Aberdeen 3 Celtic 3: Champions authority eroding as they fail to cling on to hard-won lead in closing seconds

The chaotic nature of what unfolded at Pittodrie is emblematic of Celtic’s fraying season.

ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 25: Celtic's Shane Duffy at Full Time during a Scottish Premiership match between Aberdeen and Celtic at Pittodrie Stadium, on October 25, 2020, in Aberdeen, Scotland. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The 3-3 draw is another blow to the credibility of Neil Lennon and his team in a 10-in-a-row tilt of a campaign which sees them now seriously listing. Principally because of the scatty circumstances in which it occurred. To twice recover from going behind - scoring two goals in two minutes to establish a 3-2 for the closing stages - only then to concede a second penalty of the afternoon in the second minute of added time betrays the fragility of a side now without a win in three games.

Such runs rarely befall Celtic title holders. Not since August 2018 - when a Champions League qualifier against AEK Athens accounted for two of the failures - have the club endured such a sequence. The only scintilla of comfort that the Scottish champions will draw is that, at times against Derek McInnes’ men, it seemed as if they were heading for three straight defeats inside 90 minutes for the first time since 1994. Such an outcome really would have raised questions over Lennon’s job security.

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Of course, there will be plenty of these whys and wherefores vented angrily toward the Celtic manager anyway. He gave the disgruntled support much of what they wanted for the encounter - he operated with a back four, Scott Brown began on the bench and a back injury meant the much-criticised Vasilis Barkas was forced to give way to Scott Bain. Yet, it was the denoument that alerted to the fact that, whatever the personnel, Celtic have failings that other teams sense; sniff out as if scenting weaknesses in what once had appeared the imperious beast in their domain.

When in the 77th minute Ryan Christie sent Joe Lewis the wrong way from the spot after Tommie Hoban had taken out Mohamed Elyounoussi, there was no sense from Aberdeen that it was destined to be another one of those days. They would hve been forgiven for arriving at that conclusion, considering that only seconds earlier Leigh Griffiths - just on as a substitute - had gloriously floated an effort into the far corner after being played in by a defence-splitting pass from the returned creative fulcrum Tom Rogic.

It meant they have given up two goals in two minutes to a Celtic team they seemed to have on the rack when a horrible Shane Duffy error allowed Ryan Hedges to put them 2-1 ahead….shortly after Callum McGregor had produced an exquisite equaliser in a frantic start to the second period.

The home side, as they did all game without much forcing against opponents largely dominating the ball, seemed sure that Celtic had a buckle in them even as the clock ticked beyond 90. And so they did. Scott Wright was allowed to drift down the left with Duffy again seeming uncertain as to whether to stick or twist. The ball wasn’t cut out and when Conor McLennan skipped along the box, McGregor caught him, to see referee Willie Collum whistle for a third penalty of the confrontation. An award that allowed Lewis Ferguson to convert his second spot-kick.

Celtic’s authority, which has carried them through for so much of their run of nines, has been eroded by player churn and player arrivals. In part that explains the half-hearted challenges that preceded Aberdeen’s last-gasp equaliser, and the clumsy bump from Olivier Ntcham on Ferguson in 43 minutes produced the penalty opener.

There will be duffing up on Duffy, as well as Lennon, over the fact the 3-3 - in following on from the 2-0 defeat aganst Rangers and 3-1 loss to Milan - now means Celtic have shipped eight goals in three games. Not since their 7-0 drubbing in Barcelona four years ago was followed by a 2-2 draw in Inverness have they coughed up more goals in shorter order.

Any capable side seems able to threaten the Celtic backline - whether it is configured in three or four - and Duffy is a common denominator. With Lennon stating post-match that some players are struggling or confidence, it can only have been an allusion to the Irishman. At Aberdeen’s second, what he was thinking of when appearing to try to hook the ball back to Bain over his shoulder only to gift it to Wright, is anyone’s guess. Bain wasn’t exactly impressive either in slapping Wright’s shot to goalscorer Ryan Hedges.

With the Boli Bolingoli debacle, injuries and the Covid-19 situation, Celtic remain a team in search of calm off the pitch and a solid, reliable framework on it. Rogic, in his first start since March, certainly provided them more incisiveness, his vision to the fore with the ball-in for McGregor’s pristine finish. Overall, there was more fizz to Celtic’s play in and around their opponents’ box with the 4-2-3-1. Equally, the 76th/77th minute two-goal turnaround demonstrated the players retain a will and spirit. It is just that the flesh of their defending that is weak.

Celtic need for some sort of consistency of selection remains imperative. With Odsonne Edouard still to return, it may not arrive when they head to Lille for their Europa League encounter in midweek, or Hampden for their Aberdeen rematch in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup semi-final on Sunday. The Pittodrie encounter witnessed the 11th straight game Celtic began with an XI that had never previously started a match for the club before. Moreover, Lennon has selected a different XI for every single Premiership encounter. And with the upheaval Lennon must live with the uproar from an increasingly restless support.

Aberdeen: Lewis; Hoban, Taylor, Considine, Hayes; McGeouch (McLennan 25) , Ferguson; McCrorie, Hedges, Edmundson (Cosgrove 58); Watkins (Wright 56). Subs: Woods, Logan, Ojo, McGinn, Kennedy.

Celtic: Bain; Frimpong, Duffy, Ajer, Laxalt; McGregor, Ntcham (Brown 70); Christie, Rogic (Turnbull 86), Elyounoussi; Ajeti (Griffiths 70). Subs: Hazard, Taylor, Klimala, Soro, Ralston, Welsh

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