Pressure doesn’t show as Celtic turn on the style

Leigh Griffiths reacts after scoring Celtic's opening goal. Picture: SNS.
Leigh Griffiths reacts after scoring Celtic's opening goal. Picture: SNS.
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It may seem all about points for Celtic in this Premiership title tussle with Aberdeen, but performances matter too – even just to provide any indications as to the champions’ potential for choking in the chase for a fifth consecutive league success.

The elements all seemed in place for a potential slip-up by Ronny Deila’s side at the weekend. With Aberdeen moving to within one point of them courtesy of a fighting win at Firhill in midweek, the trip to the same Maryhill ground seemed decidedly awkward for Celtic on the back of their soulless draws with Dundee and Hamilton Accies.

It didn’t pan out that way and goalkeeper Craig Gordon’s assessment of the 2-1 win brooks no argument.

“If there is more pressure on us then it didn’t show on Saturday – we went out and played really well,” he said. “I don’t know if having a team close to us helps or hinders us but if we can get performances like Saturday then we’ll get a good number of points between now and the end of the season.”

Celtic have nine games remaining. That is one more than an Aberdeen side who remained within a point of them through securing a home victory over Kilmarnock a matter of hours after the lunchtime win by Deila’s side.

For the run-in, Pittodrie manager Derek McInnes has deliberately changed tack and switched from refusing to countenance winning the title to actively promoting the prospects of that outcome.

That may be an attempt to crank up the heat on a Celtic team that have a reputation for wilting, but Gordon seems unfazed by a challenge that is now being framed by words as well as deeds.

“Aberdeen are in there, only one point behind. They have always been there, but whether they’re admitting it or not doesn’t make any difference to the job we need to do,” he said.

Celtic did their job with verve and conviction – even if their failure to convert opportunities left them holding only a single-goal advantage from the 84th minute after a first penalty for Thistle in 69 games was converted by Sean Welsh.

Callum McGregor was a stand-out and capped his performance with a classy strike when he drove into the box and drew defenders with his slaloming movement before steering a low effort into the far post. He called the goal a “relief” after a “difficult” month.

The period led to him dropping out of the Celtic squad ahead of being handed a year’s driving ban earlier this month as a result of being caught behind the wheel more than three times over the legal 
alcohol limit at the start of 
February.

McGregor was full of remorse for his actions – as he should be – and expressed his gratitude to his manager for standing by him.

Fellow goalscorer Leigh Griffiths might have recognised the mea culpa process from old. Now, though, it is the 25-year-old’s predatory talents that frame any discussions of his activities.

On Saturday, he set Celtic on their way with an opener on the stroke of half-time that took his tally for the season to 35 in 41 appearances.

He seemed second favourite to Dan Seaborne as a cross from the left sent in by the impressive Gary Mackay-Steven dropped at the edge of the area, but one slip by the defender, one controlling touch by Griffiths and in a flash the ball was nestling in the corner of the Thistle net.

For Gordon, his frontline team-mate can be bracketed with scorers who make multi-million pound moves.

“In terms of players I’ve played with in my career the only one I could really compare him to is Darren Bent,” said the former Stadium of Light goalkeeper.

“He was top scorer for Sunderland when he was at the height of his career and banging in the goals. I would say they are similar in terms of finishing ability.

“Leigh actually plays a similar type of game, always looking to get in behind.

“Leigh maybe comes short and can score from longer range more than Darren Bent did but in terms of goalscorers they’re both phenomenal.

“Once it drops in the box, if they’re on the end of it then they’re hitting the target. Bent cost a few quid right enough so I don’t want to bum Leigh up too much!”

Yet, Gordon can’t help himself when it comes to contenders for the player of the year awards. “I’m pretty sure there aren’t any other Player of the Year contenders. He’ll probably clear up everything but let’s make sure he does it until the end of the season first – I don’t want to give him anything too soon.”