Friday 12th May 2017
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Celts reach 100 point mark thanks to blistering 11 minute period
CELTIC and Brendan Rodgers continued their imperious march towards potential immortality with a pulsating 3-1 victory over Aberdeen at Pittodrie last night. The 3 points not only saw the Hoops hit the 100 point mark in the league but also put them a mere 2 games away from becoming invincibles in the SPFL Premiership, an achievement which, if managed, will write each and every member of this current squad into the Parkhead history books. The 'invincibles' tag has been hanging over Rodgers and the players for months, however it is only now that it really seems within touching distance, and there is sure to be no let up.
With a Scottish Cup Final to come at the end of the month, you would be forgiven for thinking that Brendan Rodgers may have chosen to field a slightly weakened side in these remaining games. However, once again, the strongest possible XI (minus Scott Brown) was sent out onto the Pittodrie pitch in order to try and quash any hopes of the Dons springing a surprise and handing Celtic their first defeat of the domestic campaign. Sinclair, Tierney, Lustig, Armstrong and Roberts were all given starts and could not have hoped for a better start to the match.
An away trip to a venue such as Pittodrie can always cause problems to any Celtic side, no matter the form they find themselves in. Neil Lennon can testify to that, as he watched his Celtic side slip to defeat in 2014 when they were chasing their very own undefeated league season. Any fears of such an upset were quickly dispelled however, after an incredible three goals in the opening 11 minutes from the 6-in-a-row champions. Firstly, Dedryck Boyata continued his incredible record (for a centre half) in front of goal with a well taken downward header on 3 minutes from a Griffiths corner, before Stuart Armstrong side footed home 5 minutes later after a penalty box stramash to make it 2-0. As if that wasn't enough of an early shock for the Dons, Leigh Griffiths followed up his earlier assist with a dipping shot from 25 yards or so on the 11th minute to make it 3-0, albeit with the help of Joe Lewis' right paw. The fearsome strike was the number 9's 16th goal, of what has been an often frustrating season. Nevertheless, Celtic had laid down an astonishing early marker within this game, particularly ahead of the looming Cup Final.
Griffiths takes aim to make it 3-0
At this point, even so incredibly early in the game, it appeared as though an Aberdeen collapse was well and truly on the cards. Despite their consistency in recent seasons, McInnes' side have so often failed to turn up in what many would class as the 'big games', and this appeared like another one of those occasions. In fairness however, despite the utterly shocking start, they quickly found a reply to Griffiths' third with a Johnny Hayes special less than a minute later. Picking the ball up 10 yards from the edge of the Celtic box, he managed to deceive both Callum McGregor and Kieran Tierney in order to find the right angle to open up his body and curl it into Gordon's far right corner. It was a delightful goal and it more than spurred Aberdeen into action.
The remainder of the 1st half was largely controlled by the home side as a result, with Celtic seeming more than content to sit back and build on their early 3 goals, perhaps hoping to hit their opponents on the counter, with them posing a less than pacey backline, shall we say. The game continued to be fast and frenetic though with both sides looking to prove that this match up was anything but a meaningless game, as had been portrayed by some prior to kick off. Aberdeen spurned a great opportunity mid-way through the half as Jayden Stockley- standing in for Adam Rooney- failed to get contact onto a header just 6 yards from goal. Niall McGinn then forced Gordon into an excellent stop on the half hour, as the pressure began to mount on a Hoops backline which has so rarely been tested these past months.
The Celts were clearly struggling at this point to keep their foot on the ball and it continued after the half time break. The pressing and aggressive tactics employed by the Dons certainly ruffled up Rodgers' men and it was clear to see that the usual flair players such as Sinclair and Roberts were not having it all their own way. In order to combat this, Nir Biton was introduced to the action at the expense of Tom Rogic just before the hour, with the graceful Aussie failing to really stamp his authority on the match, despite some delightful touches as per usual. Biton has been in the cold somewhat due to the stunning form of those in front of him, however the big Israeli proved his worth in this one, with the influence of the Aberdeen midfield waning as he sat just in front of the two Celtic centre halfs.
Aberdeen continued to heap the pressure on however, often bypassing the aforementioned midfield area entirely, as Celtic once again looked to catch them on the break. The 'long ball' tactics employed by McInnes' men certainly weren't pretty, however no-one can argue with their effectiveness as they certainly had the Celtic defence rattled for the first time in a long while, with both Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata having to make near countless defensive blocks, tackles and headers. The game could really have been ignited further on the hour mark if Graeme Shinnie had been awarded a penalty after he collided with Gordon in the box. Although there was definite contact, it was certainly not intentional and is sure to be one which will split opinion. Ultimately, despite howls of derision from the Aberdeen support, referee Steven McLean pointed for a goal kick.
Although further chances continue to fall their way, the home side simply could not capitalise and make it count and, as the minutes clocked on, Celtic rode the game out relatively comfortably, with James Forrest and Erik Sviatchenko both making good contributions from the substitutes bench as Brendan Rodgers showed his tactical flexibility once again, moving to a 3 at the back formation for the last quarter. In truth, this game was, quite staggeringly, won and lost within the opening 12 minutes. Despite a gallant response, McInnes and co never fully recovered from that early green and white sucker punch and the 3 goal margin proved just too insurmountable. It is also worth noting that Celtic could indeed also have had more themselves, with a few chances presenting themselves on the counter as Aberdeen pushed on towards the end. However, a combination of poor decision making and final ball plagued the Hoops throughout the second period, with them seeming largely content just to see the game out to the finish.
Ultimately however, it didn't matter, as Rodgers' men made it a staggering 36 games unbeaten in the league this season, not even counting the record in domestic cup competitions. The game provided an interesting challenge for the Champions however, and their gaffer can certainly feel proud of his players for coming through such an intense physical battle unscathed. Often these types of wins can be the most satisfying. The match also of course allowed for a 'dress rehearsal' of the William Hill Scottish Cup final to be played out, and, if this one was any evidence, that is sure to be a cracker. Aberdeen will feel they can certainly get at Celtic and it will be interesting to see whether or not they employ similar, daring tactics against the Hoops on the bigger and more open Hampden Park pitch.
Celtic players lap up the applause of the away support