Saturday 24 June 2017

Waiting game for Celtic as Aberdeen tackle thorny tests

The mood, however, changed when Griffiths got it right in first-half stoppage time when he volleyed his 30th goal of the campaign Photo: Reuters
The mood, however, changed when Griffiths got it right in first-half stoppage time when he volleyed his 30th goal of the campaign Photo: Reuters

Roddy Forsyth

Aberdeen must negotiate a thicket of thistles to leapfrog Celtic and confirm their credentials as Scottish title challengers this week.

Derek McInnes and his players travel to Inverness tonight and to Firhill on Friday, knowing that victories over Caley Thistle and Partick Thistle will move them three points ahead of the champions, having played one game more.

However, a measure of the task facing Aberdeen is that in their four league encounters with the two Jags, they have recorded only one success - back in August, when they beat Partick away. The Dons' defeat in Inverness on September 26 ended what had been a club record league start of eight consecutive victories.

In such circumstances, Aberdeen could use a dispensation of good fortune - an ingredient prescribed by one player who spent the first half of the season at Pittodrie.

Paul Quinn moved from Ross County to Aberdeen on a free transfer last summer but returned to Dingwall during the January window.

It was Quinn's headed goal which put County ahead when they knocked Celtic out of the League Cup at Hampden Park two weeks ago and on Saturday he was on the losing side as the Staggies fell to a 2-0 defeat at Parkhead.

Having scored the winner in Aberdeen's 2-1 victory over Celtic at Pittodrie in September, he is well placed to compare the strengths of the two title contenders.

"Aberdeen have got enough to push Celtic. Certainly, the quality is there," said the 30-year-old.

"They will need a slice of luck along the way, as you do when you play against Celtic, but the lads up in Aberdeen have momentum behind them.

"There has been a lot of negativity on this side of the country about Celtic, their team and their manager. To be honest, I think some people should just give Aberdeen some credit rather than looking at negatives from Celtic."

For much of the first 45 minutes of Celtic's victory on Saturday, Quinn could have nourished hope of imposing a further check to their ambitions.

Although Leigh Griffiths uncharacteristically hit the post after having rounded Scott Fox to shoot at the empty goal, the home fans were irked by Celtic's failure to impose themselves on the visitors, with Stefan Johansen, Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Stevens the main targets for growls.

Johansen created Griffiths' chance but that did not spare him from those Hoops supporters who have singled him out for abuse.

The mood, however, changed when Griffiths got it right in first-half stoppage time when he volleyed his 30th goal of the campaign as Chris Robertson's attempted clearance fell ideally for him to capitalise.

Griffiths' importance to Celtic this season can be gauged by the fact that he has scored 30 goals in a season faster than any striker since the Hoops' demigod, Henrik Larsson.

County's resistance crumbled again in the 57th minute when Dedryck Boyata headed home Armstrong's deep cross.

The defender's contribution was sufficient to restore Celtic's three-point lead over Aberdeen and set this week's challenge for the contenders.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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