The Celtic homecoming of Neil Lennon descended into tedium for those of a green-and-white persuasion. For visitors Aberdeen, there was an altogether different slant to their taking up temporary home in the Glasgow area.
In becoming the first Scottish side to avoid defeat at Parkhead since they won here on the closing Premiership afternoon last season – all of 18 domestic encounters ago – Derek McInnes’ men will have emerged emboldened in their conviction that Tuesday night’s Scottish Cup quarter-final replay in Rangers’ backyard need hold no fears. The second game of a Glasgow double-header, Aberdeen will now set up base in the vicinity to spare any travel distractions.
Other diverting issues seemed at play yesterday. Indeed, there was an odd sense that the Ibrox side informed how the encounter unfolded. The failure of Steven Gerrard’s men to win at Easter Road the night before took an edge off the hostilities for Celtic. The game felt like so many to have taken place at the stadium in recent years when the outcome would have no bearing on the destination of the title. Lennon’s side may have failed to extend their lead at the top of the table to ten points but there is simply no way they will squander an eight-point advantage with only nine games remaining.
The sturdiness and combativeness of McInnes’ men in setting themselves up for a cup replay on which their season will pivot appeared more the tale of their latest Glasgow tussle.
Lennon admitted Celtic were flat following the victories away to Hibernian and Hearts the previous week that came against the backdrop of Brendan Rodgers’ beeline to Leicester City and his own dramatic return. They were flattened, in part, by the effective manner in which their visitors put the squeeze on them.
The only chance of note in a dull opening period came from a mazy run by Kristoffer Ajer after half an hour that ended with his low drive being clawed round the post by Joe Lewis. The Aberdeen keeper then thwarted Odsonne Edouard – one of Lennon’s two half-time substitutes, with Mikey Johnston the other – after the Frenchman had tangoed beyond Scott McKenna, before Johnston came close. The contest ended with Aberdeen almost nicking it when Stevie May was presented with a headed opportunity inside the six-yard box, only for the forward to get under the ball and arc it over the bar.
In some senses, it was the calm before the storm for Aberdeen because there is guaranteed to be nothing tame about their Ibrox assignment. It’s importance was strengthening belief within the Pittodrie side’s camp that they can tame Steven Gerrard’s side once more this season.
“Every game we play against them [Celtic and Rangers], we seem to get better and better. We try to get into them with confidence rather than fear now,” said Aberdeen centre-back McKenna. “We maybe need to express ourselves a wee bit more at the top end of the park [but] another clean sheet against one of the Old Firm and we have already beat Rangers at Ibrox and Hampden [this season], so it’s a game we’re looking forward to and we know if we turn up we have a right good chance of winning it.”
Those prospects McKenna believes can only be enhanced by not having to go north and back again inside three days. “It helps us massively,” he said. “It takes six to 12 hours driving out of the legs and you can really concentrate on recovery. We actually did it earlier in the season after the League Cup final [when they faced Rangers in the league three days later] and got a positive result on the back of that, so hopefully it can be the same.”
McInnes will have to do without the suspended Sam Cosgrove for the cup replay but expects to have wingers Niall McGinn and Gary Mackay-Steven in his squad after both missed out with minor knocks yesterday.
“We had a lot of young players out there today and this will help them going into Tuesday,” said the Aberdeen manager. “The intention is to get the club into a semi-final.”