Party time at Celtic Park: Aberdeen dismantled, Postecoglou fires Rangers dig, guard of honour
It was Premiership trophy day again at Parkhead, for the 11th time in a dozen years. The Aberdeen gesture was appreciated but might not have been altogether altruistic. They require Celtic to be on their mettle next weekend against Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Cup final. We’ll scratch your back, you scratch ours and all that. Aberdeen will profit in more ways than one from a Celtic treble because it means they would be guaranteed European group stage football until Christmas. In a way, it’s surprising chairman Dave Cormack hadn’t instructed his players to carry the Celtic team onto the park in Sedan chairs.
Celtic were certainly on their mettle here. They coasted to victory on the back of a Kyogo Furuhashi double in the space of five first-half minutes. Another double from Hyeongyu Oh who replaced the limping Kyogo – yes, there was some trouble in paradise – soon after the start of the second half helped bring up a 5-0 scoreline, with Carl Starfelt’s header sparking a late goals flurry. Three were scored in the last 12 minutes as Aberdeen clocked off early for their holidays and Celtic Park went into serious party mode.
Kyogo hurt himself chasing down Kelle Roos as the Aberdeen goalkeeper was making a clearance. Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou later sought to make light of the injury by recalling the striker scoring twice “on one leg” in last season’s League Cup final win over Hibs. Aberdeen as well as Celtic will be anxiously waiting for updates ahead of Saturday. Maybe even Inverness, too. Kyogo was still limping when he rejoined his teammates for the extended celebrations at the end.
The striker’s injury scare was one blot on the landscape as far as the home fans were concerned, as was the continued speculation concerning Postecoglou's future. An extremely impressive tifo display as the Celtic players were applauded onto the pitch by Aberdeen involved all four stands and included depictions of Willie Maley and Jock Stein at either end of the ground. These heroes will always remain the last word in Celtic managerial legends. Although the logistical effort to put this superbly choreographed display in place might have pre-dated Postecoglou’s links with Spurs, it was easy to interpret it as a reminder to the current incumbent of the way major figures at the club are venerated.
All this might be yours one day, Ange. Don’t swap immortality for mediocrity, although that was an easier argument to make in the case of Brendan Rodgers’ sleekit flit to Leicester City mid-season. Celtic fans will hope – and it’s based on a reasonable reading of the situation – that the prospect of another Champions League campaign will trump any job offer from England, should it come.
Postecoglou didn’t crowd please to the extent that he screamed into the microphone when one was placed in front of him later that he was definitely on board for another season, but he was had the fans eating out of his hand in any case with a “Champions again” riff that finished with a dig at Michael Beale, his Rangers counterpart. “Champions again … because I’m a lucky man!” he exclaimed.
The pageantry was faultless. Celtic are getting fairly accomplished at this sort of thing now. The schedule was circulated on the eve of the match. Its main bullet points reflected arrangements that had been plotted with an almost military precision. “Arrive early for Trophy Day celebrations at Celtic Park,” the club website advised, the capital letters suggesting this is fast becoming a fixture in the Celtic calendar, which of course it is.
Balloon artists and face painters were on hand on Celtic Way from 10.15am, while at 10.40am O’Neill – “no stranger to silverware” – carried the Premiership trophy into Celtic Park, with the current team and Postecoglou filing in behind him. O'Neill later carried it onto the pitch. One could almost hear the Northern Irishman wryly observing that Stein and Maley get the mosaic treatment while he’s reduced to dogsbody.
Amid all this, a football match of sorts took place. Guard of honour aside, Aberdeen were not here to be compliant bystanders. They were dearly hoping to end this surreal campaign of theirs on a high note by defeating the champions in their own lair. There were some meaty challenges that jarred with the celebratory tone: Reo Hatate on Graeme Shinnie, Shinnie on Greg Taylor. The Aberdeen skipper was later booked for a professional foul.
Otherwise, Celtic prospered without too much of a fight put up by Aberdeen, adding three more goals in the second half to make it a post-war record tally of 114 for the season. Kyogo’s opener was perhaps the pick of this latest batch, when he gathered Taylor’s pass and executed a neat flick before sweeping into the net beyond Roos. The Aberdeen goalkeeper was culpable when Celtic made it 2-0 after he failed to hold a Callum McGregor shot. Kyogo was on hand to knock the ball in.
A header from the unmarked Starfelt after Matt O’Riley’s corner made it three with 12 minutes left and the impressive Oh weighed in with two striker’s finishes. The first, a header from Jota’s cross, attested to his strength. The second was also the product of a Jota assist of sorts. The Portuguese winger’s free-kick bashed back off the bar and Oh reacted first to force the ball over the line.
Seven goals since March while mainly operating as an auxiliary striker is not bad at all. Their rivals – or at least, rival – will note such signs of renewal even in an hour of glory. Oh-oh, indeed.