Larsson's hat-trick hurrah

Celtic 4 Aberdeen 0
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The Independent Football

Celtic's promise to deliver compensation for that painful Champions' League defeat by Anderlecht four days earlier was paid in full as Henrik Larsson led the demolition job on Aberdeen that put them five points clear in the Scottish Premier League race.

The prolific Swede conjured up the 15th hat-trick of his remarkable six-year Parkhead career, and Martin O'Neill reflected: "There's always a problem coming off European games, as Rangers found, so I'm delighted we showed the ability we possess after losing in Belgium."

Celtic's desire to atone for that defeat in Brussels was given further incentive when they learned before kick-off that Rangers had drawn at Livingston, which handed O'Neill's side a chance to increase their lead at the top.

It took just four minutes for that hunger to tear Aberdeen open. Who else, but Larsson? Stanislav Varga's original cross was too deep, but Alan Thompson's return allowed Larsson to get in front of Phil McGuire and hook in a deft shot from six yards.

Larsson could have plundered another after Liam Miller's tenacity and vision contributed to the perfect cutback, but the Swede dragged it wide. Aberdeen celebrated the escape with their best period of the match, Darren Mackie going round Magnus Hedman but finding no one to finish off his pass, and a sublime move that saw Paul Sheerin drill a low shot wide.

It was a false dawn. Just as the Dons began to exhibit more belief, Larsson doubled Celtic's advantage in the 28th minute with a consummate free-kick, after John Hartson had been fouled by Russell Anderson, which Larsson bent low around the wall beyond goalkeeper David Preece.

Celtic's talisman reprised his free-kick repertoire seven minutes later, striking the inside of the post. However, Aberdeen were unable to reach the dressing room without further damage. Hartson tempted Anderson into a rash tackle as he burst into the box and Chris Sutton clipped a right-foot penalty out of Preece's reach.

Ten minutes into the second half, Larsson sealed his hat-trick. Sutton opened up Aber-deen with a measured pass down the right wing that released Miller, who delivered a perfect pass into the path of Larsson, who swept his eight- yard shot beyond Preece.

Celtic's current appetite hints that other sides will find Parkhead an equally perilous place.

Celtic 4 Aberdeen 0
Larsson 4, 28, 55, Sutton pen 45

Half-time: 3-0 Attendance: 59,598