Delight for Lennon as Celtic put Aberdeen in place
CELTIC 5 ABERDEEN 2
Celtic manager Neil Lennon was delighted to see his team put down a marker with an emphatic victory over Aberdeen amid debate over whether the Dons can close the gap significantly in the season ahead.
Derek McInnes' team were looking for their third consecutive win over Celtic, but the home side were determined to show their championship form and won through doubles from Scott Brown and Kris Commons, who took his goal tally for the season to 30, along with a strike from Anthony Stokes.
When asked about talk of the League Cup winners closing the gap, Lennon said: "Well, we are 30 points clear. When we lost at Pittodrie I was asked the same question and if we had won the game that night, we would have gone 27 points clear.
"It's not for me to say the gap is closing. Aberdeen have certainly improved. I think they had to improve because there was a malaise at Aberdeen for a long time. Derek has turned that around and he deserves a huge amount of credit.
"With that there will be expectation and pressure next season, but for a first season he has done remarkably well. It's all down to him, really.
"It's a similar group of players but he has certainly made them a lot more steely, which is something Aberdeen lacked for a long time.
"But they should have been challenging a lot earlier. For them to go 19 years without a trophy speaks volumes for their underachievement."
Brown netted a brace either side of a Niall McGinn equaliser, with Celtic full-back Adam Matthews setting up all three first-half goals.
Stokes hit his 20th goal of the season but Shaleum Logan struck a superb first goal for Aberdeen and they had a strong penalty claim rejected by Iain Brines at 3-2 when Efe Ambrose appeared to bring down Jonny Hayes.
But Commons struck twice in the final quarter as Celtic took their post-split tally to 14 goals in three games, banishing hopes of an Aberdeen hat-trick in the process.
"I thought we were great," said Lennon. "It was five and it could have been a lot more. We gave Aberdeen a goal start too, it wasn't like they earned it. Our reaction was fantastic. We are playing very well and providing a lot of entertainment."
Brown added: "We knew we had slipped up twice but I think this showed how far in front we are and why we are champions."
McInnes is fully focused on this season rather than cutting the gap next term and the Dons are now set on sealing second spot after Dundee United's draw at Inverness saw them clinch a European place.
Motherwell are only one point behind, though, with their last-day meeting at Pittodrie looking like a decider.
McInnes, who lost striker Adam Rooney to an ankle injury, said: "It's two great games to be involved in. Dundee United at Tannadice is always a bit special for us and then Motherwell last game of the season could have so much on it, which would be brilliant as well.
"We will relish that opportunity to try to finish second."
When asked whether he thought Europe was a realistic possibility at the start of the campaign, McInnes said: "Maybe after the first quarter of the season, I felt it was certainly something we were maybe capable of.
"But it's a real positive to get into Europe, with two games to spare as well."