Aberdeen 1 Celtic 2: Nakamura's special puts Celtic in sight

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The Independent Online

Shunsuke Nakamura is no stranger to Italian football observers after his spell in Serie A and the gifted Japanese playmaker underlined the threat he will pose to AC Milan on Tuesday as Celtic close in on the Scottish Premier League title.

Just as he did twice against Manchester United in the Champions' League, Nakamura conjured up yet another sublime free-kick that killed off Aberdeen yesterday. Carlo Ancellotti, the Milan coach, had a spy at Pittodrie to witness the deadly left boot of the man Gordon Strachan bought from Reggina extend Celtic's unbeaten League run to 26 games.

Strachan's team are now just three wins away from wrapping up a second successive Scottish championship after moving 22 points clear of Rangers at the top of the table. The Celtic manager was not amused about the lunchtime kick-off, citing a lethargy on such occasions, but he was rewarded with two goals inside the first 20 minutes, as Craig Beattie and Nakamura found the net.

Darren Mackie's stoppage-time goal was merely a consolation for third-placed Aberdeen, who nurse their own ambitions of playing in the Champions' League if they can overhaul Rangers to earn second place.

"A two-goal deficit that early in the game left us with a mountain to climb," reflected Jimmy Calderwood, the Aberdeen manager. "Nakamura's goal was just incredible. He has done that to better teams than us."

Strachan refuses to be diverted from his philosophy of one game at a time, yet now he can relish the visit of Milan. "I thought we showed imagination and defended resolutely when we had to," he said. "Milan's scout will probably tell Ancellotti about our will to win but we also have some decent players."

Had Mackie scored from Steve Lovell's seventh-minute cutback, the outcome might have been different but once Celtic forged into the lead two minutes later, there was a feeling of inevitability. Nakamura was the architect with a perfectly-weighted pass down the right touchline that released Beattie for the forward to steer a right-foot finish beyond Jamie Langfield.

It took the vigilance of Russell Anderson, the Aberdeen captain, to snuff out Beattie's threat on two more occasions but he was punished for a soft foul on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. That allowed Nakamura to curl his free-kick beyond the wall and the keeper's dive.

Celtic ought to have had a penalty when Chris Clark brought down Paul Hartley but their appeals were ignored and it took the impressive Artur Boruc to protect that scoreline before the interval, making one remarkable save to touch Clark's hook shot over the bar.

Celtic kept up an impressive barrier in the second half, with Boruc making another acrobatic stop to keep out Scott Severin's shot. But the Poland keeper was beaten in the dying seconds when a long ball was flicked on by Lee Miller for Mackie to squeeze past Boruc.

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