Celtic verdict: Lourdes effect with Aberdeen win but no miracles worked by new interim John Kennedy
They say people dealing with all sorts of trauma feel better on making pilgrimages to the religious grotto because, once there, they will be confronted by folk far worse off than themselves. Celtic were able to reset immediately following the upheaval of Neil Lennon’s departure this week because, whatever their toils this season, they are dwarfed by those of Aberdeen.
Pre-match assertions ranged from confident predictions Celtic would get a response courtesy of the release of the pressure value created by Lennon’s world having previously closed-in suffocating, to them becoming more vulnerable to the challenge of their Pittodrie visitors owing to the state of flux at Parkhead. It turned out that neither really came to pass. Both teams played out a contest that seemed a sequel to their encounter at Parkhead 10 days earlier of the sort wherein the plot proves merely a retread.
An early goal for Celtic...We had that, with Odsonne Eduoard’s 21st goal of the season, which was down to a unremarkable thump deflecting off Tommy Hogan and wrong-footing Joe Lewis. A concerted period of early Celtic pressure...That was in place too, Celtic shuttling the ball around crisply and quickly without having real oomph in front of goal. Aberdeen forcing the issue more in the second period and creating a few scares for their hosts...They more than contained Celtic in that spell, with Ash Taylor having early on seeing a header strike the bar and then another second later that drew a fine instinctive block from Scott Bain. And all of this before Celtic, in the one deviation from the earlier meeting this month, comfortably held on for their victory.
The home team operated in that twilight zone between being decent and exhibiting flaws that have cost them so many points to allow Rangers to runaway with a league crown that was supposed to be their record 10th. Ahead of their confrontation with McInnes’ side, they were 16 points down on their 30-game mark when the Premiership was closed down by the global pandemic last March. In contrast, Steven Gerrard’s side are 15 points better off from that point. The power shift in the Scottish game, right there.
Kennedy said he wouldn’t make sweeping changes from the side that put Lennon over the edge in losing 1-0 at Ross County last Sunday, and he was true to that. The only surprise in the first starting XI selected by the 37-year-old for a senior football game was the inclusion of Patryk Klimala. The Polish striker had only earned four starts in his 13 months in Scotland, and a horrible miss through failing to convert a superb low cross from Jonjoe Kenny in the first period illustrated why. Lennon did not make his, ultimately flawed, team choices this season out of pig-headedness, or some sort of misguided loyalty.
The display of Scott Brown against Aberdeen in the centre of the pitch was a further indication of that. The Celtic captain was immense and ensured his team exerted a greater degree of control in the contest than was true when Ismaila Soro was given the sitter role for the clubs’ previous meeting. Brown said on Friday that he has been made an offer by outgoing chief executive Peter Lawwell of a further one year contract to follow on from the conclusion of his present deal in the summer. He should be leant on to sign it, because he still has a crucial input to make as a new manager requires to recast so much of the senior squad. Just not on a week-in, week-out basis necessarily, or in games where Celtic will be seriously stretched.
What the 35-year-old - whose impressive showing was matched by Kristoffer Ajer at the back - could not bring to Celtic is what they, and Aberdeen for that matter, have lacked at pivotal moments this season: conviction. Celtic had chances to double their lead throughout, but Edouard over-doing his weaving runs in the box or such as Callum McGregor and Klimala passing up glaring openings prevented them doing so. And though Aberdeen could cause wobbles for their rivals with balls slung into the box - Celtic’s Achilles heel this season - they had no-one to apply the finishing touch in a couple of goalmouth scrambles.
Celtic will be Celtic this season, whether it is Kennedy or Lennon in charge. Their frailties and shortcomings run deeper than either, or both, depending on how entwined the duo are perceived. Overall, what the outcome of their latest win over Aberdeen has ensured - the club’s sixth in seven games for all the grimness of this campaign - is that Celtic will face no specious talk of being in a scrap for second place in the Premiership. With seven games remaining for Kennedy’s team, Hibernian no closer to Celtic - 15 points separating the pair - than the Parkhead men are to Rangers...albeit that the soon-to-be deposed champions have played a game more than these two clubs. As demonstrated by McInnes’ men, whose fourth-place status could yet come under pressure from Livingston, Celtic’s weaknesses are altogether relative in Scottish football.
Celtic: Bain, Kenny, Ajer, Welsh, Laxalt, McGregor, Brown, Christie, Turnbull (Soro 78), Klimala (Elyounoussi 65), Edouard. Subs: Hazard, Duffy, Griffiths, Ajeti, Henderson, Montgomery, Ralston.
Aberdeen: Lewis, Hoban, Considine, Taylor, McLennan (Kennedy 77), McCrorie, Ferguson, Campbell (Hendry 60), Hayes, McGinn (McGeouch 90+1), Kamberi. Subs: Woods, Logan, Ross, Virtanen, MacKenzie, Duncan.
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