Aberdeen 2 Celtic 1: Dons make title statement

ABERDEEN carved out a piece of club history on a pulsating afternoon which suggested the immediate future of the Scottish Premiership may just be a little less predictable.

The Aberdeen players celebrate their equalising goal in front of their fans. Picture: SNS
The Aberdeen players celebrate their equalising goal in front of their fans. Picture: SNS

Not even Sir Alex Ferguson was able to start a league season with six successive victories, the feat achieved by Derek McInnes’ team yesterday.

Perhaps more significantly, they removed the Indian sign Celtic held over them last season with a dramatic come-from-behind win with ten men.

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The champions had taken the lead through Leigh Griffiths’ ninth goal of the season with a first-half penalty but Aberdeen showed admirable resilience, levelling with their own spot-kick early in the second half and then shrugging off Jonny Hayes’ red card to forage a late winner from Paul Quinn.

It puts them two points clear of Celtic at the top of the table with a game in hand – at home to Hamilton on Tuesday. For now at least, a title race is very much on.

The “sold out” signs had been put up at Pittodrie on Thursday and even the damp and overcast weather, which required the floodlights to be turned on for a lunchtime kick-off, could not dull the sense of anticipation among both sets of fans. Even this early in the season, it had the feeling of a pivotal fixture. The onus was firmly on Aberdeen to make a positive statement of intent but they almost got off to the worst possible start. Andrew Considine’s weak pass-back in the second minute was pounced upon by Tom Rogic who should have done better than direct his close-range shot too close to Danny Ward.

The home side, encouraged by some inexcusably slack passing by Dedryck Boyata, gradually claimed a foothold and Hayes had to stretch just a little too much as he tried to get a clean connection on a Considine cross.

There was no sign of £5.5 million signing Jozo Simunovic on the Celtic team-sheet, leaving on-loan Manchester United youngster Tyler Blackett as the only debutant in Ronny Deila’s side as he was deployed at left-back.

The reshaped back four, with Charlie Mulgrew partnering Boyata in the centre and Mikael Lustig at right-back, did not appear comfortable dealing with crosses.

An afternoon which had started badly for Considine got even worse when he conceded the penalty which provided Celtic with the lead.

There was no doubt about the award, the defender clearly pulling Griffiths back as the striker smartly controlled a long ball from Mulgrew inside the area. Considine was perhaps fortunate only to be booked but Griffiths exacted further punishment as he drilled the spot-kick low to Ward’s left into the corner.

This was always likely to prove a testing assignment for referee Craig Thomson and his series of contentious decisions began when he felt a verbal warning was sufficient action against Kenny McLean for a needlessly aggressive challenge on the grounded Lustig which saw the Aberdeen midfielder’s boot connect with the Celtic defender’s head.

As the tempo intensified, Thomson then refused an Aberdeen penalty appeal when Mulgrew appeared to clearly handle a Shay Logan cross.

Celtic then protested furiously when the home side were awarded a spot-kick in the 56th minute, but while Boyata’s challenge on Graeme Shinnie just inside the area was tame, it was also both clumsy and needless. Rooney stepped forward and sent Craig Gordon the wrong way with a firm conversion.

The equaliser re-energised Aberdeen and gave them an impetus which suggested they may be the more likely side to go on and grab a winner.

That prospect appeared to have been undermined by Hayes’ dismissal, Thomson rushing to produce his red card when the winger lunged in on Lustig. While Hayes got some of the ball, it was a reckless challenge.

But it did not prove costly to Aberdeen as they conjured up a dramatic 86th minute winner. Niall McGinn’s free-kick from the left floated over an uncertain Celtic defence and Quinn nipped in to beat the flat-footed Gordon from close range.

The drama was not over, Considine redeeming his earlier howlers in stoppage time when he got back to clear off the line from Griffiths before the celebrations of the home fans could begin in earnest.