Uneventful might not be how the Parkhead faithful would have wanted it but it suits Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes just fine.
The league’s top two sides in the last four years played out an uninspiring 0-0 draw – their first goalless game since 1994 – as the Dons head into tomorrow’s cup replay at Ibrox full of confidence.
They deserve credit for stifling an uncharacteristically off-colour Celtic in Neil Lennon’s first game back at Celtic Park. They were disciplined and full of heart and McInnes will hope there is a repeat in tomorrow’s showdown.
Perhaps with one eye on tomorrow night, James Wilson was handed his first start in three months alongside Sam Cosgrove up front. Wilson, arguably the season’s marquee signing, has struggled to make an impact in red, despite scoring on his first appearance for the Dons back in September.
With Cosgrove, Greg Stewart and Connor McLennan also starting, McInnes took an aggressive, attacking approach, perhaps wary of being under siege and unable to offer a goal threat. Wilson’s role in the early stages was deeper, sitting on Scott Brown to negate his influence, which allowed Graeme Shinnie to press higher up the park against centre halves Dedryck Boyata and Kristoffer Ajer, who both showed a proclivity for bringing the ball out of defence. That left a deeper role for Lewis Ferguson in front of the back four, one-part screener and one-part conductor for the start of Aberdeen’s build-up play.
The visitors succeeded in slowing the tempo of the game and stifling passing options, with Celtic looking most threatening when Boyata broke lines and attempted to thread Oliver Burke through. There was little in the way of a goal threat for the Dons, with Stewart and McLennan marginalised out wide and Cosgrove covering a lot of ground up front without seeing much of the ball.
Ajer’s 25-yard effort on the half-hour mark was the first meaningful opportunity for either side and Joe Lewis was equal to it, with Burke fairly anonymous playing in a central striking role.
A stalemate at half-time suited Aberdeen to a tee, who were overwhelmed in the possession battle without feeling unduly under the cosh. Three substitutions at half-time – two for Celtic and one for the Dons – indicated neither manager was pleased with the first-half fare. Mikey Johnston and Odsonne Edouard were on for Celtic, with Ewan Henderson and Scott Sinclair replaced.
More intriguing was the Dons change, with teenager Dean Campbell brought on for Wilson. The on-loan Manchester United man had taken a whack to the back of his leg in the first half, but it was some show of faith in the reserve team captain, who came on ahead of Stevie May.
Campbell’s introduction allowed Shinnie to play further forwarded and it yielded a promising period for the Dons.
Aberdeen seemed quicker to the ball and there was a lack of intensity in the home side’s play, which Aberdeen needed to exploit.
It was a typical Shinnie performance. He seems to thrive at 100 miles an hour with the handbrake off.
Ball gave arguably his best performance.. The one time he let his standards slip allowed Johnston to break free down the left, but his ball across the face of goal went unrewarded.