Celtic 2-1 Aberdeen: Story of the match as Callum McGregor plays captain's role scoring winner as Scott Brown limps off old stomping ground
The roundal that covered the centre circle in tribute to Bertie Auld before Celtic’s 2-1 victory over Aberdeen was emblazoned with the words “that’s entertainment”. It was a neat encapsulation of both the midfielder and man whose playing style, whose personality, was so infused with ebullience and effervescence.
In truth, both qualities were then in short supply on a bing-cold day. The first occasion for Celtic, as a club, to honour in their own home the recently departed and beloved Lisbon Lion, it began with the two captains, Callum McGregor and the returning Scott Brown, laying wreaths on a huge number 10 sunk into a green and white hooped design under which read YNWA - the abbreviation for the adopted club motto You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Maybe the sombreness of the scene dribbled into what followed. Long stretches of the afternoon, for both teams, seemed to be about digging deep, battling both edginess and a certain ponderousness that they struggled to keep at bay. Ange Postcoglou’s side certainly did more than enough to merit the victory that closed the gap on Rangers - earlier on 3-1 victors in Livingston - to four points and leap-frogging Hearts into second once more. Yet in betraying huge relief, the deafening howls from the home crowd when five-minutes added time concluded the shrill of referee Kevin Clancy whistle told of the tale of the encounter for the Celtic faithful. The bitsiness over what had been served up to them by their team at times demanded the biting of fingernails; a measure of their side’s in-game form rising and falling in pretty dramatic fashion at times.
The exertions across Celtic’s 3-2 defeat away to Bayer Leverkusen on Thursday evening had clearly left the home side requiring to counter a certain legginess and mental fatigue. Meanwhile, Stephen Glass’s men were attempting to muddle through with a makeshift team as they are required to deal with being without a raft of injured players. The fact a trio of these that would have featured in their back four - Andrew Considine, Calvin Ramsay, Jack McKenzie – were home grown made the starting selection an historic one for the club. It was the first line-up since 1947 not to feature a player reared by the Pittodrie club.
With only two wins in their previous 15, it seemed a stretch to believe Glass’s men the circumstances would allow them replicate their point-claiming efforts from Ibrox last month. Cetic, though, provided them with encouragement by not only struggling to find their rhythm as they have in recent months. They did that by gifting their opponents a penalty. The latter was a consequence of a lazy, needless leg-dangling challenge by Liel Abada on Marley Watkins just after the half hour that was gleefully converted by Lewis Ferguson.
It ensured a 1-1 scorelines at the interval and fears that points could be dropped in a third game out of four in the cinch Premiership in their own environs. It was only an element of fortunes that prevented that scenario unfolding. Celtic’s 60th minute winner was of the scruffy, strange variety. There was deftness in the defence-splitting pass to Abada from James McCarthy, whose fourth start of a largely unproductive first season with his boyhood club definitely marked his most effective contribution.
When Joe Lewis thwarted the on-rushing Abada frm close in, Aberdeen seemed to have survived, only for Jonny Hayes to attempt a clearance that Callum McGregor sought to charge down, with the upshot being the ball bouncing off the Celtic captain’s foot and wrong-footing the Aberdeen keeper. It was that sort of afternoon.
Teams sitting in against them at Celtic Park is starting to seem something of an issue for Postecglou’s team - with points dropped in two of their previous three home league encounters. The runs of Kyogo Furuhashi in behind too often are not proving the trigger for him to be found. Forced wide, where Jota was once again a wriggling, slippery presence for his markers, Aberdeen were reasonably successful ensuring Celtic were forced to play in front of them. At times, they carved the visitors open – in all, the imbalance in general play was reflected by their 20 shots to the four of Aberdeen - but even their deadlock-breaker in 20 minutes required a helpful deflection. A clever flick from David Turnbull allowed McGregor to get the ball under control in behind and when he teed up Jota, the Portuguese winger was able to strike with a drive that grazed the chest of David Bates en route to finding the net.
Jota would also strike the post late on, while McGregor had a stinging drive blocked on the line by the windpipe of Christian Ramirez early in the second period. But Aberdeen never allowed themselves to let their resolve give way to a resignation. That was true even after they lost Brown to a what seemed a hamstring problem midway through the period – his hirpling off accompanied by all four stands chanting “Broonie” in unison – an acknowledgement of a club icon back on the stomping ground he so often owned across a glittering 13-year, 22-honour-claiming career.
And in the added time, Josip Juranovic was forced into a clearance from the goal-line to deny Bates and ensure Celtic did not endure another home slip-up that they simply could not countenance as a December games glut prepares to roll around.