a surging run down the right by Matthews resulted in him providing a cutback that Commons stepped over to allow Brown to sweep in.
Stokes capitalised on some slack defending to force in his team’s third earlier in the second period, before Shaleum Logan, with the outside of his foot, sent a crashing drive into the top corner from fully 25 yards.
At this point Commons, like some yorker-delivering bowler mopping up the tail, took the match away from the visitors.
It may have seemed written in the stars with the Celtic programme carrying an interview with the attacker headlined “30 rocks” and detailing how a player born on 30 August and now at the age of 30 was out to hit 30 goals.
For his 29th of the season in the 69th minute, there was craft and class in the manner he first-timed a Stokes cross out of the reach of Langfield. Four minutes from time he hooked a low right-footer into the net. “It’s incredible for a player who is not an out-and-out centre forward,” Lennon said of Commons hitting the 30 mark.
“It’s been a hell of a season for him, absolutely tremendous.
“We use the formation to accommodate Kris as best we can and feel he’s more productive centrally than he would be on the wing because he can open teams up and change the game with the finishing power he’s got. He has really delivered for us in that position.”
The comfort for Aberdeen was that yesterday’s result at Inverness, which ended 1-1 against Dundee United, delivered them into European football for the first time in five years.
With League Cup success to boot, McInnes can reflect on a highly productive season, and he did.
“That’s another box ticked and we’ve two games to go to try and get second,” said the Aberdeen manager, who revealed that injury casualty from yesterday Adam Rooney is likely to be out of the club’s final two games with strained ligaments. The Pittodrie men now face Dundee United at Tannadice in midweek and second-place rivals Motherwell at home next Sunday in a six-pointer as they seek to complete a memorable season.
“For our professional pride, from the fact that financially there is a big difference, and because it will give the players a couple of more weeks’ rest, it is important to finish second.”
A second that will probably see them sitting a record 30 points behind the title-winners Celtic, a fact Lennon wasn’t slow in pointing out.
BT Sport Q&A: Rangers | Hibs | Neil Lennon
THIS week’s BT Sport video Q&A looks at whether Rangers fans will buy season tickets and if the club’s supporters will force a change of ownership.
The form of Hibs under Terry Butcher is also examined following the Easter Road side’s derby defeat while the future of Neil Lennon is also considered following the announcement that his assistant Johan Mjallby is to depart at the end of the season.
• Email your Scottish football question for the BT Sport panel to answer. The next show will be recorded on May 7 after St Johnstone v Celtic, which will also be shown live on BT Sport, with the video available on The Scotsman website the following day. You can also tweet us @TheScotsman.
A line-up of experts will handle your questions after each BT Sport game. Most match days, the team includes Darrell Currie, Derek Rae and Gary McAllister.
Over this season, BT Sport will air 30 SPFL matches plus 10 Rangers games from the SPFL League One.
• T&C We can not guarantee which presenters will answer your questions. Questions are vetted and no correspondence will be entered into.