It was only a mere 20-minute cameo Odsonne Edouard was asked to provide on the Celtic striker’s return from injury at Pittodrie yesterday.
The French youngster’s screen time came as the play proved of the pyrotechnic variety. Yet, in an action-packed climax that brought five goals in the final 14 minutes – during which Scott Sinclair completed a hat-trick – and secured Celtic the victory that extended their advantage at the top of the table, Edouard, pictured below, stole every single scene in which he appeared.
In a corking confrontation that dinged and donged merrily on high, Derek McInnes admitted that bells tolled for his team because, with Edouard’s introduction at 1-1, Celtic suddenly had a performer with the ability to peel away at will from his backline. The 20-year-old produced one pass to engineer Celtic’s second, one great finish to score the third, and one unstoppable run to put Celtic 4-2 up, before Aberdeen gave themselves hope with a third in the final minute of normal time.
“The introduction of Edouard in the dying embers, when defenders are tired having worked all the game, I think paid dividends for them,” said McInnes of a “fantastic game that had a bit of everything”. “A £10m striker comes on and imposes himself physically with his running power and freshness and strength, you have to applaud Celtic for their attacking intent in that last wee bit.”
Celtic, with Ryan Christie in the false No 9 role, made the perfect start when the former Aberdeen loanee released Callum McGregor down the left, and produced a centre that Dominic Ball attempted to clear but knocked it only as far as Sinclair, who stroked it in. His 50th goal for the club, 51 and 52 came in that goalfest ending that Aberdeen had strained so hard to avoid.
The home side regrouped well following the loss of the opener and were rewarded when Emilio Izaguirre offered them up a way back with a piece of poor decision-making in the 22nd minute. In an effort to prevent a Niall McGinn cross from the byline reaching the box, the Honduran, steaming in, merely succeeded in taking the feet from the winger with the ball long gone.
Stevie May’s cool conversion set up an intriguing second period in which Celtic sought to tease out openings while Aberdeen stayed true to their man-marking means of denying their rivals.
The match started to meander before Edouard ensured it roared back to life with brilliant hold-up play and defensive-splitting vision that sent James Forrest scurrying away round the back of Andrew Considine down the right. The Scotland winger then whipped in a cross that Sinclair classily tucked away first time to make it 2-1 with 76 minutes played.
Within six minutes, Aberdeen were again on terms, and again with the award of a penalty from referee Willie Collum. The official adjudged Mikael Lustig to have put a hand on Graeme Shinnie after the Pittodrie captain had flicked the ball over the Swede’s head before crashing to the ground following the contact.
Brendan Rodgers said he no more than “fell over”. McInnes, unsurprisingly, pointed to the “hand” on his player. Sam Cosgrove continued his recent scoring form with a seventh strike in five games from the spot-kick but the rampant Edouard was to turn the game inside out once more.
A Joe Lewis kick-out dropped to the feet of Christie, who helped it on to Forrest. His attempted through ball led to McKenna tackling Edouard, but, with the ball running loose, the striker was still able to wheel round and fire a thunderous effort high into net. “He got the break, but what a finish, the composure when there is all that hurry-scurry going about him,” said McInnes. “You have to applaud that finish.”
With Aberdeen simply having no answer to Edouard, seconds later he drilled his way down the left flank to beat Shay Logan and hold off Ball before knocking a ball into the box that Christie missed before Sinclair clipped in for only a second hat-trick in his two-and-a-half years in Scotland. It wasn’t the last act, but Lewis Ferguson volleying in a Connor McLennan corner shortly afterwards turned out to have no real impact on this thrilling tale.
“‘You know that when you play Aberdeen in these games you have to fight,” said Rodgers of his players’ fortitude that has never deserted them in any key moment domestically across his 30 months in charge. “You have to show battling qualities, but you need to have calmness as well and the players have that. I have no doubt that when a game goes against them they will keep playing and get their reward.”