Celtic will be getting Aberdeen to keep. Brendan Rodgers’ side might have faltered in recent times – heck, even losing once – but the Pittodrie side only seem to mean points and prizes for the Scottish champions.
It must drive Derek McInnes demented that his side are one of the precious few in the Premiership that haven’t been at least able to take something from Celtic in the 18 months Rodgers has been in Scotland.
An ultimately convincing win for the home side didn’t simply allow them to open up an eight-point lead over Aberdeen, who remain second. It made for a 25th straight league success against them in Glasgow’s east end and a ninth straight win in all competitions – one of these being May’s Scottish Cup final – against the side that has run them closer than any other in the championship. Just not while sharing a pitch with them.
Unlike Ross County, Motherwell, Partick Thistle, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Kilmarnock, St Johnstone, Hearts, Hibernian and Rangers then, Aberdeen have only known defeat when pitted against Rodgers’ team.
It isn’t that McInnes’ men didn’t have their game face on yesterday. For a spell midway through a full-blooded first period they were successful in imposing themselves physically on Celtic. Patently following the Hearts playbook that allowed the Edinburgh club to flatten Rodgers’ men and their 69-game unbeaten domestic record the previous week, it seemed to supply the visitors’ a foothold.
The fates, though, conspire against Aberdeen in this fixture. After Gary Mackay-Steven weaved into the box and tug a shot just wide of the post and Greg Stewart pressed Craig Gordon into action - which sandwiched Joe Lewis blocking from Scott Sinclair when he was one-on-one with the keeper - the interval looked as if it would roll around with the encounter evenly poised. Only for Mikael Lustig to have a hit-and-hope effort from 25 yards in the 40th minute that changed the entire complexion.
Dom Ball attempted to throw himself in front of the shot with the result that it came off his back and veered off its original course to wrong-foot Lewis.
Emboldened by their lead, Celtic took a vice-like grip on proceedings in the second period with a command display. Yet, deprived of first choices Stevie May and Scott McKenna through injury and Ryan Christie as a consequence of his loan arrangement from Celtic, Aberdeen would still have felt bedevilled at how the game was taken from them.
They weren’t merely left to rue the fact it just had to be a first competitive goal in Celtic colours from Jonny Hayes, so often the man who made the Pittodrie men tick in recent season, that effectively snuffed out any prospect of a comeback. The manner of the 69th minute second was agonising for the visitors, with a Sinclair cross from the left headed against Kari Arnason by Mark Reynolds to pop up for the Irish winger to bundle in.
Celtic’s third six minutes later was another grim spectacle for the Pittodrie men. A woefully slack and short attempted pass back from Kenny McLean was seized on by Olivier Ntcham, who zoomed forward and rounded Lewis, before squeezing the ball into the empty net.
Rodgers’ men could had heaped on further punishment in a one-sided second period. The fact that in Celtic Park meetings between the teams the champions can boast 75 points out of a possible 75 and 70 goals in the process of these 25 wins is quite enough to be going with, mind.
For Celtic, with two wins and two clean sheets following their 4-0 flailing at Tynecastle, any suggestion of a growing vulnerability has been warded off. It may be no more coincidence that they have restored defensive solidity with Kristoffer Ajer now partnering Dedryck Boyata in the heart of defence. The 19-year-old Norwegian was praised for his growing maturity in role still relatively new to him, with the teenager arriving in the summer of 2016 as a holding midfielder. The fact that a fit again Jozo Simunovic was left on the bench as Ajer was given back-to-back starts for the first time this season may prove significant as the week brings a trip to Dundee and the hosting of Rangers in the festive derby fixture.