Celtic hitmen pounce as Dembele fires reality check for Dons' title bid
Aberdeen 0 Celtic 3
As the Scottish Premiership title campaign edged past the quarter-way mark, Celtic produced a football masterclass to knock the heart out of Aberdeen, who were level on points with the defending champions at the start of the evening.
To add to the pain felt by the home side, their status as unbeaten challengers had attracted a capacity crowd to Pittodrie, where an unseasonably mild evening by the edge of the North Sea added to the sense that an exceptional event might be at hand.
Instead, with the chill efficiency of a Mafia hitman, Celtic dispatched the Dons with a double from Moussa Dembele and a delightful finish by Kieran Tierney, the best player on show.
This was Celtic's third match in as many competitions, amounting to a definition of the need to use squad resources.
Brendan Rodgers duly sprinkled the starting line-up with a seasoning of changes from the side which took care of Hibernian in the Betfred Scottish Cup semi-final on Saturday, with James Forrest replacing Patrick Roberts, Tom Rogic coming in for Scott Sinclair and Dembele (right) leading the attack in place of Leigh Griffiths.
Rogic's inclusion was a virtual certainty given that, in Celtic's six wins against Aberdeen last season, the Australian scored four of their 14 goals, including the last-minute winner in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park.
Derek McInnes had to do without Ryan Christie against the midfielder's parent club, but the hosts started well enough with Graeme Shinnie pushing up for a couple of brisk drives which were taken comfortably by Craig Gordon.
Aberdeen were then undone by the first of two left hooks that would leave them reeling by half-time.
The move began on the Celtic right and funnelled through Dembele, who whipped the ball through across the six-yard line and into the path of Tierney on the far side.
The Manx full-back arrived like an express train to make contact for a crashing drive off the underside of the crossbar and into the far corner of the net beyond the stricken Joe Lewis. The impact of the strike unnerved Aberdeen, who stood off Celtic, making it all the harder to use possession effectively as their share of the ball diminished.
Tierney then made another spectacular intervention, this time to repay Dembele for his supply of the opener. Yet again, Tierney's turbocharged acceleration was decisive, as he burst past Shay Logan on the Aberdeen defender's left, while knocking the ball around his right side, to dispatch a whipped cross to the far post where Dembele made an untidy contact which, nevertheless, was sufficient to see the ball cross the line and double Celtic's advantage.
Aberdeen's inability to come to grips with the demands of the contest was encapsulated by the manner of their concession of Celtic's third goal. Exasperated by the intricacies of Celtic's passing, Scott McKenna clattered Dembele on the edge of the pitch and was booked.
While Stuart Armstrong shaped to take the free-kick, Boyata ambled towards the back post and, when the delivery duly arrived, the defender was unpoliced as he nodded the ball back across the goalmouth for Dembele to head beyond the inert Lewis.
Half an hour of play remained but the exodus of disenchanted home supporters had begun, a thoroughly dispiriting sight for an Aberdeen team who commenced the evening as notional title contenders. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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