Celtic led 2-0 and ‘we shall not be moved’ rang around the ground.
That second goal was meaningful. It put Ange Postecoglou’s men top of the Scottish Premiership. Every other team had already got their league campaign up and running. Hearts, Hibs, Rangers and Motherwell all picking up three points but none had won by two goals.
Just ninety minutes into the season but it is “symbolic”, to use a word mentioned by Postecoglou in the build-up to the match. It is the aim, as it is every season. To be top and nowhere else. That reminder came prior to the match kicking off.
It was ‘Flag Day’ at Celtic Park. The Australian sought to play down the spectacle, noting how it was a “symbolic” event for the club. For him, last season is in the rear-view mirror. A line was drawn in pre-season and the full focus is on this campaign. A return to the Champions League group stages and the quest for the 53rd title in the club’s history.
Call and response
Celtic fans throughout the day very much had a foot in both camps. ‘Champions again’ was belted out on various occasions before and during the encounter.
The flags and the colour. The noise of the drum, the constant hum. The call and response. The tifo. There was a European feel to Celtic Park as the champions got their title defence underway against a new-look Aberdeen.
In fact, it simply had the feel of a big game. A packed, raucous crowd. A corner of away fans, heavily outnumbered but sure to make their voice heard amongst the tumult. There was a vibrancy. Well before kick-off, through the unfurling of the flag, complete with fireworks and flames and a large mosaic, and into those early proceedings. Any neutral would have feared for Jim Goodwin’s men.
Even more so when Stephen Welsh rose above Polvara to meet Matt O’Riley’s corner within three minutes to head Celtic in front.
Throughout much of the first half, there was an element of Celtic as the cat, Aberdeen the helpless mouse. The way in which the home side moved the ball from side to side and more pertinently through the lines, they were toying with the Dons, almost torturing them without providing that killer touch of a second goal.
Even when they lost it, the mentality and attitude to get after it must have been suffocating for the visitors.
Joe Hart spent much of the half patrolling an area just outside the centre circle, both sweeper and observer, as part of that suffocating quality to make the pitch as small as possible for the opposition and allow the centre-backs to step into the opposition half. There could be an opportunity for teams to take advantage of such aggressive positioning but it means winning the ball back then being able to show not only the composure to spot Hart’s positioning but the talent to execute.
The £1.5m steal
There was no more impressive talent, however, than Matt O’Riley in that first 45 minutes in conjunction with Reo Hatate. The way in which they threw on invisibility cloaks to sneak unseen behind the Aberdeen midfield to collect passes before wreaking havoc.
MK Dons must have been laughed out of their local police station when they tried to report Celtic, having realised the £1.5million transfer fee was nothing more than a steal.
His ability to get on the ball and manipulate games,his vision and movement and his end product. At times it is masterful. In the first-half alone he created four chances and could have scored one of his own if not for team-mate Kyogo Furuhashi getting in the way.
When Jota swapped with Daizen Maeda to move to the left, it became a problematic area for Aberdeen as Welsh and Taylor helped build play.
But credit to Goodwin’s Dons. This was their first proper test as a new side. They didn’t wilt. It was the opposite. Having been this timid mouse, startled, they built into the game, displayed bravery in possession and became more threatening and frustrated Celtic. Jonny Hayes really should have netted an equaliser before the half-time whistle.
The Aberdeen boss will have been annoyed at such a cheap concession for the opener, Polvara the man who had come in for the unavailable Liam Scales not getting close enough to Welsh. Overall there were encouraging signs, but also ones that show this side, with new new boys featuring, are a work in progress.
You would expect them to be a more complete unit the next time they travel to the East End of Glasgow. Equally, Celtic could be a more difficult opponent, once up to speed, this being their first competitive outing.
It showed as they suffered a lull either side of half-time and before Jota found space outside the Aberdeen box to provide that killer touch.
A big moment it certainly was. Until then, the game hung in the balance, Rangers showing how quickly it can all change as they battled to a 2-1 win at Livingston. It’s that to-and-fro which will once again play a big role in the season. The call and response. Rangers playing and winning before Celtic play and vice versa.
The same impact as a washing machine. Around and around and around again. It can leave many in a daze. Focus and concentration are key.
Even this early on it’s Celtic who have the slight edge. With Jota and O’Riley producing such masterful moments, it will take plenty for them to be moved.