Well done Shane, Son – ‘The case for the Celtic defence was strenuously made today,’ Niall J

Quite correctly the attacking players will take the plaudits again today. Just as they did in that second half against AC Milan, or at Pittodrie seconds before a penalty conceded a couple of points in the title race and again against Lille in France, with the Celts two goals to the good before the concession of two second half goals.

But this game was about far more that that incredible curling Moi Esque ‘anything you can do I can do just as well’ finish from Ryan Christie, or Tom Rogic making a silk purse from a sow’s ear of a pass from Odsonne Edouard and lifting the ball to the back post where Moi Elyounoussi showed he had a bigger set than the defending Considine to make it 2-0.

This game had the icing on the cake supplied by Tom Rogic playing the pied piper throughout, but it was won by a defensive line claiming Celtic’s first clean sheet in a month.

Ten goals had been conceded since the late, late show in Perth as Leigh Griffiths and Partyk Klimala came off the bench to win the game at St Johnstone. It’s a long time for a defence to go without keeping their opponents at bay and the number of goals conceded wasn’t as if it had hard luck story written through it, it was well deserved if truth be told.

It would be easy to say that Celtic started in the ascendency this afternoon, scored a couple of goals then soaked up the pressure, as the exertions of Thursday night told. that however would be both disingenuous and disrespectful to our opponents, who not only started with a far more offensively minded line up and braver tactical approach than they had last week, but also caused us concerns in an easily airbrushed opening ten minutes.

Jeremie Frimpong was twice beaten for pace and nous early doors as Jonny Hayes replacement Matty Kennedy set up back post chances for Sam Cosgrove. Celtic lacked tempo, looked pedestrian moving out from the back then suddenly came to life. They scored two wonderful goals and created more as Ryan Christie’s sore face from a back-post header would testify to, and the game to all intents and purposes was done at half-time.

In the second half we had a few goalmouth scrambles to contend with, Bitton nearly sold the jerseys with an underweighted back pass, but as Aberdeen took to swinging balls into the box, we held firm. Shane Duffy had his best defensive game in a Celtic shirt and Nir Bitton, bar that one blot on the copybook complemented his defensive partner perfectly. It says it all when Kris Ajer drops out and we barely noticed his absence.

Both full backs were immense going forward and after a shaky start Jeremie Frimpong used the expanse of the Hampden pitch to his advantage, happy to drift inside to link with Rogic and Christie and to commit the Aberdeen defence. Indeed, both Diego Laxalt at Frimpong put enough chances across the six-yard box this afternoon to win two matches, had the attacking players been as switched on as their suppliers.

In a game where Aberdeen started with a defensive three and finished with a back four, and one where Celtic started with a back four and finished playing 3-5-2, it showed the tactical battle was evident throughout, but in truth Aberdeen reacted to Celtic’s superiority while Lennon’s switch was to see out the game and rest some weary limbs.

Derek McInnes had seven days and a free week of fixtures to prepare his team for this fixture, Neil Lennon’s attentions were spent entirely on focussing on Lille. As such it is likely the Cetic manager only had yesterday to inform his players of the lessons learned for last weekend at Pittodrie. Despite this Lennon had Aberdeen sussed. They took a few minutes to find their feet and could even have been a goal or two behind but the backline held firm and the attacking four delivered – and how.

Celtic in that first half played with a swagger, and in the second defended like a clean sheet was a common occurrence. Celtic turned the corner in Lille, today they stretched their legs into the straight. This was the first game in some time where we looked assured at the back and dangerous on the attack. It will now have confidence soaring amongst the front players and the foundations re-laid at the rear.

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Sparta Prague on Thursday will be the third game in a row for Celtic away from the intense pressure of the Ten- in- a-row campaign. The pressure valve being released has allowed the players to get back up to speed. The acid test will be when the league race picks up against Motherwell at Fir Park a week from today but the signs are very encouraging. Neil Lennon and the players have responded well. Today the attacking players gave Celtic a half-time advantage but it was a defensive performance from a much-maligned defence that won the day. Both working in tandem is now the key.

Celtic now head for Hampden on 20 December, one solitary game from winning a fourth consecutive treble. Today was their 35th cup tie undefeated. The winning mentality that has been evidenced throughout that incredible run came to the fore again at Hampden this afternoon.

Celtic won’t give up these trophies without a fight, historically created on the front foot by a blistering attack and defended at the rear by a solid defence. Both stood up today and both will be required in the weeks ahead.

Today was just as much about Nir Bitton as it was Ryan Christie and as much about Shane Duffy as it was Tom Rogic, it always has been, and it was good to see both coming together this afternoon. It’s been a bit of a wait but the case for the Celtic defence was strenuously made today. It was a most welcome return.

Niall J

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About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parhead's gates.

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