It would be stretching a point to suggest that Sam Cosgrove’s hotly debated red card was the decisive moment as Celtic extended their current relentless run of Premiership victories on Saturday.
The ultimately slender scoreline in their favour does not even begin to illustrate the overall dominance of Neil Lennon’s side, who had 28 attempts at goal. Of the mere two efforts Aberdeen mustered in response during the 90 minutes, one of them saw Cosgrove cancel out Christopher Jullien’s early opener for the Scottish champions.
Four minutes after Odsonne Edouard had finally restored Celtic’s lead in the second half, Cosgrove was sent off for a high-paced challenge on Kristoffer Ajer in which his success in winning the ball was deemed secondary to what referee Euan Anderson clearly regarded as the excessive force used to do so.
Aberdeen captain Joe Lewis freely admitted that he and his team-mates could not go as far as to feel the result was harsh on them, given how much Celtic controlled the match for such long periods. But Lewis is firmly of the view that justice was not done in Cosgrove’s case, a decision Dons manager Derek McInnes has made it clear will be appealed.
“Sam certainly won the ball,” said Lewis, below. “I don’t know how much contact there was and Sam is definitely going in at pace.
“But I felt Ajer took a loose touch and doesn’t see Sam pressing him. It looked to me like Sam slid and won the ball and it looked like a harsh red card, but the referee is closer.
“I don’t know what contact there was on Ajer, so it’s difficult to know whether he’s made the most of it or was genuinely caught.
“It’s disappointing that tackles like that are now straight red cards. Nobody wants to see the game go that way.
“We don’t want to see players injured and lunges off the ground with studs up should be red cards as you endanger an opponent.
“But it’s a shame that the game seems to be going that way. Players and defenders know that if you are tackled and make a meal of it, you maybe can entice the ref into giving a red. I’m not saying that’s what Ajer did but that is the danger of giving straight reds for what used to be good tackles, but are now not.”
Cosgrove’s 20th goal of another prolific season was blighted by what was his third dismissal as an Aberdeen player. It was his second red card against Celtic, having previously been sent off on his Dons debut against them in February 2018. But goalkeeper Lewis insists the 23-year-old does not deserve to be regarded as a hatchet man.
“Sam doesn’t have a bad bone in his body, on and off the pitch,” said Lewis. “I can’t think of a terrible tackle he’s put in, or an elbow in someone’s face, or when he’s left one on someone. It’s difficult to understand why he has a reputation – if he has one.”
Celtic appeared on course to blow Aberdeen away in the early stages, Jullien having already hit Lewis’ crossbar before his seventh-minute strike bounced off the turf to beat the keeper high to his left. With Edouard profligate, Celtic were unable to capitalise on that breakthrough and were stunned when Cosgrove rose to meet Niall McGinn’s cross and head Aberdeen level in the 35th minute.
A surge out of defence from Ajer provided the spark for Celtic to regain the lead in the 66th minute, Ryan Christie setting up Edouard to slot home his 16th goal of the season.
It proved sufficient to earn Celtic a tenth consecutive league victory, their longest such sequence since the Invincibles campaign of 2016-17 under Brendan Rodgers.
Not for the first time in recent weeks, Celtic haven’t been as ruthless as they would like with the amount of chances they convert but defender Boli Bolingoli isn’t overly concerned. “It could be five goals or more we score every game,” said the Belgian left-back.
“But the most important thing is that we create the chances. At the end we have the three points in the last ten games, so we can’t complain if we don’t finish every situation we create too much.”
Bolingoli is relishing an environment where the onus to win every game is unrelentingly intense as Celtic set their sights on a ninth successive league title.
“I haven’t known pressure before like there is here at Celtic,” said the £3 million summer capture from Rapid Vienna, pictured right.
“It was a bit like that when I was at Bruges at the start of my career but I wasn’t playing all the time there, so this feels different.
“I do feel the pressure that we have to win every game but I can’t complain, it feels good.
“As a player you want to win every game and here at Celtic we know we have to. Of course, pressure is always good if it’s healthy. It can push you up and make you perform better. You see the whole team is doing well under pressure right now.”