AT A time of the season when they could be forgiven for drifting off into holiday mode, Celtic continue to produce some excellent football. First they matched Aberdeen for motivation, despite the fact the visitors had more to play for, and then they got the better of them by some way when it came to creating and finishing chances.
Celtic 5-2 Aberdeen
Scorers: Celtic - Brown (25, 44), Stokes (53), Commons (69, 87); Aberdeen - McGinn (28), Logan (56)
Derek McInnes’s side had the consolation of learning that their Europa League place is now confirmed thanks to Dundee United’s failure to win in Inverness. And their hope of holding on to second place remains in their own hands, even though their lead on Motherwell is now down to a single point. But their hope of recording a third consecutive victory over Celtic never looked like being realised.
With his team trailing 3-2, McInnes thought they should have been awarded a penalty when Jonny Hayes went down after a challenge by Efe Ambrose. Neil Lennon accepted that such awards are sometimes given, but Ambrose was adamant that the referee had made the right decision, saying that Hayes had run into him.
In any case, the Aberdeen player took the wrong option. Had he passed inside to Scott Vernon rather than going it alone down the right, the substitute would have been through on Fraser Forster.
And, while Aberdeen might well have equalised from the spot, it is hard to see how that could have been a turning point in the game. Celtic played at a consistently high standard throughout, and being pegged back to 1-1 in the first half had done nothing to compromise their confidence.
If the score had gone to 3-3 with 25 minutes to play, the odds would still have been firmly on the home team getting the win.
Playing in a very fluid formation with centre-halves Ambrose and Virgil van Dijk at times the only defenders, Celtic had a series of promising early attacks, many of them characterised by swift, short passing movements involving Kris Commons, Anthony Stokes and Scott Brown. With the freedom to move upfield, right-back Adam Matthews was twice involved in the move which produced the opening goal, exchanging passes with Brown before the captain shot home on the turn.
Perhaps Matthews should have stayed upfield, because minutes later he laid on the equaliser for Niall McGinn with a short passback to Forster. The Aberdeen player could have shot first time, but made sure by taking the ball round the goalkeeper before tucking it away.
Having got back into the game, Aberdeen suffered two blows before half-time. First Adam Rooney had to go off injured, and then Brown struck again with another left-foot shot following good work by Matthews down the right. They suffered another within ten minutes of the restart, too, as Celtic seized their third goal. The Aberdeen defence made a mess of two attempts to clear the ball after Charlie Mulgrew and Stokes had threatened, and when the ball broke back to the Irishman he needed no second invitation to poke it home from a few yards out.
Within minutes, Shaleum Logan reduced the deficit with the best goal of the game, an unstoppable effort from around 20 yards out after the full-back had skipped round a couple of challenges. Jamie Langfield’s save from a Commons chip further boosted his team’s morale, but once Hayes’ penalty claim was turned down they had little left to offer bar resistance.
The trouble with Celtic in this mood is that such resistance inevitably crumbles. There is little really unpredictable about what the champions do – they pass the ball crisply, wait until an opening is made, then go for the jugular – but that does not make it any easier to prevent.
You know, for example, that Commons, in particular, likes to make late runs to get into scoring position, often over no more than a few yards. But defenders who could possibly get the better of the midfielder in a 40- or 50-yard sprint are altogether less able to deal with him when he sets off in a new direction.
Stokes set up the midfielder’s first goal, a first-time shot after a late burst into the box, and substitute Beram Kayal provided the assist for the second with a reverse pass into Commons’ path. The margin of victory flattered Celtic a little, but the 30-point lead they now enjoy in the Premiership table tells its own story.
BT Sport Q&A: Rangers | Hibs | Neil Lennon
THIS week’s BT Sport video Q&A looks at whether Rangers fans will buy season tickets and if the club’s supporters will force a change of ownership.
The form of Hibs under Terry Butcher is also examined following the Easter Road side’s derby defeat while the future of Neil Lennon is also considered following the announcement that his assistant Johan Mjallby is to depart at the end of the season.
• Email your Scottish football question for the BT Sport panel to answer. The next show will be recorded on May 7 after St Johnstone v Celtic, which will also be shown live on BT Sport, with the video available on The Scotsman website the following day. You can also tweet us @TheScotsman.
A line-up of experts will handle your questions after each BT Sport game. Most match days, the team includes Darrell Currie, Derek Rae and Gary McAllister.
Over this season, BT Sport will air 30 SPFL matches plus 10 Rangers games from the SPFL League One.
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