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Ex-Aberdeen striker Adam Rooney on title attempt in 2015/16 – then the agony of facing Brendan Rodgers’ invincible Celtic stars

Adam Rooney slots the ball home from the penalty spot to equalise against Celtic.
Adam Rooney slots the ball home from the penalty spot to equalise against Celtic.

Adam Rooney believes Aberdeen were genuine title challengers to Ronny Deila’s Celtic – before two major blows put them out of the chase.

The Dons finished as runners-up to the Hoops by 15 points, but a thrilling 4-3 win at St Johnstone in February of that season took them level top with their rivals on 55 points from 24 games.

Ex-Aberdeen star Rooney then scored his 19th goal of a sparkling campaign in a 3-1 defeat at his former club Caley Thistle that saw them drop three points off the pace.

Days later, in training, he suffered a quad injury, and never played until the end of April when he got goal number 20 as Aberdeen secured second spot, with Celtic nine points clear and with a plus-35 goal difference.

Danny Ward being recalled by Liverpool was a massive title blow for Aberdeen, according to Adam Rooney.

Celtic wrapped it up against the Dons the following week in a 3-2 win and Derek McInnes’ Reds finished with home losses against Hearts and Ross County, which gave the league table a real gloss for those in Green and White.

Rooney believes not only his injury, but Liverpool recalling stand-out goalkeeper Danny Ward, who is now at Leicester, was another big weapon removed from their title battle.

‘Solid’ Ward was massive Dons figure

Welsh international Ward kept 11 clean sheets in 29 games for the Dons and Rooney reckons losing a defensive star along with his own firepower tipped the balance towards the east end of Glasgow.

Rooney, who is spearheading Brackley Town’s National League North title bid, said: “In 2015/16, we were up against Ronny Deila’s Celtic, who were maybe not at their best that year, and we felt we put a good amount of pressure on them.

“However, Danny Ward got recalled (by Liverpool) in the January and he was massive for us that season. The defence got a bit nervy, just because of how solid they had been with him at the back. No disrespect to anyone else, but Danny was very good.

Adam Rooney (left) with manager Derek McInnes as monthly award winners in March 2014.

“We were on a good run, flying, and I was scoring goals. I was on 19/20 goals by January or February. I was confident and we were playing so well as a team.

“I then got a quad injury just after the Inverness game. The midweek, before we played St Johnstone, I pulled my quad in training and basically missed the rest of the season. Simon Church came in and scored a few goals.

“When Danny and I were playing, the main keeper and striker at the club, we were similar to Celtic in terms of almost having a like-for-like replacement.

“Our squad then became a little bit stretched, and we just didn’t have the quality in numbers that Celtic had. Ultimately, they ran away with it by the end of the season.

“It was disappointing we couldn’t get closer, but with Danny recalled and me getting injured, it definitely had a bearing.”

Celtic a different level under Rodgers

The unstoppable force of Celtic under Brendan Rodgers was especially clear in 2016/17 when they won the domestic treble, without losing a game in the Premiership.

During Rooney’s four years with the Dons, they put up the best fight they could, but Celtic were always the winners.

The closest they came to adding to the League Cup Rooney won with a spot-kick against Inverness in 2014 was three years later when a last-gasp Tom Rogic goal broke the Dons in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden.

Adam Rooney scored 88 goals for the Dons.

Rooney explained what it was like to be an Aberdeen player trying to outsmart the history-making Hoops.

He said: “Brendan Rodgers came in at the end of the season and he took Celtic to a different level.

“People will say we should have had a go, but there are different ways to play Celtic. You can sit in and try and keep it tight and see if you can nick it.

“You can try that, but if they score early on, like they did in the 3-0 in 2016/17 League Cup final, when Rogic scored from 25 yards, it’s tough. They have so many lads who can score from distance.

Adam Rooney, whose penalty earned Aberdeen the League Cup against his old club, Inverness.

“When you sit in and make it difficult for teams, you can sometimes make them nervy and they don’t have the quality to score goals from that distance.

“You can try and match them up and go man-for-man, but they then drift all over the pitch. I recall Shay Logan marking Scott Sinclair, who then moved from the left wing over to the right wing. Shay followed him, so you have players being dragged all over the park against Celtic.

“You can try playing different ways to play against Celtic, but under Brendan Rodgers they had so many facets and different options. they had such quality coming off the bench, they were too difficult to contain.

“We had a go in the 2017 Scottish Cup final when they won it 2-1 with Tom Rogic scoring with the last kick of the game.”

Aberdeen pushed Celtic all the way

When Celtic swept the board for their incredible trophy treble, it was Aberdeen they defeated in both finals.

Though he clearly wanted to win the medals, Rooney acknowledges how well the club performed over his time in the north-east.

Brendan Rodgers in 2017 with Celtic’s domestic treble haul. Aberdeen were second in each competition.

He added: “We finished second every season when I was at Aberdeen and reached cup finals and semi-finals and I think that was a fairly good achievement.

“We pushed Celtic as much as we could. It would have obviously been great to win something else.

“We’d also have loved to get into the Europa League (groups) because we had some really good games in the qualifying rounds.”

Passionate fans expected more cups

Winning the League Cup against ICT was unforgettable for Rooney, but the success only raised the pressure as the Dons were expected to wrestle cups away from an unmovable force in Celtic.

He said: “It had been nearly 20 years since the club had won anything, so we all knew the pressure was on us. We wanted to just bring back that trophy for the club and the fans.

“With the fan-base being so passionate, there is also the expectation. When we won it, the expectation levels rose again.

“The following year, when we lost out to Celtic, there was a real sense of disappointment. People were expecting us to turn Celtic over.

Brendan Rodgers during the 2017 Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park, which Celtic won 2-1 against Aberdeen with a stoppage-time winner from Tom Rogic.

“We were really unfortunate to come up against that Celtic side. Under Brendan Rodgers, they were incredible.

“Man-for-man, they had players all over the pitch who were better than everyone else.

“They had a way of playing and a system of playing, with so many different options, they were so hard to stop.

“Unfortunately, we came up against such a strong Celtic side over the next few seasons, because it would have been great to bring back more trophies to Aberdeen.”

Dons’ century would have been great

In the summer of 2018, Rooney left Pittodrie for the final time, joining Salford City in an eye-catching move.

He admits moving on robbed him of the chance to hunt down a century for the Dons.

He said: “The only thing, from a personal perspective, is I would have liked to have reached the 100-goal mark with Aberdeen.

Adam Rooney heading home his first goal for Brackley Town against Boston United. Image: Brackley Town FC

“I scored 88 and, if I had another season, I’d probably have reached the 100.

“Overall though, I loved my time at Aberdeen. It was the favourite part of my career. I felt settled there and my first child was born there.

“Like Inverness, we settled in the area and were happy. It was the happiest time in my career. I’ve so many good memories.”