Aberdeen 3 Celtic 3
How damaging a week this has been for Celtic remains to be seen but for the second successive Sunday they shed points in the Scottish title race, in this instance in injury time of a compelling contest which yielded six goals, three from penalty kicks, of which two were converted by Lewis Ferguson of Aberdeen. The champions had to come from behind twice and despite dominating the first half, they conceded the opener to Ferguson’s first conversion two minutes before the break after Olivier Ntcham had fouled the Dons’ midfielder.
After the interval, Celtic drew level through Callum McGregor, fell behind again to a Ryan Hedges strike, equalised once more from a Ryan Christie penalty and took the lead through Leigh Griffiths only to concede yet again to a Ferguson spot kick in stoppage time. It was a sore end to a passage that began with defeat at home to Rangers and continued with a 3-1 Europa League loss to AC Milan at Parkhead on Thursday.
The change of clocks to winter time did not deter the surfers who were to be seen frolicking off the Aberdeen beach at 8am, although they might have started in Norway, such was the force of the wind that scoured the Granite City. Even by Pittodrie standards, conditions at kick-off were punitive, with rain driven into the players’ faces by a scouring gale.
The experience was nevertheless welcome for Scott Bain, making his first start since playing in the opening weekend victory at Hamilton. He replaced Valisis Barkas, who was rested, while Scott Brown was on the bench along with Patryk Klimala and Stephen Welsh, who had also started the previous two games.
The weather did not favour composed football and the signs were that the game would reach its midway point without goals until Ntcham was drawn into what Willie Collum construed as a damaging challenge on Ferguson inside the box. When Ferguson beat Bain with his effort from the spot, it was Aberdeen’s first attempt on target.
Neil Lennon had spoken beforehand about his players’ character and it was evident when Celtic equalised seven minutes into the second half. From a throw-in, McGregor took a return pass from Tom Rogic and slid his finish beyond Joe Lewis in accomplished fashion.
Celtic, though, have been vulnerable at the back and Shane Duffy, a repeat offender, inflicted more self-harm when he drove an attempted clearance off Scott Wright into the path of Sam Cosgrove, whose shot was parried by Bain. The rebound, though, fell to Hedges, who forced his shot home from close range.
Lennon responded by replacing Ntcham and Albien Ajeti with Brown and Griffiths, who soon repaid his manager’s faith by sidestepping Ash Taylor to curl a left-foot shot over Lewis. With 13 minutes remaining, Celtic took the lead for thee first time when Tommie Hoban fouled Mohamed Elyounoussi for yet another penalty kick, from which Christie sent Lewis the wrong way.
Celtic, however, could not see the game out and when McGregor fouled Connor McLennan in stoppage time it was yet another penalty, although the referee played advantage, from which Cosgrove hit the crossbar before the kick was awarded and Ferguson doubled his tally to make it 3-3.
“I'm disappointed we haven't won it. We showed the character to come back twice and we then lose that late goal. Defensively, we were poor but attacking it was good, particularly in the second half. It's too sloppy defensively though," Lennon said.
“There's a little bit of fragility there at the minute and when you score three goals away from home you should win the game. It will be something that will come with time, we've still got a number of players to come back and they will make us a lot stronger as a squad.
"I thought the referee had a very poor game today, decision making, being influenced by his assistants and some of his decisions were baffling."
Lennon’s Aberdeen counterpart, Derek McInnes, took issue with the latter point when he said: "I think the referee got all the penalty decisions right today. It's up to Lewis (Ferguson) to miss before we change the taker. Lewis was outstanding, he was the heartbeat of our team.
“I'm just glad we got something out of it - it was no more than we deserved. Celtic dominated the ball but we kept the opportunities to a minimum, but I wanted us to take part in the game more.
“I'm disappointed with a couple of the goals we've conceded, we need to be calmer in those situations but I'm delighted with the spirit of the team."
Aberdeen (3-5-2): Lewis; Hoban, Taylor, Considine; Hedges, McCrorie. McGeouch (McLennan 26), Ferguson, Hayes; Watkins (Wright 56), Edmundson (Cosgrove 58). Subs (unused): Woods (g), Logan, Ojo, McGinn, Leigh, Kennedy. Booked: Ferguson, McCrorie.
Celtic (4-1-4-1): Bain; Frimpong, Duffy, Ajer, Laxalt; McGregor; Christie, Ntcham (Brsown 70), Rogic (Turnbull 86), Elyounoussi; Ajeti (Griffiths 70). Subs (unused): Hazard (g), Taylor, Klimala, Soro, Ralston, Welsh. Booked: McGregor.
Referee: Willie Collum.