IT was dullsville for so much of yesterday’s encounter, the wonder was that the mayor of Dullsville didn’t perform a closing ceremony.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Kris Commons (Celtic)
The only player who managed to get any efforts on target, including the winning goal.
A good crowd, but the lowest for a Celtic league flag unfurling since the 1980s.
At least that would have reflected the day, with the impressive firework
razzamatazz accompanying the league flag-unfurling duties conducted by 90-year-old Celtic great Sean Fallon setting a false tone, albeit the distraction proving welcome.
Of course, the temptation will be to see every non-event involving Celtic through the prism of there not being a Rangers in the top flight – which removes any jeopardy for the champions, and champions-elect, when it comes to duff displays and dropped points. That temptation should be avoided. However…
It was impossible to say whether the stultifying nature of this Scottish Premier League opener was down to the sturdiness of a largely revitalised Aberdeen – old “Clangers” Jamie Langfield apart, of course – or a
certain sleepiness from Neil Lennon’s men because they can never be driven on in down days by fear of failing to clinch this title.
Whatever, Aberdeen efforts to contain them looked sound enough. With Russell Anderson and Gary Naysmith bringing composure to the visitors backline, Celtic didn’t look like scoring. Even when a short corner was worked back to Kris Commons 11 minutes from time and the attacker sclaffed an effort towards Langfield’s near post, they didn’t look like scoring. When the keeper bent down to his left, they still didn’t look like scoring. Now, frankly, Langfield could produce a DVD boxset of the mistakes that earned him his nickname during a career he has admirably rebuilt following a brain seizure. Yesterday’s failure to stop a trundler passing between his legs, hands and the tiny space that was otherwise left might require to be accommodated in a second volume. “It is a team game and you accept it as a team, while feeling sorry for him,” was Aberdeen midfielder Issac Osbourne’s dainty way of skirting round the issue of his keeper’s game-costing aberration.
The goal was the only moment worth preserving across the afternoon; the fact it was for all the wrong reasons was befitting of the occasion, which saw Celtic raise a flag then proceed to flag. Scorer Commons pointed to mitigating circumstances. Yesterday’s league opener was sandwiched between their Champions League third round qualifiers against HJK Helsinki. When the second leg in Finland comes around they simply daren’t let slip a 2-1 lead.
“To not create a single clear-cut chance at home isn’t great, and it wasn’t the most entertaining game going forward. But if you look at the other night we put a lot into it and created many chances. It is a massive game for us on Wednesday and maybe the lads were thinking about that and took their eye off the ball,” said Commons.
Commons, whose goal means his tally for this league season already equals that which he achieved in the whole of the previous one with a strike, revealed he “debated” whether to come off at half-time after feeling pain from an ankle problem he sustained a week ago. “It was just a matter of strapping it all the tighter and now I will look to get some ice on it and rest if for a few days.”
Even with a bad ankle, Commons somehow managed some goalscorer alchemy that a Celtic side shorn of the rested James Forrest and suspended Charlie Mulgrew never looked like conjuring up. He admitted good fortune in the fact he was “aiming for the back stick, but caught it a little thin and it went in at the near post”. He wasn’t having Fraser Forster’s explanation, though, the Celtic keeper showing him the ball afterwards and claiming on a hard pitch it had gone egg-shaped.
The whole day went egg-shaped for those who hoped the new season would see a lifting of the pall that has been hanging over the game since you know what. Aberdeen, who many believe should be aiming for second, had little ambition beyond holding out for a point by strangling all life out of a contest that clearly was the third most important game of the first week in August for Lennon’s side.
Moreover, the challenges that Celtic’s chief executive alluded to in his plea to fans the other week was evidenced in the ground being more than a sixth empty for the club’s first banner-waving acknowledgement of a championship win in four years. Interest is hardly likely to pick up across the season, with the twisted faction of the club’s followers who define themselves only in terms of Rangers not likely to return. At least they won’t be missed by those genuine Celtic supporters who previously had to listen to their frothings.
Yet, even if it looked that way, Commons maintained that Celtic’s approach to league games won’t change in the absence of the “nip and tuck” with Rangers that Lennon admitted the other day would now be missing. “No-one lets you score goals and win games,” the attacker said. Well, Clangers apart.