Aberdeen 0 Celtic 1: Strachan expects sterner test at other old stamping ground

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The Independent Football

This victory gave Gordon Strachan another important managerial win at a club where he was once a hero as a player. For lightning to strike twice in five days, Celtic will need to improve substantially for Wednesday's Champions' League trip to Old Trafford.

Asked if the European game will arrive a week or two early for his new-look squad - Thomas Gravesen made his debut at Pittodrie, while Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Lee Naylor played for only the second time in hoops - Strachan laughed: "More like a few months [early]."

He was not being disingenuous. Gravesen did well, dispelling any notion that he cannot function in the same team as Neil Lennon. The Dane attacks much more than the Ulsterman, and were it not for Russell Anderson, outstanding in the home defence, he might twice have got on the scoresheet. Gravesen covered huge amounts of ground, too, and was typically uncompromising in challenges, one of which got him a booking. Yet the new arrivals will inevitably require time for them - and Strachan - to acclimatise.

One glaring deficiency in Celtic's play against a resolute if shot-shy Aberdeen was a lack of width, or rather an absence of stand-out displays by the wide men, Shunsuke Nakamura and Aiden McGeady, who typically provide flair, pace or both from the flanks.

With Gravesen operating at the top of what was effectively a midfield diamond, he sought or demanded that the ball be played through him, dragging the wide men in, and dramatically decreasing their crossing or dribbling options. Only when Kenny Miller, fresh from Scotland heroics in Lithuania, was introduced for the ineffective Maciej Zurawski, did Celtic find a way through. He ran at the defence from the left of the box, dragging cover with him before laying off for Vennegoor, in space, to hit a low drive, which was deflected home.

"We're still rusty," admitted Strachan. "I've seen an improvement in terms of more bodies in the box, but we're still not great in the last 25 yards. The players need time to get to know each other and the way they play." Of his winning Dutchman, he added: "He's a big presence, not just on the field but also in the dressing-room. He doesn't say too much, but what he does is funny."

Team spirit, and a burning desire not to be written off, will be key against United. "But when we learn to play together, for each other, we hope to have a chance," Vennegoor said. "It's a nice challenge to have on the biggest stage in Europe."

Goal: Vennegoor of Hesselink (79) 0-1.

Aberdeen (3-5-2): Langfield; Diamond, Severin, Anderson; Hart (Daal, 84), Dempsey (Smith, 62), Nicholson, Clark, Foster; Miller (Maguire, 75), Mackie. Substitutes not used: Soutar (gk), Winter, Considine, Donald.

Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Wilson, Caldwell, McManus, Naylor; Nakamura, Lennon, Gravesen, McGeady; Zurawski (Miller, 57), Vennegoor of Hesselink (Pearson, 90). Substitutes not used: Marshall (gk), Riordan, Sno, Jarosik, Cuthbert.

Referee: M McCurry.

Booked: Aberdeen Diamond, Daal; Celtic McGeady, Gravesen, Naylor.

Man of the match: Anderson.

Attendance: 15,304.