Seldom has a second prize been celebrated as lustily as it was by Aberdeen and their supporters at Celtic Park.
Andrew Considine’s 47th minute goal earned the Dons their first league win at the stadium for 14 years, ensuring they finish runners-up in the Premiership for a fourth consecutive season.
In becoming the first Scottish side to win at Parkhead since Brendan Rodgers took charge of Celtic almost two years ago, the Pittodrie men rendered events involving their closest rivals Rangers at Easter Road irrelevant from their perspective.
Derek McInnes couldn’t have picked a better time to oversee his first win over either half of the Old Firm this season.
In what has been a transitional campaign in many ways for his club, the Aberdeen manager deserves great credit for making them the best of the rest once again.
The victory took just a touch of the shine off a party afternoon for Celtic, but not for too long as the trophy presentation and aftermath was enjoyed fully by the home support for a seventh successive year.
Aberdeen approached the contest very much in the mode of a side determined to ensure they claimed the second place under their own steam, rather than relying on favours from elsewhere.
McInnes deployed a positive formation, with central striker Sam Cosgrove offered support from an attacking midfield trio of Gary Mackay-Steven, Greg Stewart and Kenny McLean, while skipper Graeme Shinnie was as willing as ever to step forward from his more defensive role whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Their ambitious approach almost brought them a tenth minute opener from a set piece conceded by Mikael Lustig for a foul on his former team-mate, Mackay-Steven. The free-kick was taken by Stewart whose curling effort smacked off the crossbar with Celtic ‘keeper Scott Bain flat-footed.
With the exception of Craig Gordon, who is expected to return at Bain’s expense next Saturday at Hampden, this was a full-strength line-up close to the one Rodgers is likely to send out for the Scottish Cup final.
Moussa Dembele was back to lead the line and was provided the first moment of real concern for the visitors defence when he bustled his way into the penalty area from the left and saw his close-range shot well saved by Joe Lewis at the goalkeeper’s near post.
Aberdeen continued to produce some progressive football of their own and a dangerous cross from Mackay-Steven almost reaped a reward as Celtic defender Kristoffer Ajer’s attempt to cut it out saw him come very close to putting it into his own net.
James Forrest then sliced a shot off target from an inviting position after Aberdeen had failed to clear a corner properly, play going from end to end in the early stages.
Celtic gradually established the kind of dominance in possession they are accustomed to at home and it needed a brilliantly timed challenge from Anthony O’Connor on the edge of the six-yard box to deny Dembele a clear sight of goal.
Kenny McLean, making his final appearance for Aberdeen before he completes his move to Norwich City this summer, appeared determined to leave on a high note. But the midfielder let his emotions get the better of him when he picked up the first booking of the afternoon for dissent.
McLean, however, made a far more positive contribution when Aberdeen took the lead two minutes into the second half. A driving run infield from the right saw him surge away from Olivier Ntcham before threading a neat pass into the path of Considine. The Aberdeen full-back’s run hadn’t been tracked by Lustig and he steadied himself before sweeping a low left-foot shot beyond Bain.
Rodgers responded fairly quickly by making a double substitution, replacing Kieran Tierney and Dembele with Scott Sinclair and Leigh Griffiths as he attempted to inject some attacking urgency into what had become a pedestrian display from the champions.
Griffiths had the chance to make an immediate impact when Ajer did well to set him up on the right of the penalty area but his tame shot was easily gathered by Lewis.
The changes had the desired effect for Celtic and they came close to an equaliser in the 60th minute. Lewis could only parry a stinging long-range effort from Ntcham but the ‘keeper then reacted brilliantly to block Callum McGregor’s follow-up attempt from close range.
For Aberdeen, it was now simply a case of holding on to what they had as they closed the space in midfield, defending ever deeper but no less diligently.
As Celtic tried to preserve their long unbeaten domestic home record, Lewis came under increasing pressure in the closing ten minutes. He made a comfortable save to keep out a Griffiths free-kick which wasn’t struck with sufficient power, then had to show greater reactions to keep out a shot from substitute Stuart Armstrong. With three minutes remaining, Lewis made his best save of the lot as he got down to his left to stop a close-range header from Griffiths.
The final whistle was greeted with unrestrained glee from the Aberdeen players – a little too much so in the case of Shay Logan who was shown a straight red card by referee Craig Thomson after clashing with Lustig and Dedryck Boyata who seemed to take exception to the manner of the full-back’s celebrations in front of the home support.