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The corridors of Firhill are decorated with visions of Partick Thistle’s historic successes, and the last newspaper cover one sees before heading to the club’s press area features a report on the Jags’ 4-1 win over Celtic in the 1971 League Cup final. Whilst Jock Stein’s Celtic team on that day were the victims of one of the most notable upsets in Scottish footballing history, the Bhoys this Sunday afternoon were a textbook example of how to avoid any surprises.
Celtic started strongly from the kick-off: Bahrudin Arajic in the centre of midfield soaked up the pressure of a lively Aberdeen side, trapping passes and distributing well to team-mates without ever looking hurried. For transitioning their possession into attacking menace, however, Celtic relied more on the link-up play of Mikey Miller and Denny Johnstone. Their one-two passing on the right side of the park was the catalyst for most of the game’s early excitement, and they won a number of corners that kept Aberdeen goalie Danny Rogers busy without ever really threatening to open the scoring.
In fact, for all Celtic’s control over the ball, it was the Dons who had the lion’s share of promising chances in the first quarter. Craig Duguid and Cammy Smith both saw confident dribbles go nowhere due to a lack of support up front, and Craig Storie came close to putting the Reds in front when he latched onto a cross in the 13th minute. The midfielder’s diving header was only stopped due to the quick reactions of Leo Fasan in the Celtic goal.
Storie and Fasan would continue to be the highlights of their respective teams’ performances. The Aberdeen man was at times the sole nuisance to a highly competent Hoops defence, chasing down every long ball that came his way, whilst on 21 minutes Fasan would be called upon to turn away another quality close range header, this time from Cammy Smith.
Unflustered by the prospect of nearing the half-hour mark without a goal to their name, Celtic employed patient build-up play and forced Aberdeen back into their own half. Urgent clearances became the Dons’ calling card. Without any attacking options to aim for, however (at this point even tireless number eight Storie had taken up defensive duty), they were only giving Celtic more chances on goal.
Patrik Twardzik would be the man to make proper use of one of those chances. After a blocked shot fell to his feet just inside the Aberdeen penalty area, the Czech turned past a defender and fired low into the right hand side of the goal, putting the Hoops 1-0 up on 24 minutes.
Aberdeen didn’t appear discouraged after conceding – in fact, parity was almost immediately restored when Celtic’s Marcus Fraser inadvertently headed an Aberdeen cross towards his own goal, just to see Leo Fasan recommence header-stopping duties at the last moment – but the Glasgow side had acquired a taste for goals. John Herron showed some impressive close control six minutes after Twardzik’s goal, keeping a pass in the air with his back to the goalmouth, before firing a volley past Danny Rogers.
At 2-0, Celtic had achieved the distance they needed to comfortably see the first half to its close. Whilst Aberdeen looked nervy in defence here and there, with Craig Duguid in particular hurrying his play unduly, the green and white half of the pitch (all of the pitch is green and white, of course, but you see what I’m saying) was home to neat passing triangles and the occasional experimental backheel or Cruyff turn. A long-range free kick by Aberdeen’s Stephen O’neill proved the game’s best chance near the close of the first half, meeting the head of Jamie Masson and ending up just a touch wide of goal.
Half Time: Celtic FC 2-0 Aberdeen FC
Aberdeen ran out a much improved outfit at the start of the second half. Jamie Masson, Craig Murray and Cammy Smith all troubled their opponents shortly after the break, with Murray in particular threatening Fasan’s clean sheet when his powerful shot took a deflection from a defender, almost causing the shot stopper to spill in the box. Masson was one player in red who frequently got the better of his opponents, and on 51 minutes he cleverly turned Patrik Twardzik to secure a corner. Twardzik would in turn intercept the dead ball and clear decisively, but Masson gave the game his all throughout.
The story of the second half, however, was of two teams who kept their shape well enough to quash much danger of conceding. Plenty to encourage the managers, then, but the result was a closing 45 minutes which rarely erupted into life. Tony Watt let his class show as the game’s urgency weaned, though, and could often be spotted weaving a path through a clamour of Aberdonian defenders, even if his opponents effectively closed him down in a way Barcelona might’ve done well to take note of.
Rogers’ goalmouth was an equally unhappy second-half hunting ground for Twardzik, who saw a number of good chances go wide or end up in the keeper’s hands. Between the game’s 60th and 90th minute the Celtic number 11 would send a string of strikes past goal, but his confidence seemed unaffected throughout. Opening the scoring will do that for you.
Elsewhere, Craig Murray showed his frustration at his side’s failure to equalise by launching some quality runs at the Bhoys’ defence. One, in the 71st minute, reinvigorated the crowd that had piled into the Jackie Husband stand, and brought some cut-and-thrust back into the game. Murray intercepted a complacent Celtic pass in midfield, burst into his opponents’ half, played an effective one-two with Stephen O’Neill to rush to the goal line, and was unlucky to have the resultant cross blocked by a defender.
The 80th minute brought an injury to Celtic’s Marcus Fraser, who stayed on the ground after being on the receiving end of a robust sliding tackle. Fraser was helped off the park, and Celtic forced to play on without their original captain. They nevertheless held firm against an Aberdeen side who were the more lively team in the last 10 minutes. Substitute Marcus Campanile fought for every last scrap of possession towards the end of the game, and the final whistle would eventually blow as one of his shots was cleared.
Aberdeen did plenty right in this game, but not many teams could find a way past this Celtic defence when they close ranks as stubbornly as they did here following their second goal.
Full Time: Celtic FC 2-0 Aberdeen FC