Celtic cannot uncork their title champagne until April 2 at the earliest because of Aberdeen’s 2-0 home win over Heart of Midlothian. Had the Dons lost at Pittodrie, Brendan Rodgers and his players could have clinched the Scottish Championship against Dundee at Dens Park on Sunday and set a record for the earliest top league success by doing so with nine games left to play.
The record for securing the flag earliest is held jointly by the Rangers side of 1929 and Neil Lennon’s Celtic squad of 2014, both of whom made it over the finishing line with seven games remaining. Aberdeen, however, made sure that Celtic’s celebrations would be postponed when they eased to a 2-0 win with a first-half header by Shay Logan from Niall McGinn’s cross which Jonny Hayes added to when he rounded Jack Hamilton after the break.
Aberdeen have now won nine successive home games to equal a club record, but some of the gloss was taken off their achievement by the late dismissal of Jayden Stockley for catching Krystian Nowak with a flung arm.
“It’s great to see your team so relentless with their work,” said Derek McInnes, the Aberdeen manager. “We spoke before the game about making the game go our way and pressing very hard and I don’t think Hearts could cope with that. It was a very impressive performance from us – on a difficult surface we still had enough moments of quality. The players cannot give any more –they’ve been fantastic.
“We’ve got quality players, players that can change the game in a heartbeat, but their work-rate and honesty in everything they do is there in spades, and that is reflected in the fact we don’t lose too many goals.”
Elswhere, Pedro Caixinha celebrated a winning start to his tenure as Rangers manager with a home win over Hamilton Academical. The Accies, who were routed 6-0 at Ibrox in the William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-finals two weeks ago, confined the damage on this occasion to four goals, scored by Emerson Hyndman, Clint Hill, Martyn Waghorn – from the penalty spot – and Lee Wallace.
St Johnstone overtook Hearts in fourth place when Liam Craig scored a double at Fir Park, with Scott McDonald netting an equaliser for Motherwell between times. The Steelmen were unfortunate not to secure a share of the points when Ryan Bowman’s late header came back off the post.
Partick Thistle maintained their place in the top six but for the second week in succession they were denied two points by a late equaliser. Last week they were thwarted by Inverness in injury time at Firhill and on this occasion they took the lead through Chris Erskine after 73 minutes only to concede to Conor Sammon with under three minutes left to play.
At the foot of the table, Inverness moved one point clear of bottom club Hamilton when they drew 1-1 at home to Ross County in the Highland derby, with Greg Tansey scoring first and Alex Schalk securing a draw for the Staggies with his late equaliser.
Looking ahead to midweek and Scotland’s friendly with Canada at Easter Road, none of the Celtic players who are in action against Dundee will take the field in Edinburgh. “I’ve got more than enough – that’s why I picked a larger than normal squad – on the understanding that maybe five Celtic players will start their league game,” said the Scotland manager.
“So we can count them out and get on with the other 25 that I’ve got.”
Strachan’s decision to rest the Parkhead contingent means that David Marshall or Allan McGregor – or both – will make an appearance in goal. The manager stressed that there is no No 1 goalkeeper, although Craig Gordon has added to his game this season and is generally regarded as the incumbent.
“They’re equal in terms of being all-round goalkeepers,” Strachan said of the three. “We put Craig into the England game because at that moment in time I thought he was the best goalkeeper for that game.
“It’s a pity he didn’t have more saves. They had three headers on target and they went in. He didn’t have too much to do. Over the piece his game has been quite fantastic – his two saves last week against Rangers were fantastic. We’ve never doubted his ability and we thought he was a terrific passer of the ball. Under Brendan Rodgers he’s got himself into better positions to receive the ball.”