Celtic get all fired up for Arsenal

Aberdeen 1(Aluko 61)Celtic 3(McGeady 29, 42; McDonald 44)

THE entirely understandable preoccupation with Celtic's Champions League encounter against Arsenal in two days' time has made it easy to forget that the priority for Tony Mowbray is not continental competition.

It is wresting the championship away from Rangers. Rampant for as long as they needed to be against an anaemic Aberdeen in the opening encounter of the shiny, new Scottish Premier League campaign, Celtic served notice they know what they must be all about this season.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

By the 44th minute, when Scott McDonald joined the double-netting Aiden McGeady on the scoresheet, the perceived mission under Mowbray to produce pretty play and pick up points had already been accomplished.

A sober post-match assessment, in which he bemoaned his team's "lack of control" when 3-0 up and talked of the "scope for improvement", suggested he was entirely seduced by the first-half but, ultimately, day one of the SPL season would have been acceptable for him as it was wretched for his Pittodrie counterpart Mark McGhee.

His fellow new manager, who waited for the call from Celtic that never came during the summer as the club sought a replacement for his friend Gordon Strachan, might have allowed himself a "that could have been my team" contemplation as his Aberdeen side were pulled apart by the "movement and pace of (Shaun] Maloney", he reflected later.

It was that combination he conceded that his side could not cope with as Celtic absolutely lorded it over them. There was no early-season slugglishness about Celtic.

Their games against Dinamo Moscow would have seen to that.

Instead, there was a razor sharpness to their work in the middle third, the jinking and jetting forward play of Maloney, and to a lesser extent McGeady, central to that.

It wasn't always matched by their work in and around the penalty box. It was for that reason it took them fully 28 minutes of knocking at the door before they broke it down.

McGhee ruefully reflected that they did so with a different sort of break. "There was a lot of fortune in it," he said. "I had moved Richard Foster to right-back (in place of Stuart Duff] to cope with the pace but they got a ricochet when we needed a period to settle down."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Marc-Antoine Fortune benefited as much from a rebound to set up the 28th minute opener. A shot he had saved by Jamie Langfield came back off him and looped up in to the middle of the goal, where McGeady steamed in to net with a hitch-kick.

If that was scrappy, his second 13 minutes later was sumptuous. Fed by Andreas Hinkel after the German had powered down the right, the Republic of Ireland international stepped to the side of his marker and then curled a precision effort in at the far right-hand corner of Langfield's net. McGeady claimed afterwards that was him a fifth of the way to his goal target for the campaign. "The manager said to me and Shaun he wants us to get in to double figures this season and I agree with him," he said.

When McDonald then accepted a present after Foster, in attempting to cut out a cross, knocked the ball to him at the right height a minute before the interval, carnage appeared on the cards. It looked like it could be a truly, truly ugly opening afternoon to a league campaign – an Ebbe Skovdahl-era Celtic defeat – for Aberdeen in a season already disfigured by their 8-1 record aggregate loss to Sigma Olamouc.

It didn't arrive because, much to Mowbray's chargin, his team eased up. It was natural they might lose their rhythm as changes were then enforced on them. Glen Loovens limped off to bring Scott Brown into the fray only five minutes after the restart.

That meant another game at centre-back for the all-action, all-new-and-adaptable Massimo Donati. Surveying the Celtic squad, there were many Celtic defensive pairings most would have sworn blind they would not see at all this season, and a Darren O'Dea and Donati combo would be pretty close to the top of that list.

O'Dea wore the armband in the absence of the suspended Gary Caldwell but didn't seem as comfortable partnering his Italian day-tripper.

On the hour mark that new pairing was breached as Aberdeen at least began to snap into tackles as if they weren't prepared to be 90-minute patsies. A cross from substitute Michael Paton was headed into the path of Sone Aluko who smashed a sweet volley high past Artur Boruc.

"The manager was quite annoyed we weren't 5-0 or 6-0 up at half-time because if they had pulled another goal back it could have been a nervy ending for us," McGeady said.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It didn't look like going that way, even though McGhee claimed there were "positives". In his post-match interview, however, he was forced into picking over the negatives.

On the one hand about the "crisis" going to grip Scottish football through losing the best talent to England and replacing them with cheap options worth a fifth of their value. Closer to home he also conceded he only had sufficient funds to attract one more new player following the recruitment of centre-back Jerel Ifil, who he believed had a "mixed debut" yesterday. "I heard he was man of the match, but I didn't think we had a man of the match," he said.

A reporter from one of those English inkies, at Pittodrie to cast an eye over Celtic before Arsenal come calling, also succeeded in getting McGhee to give his assessment of the possible outcome of the clubs' forthcoming Champions League meeting.

It was more glowing than anything he could say about his own side. "I have watched a lot of Arsenal over the past five years and Celtic have a better chance this week than they have had in that period," he said.

"With Celtic's movement and play, they are capable of causing them problems."

McGhee, meanwhile, has an almighty job on his hands to sort out a host of them at Pittodrie.

Loovens limps off, leaving a lack of centre halves

CELTIC defender Glenn Loovens is doubtful for his side's Champions League play-off tie against Arsenal on Tuesday after limping off at Pittodrie yesterday. His manager Tony Mowbray revealed after his side's 3-1 win that the Dutchman, who lasted only 50 minutes, had been struggling with a knee strain since the victory in Moscow a fortnight ago.

"We will see how it looks tomorrow but I don't know if he'll be OK for Tuesday," Mowbray said. Loovens initially partnered Darren O'Dea with Gary Caldwell suspended and Stephen McManus injured. "We have been nursing it and he has had a scan (without anything major showing] but we took a chance with him today. If we had every one of our centre-halves fit and available Glenn probably wouldn't have played."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Meanwhile, on an afternoon that saw Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp at Pittodrie to keep tabs on Loovens' replacement Scott Brown, Mowbray covered all bases as regards reports that Andreas Hinkel was on his way. The German right-back, a 1.9m buy from Seville in January 2008, was linked to both Hull City and Cologne for fees ranging from 1.5m to 3.5m.

"I am aware of some interest," the Celtic manager said. "Since I came in there has been a bit of interest from some German clubs and we have had one or two phone calls but no firm contact has been made. He has done very well for us in pre-season and today. Andy's in no rush to leave the football club and we are not pushing him out of the door. But we are aware that if we want to rotate the squad and it is the right deal then we'll need to assess whether it is something we want to do."

Mowbray maintained that the chances of any deal being struck before Arsenal come to Glasgow was "slim". "I am pretty confident he'll be here for Tuesday night and from my point of view I would hope the following Tuesday as well."


Shaun Maloney's incisive running was key in the lead-up to the opener. The sharpness he showed and menace he posed made his omission from the Scotland line-up against Norway all the more difficult to fathom.


Celtic's victory yesterday was only their third away win in the SPL in 2009. Their last was also at Aberdeen, in May.


Aberdeen seem marshmallow-soft. Mark McGhee does not have the wherewithal to attract grittier players which begs the question as to whether he can toughen up those he must work with. His tenure could depend on it.