TRANSITION is the new buzzword around Celtic. A “period of transition” is how chief executive Peter Lawwell described the current state of the club in his review of their annual financial results which were released on Friday.
Celtic 2-1 Aberdeen
Scorers: Celtic - Denayer (4), Commons (46); Aberdeen - Goodwillie (60)
New manager Ronny Deila, meanwhile, can often be heard stressing his desire for Celtic to improve their “transition play”, the modern coaching phrase for how a team switches from defence to attack, and vice versa, with the greatest speed and effectiveness.
It is for Lawwell and his fellow board members to cope with the changes to Celtic’s fiscal condition in the ever more straitened environment of Scottish football, something they must do without the bounty of Champions League participation this season.
On the pitch, Deila’s quest to make his very individual mark on the club continued with a much-needed return to winning ways on Saturday. While it was a less than complete display from his side, it was good enough to move them just three points off the title pace in the Scottish Premiership with a game in hand.
There was evidence, especially in the first half, of the high-energy pressing game which Deila is attempting to instil in his players. Celtic could and should have been more than just 1-0 in front at the break, a lead given to them in the seventh minute when Aberdeen’s weakness in defending a Kris Commons corner saw Efe Ambrose’s shot deflected in from close range by Jason Denayer.
There were two debutants in the champions’ starting line-up with Bulgarian winger Aleksandar Tonev and Serbian striker Stefan Scepovic both unable to impose themselves on proceedings to any significant degree. Scepovic could be the more content with his afternoon’s work, linking up well with Commons at times.
He was replaced by another newcomer, John Guidetti, midway through the second half, by which time Celtic were leading 2-1. Their second goal came just 25 seconds after the restart, Callum McGregor bursting down the right and cutting the ball back for Commons to beat Jamie Langfield with a firm shot which took a deflection off full-back Shay Logan.
Aberdeen, though, were a different proposition in the second period as they looked to take the game to Celtic with greater aggression and purpose whenever possible. Although Commons almost put the game out of their reach with a thunderous shot against the crossbar, the Dons were rewarded for their improvement when David Goodwillie headed home from close range after Andrew Considine had nodded Logan’s cross back into the unmarked striker’s path.
It was Goodwillie’s first goal for Aberdeen and one he hopes can signal the start of a revival in a career which has been on a downward spiral for the past two years. It was just three years ago that he was scoring for Scotland against then world champions Spain in Alicante, his third and last cap so far for his country. It is a status he is keen to recapture.
“My confidence probably has taken a hit in the last year or two,” admitted the 25-year-old. “To be at the top level, playing for your country against Spain, and then come sort of crashing down does hit you a bit. It’s just games that will bring confidence and goals back for me.
“I’ve always had a good appetite for the game. It’s just a case of getting back on my feet again and trying to get sharp, to get back playing regularly and hopefully enjoy it more.
“I don’t know how far away I am from my best form. Hopefully, just another couple of games. That’s me off the mark now for Aberdeen and you don’t want to go too long without a goal. I hope I can take it on and continue that way for the rest of the season.
“I’ll take it one step at a time. Everyone has their ambitions and goals and I’d obviously love to play for Scotland again. I just need to keep my head down, knuckle down and work hard.”
As Aberdeen pressed for an equaliser, Craig Gordon was forced into decent saves to deny Niall McGinn and Willo Flood, while the visitors were incensed by referee Bobby Madden’s refusal to award them a penalty for handball against Commons when he blocked a McGinn free-kick.
But the second-half display of Derek McInnes’ side suggested their current position in the bottom half of the table will only be temporary.
“We had a gameplan and it didn’t really work in the first half,” added Goodwillie. “The manager gave us another plan at half-time and it seemed to work. We were a bit lackadaisacal at times, we switched off too much and were disappointed with ourselves for doing that in the first half.
“The manager sees things we don’t see, that’s why he’s the gaffer. We just take it in and try our best. The players bring that belief from the manager that we can get closer to Celtic this season. He tells us we can, so we go out there and give it our all. Sometimes it works and other days, like today, we are disappointed when it doesn’t.
“The boys were all gutted in the dressing room at the end. We were pressing and pressing in the second half and although Celtic were catching us on the break, we looked like we could get something from the game.
“The manager has got us believing that it doesn’t matter what the score is, we can still go on and win the game. That showed today in the way we played after going 2-0 down. The boys don’t give up, they try and get something from the game.
“I never really saw too much of Celtic last season, so can’t say how they compare this season. But they are a good, strong team and you’ll need to be at the top of your game to beat them this season, especially at Celtic Park.”