Derek McInnes’s pre-match game plan hinged on giving Celtic something to think about. Admirable as this ambition was, it didn’t come close to happening.
Andrew Considine flattened Mikael Lustig in the opening minutes. It was as near as Aberdeen got to imposing themselves on a Celtic team whose control and poise was demonstrated by two stunning first-half strikes by Tom Rogic and James Forrest.
Aberdeen winger Johnny Hayes slipped in the opening couple of minutes on the heavy pitch. Perhaps it was the tricky underfoot conditions which hampered his performance. Hayes, normally such a livewire, looked ill at ease, restricted.
After slipping by Emilio Izaguirre, he was then faced with a straight one-on-one race with Scott Brown. Alarmingly from an Aberdeen supporters’ point of view, he lost it.
It’s not to say he wasn’t seen again, but he certainly didn’t excel the way McInnes hoped one of his principal threats would. The same goes for striker Adam Rooney, who seemed isolated.
Both were better at the start of the second half but was the game already done? Most reckoned so. It certainly was after 64 minutes, when Moussa Demble converted a penalty for 3-0.
Hayes was replaced midway through the second half and his departure barely registered. With Celtic three goals up, it was simply a case of playing out time by then.
James Maddison, who turned 20 last midweek, came as close as anyone in the Aberdeen ranks to playing close to his potential. But he impressed only in glimpses.
As McInnes stressed in the pre-match countdown, he needed everyone in an Aberdeen jersey to have the game of his life. Sadly for him, none did. Graeme Shinnie played at the head of a midfield diamond with Ryan Jack and Kenny McLean behind. But Celtic found this set-up to their liking and exploited space beyond the Aberdeen midfield.
Patrick Roberts’ appearance on the teamsheet in place of the injured Scott Sinclair hardly impacted on Celtic’s capacity for attacking at speed.
Both their first-half goals were sourced from strong running from a deep midfield position. Jozo Simunovic was the unlikely creator of the first, making the most of a fortunate break of the ball to set up Rogic.
Forrest scored the second seven minutes before half-time, squeezing a shot beyond Joe Lewis despite despairing challenges by both Considine and Anthony O’Connor. Aberdeen, who many felt needed to score the first goal, had lost two before the interval.
As well as being comprehensively outplayed, they were out-fought. This might be the toughest truth for the Red Army to have to deal with. Scott Brown was winning 50-50 challenges all over the pitch, including one in which he shrugged aside O’Connor, Aberdeen’s supposedly hard-tackling, rugged defender. Men against boys, Brown’s jibe after Celtic swept Rangers aside in September, was applicable here.
With all due to respect to Jayden Stockley, scorer of one of the goals of the season so far, Aberdeen fans didn’t want to see him preparing to come on as early as the hour mark. It meant something needed to be pulled from the fire. But his arrival was delayed by a penalty following O’Connor’s senseless late challenge on Forrest. Dembele made no mistake from the spot.
When Scott Brown is grandstanding, it’s time for the Aberdeen fans to go home. A flick by the Celtic skipper wrong-footed about three opponents in one go.
Some Aberdeen supporters took that opportunity to flee the Hampden slopes. But credit where it’s due, most remained at least until the closing stages to see out what was such a disappointing spectacle.
After all, who knows when they’ll be back?