Celtic 5 Aberdeen 0
Celtic did more than keep their title challenge alive, they also sent an emphatic message to Rangers that they cannot take anything for granted in the final five games of the season.
The gap between the clubs was reduced to five points with the considerable bonus to Celtic of a debut goal for Jorge Cadete, their Portuguese striker. The Celtic support will consider the five-week delay in obtaining the player's clearance worth the wait, on the evidence of his 18 minutes of action in which time he scored Celtic's fifth goal.
Yet while Cadete stole the limelight the less glamourous Tosh McKinlay, who supplied the ammunition for four of the goals, again demonstrated his value to the side. Signed from Hearts for pounds 350,000, McKinlay was at the centre of most of Celtic's moves in a sustained display of entertaining and irresistible football that put the Aberdeen defence under constant pressure.
This Celtic side, praised for the quality of their football this season, surpassed themselves with a demonstration of power few teams could have withstood. Right from the start they overwhelmed Aberdeen and after just two minutes McKinlay had crossed for Simon Donnelly to send a flashing header into the net. Then, in the 18th minute, the second goal resulted from a long McKinlay pass which picked out Pierre van Hooijdonk, leaving the Dutch striker with the task of lifting the ball over Michael Watt.
It seemed as if the Celtic players were determined to show Cadete just how difficult it will be for him to break into the side and in the 67th minute Donnelly scored his second and Celtic's third goal. McKinlay embarked on a powerful run which carried him half the length of the field and when the ball ran free from his cross Donnelly pounced to shoot home from 12 yards.
However, Van Hooijdonk would not be outdone. From a McKinlay corner in the 74th minute he headed down and into the net for Celtic's fourth goal. The biggest cheer of the night reverberated around the ground 60 seconds later when Cadete, who had only been on the field for two minutes, collected a Peter Grant through ball before slipping the ball past the Aberdeen goalkeeper to complete a glorious night for Celtic.
The message of the evening will not have been lost on Rangers, who face Celtic in a Tennents Scottish Cup semi-final tie on Sunday.
Celtic (4-4-2): Marshall; McNamara, Boyd, Hughes, McKinlay; Donnelly, McStay (O'Neil, 80), Grant, Gray; Van Hooijdonk, Thom (Cadete, 72). Substitute not used: Mackay.
Aberdeen (4-4-2): Watt; Grant, Irvine, Smith, Woodthorpe; Miller, Windass, Bernard, Glass (Robertson, 67); Booth (Rowson, 72), Dodds. Substitute not used: Inglis.
Referee: H Dallas (Motherwell).