Aberdeen produced one of their better displays at Celtic Park only to be denied by a string of magnificent saves by Artur Boruc. Aberdeen created the better chances, but the Pole who had a nightmare against Rangers last week denied the Dons including a spot kick save from Jamie Smith. Vennegoor of Hesselink scored either side of the interval and a Darren Mackie strike in between was not enough and Steve Lovell may well rue a sitter he missed from a yard out in the second half. Aberdeen now know they have to beat Rangers at Pittodrie next Sunday to secure a European spot as Hearts move to within one point and two goals of the Dons.
There were problems for Celtic in the opening minutes when Nakamura stood on the ball and appeared to twist his knee. The Japanese player was allowed back on to the pitch as the ball came towards him and skipper Russell Anderson was not too pleased with the referee's decision. Aberdeen started positively enough but neither side managed to carve out any chances in the opening five minutes. Lovell and Mackie combined well in the 8th minute and Miller fired a shot inches wide of the target. The home crowd appeared subdued in the early stages with the red army holding centre stage on the terraces. Boruc comfortably handled another cross from Mackie two minutes later as the Dons looked to create an opening.
Aberdeen threatened again in the 13th minute as Hart released Mackie and his cross was scrambled clear for the first corner of the match. Celtic defended well and broke quickly before Aberdeen were rescued by Langfield, who made a fine save from Hartley. Three minutes later McManus pushed Lee Miller aside to win Celtic a curious free kick and this prompted a spell of sustained pressure for the home side that was ended by a brave catch from Langfield. Riordan then went close in the 18th minute when he collected a pass from Nakamura and fired wide with Langfield scrambling across his goal line.
Severin was the victim of a nasty challenge in the 20th minute as Riordan went in high and unpunished on the midfielder. Celtic were enjoying more of the play at this stage and Diamond did well to block a Hartley effort in the 22nd minute. Three minutes later Lovell had to go off the park for treatment as he was clattered by Kennedy and once again the challenge went unpunished. Severin then had a pot at goal from 40 yards that just drifted wide of the target. Celtic then grabbed a controversial lead in the 33rd minute when Miller drove down the right and fired the ball across the goal. Langfield made a fine block from Riordan before Vennegoor of Hesselink, looking offside, tapped the ball into the net.
Aberdeen almost levelled three minutes later when Lovell was denied by a save from Boruc. The ball was scrambled clear for a corner and a second followed before Hartley blocked a Chris Clark shot. Celtic broke quickly and once again Langfield made a fine save from Hartley. Aberdeen then had a great chance to get back into the match when Kennedy pulled Steve Lovell back as he attempted to shoot. With Nicholson suspended it was handed to Jamie Smith to take the spot kick. There was a lengthy delay as Riordan was given treatment for a knock. The delay worked as Boruc dived full length to turn the ball round the post. Seconds later Riordan made a miraculous recovery and sprinted back on to the park.
Aberdeen did level a minute later when a corner was only half cleared and Darren Mackie pounced to fire a great strike past Boruc for a deserved equaliser. Celtic tried to restore their lead and won their first corner but Langfield made another good stop to keep Celtic out. A second corner followed deep in injury time but Anderson cleared and started a Dons attack. This time Boruc made another great save from Steve Lovell and yet another stop from Zander Diamond from the resulting corner. At the other end a Vennegoor of Hesselink shot was deflected wide for a third Celtic corner as the game raged from end to end.
Aberdeen made a positive start to the second half with Chris Clark testing Boruc from 30 yards and a minute later Boruc once again denying Lovell as the Dons looked to book their UEFA spot this weekend. After such a positive start it was Celtic who regained the lead against the run of play and it was Vennegoor of Hesselink on target again after he fired a Hartley cut back beyond Langfield. Aberdeen tried to hit back and a Severin throw caused all sort of problems as Jamie Smith saw a shot blocked. The Dons then won a corner kick and Boruc managed to grab the ball at the second attempt before setting up a Celtic counter attack, which saw Langfield make a vital cut out to deny Vennegoor of Hesselink his hat trick.
Aberdeen had a loud shout for a second penalty in the 59th minute when Mackie looked to be blocked by Naylor. Having already been awarded one spot kick, the likelihood of a second was slim. Two minutes later Riordan scooped an effort over the bar before being replaced by McGeady. Aberdeen forced a seventh corner in the 63rd minute and Diamond was unlucky as he crashed a header off the bar. Diamond won the ball in the air again from another corner before the ball was scrambled clear by Celtic. Aberdeen should have levelled in the 67th minute when Steve Lovell missed a sitter from a yard out. Jamie Smith set the striker up, but the Englishman somehow managed to scoop the ball over with the goal at his mercy. Seconds later the linesman denied the Englishman with a very tight offside decision.
Brewster then replaced Lee Miller as the Dons continued to look for the elusive second goal. Good play by Jamie Smith almost produced another chance as a couple of one-two's opened up the Celtic defence. Unfortunately the final ball was too heavy and the chance was lost. Maguire replaced Lovell in the 73rd minute and seconds later Foster went close with a shot that swerved wide. Clark was then bowled over by Hartley in a dangerous area but much to his dismay the referee awarded a goal kick to the home side. Aberdeen continued to probe at the Celtic defence but they were having very little luck in front of goal. Aberdeen then soaked up a period of Celtic pressure and just as they looked to break Anderson was fouled by Vennegoor of Hesselink but it merely resulted in a throw in for the home side.
Severin released Foster in the 80th minute but he was closed down before he could shoot. At the other end a Diamond block denied Beattie as Celtic looked to seal the win. Aberdeen then broke quickly but McManus got back to cut out a Jamie Smith cross. A second cross from Smith two minutes later was too deep and the ball tamely rolled out for a goal kick. Brewster collected a late yellow card then was denied again by Boruc in stoppage time before Langfield showed his class with a magnificent save from Nakamura. There was to be no late goal this week and Aberdeen know they must beat Rangers next week to finally secure the UEFA Cup place.