Celtic edged closer to a fourth successive championship after a 2-0 win over Aberdeen on Saturday sent them four points clear at the top of the Scottish Premier League with just five games remaining. With Rangers not playing Hibernian at Easter Road until Sunday the Hoops knew a win against the Dons would pile the pressure on their Old Firm rivals.
But in what was an open first-half it took until the 43rd minute for Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, captain in the absence of injured Stephen McManus, to give Celtic the lead. The Dutchman, who had not scored since September before his goal against Hamilton a fortnight ago, fired home from close range to score his fourth in as many games.
Australian Scott McDonald then sealed the points for the Hoops with a powerful finish following a good passing move early in the second-half to end Aberdeen's seven match unbeaten run. Gordon Strachan will now take his team to Spain for a week's training camp before they resume league action in a fortnight's time as the SPL splits in two.
"I think people got their full value for money today," the Celtic manger said. "They saw a lot of exciting football, a good variation of football and one extremely good goal."
"We've come here in recent years and performed well but the first-half was very disappointing," Aberdeen manager Jimmy Calderwood said. "Celtic played very well and we didn't handle it. The second-half was an improvement but we are better than that."
Shunsuke Nakamura had a great chance to give Celtic the lead after just two minutes when an Andreas Hinkel cross from the right found him unmarked in the box but the Japanese international couldn't direct his downward header on target. Aiden McGeady found Vennegoor of Hesselink in the box with a floated pass from the half-way line but his first time effort went straight to the keeper.
Derek Young nearly edged the Dons in front with a back flick from a Ricky Foster cross but Artur Boruc was equal to it in the 19th minute. Foster then played in Gary McDonald who ran at the Celtic defence before unleashing a powerful shot which Boruc did well to save before Gary Caldwell headed clear.
Vennegoor of Hesselink gave Celtic the lead three minutes before half-time. A Nakamura corner appeared to come off Aberdeen defender Foster, under press from Glenn Loovens, into the path of the striker who pounced to ram the ball past Foster.
A minute after the break Sone Aluko failed to keep his shot on target after a great run by Chris Maguire opened up the Celtic defence. McDonald doubled Celtic's lead in the 55th minute. The Australian striker played a neat one-two with Vennegoor of Hesselink at the edge of the box and finished with a low angled drive through the legs of Langfield.
The diminutive forward found himself in bother with referee Dougie McDonald in the 68th minute when he was booked for dissent after he was fouled by Scott Severin and had to be dragged away by team-mates as he continued to berate him.
Aberdeen continued to press and Aluko jinked past McGeady and Lee Naylor down the right but his soft shot was straight at the keeper as Celtic held on for the win. At Fir Park St Mirren ended Motherwell's hopes of a top six finish with a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Steven Thomson and Andy Dorman.
Bottom club Falkirk picked up a valuable point as they drew 0-0 with Hearts. Dundee United against Kilmarnock finished goalless while Hamilton and Inverness Caledonian Thistle ended 1-1.