Aberdeen 1 - 3 Celtic: Champions hit 100-point mark in style
Three goals in the first 11 minutes put Brendan Rodgers’ team in control against an Aberdeen side who will stand in their way again in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden in two weeks’ time. If Celtic do not slip up in either of their remaining league games against Partick Thistle and Hearts, they will be seeking both the treble and an historic mantle of invincibility when the sides reconvene at Hampden.
Aberdeen’s response to Celtic’s turbo-charged start at Pittodrie at least offered some hope to Derek McInnes that his players might be able to upset the odds in the season finale. They pulled one goal back and were unfortunate not to get even closer to the champions the longer a pulsating match went on.
Rodgers’ team selection provided an immediate indication that Celtic intended keeping nothing in reserve ahead of the showpiece at the national stadium on 27 May. With the exception of suspended skipper Scott Brown and injured top scorer Moussa Dembele, this was as strong a starting eleven as the champions could deploy.
The intensity of their desire to complete that unbeaten domestic season was powerfully underlined by their remarkable start to the match which left Aberdeen reeling.
The early three-goal salvo was kick-started by Patrick Roberts forcing a third minute corner when his shot was deflected wide. Leigh Griffiths provided the delivery from the right, picking out Dedryck Boyata who lost his marker Ash Taylor to score with a simple close range header.
Five minutes later, Celtic doubled their lead. Griffiths showed great pace and trickery to find space on the right and his low cross broke into the path of Callum McGregor. His shot was blocked by Shay Logan but Stuart Armstrong was quickest to react as he coolly swept home his 15th goal of the season.
The home support could scarcely take in what was happening to their team and their sense of bewilderment was heightened when Celtic made it 3-0. It was a nightmare moment for Aberdeen goalkeeper Joe Lewis who appeared to have Griffiths’ left foot shot from 22 yards covered but instead could only help the ball on its way into the net.
McInnes’ men were staring down the barrel of a humiliation on their own patch but roused themselves sufficiently to reclaim as foothold in the contest just two minutes later. Jonny Hayes engineered time and space to unleash a dipping shot from just outside the penalty area which left Craig Gordon flapping helplessly as the ball flew high into his net.
As the incredibly frantic pace showed no sign of relenting, Aberdeen should have pulled another goal back almost immediately. Kenny McLean’s cross found Jayden Stockley unmarked but the big striker headed wide from no more than six yards.
Celtic were soon back on the hunt at the other end of the pitch and Lewis was required to make a smart save to prevent Tom Rogic adding to the visitors’ tally in the 19th minute.
Aberdeen, though, were now providing their fans with some encouragement that their horrendous start to the match was not necessarily an omen of the fate which awaits them in the cup final. They again came close to reducing the deficit when Niall McGinn’s rising shot was touched over by Gordon. From the resulting corner, Ash Taylor might have done better than head wide at the back post.
As Aberdeen committed themselves full-bloodedly to trying to recover the situation, Celtic carried a potent menace on the counter attack and in needed a brilliant piece of tracking back by Hayes to prevent Scott Sinclair punishing the hosts with a lightning raid just before the end of a breathless first half.
The home side began the second half on the front foot and should have been rewarded with a penalty kick just four minutes after the restart. Graeme Shinnie surged into the area and managed to get a toe to the ball before he was felled by the advancing Gordon. It looked like a clear-cut spot kick but referee Steven McLean dismissed the appeals of astonished Dons captain Shinnie.
Rodgers made his first change of the night, replacing Rogic with Nir Bitton in an attempt to bring greater solidity in central midfielder, while McInnes sent on top scorer Adam Rooney for Stockley. Aberdeen continued to force openings and McLean wastefully blazed a shot wide when he was set free on the left of the Celtic penalty area.
Niall McGinn volleyed just over as Aberdeen stuck to the task but they had left themselves far too much to do. They created their own little piece of history in stoppage time when Dean Campbell - 16 years, one month and 23 days old - came on to become the youngest ever first team player for the Pittodrie club. It is Celtic, however, who are on the verge of rewriting the record books on a far grander scale.