Aberdeen’s wait to secure European football will continue for another week after they were denied victory in the dying seconds of a pulsating Pittodrie encounter against Celtic.
It looked as if Lewis Ferguson had picked the perfect time to end his goal drought as he put the Dons ahead but Leigh Griffiths came off the bench to break the home side’s hearts when headed home an equaliser with five seconds of the three allotted minutes of injury time remaining.
It was one of those nights where fortune favoured the brave but the Dons will be kicking themselves at letting their chance to record a first home win against the Hoops in five years slip from their grasp with the result leaving them six points behind Hibs with three games remaining.
Aberdeen manager Stephen Glass made three changes from the side which beat Livingston on penalties in the Scottish Cup on Saturday.
Captain Joe Lewis, as expected, missed out due to a rib injury while Connor McLennan and Fraser Hornby dropped to the bench. Gary Woods, Callum Hendry and Florian Kamberi came into the starting line-up.
Celtic captain and future Aberdeen player-coach Scott Brown started for the Hoops against his future club in what will be his final game at Pittodrie as an opposition player.
The visitors had goalkeeper Scott Bain to thank for preventing them from going behind in the opening minutes after he saved a looping Lewis Ferguson header from a Ross McCrorie cross.
The start to this game was more like a basketball match than a football one as play ran from end-to-end and the Hoops responded with a David Turnbull free kick which was palmed away by Woods.
McCrorie was injured in the foul which led to the free kick being awarded after Odsonne Edouard landed on the full back following Dean Campbell’s challenge.
The Scotland under-21 international tried to play on but was forced off with Calvin Ramsay taking his place in the 14th minute.
With chances flowing at both ends it was inevitable a goal would come and it was the home side who got it in the 17th minute.
Once again it was Celtic’s Achilles heel of failing to defend set-pieces properly which cost them dear as Niall McGinn’s corner was flicked on by Andy Considine and Lewis Ferguson nipped in ahead of Jonjoe Kenny to knock the ball over the line from close range.
It was Ferguson’s first goal for the club since he netted a double against the Hoops when the sides last met at Pittodrie in October and having reached double figures for the season he came close to number 11 a minute later when he headed straight at Bain.
Forget formations and systems, this match was wide open – perhaps too open – and Celtic striker Edouard wasted two chances to level the game as he fired wide with his first chance before volleying straight at Woods with his second.
There was no letting up and Ferguson was denied again by Bain before McGinn fired into the side netting with the Hoops goalkeeper to beat.
Still the chances came with Edouard denied by Woods before Hayes threw his body in front of the rebound to deflect Ryan Christie’s follow-up over the crossbar.
From the resulting corner another goalbound effort was cleared off the line by Ferguson as the frantic pace showed no sign of showing.
The second half brought no let-up and Turnbull should have restored parity in the 57th minute when he ran on to Edouard’s knockdown but he opted for power and his effort cannoned back off the crossbar.
Aberdeen had to soak up intense pressure as Celtic laid siege to the Dons goal but the home side should have doubled their lead in the 66th minute when a rare break ended with Celtic captain Brown’s sliding challenge resulting in the ball sliding through to Ferguson but with Bain to beat he hit the post.
The sight of the midfielder with his head in his hands told the story. The chance was as gilt-edged as they come.
It was agonising, frenetic stuff and it all proved too much for new boss Stephen Glass who was booked for expressing his dismay at Willie Collum’s failure to award a penalty for a Callum McGregor challenge on Hayes after he had ran clear from the halfway line.
With emotions running high Turnbull then escaped with just a booking after kicking out at substitute Dylan McGeouch but it looked like the Dons had done enough.
However, Griffiths would provide the final sting in this tale as he came off the bench to head Mohamed Elyounoussi’s cross past Woods to earn the Hoops a point.