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  • Disappointment as Celts lose at Pittodrie

    Disappointment as Celts lose at Pittodrie

    By: Mark Henderson on 03 Feb, 2016 21:35

  • Scottish Premiership
    Pittodrie, Aberdeen
    Wednesday, February 3, 2016

    (Hayes 31, McLean 38)

    (Griffiths 90+3)

    FIRST-HALF goals from Johnny Hayes and Simon Church consigned Celtic to a narrow 2-1 defeat in a hard-fought top-of-the-table clash against Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

    The Hoops had the better of the opening half but the clinical hosts broke the deadlock in spectacular style in the 31st minute as Hayes’ long-range thunderbolt rocketed past Craig Gordon.

    It was their first effort on target but worse was to befall the Bhoys seven minutes later when Church forced the ball home from Hayes corner to leave them two goals adrift at the interval.

    Ronny Deila’s side never gave up the fight in the second-half but Leigh Griffiths’ late consolation goal came too late to give them a chance to claw their way back into the match, though they still hold a three-point lead over the Dons at the league summit.

    Celtic were handed a boost before kick off as captain Scott Brown returned to the starting XI for the first time in over two months as the manager made two changes to the team that lined up against Ross County on Sunday.

    The 30-year-old had come on as a second-half substitute against the Highlanders at Hampden, having been sidelined since the home match with Kilmarnock on November 21.

    New Bhoy Erik Sviatchenko also made his first start for the club after he had also featured from the bench against County. Efe Ambrose and Stefan Johansen were the two players to drop out, with the former named among the substitutes, alongside transfer deadline day recruit Colin Kazim-Richards.

    The match started at a frenetic pace as both teams fought for supremacy, leaving little opportunity for prolonged passing football, which was a difficult task in any event on the bare and patchy surface.   

    However, it was the Hoops who did fashion the more promising positions in the early exchanges. A foul in the fifth minute by Kenny McLean on Stuart Armstrong gave Nir Bitton the opportunity to showcase his shooting skills, albeit from over 35 yards. His dipping drive did find the target, but goalkeeper Scott Brown managed to gather at the second attempt.

    The Aberdeen shot-stopper was called into action from a couple of set-pieces from Armstrong, before his namesake, the Celtic skipper, rifled a shot narrowly over from 25 yards.  

    Aside from a McLean blazing a free-kick well over for the Dons, Celtic continued to make the running, with Griffiths seeing a curling shot deflected wide after a purposeful burst from Gary Mackay-Steven.

    Brown, despite his long absence, had been heavily involved from the outset, showing his customary tenacity and industry to drive his team forward. And it was a foul on the midfielder that gave the Bhoys their next opening as Griffiths’ free-kick was cleared as far as Armstrong but the former Dundee United player failed to make a proper connection.

    The Hoops also had a handball appeal waved away from another Armstrong corner, while some nice-link up play between Armstrong and Mackay-Steven forced the Dons defence into a hurried clearance.

    But, for all their pressure, Ronny Deila’s side found themselves trailing just beyond the half-hour mark. Hayes was the first to a loose ball near the angle of the box and the Irishman flashed an unstoppable first-time shot beyond Gordon.

    Celtic responded well to this setback as they immediately poured forward, with Bitton seeing a powerful effort parried clear by Brown.

    But from the Dons’ next attack they quickly doubled their advantage through debutant Church, who got the final touch after McLean had glanced the ball on from Hayes’ corner.

    Aberdeen’s tails were up and Gordon had to make a smart stop from McLean’s venomous strike from distance on the stroke of half-time.

    Kazim-Richards was introduced for the start of the second period to add further firepower as Celtic looked to turn the match around.

    Keen to make an impression, the Turkish internationalist showed some neat touches and came close to getting a touch to Griffiths’ inviting low cross.

    A determined drive into the box from Brown then created an opportunity for Griffiths, but the striker was unable to guide his header on target from the captain’s deft cross.

    Derek McInnes’ side, while mostly on the defensive, continued to pose a threat from set-pieces, while Church stabbed a shot wide from an acute angle. Gordon also had to make a good save from McGinn’s shot from 20 yards as the home side hit on the break.

    Celtic threw on James Forrest and Scott Allan in the latter stages to add more invention. But, despite some late pressure, which included a shot across goal from Sviatchenko, they couldn’t find a way through until Griffiths’ fine low finish deep into stoppage time. 

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Gordon; Lustig (Allan 78), Boyata, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Brown, Bitton; Mackay-Steven, McGregor (Forrest 68), Armstrong (Kazim-Richard 46); Griffiths
    Not Used: Bailly, Ambrose, Izaguirre, Cole

    ABERDEEN (4-4-1-1) Brown; Logan, Taylor, Reynolds, Shinne; Storie, McLean; Rooney, Hayes (Smith 86), McGinn (Considine 72); Church (Pawlett 76)
    Not Used: Collin, McKenna, Robson, Ross, Smith

    Website Man of the Match: Erik Sviatchenko

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