Celtic 1 - 0 Aberdeen: Scott Sinclair nets winner in close encounter
That much was clear for all to see in the pumped-up manner the winger celebrated his first goal at Celtic Park since January which secured a hard-earned and valuable victory for the Scottish champions.
Sinclair, as he has for large parts of the last year or so, started the afternoon on the substitutes’ bench. An injury sustained by Odsonne Edouard, when he was floored by a crunching challenge from Aberdeen defender Scott McKenna, saw Sinclair pressed into action just before half-time.
The 29-year-old duly made the difference in a keenly contested affair, showing a spark of delightful ingenuity to backheel Celtic’s 63rd minute winner beyond Joe Lewis.
“You could see from my celebration that it means a lot,” admitted Sinclair. “When you haven’t scored here for what feels like forever, the emotion and the anger build up, not playing and being in and out.
“At the same time, it’s relief. Hopefully now I can build on it going into the next game and hopefully go from there. Being on the bench so much has been frustrating. From being Player of the Year in my first season and top scorer in my second, being on the bench and sometimes not making an impact is frustrating.
“It makes you angry. The thing is I can only control what I do on the training ground. So whatever is out of my control, I try not to let that affect me but just keep my head down and work hard.”
Before he limped off, with a dead leg which is unlikely to rule him out of Thursday’s Europa League match in Salzburg, Edouard had come closest to making a breakthrough in the first half. After cutting in from the left, he was desperately unlucky to see his sweetly struck right foot shot from 22 yards crash against the right hand post of the beaten Lewis in the 26th minute.
Celtic had been the more progressive side from the start without coming close to rediscovering the sustained fluency which has eluded them for so much of this season. James Forrest might have done better than scoop a shot over from 10 yards before Jack Hendry, back in the starting line-up for the injured Kristoffer Ajer, headed off target after being picked out by a Leigh Griffiths free-kick.
Aberdeen had no shortage of attack-minded players on the pitch and they sought to catch the hosts on the counter whenever possible. Gary Mackay-Steven carried their biggest threat against his former club, the winger causing his old team-mates several anxious moments.
Mackay-Steven seized on a defensive error by Hendry to set up a chance which Niall McGinn speared wide, then came close to plundering the lead for Aberdeen in the 42nd minute when he skipped beyond several challenges into the area and saw his close range shot diverted wide by a fine Craig Gordon save.
James Wilson’s header was cleared off the line by Griffiths from the subsequent corner and Aberdeen would have gone into the interval fuelled by a growing sense of self-belief.
Celtic tried to reassert their authority at the start of the second half and Lewis had to get down sharply to his left to keep out a Callum McGregor shot. But the Dons were trying to go toe-to-toe with the champions and Gordon was called into action again when, after Stevie May had left Hendry floundering, the Celtic ‘keeper stretched to his right to keep out Wilson’s curling effort. Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers replaced the listless Olivier Ntcham with Tom Rogic in a bid to bring fresh creativity in midfield and it was Celtic who duly took the initiative with Sinclair’s instinctive strike. Forrest’s cross from the right fell to Griffiths who managed to scramble the ball towards Sinclair. With his back to goal, he left Lewis flat-footed as he back-heeled his shot home from close range.
“That will do him the world of good,” observed Rodgers of Sinclair’s contribution to a victory which also saw Celtic record a seventh clean sheet in their last eight games.
“We are showing another side of us,” he added. “Okay, we’ve played a couple of years where it has been all-singing, all-dancing - lots of chances, goals and records.
“But at times in football you also have to show a resilience and spirit. So until we get back - and I believe our movement and creativity is on the way back to where we want it to be - you’ve got to find a way to win. That game, earlier in the season, could have been 0-0. But we kept pushing today and I’m delighted for the players.”
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes felt his team’s approach merited a better outcome.
“A lot of teams come here hoping to win, we came with a team looking to win,” he said. “A combination of missed chances and some very good goalkeeping probably cost us a point.”