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EYEWITNESS: Aberdeen’s 3-0 win at Parkhead put a cork in Champagne Charlie’s Celtic return

Alex Smith.
Alex Smith.

It was the Dandy Dons rout 30 years ago which put a cork in Champagne Charlie’s triumphant return to Parkhead.

Aberdeen won 3-0 against Celtic in what was probably the most emphatic success in either of the Old Firm’s backyards since the introduction of the Premier League.

Former Don Charlie Nicholas, whose return to Parkhead was marked by an ear-shattering reception by the 45,000 crowd, left the field under less enthusiastic circumstances after contributing little to the day’s proceedings.

Charlie Nicholas.

Aberdeen went to Parkhead on September 1 following an opening day victory against Hibernian at Pittodrie and even at this early stage of the season it became clear that it would be Aberdeen that would challenge Rangers for the title.

It was Aberdeen’s third win in succession over Celtic and it was by far their most impressive.

Celtic threw everything at Aberdeen from the start only to find Dons goalkeeper Theo Snelders in great form.

Aberdeen gradually asserted themselves on proceedings and took the lead on 53 minutes when Paul Mason scampered on to a 40-yard pass from defender Alex McLeish.

Mason ignored the howls for offside from the Celtic fans and raced 20 yards into the box to beat Pat Bonner with a good finish.

Aberdeen went further ahead just six minutes later when Brian Grant intelligently hoisted in a cross following great link up play with Peter Van De Ven and Stewart McKimmie.

Robert Connor ghosted in behind the Celtic defence and saw his downward header brilliantly saved by Bonner.

Robert Connor in action for Aberdeen.

Connor followed up to whack home the rebound from a few yards out before vaulting the advertising board behind the goal to salute the Dons fans with a star jump.

Charlie Nicholas, a close-season transfer from Pittodrie, could do little to stem the Aberdeen tide and was substituted by Andy Walker on 66 minutes.

Charlie Nicholas returned to Celtic following a successful spell with Aberdeen.

A minute later Mason rode a clumsy challenge and released Hans Gillhaus into the Celtic box.

Gillhaus lashed it home via the inside of Bonner’s left heel and through his legs.

Celtic fans started to leave the ground early following the third goal.

Manager Alex Smith said it was Aberdeen’s best performance since he took charge in 1988.

The Dons had been linked with moves for Keith Wright and Robert Fleck before the partnership of Mason and Gillhaus produced two of Aberdeen’s three goals.

Hans Gillhaus.

“If they can provide that kind of finishing on a regular basis and we can bring on the likes of young Jess and Booth, there might be no need to look outside the club,” he said.

“Hans and Charlie Nicholas struck up a good partnership last season and I have a feeling this one could be even better.

“But it was particularly pleasing to see the way we dominated the game for long spells, with our midfield pushing up on the Celtic defence and refusing to allow them space.

“Every player did well, and although it is perhaps a little unfair in those circumstances to single out players, I thought Brian Grant was the best player on the park.

“Brian gets through a lot of work and does not always get the credit for what he does, but that was one of his best displays.”

Aberdeen took the title race all the way to a final-day Ibrox showdown

Aberdeen would go on to take the title race to the final day of the season on the back of a run that saw them recover from being seven points behind with 10 games to go.

Aberdeen went to Ibrox for the league decider level on points and goal difference, but ahead on goals scored, knowing that a draw would give them the title.

Aberdeen’s Hans Gillhaus in action during the title decider.

Rangers – who were now under the guidance of Walter Smith – held their nerve and a double from Mark Hateley broke Aberdeen hearts.

“We were changing in the Portakabins because Ibrox was being redeveloped, and the Rangers fans definitely played their part that day,” former Dons defender Alex McLeish recalled.

“For the older players in the Aberdeen team, it wasn’t really intimidating because of the experiences we’d been through playing in front of big, volatile crowds, but maybe it affected one or two of the younger players.

“We only needed to draw that day, but the management never said ‘Let’s play it tight and play for a draw’, and we actually played well for the first 20-25 minutes against a makeshift Rangers team with a lot of injuries.

“Rangers rode that wee bit of luck, but the atmosphere was very good from start to finish and was everything any player should want to be part of.

“It’s tough to take, but you have to move on.”

Aberdeen came close the following two seasons before entering years of struggle at the wrong end of the table.

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