No more 'alarms' as Hoops eye big prize
ABERDEEN 0 CELTIC 2
With victory over Aberdeen at Pittodrie secured, Neil Lennon and his squad now turn their eyes towards tomorrow's clash with Shakhter Karagandy in Kazakhstan and the prize of a second successive appearance in the Champions League proper.
So far, the most disruptive episode for Celtic has been the fire alarm in the early hours of Saturday morning that forced an evacuation from their Aberdeen hotel and the strong suspicion – not for the first time in that neck of the woods – that the incident was a prank.
If the ploy was meant to dull their senses before taking on Derek McInnes's lively Aberdeen side, it failed to achieve its ends, as Celtic took charge of a boisterous contest to win with a penalty kick converted by Kris Commons just before the break and a searing run and lob by James Forrest in the closing moments.
"The red card was the turning point," said Dons defender Joe Shaughnessy. "It's hard enough playing against Celtic at the best of times, but when you go down to 10 men it makes it harder.
"We did well with 10 and didn't let them get any clear chances. Even their second goal wasn't a clear chance as the ball looped over the goalkeeper and into the net."
Celtic demonstrated impressive concentration under the circumstances, which included a getaway straight from the stadium to Aberdeen airport and the long haul to Astana.
The club invested in a spacious aircraft for their charter and the squad travelled in comfort before getting a decent amount of sleep yesterday at their hotel – this time without the intervention of any false emergencies.
"We're all fine," said Lennon. "It was a good flight and, thankfully, we haven't had any more alarms. Now we'll get on with our work and concentrate on what we have to do here."
Meanwhile, midfielder Charlie Mulgrew reflected on a task properly accomplished the previous day.
"We said that Aberdeen was the most important game, so it was about approaching it with the right attitude and getting the right result and we managed to do that in the end," said Mulgrew. "The manager had drilled it into us that it was the most important game.
"We knew it would be hard as Aberdeen had started well. We just had to match them. It was tough at times because the crowd gets behind them but we had to weather that and win the game."
Weathering the occasion took on a literal meaning as a cold summer gale and driving rain lashed the Pittodrie crowd, which was close to capacity.
The elements did not encourage dozing, but Russell Anderson managed to drift off for a moment.
That was sufficient to permit Georgios Samaras to bolt towards Jamie Langfield and, although the striker seemed to have overrun the ball, the goalkeeper's dive took him down for a clear penalty kick and also a red card.
Nicky Weaver – who came on at the expense of Calvin Zola – was immediately beaten by Commons' precise conversion and the former Manchester City keeper had again to retrieve the ball from his net almost on the final whistle when Forrest burst beyond the Dons' back line for a lob which Mark Reynolds could not intercept as it crossed the line.
Despite the foul conditions, Celtic at least had the pleasure of playing on a natural surface. Their outing in Astana will see them perform on an artificial pitch for the third Champions League qualifier in succession.
"I'm dying for a bit of grass, but we know what we need to do," said Mulgrew. "We know what the surface will be like.
"The ball bounces and rolls differently. There are different types of AstroTurf as well, so we'll need to see what one it is here and deal with that.
"We'll have to deal with it. We've not got any choice. If it is a battle then we'll have to match them. The last thing we're going to do is approach it with a bad attitude." (© Daily Telegraph, London)