McGeady gives Celtic a convincing start
Celtic sprang out of the traps in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League race with a commanding opening-day win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie. Two goals from Aiden McGeady and a Scott McDonald strike had the rampant Hoops in an unassailable position by the interval. Dons midfielder Sone Aluko pulled a goal back after the break, but there was never any danger of a comeback as the visitors got the boost they wanted ahead of Tuesday's UEFA Champions League match against Arsenal at Parkhead.
Shaun Maloney limping off near the end after taking a knock in a challenge by Richard Foster was the only real negative for Hoops manager Tony Mowbray. However, his side's win must be taken in the context of an abject first-half display by Aberdeen.
Their new manager Mark McGhee had claimed in his programme notes that "the Scottish game is in crisis and anyone who does not accept the realities of present times will be disappointed". In the wake of this SPL opener, which followed an 8-1 aggregate defeat by Sigma Olomouc in the Europa League qualifiers, there is more than enough trouble to concern himself at home for McGhee.
The game was over by half-time and the shocked Aberdeen fans were not slow to voice their discontent. Rarely could Celtic have dominated a first 45 minutes so much at Pittodrie as they did on this, the opening day of the season.
Celtic passed up on the first chance of the game in the third minute after Danny Fox's high cross from the left had been punched by Dons goalkeeper Jamie Langfield to the feet of McDonald. The Australian striker took a decent touch, but fired his shot from 14 yards high over the bar.
Then McGeady worked a one-two with McDonald before he drove well wide of the target from the edge of the box. But in the 28th minute the visitors took the lead through McGeady, although there was an element of luck about the goal.
As Celtic broke with purpose, the Republic of Ireland player fed Shaun Maloney who in turn fed Marc-Antoine Fortune on the left side of the box. His angled shot was blocked by Langfield, but it rebounded off the Frenchman and looped into the six-yard box where McGeady, who had continued his run, bundled the ball over the line.
McGhee replaced defender Stuart Duff with Darren Mackie in the 38th minute in what appeared to be act of mercy. But it only precipitated a second goal from McGeady three minutes from the break and this time it was a goal of quality, the midfielder curling in a delightful shot from 20 yards after taking an Andreas Hinkel pass. McGhee's side were in meltdown and there was time for Celtic to grab a third, when Foster failed to clear a Fortune cross and McDonald gleefully slammed the ball in from around ten yards.
The Parkhead side continued their dominance after the break, with the pace and urgency that had characterised their first-half performance. Perhaps with one eye on the game against Arsenal, Mowbray replaced Glenn Loovens with Scott Brown and moved Massimo Donati back to defence. In the 56th minute Fortune should have scored his first Celtic goal since his move from Nancy in the summer when Hinkel set the ball up at the back post with a perfect cross, but the Frenchman headed wide.
In the 61st minute, and out of the blue, Aberdeen were offered a glimmer of hope when Aluko reduced the deficit. Substitute Michael Paton, on for Chris Maguire, sent in a cross which was laid off by Gary McDonald and Aluko controlled the ball in textbook fashion on his chest before sending a dipping volley from 16 yards over Artur Boruc. Any chance of a comeback, however, quickly dissipated as Celtic regained control.
In the 80th minute, Dons defender Zander Diamond was taken off by stretcher with a head injury after clashing with his own player, Mark Kerr, as he leapt to make a clearance. Moment later, as Celtic relaxed, Fox cleared Gary McDonald's effort off the line before the Aberdeen midfielder cleared the bar with a shot. In the 86th minute, McGeady forced Langfield to make a fine save with his left-footed drive while there was a late worry for Celtic when Maloney took a knock and had to come off following a challenge by Foster.
"In the first half we played some good football, it could have been five or six," McGeady said. "It was a disappointment not to score more goals in the first half."
Mowbray added: "We were frustrated at half time. We should have had one or two more goals."
Dons manager Mark McGhee was fairly upbeat despite the loss. He said: "There was some good in our performance today. I'm not going to get too upset. Celtic are a good team and they played well in the first half. We have lost a game to a good team."