THAT’S why they are champions. On a day when Aberdeen could scarcely have given any more against them, Celtic still found a way to overcome their nearest rivals in the Scottish Premiership to underline their status as the country’s pre-eminent club.
Scorers: Brown (49)
Scott Brown’s goal four minutes into the second half proved enough to make it four wins out of four for Celtic in the fixture this season with a 9-2 aggregate in their favour.
Ronny Deila’s team are now 14 points clear at the summit with two matches left to play. For Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes, the remarkable consistency he has overseen against the rest of the top flight has simply been undermined by a failure to lay a significant blow on Celtic.
The Aberdeen players provided a guard of honour for the champions before kick-off, a sporting gesture of goodwill which was not shared by the home support who were quick to voice their disapproval.
But the Aberdeen fans were quickly reassured that their team would not be standing on ceremony during the match itself, however irrelevant it now was to defining the shape of the Premiership standings.
McInnes’s side made a brisk and purposeful start to the contest, pressing Celtic high up the pitch and forcing themselves on to the front foot as much as possible. There was clearly no shortage of desire to try and prevent a clean sweep of Celtic victories against them.
With Jonny Hayes joining Adam Rooney up front in a positive formation, Aberdeen threatened first after just three minutes. Shay Logan’s throw-in was flicked on by Kenny McLean for Ryan Jack to drive into the Celtic penalty area. His dangerous cutback was blocked by Stefan Johansen, the ball then ricocheting off Andrew Considine and just wide of Craig Gordon’s right-hand post.
Barry Robson, back in the Dons line-up after suspension, then had Gordon scrambling to his right and looking on in relief when the veteran midfielder’s fizzing 25-yard shot flew narrowly wide.
The Celtic defence were being posed plenty of questions and Darnell Fisher, making his first start of the season at right-back for Deila’s side, made a tremendously-timed intervention to deny Niall McGinn what would have been a simple close-range opportunity from a Hayes cross.
Celtic, perhaps understandably given they have now achieved their primary objective from the campaign, took some time to get themselves up to the pace of the contest. They lacked fluency and did not register their first effort at goal until the 33rd minute when Johansen sliced a tame effort wide of the target.
Aberdeen’s response was to force another opening at the other end, McGinn’s corner from the left picking out Ash Taylor who headed over from close range. A mistake by Robson then allowed Celtic to create their clearest opening of the first half, Emilio Izaguirre sending Johansen racing clear with a fine through ball.
The Norwegian midfielder had plenty of the goal to aim at but opted to try and loft a shot over Aberdeen goalkeeper Scott Brown, who managed to touch the ball wide.
Celtic were finally starting to impose themselves on the home side, however, and they finished the first half in the ascendancy as Fisher blazed a shot narrowly over the top after being set up by Leigh Griffiths’ deft flick.
Aberdeen appeared re-energised at the start of the second half, pushing forward with real urgency once more, but found themselves undone by a stunning counter-attack as Celtic made their 49th-minute breakthrough.
It was a goal which typified the dynamism and desire which Brown brings to his team. The Celtic skipper dispossessed Robson on the edge of his own penalty area with a sliding challenge before sending Stuart Armstrong racing away down the left. Showing great poise, Armstrong brilliantly worked his way into the Aberdeen penalty area before cutting the ball back into the path of Brown who, at the end of a lung-bursting supporting run after initiating the move, had a simple tap-in from a couple of yards.
Aberdeen’s reaction to the setback was positive enough, McGinn coming close when he drove into the penalty area from the left and drove a fierce shot narrowly over.
But the home side were looking increasingly vulnerable to Celtic’s pace and movement on the counter and goalkeeper Brown had to make a fine double save, beating away shots from Griffiths and Commons to prevent the visitors from increasing their advantage in the 59th minute.
The action became increasingly feisty, referee Craig Thomson reaching into his pocket to caution Robson, Hayes and Considine in quick succession as Aberdeen scrapped hard to try to forage a leveller.
Hayes was the most likely source of it and a brilliant ball right across the face of the Celtic six-yard box in the 75th minute should have been pounced upon by one of his team-mates.
It was clear the outcome of the match mattered deeply to the rival managers and fourth official Brian Colvin had to step between McInnes and Deila in the closing stages as they had a sharp exchange of views.
Another terrific delivery from Hayes should have brought an equaliser in the 89th minute but substitute Lawrence Shankland sent his diving header wide from close range.
Celtic almost picked Aberdeen off on the counter again in stoppage time, Brown making another eye-catching double save to keep out shots by Johansen and James Forrest, as the contest maintained a high level of intensity right to the end.
Aberdeen: Brown, Logan, Taylor, Reynolds, Considine; McLean, Jack (Shankland 87), Robson (Pawlett 69), McGinn; Rooney (Goodwillie 57), Hayes. Subs not used: Langfield, Flood, Smith, Danielsr.
Celtic: Gordon, Fisher (Matthews 57), Denayer, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton; Commons (Forrest 81), Johansen, Armstrong (Ambrose 82); Griffiths. Subs not used: Zaluska, Scepovic, Mackay-Steven, Rogic.